- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hurricane Wilma knifed through Florida with winds up to 125 mph yesterday, shattering windows in skyscrapers, peeling away roofs and knocking out power to 6 million people.

At least six deaths were blamed on the hurricane in Florida, bringing the toll from the storm’s march through the tropics to 25.

After a slow, weeklong journey that saw it pound Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for two days, Wilma made a swift seven-hour dash across lower Florida — from its southwestern corner to heavily populated Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast.

“We have been huddled in the living room trying to stay away from the windows. It got pretty violent there for a while,” said 25-year-old Eddie Kenny, who was at his parents’ home in Plantation near Fort Lauderdale.

“We have trees down all over the place and two fences have been totally demolished, crushed, gone,” he said.

Unlike its two-day pounding of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Wilma’s Florida foray was a hit and run. The storm’s relatively fast 25-mph speed helped hold its rainfall to less than the 10 inches feared.

“There’s really no good scenario for a hurricane,” National Hurricane Center meteorologist Mark McInerney said. “Just a lesser of two evils.”

The insurance industry estimated insured losses in Florida at anywhere from $2 billion to $9 billion. Officials said it was the most damaging storm to hit the Fort Lauderdale area since 1950.

The 21st named storm of the 2005 season was the eighth hurricane to hit Florida in 15 months — and the busiest Atlantic storm season on record still has a month left.

Wilma howled ashore around daybreak south of Marco Island as a Category 3 storm, cutting electricity to the entire Florida Keys. A tidal surge of up to 9 feet swamped parts of Key West in chest-high water, and U.S. Highway 1, the only highway to the mainland, was flooded.

As it moved across the state, the storm flattened trees, flooded streets, broke water mains, knocked down signs, turned debris into missiles and lit up the sky with the blue-green flash of popping transformers.

“Everything is put on hold,” said Carrie Carlton, 29, a medical assistant, as she waited in line for the one working pay phone at a Fort Lauderdale convenience store. “What’s really frustrating is you can’t get in touch with anyone, either. … People are hungry, and when you get hungry, you get” angry.

By early afternoon, Wilma had swirled out into the open Atlantic on a course that forecasters said would keep it well offshore. But Wilma’s effects were expected to result in the formation of a low-pressure area today over New Jersey.

AccuWeather meteorologists said it could bring a “superstorm” to New England with 2 to 4 inches of rain and wind gusts of more than 60 mph.

Richard Hitchens, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said it will be “raw” and “highly uncomfortable” in the Washington area today, but neither he nor AccuWeather were forecasting a “superstorm” for this region.

“There will be 1 to 2 inches of rain over 24 hours; and winds will be 20 to 25 mph, with gusts of up to 35 mph,” Mr. Hitchens predicted.

Wilma brought 8 inches of rain to Miami-Dade County, nearly 6 to Naples and 3 to Fort Lauderdale.

More than one-third of the state’s residents lost power. Florida Power & Light, the state’s biggest utility, said it could take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.

In Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Miami Beach, countless windows were blown out of high-rises. Along downtown Miami’s Brickell Avenue, broken glass from skyscrapers littered streets and sidewalks. Broken water mains in the Fort Lauderdale area prompted advisories to boil water, and a ruptured main in downtown Miami sprayed water 15 feet in the air.

In Weston, near Fort Lauderdale, Kim DuBois sat in her darkened house with her two children and husband, with the only light coming from the 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.”

A man in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Coral Springs died when a tree fell on him. A woman in rural Collier County died when her roof collapsed on her or a tree fell on her roof. In Palm Beach County, a man went to move his van and was killed when debris smashed him into the windshield.

Also, an 83-year-old St. Johns County woman died in a weekend car crash while evacuating. A man in Collier County had a fatal heart attack while walking in the storm. An 82-year-old woman in Boynton Beach died after a sliding glass door in her living room fell on her as she looked out.

Wilma also killed at least six persons in Mexico and 13 in Jamaica and Haiti as it made its way across the Caribbean.

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. President Vicente Fox announced plans to start evacuating about 30,000 frazzled tourists.

Staff writer Joyce Howard Price contributed to this report.

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