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Storm-Weary Residents Prepare for Dennis


As Hurricane Dennis has cut its way across the Caribbean and into the Gulf of Mexico, residents along the Gulf Coast in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have been preparing to evacuate their homes and head inland to safer ground. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from Mobile, Alabama, it's a familiar process for the millions of people who suffered through four brutal hurricanes last year.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Less than a year ago, the parking lot of the B&H Food Store in Mobile was the scene of near violence. People fought over handouts of water and ice after Hurricane Ivan cut power to hundreds of thousands along the Gulf Coast.

(Soundbite of argument from vintage news story)

Unidentified Women: I'm not...

Unidentified Man: You've already been here.

Unidentified Woman: ...in the line. I don't want no...

Unidentified Man: You done got your...

Unidentified Women: ...damn ice!

SHAPIRO: Yesterday, people at B&H were tense with fears that Hurricane Dennis could recreate that scene.

Mr. THOMAS CAIN(ph) (Owner, B&H): Oh, yeah. We had--I think it was 18 people arrested for rioting out there.

SHAPIRO: Thomas Cain owns the B&H Food Store. He donated the water and ice last year.

Mr. CAIN: And I don't know if I'll do that again because of the problems that created.

SHAPIRO: The store is now humming with people buying batteries, canned meats and bread. Others, like Yolanda Fleeton, are shopping with comfort food in mind.

Ms. YOLANDA FLEETON (Shopper): Well, I got me some collard greens and smoked neck bones. I'm going to do some cooking, because I have a gas stove in case we lose power. So--because we'll get tired of eating all those canned goods and everything.

SHAPIRO: Last year, Barbie Hopkins was one of the people waiting in line outside this store for free water and ice. She left the parking lot before the riots began.

(Soundbite of vintage news story)

Ms. BARBIE HOPKINS: I'm going to give up because we've been out here for an hour. Some people has been out here for three hours and the truck still has not arrived.

SHAPIRO: She lost power for seven days last year. This year, she says, you will not find her at the B&H if she loses power again.

Ms. HOPKINS: I doubt it. Now I might come by just to say hi. I'll do that. But as far as to stand in line, I don't think so.

SHAPIRO: While others are glued to the television or stuck in evacuation traffic, Hopkins is in her white house with green shutters leaning over her sewing table. She's a self-employed tailor and she has to make a suit for a client, hurricane or no.

Ms. HOPKINS: So this has to go to Louisiana tomorrow, so it's not like I really have time to plan. So, you know, we just going to pray, too.

SHAPIRO: Hopkins lives in a part of Mobile called Down the Bay. Her neighborhood is right by the water, below sea level, prone to flood. She's been asked to evacuate, but has decided not to.

Ms. HOPKINS: And I have two young men that lives across the street. They're going to be checking on me. They went to school with my son, so they're like--they came over to the--and said, `Are you going to leave?' I was like, `No.' `We're not leaving, either.' So I was like, `OK.' So I talked to the lady next door--she's an elderly lady--and she said she didn't feel like she needed to go anywhere. She says she trusts God and she just believe that everything is going to be OK.

SHAPIRO: Well more than a million people in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have been told to evacuate in preparation for the storm. Florida Governor Jeb Bush said those who remain in the path of Dennis should be especially careful after the storm has passed.

Governor JEB BUSH (Republican, Florida): I know that there's a curiosity factor; sometimes people want to go out and see what the storm is like. And after the storm has left the region there's a tendency to want to leave and to go out. More deaths occur after a storm goes through a community than when the storm hits.

SHAPIRO: FEMA crews and other emergency responders are preparing to mobilize once again, even though recovery efforts from last year's storms are not yet complete. There are still thousands living in temporary housing from the four back-to-back hurricanes that struck Florida and the Gulf Coast in 2004. But the storms last year came at the end of the summer. This year, the hurricane season has only just begun.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Mobile, Alabama. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.