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Wilma, strongest hurricane on record
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Posted by:Oct 23rd 2005, 03:32:25 am


Posted by:Oct 22nd 2005, 12:21:47 pm
Fig Tree News Team Wilma's 115 Mph Winds Rip Mexico's Yucatan

By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer 43 minutes ago

Hurricane Wilma sent ocean waves surging over the narrow strip of land that holds Cancun's resort hotels Saturday, flooding streets several yards deep as some 30,000 tourists huddled in hotels and shelters taking on water.

The slow advance of the storm, which earlier killed 13 people in Haiti and Jamaica, gave Florida more time to prepare but meant another day of misery for people riding out shrieking winds in hot, leaky shelters with little food and water.

With the storm crawling across the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, emergency crews were trapped inside by 115 mph winds and it was impossible to gauge the extent of damage. City and hospital officials had no immediate reports of deaths.

The storm shattered windows and tore off hotel roofs, turning hallways into wind tunnels and sending rain into rooms. Furniture pushed up against windows in improvised barriers was blasted aside by howling winds.

At least one shelter in downtown Cancun had to evacuate 1,000 people overnight because the ceiling threatened to collapse. Office furniture and other debris bobbed in the waters sloshing between buildings where some people watched from upstairs balconies.

After battering Cozumel Island with 140 mph winds Friday, Wilma came ashore overnight near Playa de Carmen in a sparsely populated area of luxury resorts about 30 miles south of Cancun and creeped toward this city, weakening to a Category 3 storm.

The storm was expected to pummel the tip of Yucatan all day Saturday before moving into the Gulf of Mexico, curling around Cuba's western end and sprinting toward Florida for an expected landfall Monday.

In Florida, residents began leaving the Keys and parts of the mainland Friday. Scattered gasoline shortages were reported and traffic jams backed up highways as people fled Florida's west coast.

Winds caused severe damage in Playa de Carmen, flattening dozens of wood-and-tarpaper houses and tossing rooftop water tanks and wooden window coverings through the air. Communications were cut off with Cozumel, a popular cruise ship destination 11 miles offshore.

Damage was intensified by the storm being nearly stalled atop Yucatan since Friday.

"This is the equivalent of having four or five hurricanes of this size pass over one after the other, given the amount of time we have been suffering hurricane-force winds," said Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Cantu, whose state includes Cancun. "Never in the history of Quintana Roo have we had storm like this."

Sea water flowed through Cancun's evacuated beachfront hotel zone, which lies between the ocean and a lagoon. Shop windows broke, falling trees crushed cars and pay phones jutted from waist-deep water.

At the Xbalamque Hotel in downtown Cancun, tourists and local residents listened in horror as windows shattered, the wind howled and the building shook.

"I never in my life wanted to live through something like this," said Guadalupe Santiago, a 27-year-old cook. "There are no words" to describe it."

Jan Hanshast, a tourist from Castle Rock, Colo., stood in the flooded hallway.

"My son's starting to lose it. He's tired and hungry," he said. As another howling burst of wind buffeted the building, he added, "Hearing things like that doesn't help."

Outside the shelter, the air was filled with debris, including pieces of buildings that were beginning to crumble under the constant lashing.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was "really clobbering" the areas around Cozumel and Cancun.

"It's going to be a long couple of days here for the Yucatan Peninsula," said Max Mayfield, the center's director.

Gonzalez Cantu called the destruction "tremendous," but information was limited because of downed communications. Officials did not expect to get to Cozumel until late Saturday at the earliest to assess damage.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the hurricane's eye was just outside Cancun and about 400 miles southwest of Key West, Fla. Hurricane force winds extended out 85 miles from the eye and gale force winds up to 200 miles.

Juan Luis Flores, an emergency services official in Quintana Roo state, said about 65,000 people had been evacuated before the hurricane hit Mexico. Civil defense chief Carmen Segura assured people "their families are protected as they should be."

Many tourists found themselves sleeping on the floors of hotel ballrooms, schools and gymnasiums reeking of sweat because there was no power or air conditioning. Power was cut to most of the region before the storm as a precaution.

Scott and Jamie Stout of Willisville, Ill., were spending their honeymoon on a Cancun basketball court with a leaky roof.

