VARIOUS: As Cuba and Mexico seek cover from Hurricane Wilma, Florida residents prepare for the storm's US...
- Title: VARIOUS: As Cuba and Mexico seek cover from Hurricane Wilma, Florida residents prepare for the storm's US land fall, now forcast for Sunday
- Date: 22nd October 2005
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) UNIDENTIFIED CUBAN SOLDIER SAYING: "We've always done this in years past and we'll do it again."
- Reuters ID: LVAAC46MV4EEH2J60566SNIL5A5
- Duration: 00:00:03
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes
- Story Text: Lashing wind and rain pounded Mexican beach resorts on Friday (October 21) and thousands of tourists hunkered down in shelters to escape Hurricane Wilma, which was hammering Caribbean resorts on its way to densely populated southern Florida.
Heavy rain was coming down in diagonal sheets and howling winds were buckling sturdy trees.
Tourists were evacuated from luxury beach front hotels all along Mexico's "Maya Riviera" coast and the normally calm, turquoise Caribbean seas heaved and Wilma dumped rain on streets patrolled by soldiers ordering people to take cover.
Described by forecasters as extremely dangerous and at its height later on Friday expected to send a 7 to 11-foot (2.2 to 3.4-metre) surge of water over the coast, Wilma killed 10 people in mudslides in Haiti earlier in the week.
Local residents seemed resigned to their situation and upbeat regardless of the wind and water.
"The storm is strong and we hope it passes quickly," said one unidentified man at a shelter in Playa del Carmen. "We're not upset because it's nature. We must recognise that it's not something we can dominate."
Mexican authorities said close to 22,000 tourists and locals residents had been evacuated from low-lying coastal areas.
Meanwhile, Cuba was already feeling Wilma's fury with up to 7 inches (17.1 cm) of rain in the west and 18-foot (6-metre) waves pounding beaches.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from low-lying areas and precarious buildings in case Wilma hits over the weekend and the military is mobilising to aid in evacuation efforts.
"We've always done this in years past and we'll do it again," said one unidentified soldier.
Shelters filled up throughout the day as women and children sought more stable surroundings in case Wilma packs a wallop.
Wilma became the strongest Atlantic storm on record in terms of barometric pressure on Wednesday.
At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) on Friday (October 21), Wilma's center was just 15 miles (25 km) southeast of Cozumel and moving northwest at 5 mph (7 kph), according to the U.S. Hurricane Center.
Wilma was expected to miss Gulf of Mexico oil and gas facilities battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September, but Florida's orange groves were at risk.
Wilma was expected to crash into heavily-populated southern Florida late on Sunday, giving Florida residents another couple of days to stock up on drinking water and gasoline.
Authorities in the Keys, connected to mainland Florida by a single road, ordered tourists out and were considering telling the islands' 80,000 residents to evacuate.
National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said Florida could get lucky, "If it stays over the Yucatan peninsula for any significant length of time and much of the circulation is over land, this hurricane will, well that would obviously be terrible news for Mexico. But for the United States' interests, it will mean we would have a weakened hurricane coming out into the Gulf of Mexico and it'll be slower getting here."
Wilma became the strongest Atlantic storm on record in terms of barometric pressure on Wednesday. It weakened to a Category 4 hurricane, then picked up again as it headed for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where it was expected to hit around noon on Friday.
The hurricane season has six weeks left and has already spawned three of the most intense storms on record. Hurricane experts say the Atlantic has entered a period of heightened storm activity that could last 20 more years.
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