Hurricane Dennis left behind uprooted trees, downed power lines and shredded roofs but also far less pain than feared, authorities said Monday, as they sorted through the damage and began the cleaning up.
About 225,000 houses remained without power in the region. Officials said most customers will have electricity again within a week but a few may have to wait a few days longer.
For a community still reeling from the destruction caused by deadly Hurricane Ivan last September, there was a distinct sense of relief.
"It's nice to stand up here and say you had a Category 3 hurricane and you're pleased," said George Touart, the Escambia County administrator.
Dennis churned ashore near here Sunday afternoon with 120-mph winds and then plowed into Alabama and Mississippi, drenching parts of both states but causing only minor damage.
At least three deaths have been linked to the storm. Escambia County officials said a person was killed in a traffic accident in Pensacola on Sunday afternoon shortly after the storm blew through, and a man appeared to have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning after operating a generator inside his home. The Associated Press reported that a 3-year-old boy was killed when his father ran over him as the family tried to evacuate its home in DeFuniak Springs.
In Pensacola, dark traffic lights and tree branches across most roads were the worst of what remained. In Pace, a town a few miles east of Pensacola, however, Dennis snapped off the top halves of large trees or simply mowed them down altogether.
Ruth Phair, 41, and husband Norman, 42, labored in 90-degree heat Monday to recover furniture, files and anything else they could find in the trashed remains of their surveying business off State Highway 90. The storm tore through the roof of the building and turned the ceiling into soaking wet tissue paper that collapsed.
"Ivan didn't get us this bad," Ruth Phair said. "We just had wet floors. But Dennis decided to take the roof. If I can salvage our files, I hope to be back up in the next couple of months. If not, I'll find a new profession."
At nearby Pace High School, a line of more than 75 cars snaked around the block surrounding the school, as residents awaited distribution of water and ice.
William H. Williams, 47, sat in his sport-utility vehicle about 15 cars deep, eager to get enough ice to keep the food in his refrigerator from spoiling. Williams, who works in an acrylic manufacturing plant, said he is confident that his home and family can survive the next hurricane, but he's not so sure about his business. "What I'm worried about is losing my job, because the industry is fragile and it won't take much to destroy it," he said.
State and local officials reopened major roads and bridges Monday and allowed residents back into low-lying communities to inspect their homes. Residents were warned to watch for live power lines and to boil tap water.
Most businesses stayed closed for lack of power. A nightly 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew remained in effect in Pensacola, and gasoline was still hard to find. The Salvation Army began handing out food at several locations in Pensacola. Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said the National Guard would provide residents with water, ice, Meals Ready to Eat and more of the blue tarpaulins that already dot the roofs of buildings across the city that were damaged by Ivan.
Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said agency officials were helping to assess the structural integrity of damaged homes and businesses and were taking applications for financial assistance from residents. They also inspected damage to FEMA trailers that still house 1,000 residents of Santa Rosa County who were made homeless by Ivan, and tried to get a sense of how many new victims would need similar arrangements.
The feeling that Dennis was less damaging "is true in a geographic sense, because it's not as widespread," said Brown, who spent the day in Santa Rosa County. "But if your home has lost its roof or doesn't have power, it's just as bad as Ivan."
Dennis rushed ashore with a tighter, more compact eye and greater velocity than Ivan, causing it to pack a geographically smaller punch over a shorter time frame than its more deadly predecessor, officials said. Winds blew from the north, limiting the storm surge, and the downing of many trees during Ivan turned out to be a blessing because a path was cleared, they said.
The fresh memory of Ivan helped persuade people to evacuate days in advance, which may have saved lives, said Bill Dickson, an Escambia County commissioner.
"That helped us from the standpoint that we didn't have problems with people being in the lower areas and having to go in and try to rescue them," he said. "The bottom line is that while it was still a major storm, we came out of it better than we anticipated."
Correspondent Catharine Skipp in Miami contributed to this report.