"After one more day of this, I believe people will start getting cranky," said Scott Stout, 26. "Things could get messy."

The Stouts, at least, had food and coffee. Devon Anderson, 21, of Sacramento, Calif., was sharing 10 rooms at a rundown Cozumel school with 200 other Americans.

"We are all sleeping on the floor," Anderson said. "There's no food, no water."

Hotels being used as shelters pushed furniture up against windows, but the wind blasted through the improvised barriers. Water poured into rooms and hallways through broken windows. People at some shelters slept under plastic sheeting.

Mexican officials said about 20,000 tourists were at shelters and hotels on the mainland south of Cancun and an estimated 10,000-12,000 were in Cancun itself. About 50 hotels there were evacuated.

Cancun Red Cross director Ricardo Portugal said the biggest problem so far were "nervous crises," and 11 pregnant women who had gone into early labor and had to be ferried to hospitals.

As the storm lashed Yucatan, it also pounded the western tip of Cuba, where the government evacuated more than 500,000 people. Forecasters said Wilma could bring more than three feet of rain in parts of Cuba.

Waves of up to 21 feet crashed on the westernmost tip of Cuba and heavy rains cut off several small communities. About 7,000 residents were evacuated from the coastal fishing village of La Coloma in Cuba's southern Pinar del Rio province.

Early Wednesday, Wilma briefly became the most intense hurricane recorded in the Atlantic with 882 millibars of pressure, breaking the record low of 888 set by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Lower pressure brings faster winds.


Associated Press writers Vanessa Arrington in Pinar del Rio, Cuba; Lisa J. Adams in Mexico City; and David Royse in Key West, Fla., contributed to this report.


On the Net:

National Hurricane Center:
Posted by:Oct 21st 2005, 01:23:31 pm
Fig Tree News Team20th October
Northern Bahamas On Alert As Wilma Approaches

Daphne McIntosh, Freeport News

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - As the strongest hurricane on record posed a threat to parts of the Bahamas, the Caribbean and South Florida, officials in the northern Bahamas were on high alert on Wednesday.

At 5pm ET, Hurricane Wilma was packing winds of 160 miles per hour and was off Mexico.

Chief Meteorologist of the Freeport Weather Department, Donna Duncombe, called Hurricane Wilma record breaking.

"Wilma has set some records for us," she said. "She has tied the record for the number of named storms, which was set many years ago in 1933 with 21 named storms…She’s now the 12th hurricane of the season."

Ms. Duncombe said that Hurricane Wilma is a very dangerous hurricane, one that the northern Bahamas must watch carefully.

"We should expect at least some tropical storm winds here, and of course, some pretty heavy rainfall by late Saturday afternoon to evening and into most of Sunday morning," she said.

She said Bahamians should remain vigilant.

Arnold King, a forecaster in Nassau, also told The Bahama Journal, that residents ought to take the threat of tropical storm conditions seriously.

"The official forecast track has Wilma moving across South Florida," Mr. King said. "However, the track has errors and the errors get bigger over time, so even though you have an official track moving across South Florida, there are errors to the left and to the right of the track which get larger over time.

"That means that there is still a possibility for the hurricane to move very close to the northwest Bahamas, more closer than the official track is forecasting."

The storm threat resulted in Members of Parliament suspending early on Wednesday to monitor developments as they related to Wilma.

It came as they were about to start debate on a Disaster Preparedness Bill, which outlines in more specific terms how government agencies are to respond to threats like natural disasters.

It would also empower authorities to issue mandatory evacuation orders where necessary.

Two weeks ago, the prime minister spoke of the "urgency" of the bill, pointing out that the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs until the end of November.

Mr. Christie said on Wednesday that if there is the slightest possibility that the hurricane would impact Grand Bahama and Abaco, then there ought not be any hesitation to suspend.

While the House was suspending, some Grand Bahamians indicated that they are taking the threat seriously.

Alvoitha Wildgoose, a resident, said she has already started her preparations for Hurricane Wilma.

She said she has learnt from the devastation caused by Hurricane Frances last year.

"I’m shopping for every little thing we would need, and I’m preparing to put up shutters," she told the Bahama Journal.

