- Title: VARIOUS: Cubans and Florida residents prepare for Hurricane Wilma
- Date: 21st October 2005
- Summary: VIEW OF RIVER THROUGH HOLE IN WALL BOATS IN THE WATER PAN TO EMPTY STREET WOMAN AND BOY TAKING SHELTER
- Embargoed: 5th November 2005 12:00
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes
- Reuters ID: LVA8F8MK45K3M4CN2TAIYBEEGKAF
- Story Text: Cubans across the island's most western tip scurried to prepare for hurricane Wilma's winds and rain, hoping it would not hit them head on Thursday (October 20).
The country suspended school in the western province of Pinar del Rio and began evacuating thousands of coastal residents. Buses waited for residents throughout the area to evacuate those in need transportation.
Wilma was wobbling west-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph) and was expected to turn northwest by later in the day. It was forecast to skirt western Cuba and move into the south-eastern Gulf of Mexico, then turn sharply northeast toward Florida.
Workers in the province hastened to protect tobacco seedlings for the next harvest of leaves that make Cuba's famed cigars.
"The tobacco, we must take care of it and we have to make sure it gets the least possible moisture as possible," said tobacco Administrator, Nydia Ester Consuegra.
Meanwhile in the USA, southern Florida, Key West and Lantana residents were were diligently boarding up their homes and businesses.
In Key West, business owners were out before sunrise, placing sheet metal over store fronts. At Home Depot, a superstore for building materials, carts were filled with plywood sheets to be used to board up windows and doorways.
Several major forecast models on Thursday (October 20, 2005) still projected that Hurricane Wilma, an extremely dangerous storm heading toward the Yucatan Peninsula, will strike Florida on Sunday (October 23, 2005)
The weather models showed Wilma moving northwest across the Caribbean Sea to the waters between Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba, where it will enter the Gulf of Mexico and turn northeast toward the south-central Gulf Coast of Florida.
Wilma is expected to hit the region as a category 4 hurricane. This is down from the original forecast of a category 5 hurricane.
Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center warned residents not to underestimate the storm's ferocity.
"The hurricane has slowed down and it is going to be down in the Caribbean for another couple of days. Looking at the satellite loop behind us, it certainly doesn't look as powerful as it did yesterday. But, believe me, this is still a very very powerful hurricane. Don't minimize it just because it isn't a category five. The maximum sustained winds are now 145 mph (miles-per-hour). That is still a very strong category four hurricane and we do think we will continue to see some fluctuations in the intensity." Mayfield said.
Stung by criticism over a slow federal response to Katrina, President George W. Bush's administration said it was working with Florida officials to prepare for Wilma. Authorities in the Keys, connected to mainland Florida by a single road, ordered tourists out on Wednesday (October 19, 2004) and told the islands' 80,000 residents to evacuate on Friday.
Wilma will probably spare the U.S. oil and natural gas rigs and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico which had been badly battered by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late August and September.
Wilma is this year's 12th hurricane, tying a record set in 1969. The season has six weeks left and has already spawned three of the most intense hurricanes on record. Hurricane experts say the Atlantic has entered a period of heightened storm activity that could last another 20 years.
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