By MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press Writer
Hurricane Wilma plowed into southwest Florida early Monday with
howling 125 mph winds and dashed across the state to the Miami-Fort
Lauderdale area, shattering windows, peeling away roofs and knocking
out power and communications to millions of people. At least one death
in Florida was blamed on the storm.
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.
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.
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 and communication 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.
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.
"I looked out our place and I saw a bunch of stuff flying by," said
Paul Tucchinio, who was riding out the storm in a condo three blocks
from the beach in Naples. "It sounds like someone threw a bunch of
rocks against the boards. It's wicked."
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. Key West
was about 35 percent under water Monday morning.
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."
Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, warned: "Don't be fooled by the
lull" as the eye passes.
President Bush signed a disaster declaration for hurricane-damaged areas
and promised swift action to help the victims.
"We have prepositioned food, medicine, communications equipment, urban
search- and-rescue teams," he said. "We will work closely with local and
state authorities to respond to this hurricane."
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency was bitterly criticized
for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, this time the agency had
people working side by side with state emergency officials, said David
Paulison, acting FEMA director.
"We are going to make sure that we have good visibility on anything
that's going on the ground to make sure we ... understand exactly what's
happening," he said on CBS.
State and federal officials had trucks of ice and food ready. FEMA was
prepared to send in dozens of military helicopters and 13.2 million
Weary forecasters also monitored Tropical Depression Alpha, which
became the record-breaking 22nd named storm of the 2005 Atlantic
season. Alpha, which drenched Haiti and the Dominican Republic on
Sunday, was not considered a threat to the United States.
After battering the Mexican coastline with howling winds and
torrential rain, Wilma pulled away from the Yucatan Peninsula on
Sunday as a Category 2 storm and strengthened in the warm waters of
the Gulf of Mexico. Wind shear that was expected to rob Wilma of some
strength did not materialize.
A tornado touched down Monday in Brevard County, damaging an apartment
complex. No one was injured. Wilma's arrival also was announced by at
least four tornadoes Sunday night -- including one near Kennedy Space
Center at Cape Canaveral -- that damaged some businesses but caused no
Elaine Kelley, a 43-year-old waitress, was staying in her daughter's
condo near the water in Everglades City, a village of about 700 people
on the southwest coast. After wading through thigh-deep water to get
to a nearby hotel, she said she wouldn't make the mistake of staying
through a hurricane again.
"I'll never go through another one," a wet and shivering Kelley
said. "I didn't expect anything like this. I was watching roofs blow
off all over the place."
One serious injury was reported in Florida on Sunday: A 12-year-old
girl suffered a fractured skull in Wellington when falling hurricane
shutters struck her head, said Palm Beach County Sheriff's spokesman
Paul Miller. She was hospitalized in critical condition.
In Europe, crude oil slipped below $60 as traders expected Wilma to
avoid already battered Gulf of Mexico oil production installations.
Associated Press writers Allen Breed in Naples, Erik Schelzig in
Marathon, David Royse in Key West, Fla., Melissa Trujillo in Oakland
Park, and Ron Word and Brent Kallestad in Miami contributed to this
story, along with observers in Plantation, and Fema Village, elsewhere
in south Florida.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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