Mrs. Wildgoose lives on the water in the Eight Mile Rock area. During the last hurricane, she was forced to evacuate her home, which was extensively damaged.

Officials at local agencies responsible for disaster preparedness said they are ready for the impending danger.

The administrator for West Grand Bahama said his department will hold an assessment meeting on Thursday with the chairpersons of the various subcommittees to finalize any improvements that need to be made.

The administrator’s office is responsible for working in cooperation with the Department of Social Services in coordinating efforts to ensure the shelters are opened on time, and the managers are in place for their respective duties.

The office also assists with the transportation for persons in need, especially to shelters designated for special needs.

The administrator’s office works along with other agencies like the Rand Memorial Hospital to make sure people remain informed about the approach of storms.

The Red Cross Grand Bahama Centre is also preparing for Wilma’s impact, according to Executive Disaster Officer Phil Franks.

"We have advised our volunteers to stay in constant contact," he said.

Mr. Franks added that the Red Cross would be ready to deploy personnel if necessary.
Posted by:Oct 19th 2005, 12:03:06 pm
Fig Tree News TeamWilma strongest hurricane on record

By Michael Christie

Hurricane Wilma became the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record on Wednesday as it churned toward western Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on a track toward Florida, having already killed 10 people in Haiti.

The season's record-tying 21st storm, fueled by the warm waters of the northwest Caribbean Sea, strengthened alarmingly into a Category 5 hurricane, the top rank on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity.

A U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane measured maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, with higher gusts, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The plane also recorded a minimum pressure of 882 millibars, the lowest value ever observed in the Atlantic basin. That meant Wilma was stronger than any storm on record, including Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in late August, and Rita, which hit the Texas-Louisiana coast in September.

Storm warnings were in force for Honduras in Central America, where more than 1,000 people died this month after Hurricane Stan triggered mudslides that buried entire villages. Warnings were also issued for the Yucatan, Cuba and the Cayman Islands.

Wilma has killed up to 10 people who died in mudslides in deforested and impoverished Haiti after several days of heavy rain, civil protection officials said.

Wilma was expected to bring rainfall of up to 25 inches to mountainous parts of Cuba, and up to 15 inches to Jamaica and to the Cayman Islands, a wealthy British colony south of Cuba. Honduras and Mexico could expect up to 12 inches

of rain, the hurricane center said.

By 8 a.m. EDT, the hurricane was about 340 miles

southeast of Cozumel, Mexico.

Wilma was the 21st storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, tying the record set in 1933. It was also the 12th hurricane and tied the record for most hurricanes in a season set in 1969.

The season still has six weeks left to run. Hurricane experts say the Atlantic has swung back into a period of heightened storm activity that could last another 20 years. Climatologists also fear global warming could be making the storms more intense.


The storm was moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 km/h). A turn toward the northwest was expected in the next 24 hours. Once in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, Wilma was expected to make a sharp turn to the northeast, toward Florida.

Wilma was not expected to threaten New Orleans or Mississippi, where Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,200 people and caused more than $30 billion in insured damage.

It was also expected to miss the oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico still reeling from Katrina and Rita.

But frozen orange juice futures closed at a six-year high on Tuesday amid fears Wilma could ravage Florida groves that had just begun to recover from the hurricanes that destroyed 40 percent of last year's crop.

Florida was hit by four hurricanes last year and has been struck by hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Rita this year.

Cuba's western tobacco-growing province of Pinar del Rio braced for heavy rain. More than 5,000 people were evacuated from eastern Cuba, where two days of rain caused floods and mudslides in the provinces of Guantanamo, Santiago and Granma.

Wilma was expected to weaken before reaching Florida.

Nevertheless, officials in the Florida Keys, a vulnerable chain of low-lying islands connected to mainland Florida by a single road, warned residents and tourists to take the storm seriously.

Tourists would be ordered to evacuate on Thursday and residents would be told to flee the coming storm on Friday.

"This is our fourth storm but this one is really aggressive," Irene Toner, director of emergency management for the county that encompasses the islands, told local radio. "This one we are taking seriously. The damage is going to be substantial."

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