|As Hurricane Dennis approaches the Gulf Coast waves pound a pier on Pensacola Beach, Florida|
Hurricane Dennis came ashore at Pensacola, Florida as a category three hurricane, on a scale of one to five, with 200-kilometer an hour winds.
The storm is now losing strength as it moves north into Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, but forecasters say extremely heavy rains will cause heavy flooding for the next several days.
Several thousand National Guard troops and law enforcement personnel have been mobilized to help in recovery and relief efforts across the region. Marty Evans of the American Red Cross says hundreds of shelters have been opened to help those affected by the storm.
"We have about 150 shelters open in the Alabama, Florida Mississippi, Louisiana areas, and we are prepared to open more as this storm moves northward and more and more people need shelter," Ms. Evans says.
Dennis came ashore at almost exactly the same place as Hurricane Ivan did last year, when Florida was hit by four hurricanes in a period of six weeks. The storms in Florida and the Caribbean caused over 42 billion dollars in damage and killed more than one hundred people.
Dennis was the strongest hurricane on record to develop this early in the Atlantic hurricane season which runs from June through November.
Scientists say air and water temperature and circulation patterns in the Atlantic Ocean began to shift about 10 years ago, becoming more favorable to hurricane formation.
They say this trend which happens on a recurring basis can last for 40 years or more, and with many more people living in coastal areas than there were during the last period of enhanced hurricane activity, the cost of hurricanes is expected to rise.