Hurricane Wilma Makes Landfall in Southwest Florida
NAPLES, Fla. (AP) - Hurricane Wilma plowed into southwest Florida early Monday with howling 125 mph winds and dashed across the state to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, blowing out windows in skyscrapers, peeling away roofs and knocking out power to millions of people. At least one death in Florida was blamed on the storm.
The same storm that brought ruin over the weekend to resort towns along Mexico's Yucatan Coast came ashore in Florida as a strong Category 3 hurricane, but within hours had weakened into a Category 2 with winds of 105 mph. Early in the afternoon, it was back up to Category 3 with 115 mph winds as it swirled out into the open Atlantic on a course that was unlikely to affect the East Coast.
As it made its away across the state, it flattened trees, tore off screens, broke water mains, littered the streets with signs and downed power lines, and turned debris into missiles.
"We have been huddled in the living room trying to stay away from the windows. It got pretty violent there for a while," said Eddie Kenny, 25, who was at his parents' home in Plantation near Fort Lauderdale with his wife. "We have trees down all over the place and two fences have been totally demolished, crushed, gone."
In Cuba, rescuers used scuba gear, inflatable rafts and amphibious vehicles to pull nearly 250 people from their flooded homes in Havana after Wilma sent huge waves crashing into the capital city and swamped neighborhoods up to four blocks inland with 3 feet of water. In Cancun, Mexico, troops and federal police moved in to control looting at stores and shopping centers ripped open by the hurricane, and hunger and frustration mounted among Mexicans and stranded tourists.
Wilma, Florida's eighth hurricane in 15 months, came ashore in Florida at 6:30 a.m. EDT near Cape Romano, 22 miles south of Naples, spinning off tornadoes and bringing a potential for up to 10 inches of rain, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm flooded large sections of Key West and other areas and knocked out power to up to 2.5 million homes and businesses as it raced across the state and buffeted heavily populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties on the Atlantic coast with gusts over 100 mph.
A gust was clocked at 104 mph at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, causing howling even in the bunker-like building.
In Weston, near Fort Lauderdale, Kim DuBois sat in her darkened house with her two children and husband, with the power out and the storm shutters up. For light they used a battery-powered pumpkin lantern they bought for Halloween.
"I could hear tiles coming off the roof," she said. "There are trees on cars and flooding at the end of our street." She added: "Really what I'm afraid of is tornadoes."
A man in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Coral Springs died when a tree fell on him, Broward County spokesman Carl Fowler said. Wilma killed at least three people in Mexico and 13 others in Jamaica and Haiti as it made is way across the Caribbean last week.
More than 33,000 people were in shelters across the state. But no mandatory evacuations were ordered along Florida's heavily populated east coast. An in the low-lying Florida Keys, not even 10 percent of the Keys' 78,000 hardy, storm-tested residents evacuated, Sheriff Richard Roth said. Wilma prompted the fourth hurricane evacuation of the Keys this year.
About 35 percent of Key West was flooded, including the airport, said Jay Gewin, an assistant to the island city's mayor. No travel was possible in or out of the city, he said. U.S. 1, the only highway connecting the Keys to the mainland, was flooded.
Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin said the flooding was severe - "more extensive than we've seen in the past."
By 11 a.m., Wilma's winds had dropped to 105 mph and the hurricane was centered out over the Atlantic, about 15 miles northeast of West Palm Beach. But the big storm was still slamming the state. Hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or more extended up to 100 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds over 39 mph stretched up to 260 miles.
Wilma was moving northeast at about 25 mph, up the Atlantic coast. By early Wednesday, it was expected to be off the coast of Canada, but forecasters said it may not bring heavy rain because its projected track was far off shore.
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