- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Strengthening

hurricane hits

Honduras first

MIAMI (Reuters) — Hurricane Wilma drenched the Caribbean coast of Honduras yesterday and strengthened rapidly as the season’s record-tying 21st storm headed toward the Gulf of Mexico on a path for storm-weary Florida.

Wilma was expected to strengthen into a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity, with winds of more than 131 mph by the time it crosses into the Gulf of Mexico Friday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center’s long-range forecast track, which has a wide margin of error, had it crossing southern Florida Saturday. The state was hit by four hurricanes last year and has been struck by Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Rita this year.

Wilma was the 21st tropical cyclone of the Atlantic hurricane season, tying the record for most storms, 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 weeksleft.

Wilma threatened Honduras and Nicaragua with flooding rain, compounding the woes of Central America. More than 1,000 people in Guatemala and El Salvador were killed by landslides and floods triggered by Hurricane Stan this month.

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 of damage in late August. Katrina was followed in late September by Hurricane Rita.

Wilma also was expected to miss the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas facilities that are still reeling from Katrina and Rita.

Yesterday, the storm had top sustained winds near 80 mph, up from 50 mph a day earlier. It was about 180 miles south of Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, a British colony south of Cuba, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Wilma was moving west-northwest at 8 mph and was expected to turn northwest today. The hurricane center predicted that Wilma would skirt western Cuba Friday and curve east toward Florida’s southern Gulf coast.

Storm alerts were in effect for the Cayman Islands, parts of Cuba, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and coastal Honduras.

The Florida Keys, a chain of islands connected to mainland Florida by a single highway, planned to order visitors to leave tomorrow and to evacuate 80,000 residents Friday.

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

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