Hurricane Dennis roared quickly through Florida's northwestern Panhandle and Alabama coast with a 193kph bluster of blinding squalls and crashing waves, but shellshocked residents emerged to find far less damage than when Ivan took nearly the same path 10 months ago.
The tightly wound Dennis, which had been a Category 4, 233kph monster as it marched up the Gulf of Mexico, weakened just before it struck less than 80km east of where Ivan came ashore. And despite downed power lines and outages affecting more than half a million people, early reports indicated no deaths and relatively modest structural damage.
"We're really happy it was compact and that it lasted only so long," said Mike Decker, who lost only some shingles and a privacy fence at his home near where the storm came ashore.
"It was more of a show for the kids," he said.
The storm indeed put on a show as it blew ashore at 7:25pm on Sunday midway between the western Panhandle towns of Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach.
White-capped waves spewed four-story geysers over sea walls. Sideways, blinding rain mixed with seawater blew in sheets, toppling roadside signs for hotels and gas stations. Waves offshore exceeded 99m, and in downtown Pensacola, the gulf spilled over sidewalks eight blocks inland. Boats broke loose and bobbed like toys in the roiling ocean.
But Dennis, which was responsible for at least 20 deaths in the Caribbean, spared those to the north because of its relatively small size and fast pace. Hurricane winds stretched only 65km from the center, compared with 170km for Ivan, and Dennis tore through at nearly 30kph, compared to Ivan's 21kph.
Rainfall was measured at 200mm, rather than the expected foot 300mm.
"With Ivan, the damage area was probably more spread out and wider than it was for Dennis," National Hurricane Center meteorologist Michelle Mainelli said.
Dennis caused an estimated US$1 billion to US$2.5 billion in insured damage in the US, according to AIR Worldwide Corp of Boston, an insurance risk modeling company.
Ivan, which also had top winds of 190kph, killed 29 people in the Panhandle and caused more than US$7 billion damage in the southeast. Mindful of that experience, more than 1.8 million coastal residents from Florida to Mississippi were urged to evacuate in advance of Dennis, leaving streets in most beach towns deserted.
Even Mark Sigler of Pensacola Beach, who owns a dome-shaped, steel-reinforced house built to withstand 320kph winds, decided to evacuate.
"The house is hurricane-resistant, not hurricane-proof," he said.
In Fort Lauderdale, a man was electrocuted when he stepped on a power line brought down by strong winds. He had been heading toward a house for shelter and apparently didn't see the streetlight cable on the ground, police spokesman Bill Schultz said.
But hours after Dennis' landfall, Florida emergency operations officials said they had no reports of storm-related deaths.
In Alabama, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach officials said they had no reports of major damage.
The biggest problem was power outages, which affected more than 236,700 homes and businesses in the Panhandle, some 280,000 in Alabama and at least 5,000 people in Mississippi. Gulf Power Co, the main power utility for the western Panhandle, said customers should be prepared to do without electricity for three weeks or more.