Recharged Hurricane Wilma Lashes Florida

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
October 24, 2005

A rejuvenated Hurricane Wilma came ashore in Florida early this morning with winds of 125 miles an hour (200 kilometers an hour) and a storm surge that may have been as high as 18 feet (5.5 meters).

"It's pretty ugly," said meteorologist Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

At 10:30 a.m. ET today, about 40 percent of the city of Key West was underwater. In some parts of the city, water was high enough to flood residences. Other islands in the Florida Keys also reported flooding.

Jeffrey Pinkus, a Marathon city councilman, said winds of about 120 miles an hour (190 kilometers an hour) hit the Keys city around 6 a.m. today.

"I heard a major snap, and I thought part of my porch was leaving," Pinkus said. "But it was a tree that had survived all the earlier storms of the past few years. It was 18 or 19 inches [46 or 48 centimeters] in diameter."

While Pinkus doesn't believe his city suffered any serious structural damage, he said there was "no doubt major, major flood damage."

Wilma's eye made landfall at Cape Romano on the southwest coast of the Florida peninsula at about 6:30 a.m. ET today. Cape Romano is in Collier County, near the Everglades and about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Miami.

The area where the storm came ashore is sparsely populated. The nearest towns are the villages of Everglades City and Chokoloskee, which have only a few hundred residents each.

Landsea said officials haven't received reports from those cities but that the high storm surge undoubtedly caused flooding there.

Officials in Monroe County fear that the hurricane caused serious problems in the Florida Keys even though Wilma's eye passed offshore from the low-lying islands.

Irene Toner, a director of the Monroe County Emergency Management Department, said officials were dismayed that so few residents on the densely populated islands had evacuated.

Only about 5 percent of the Keys' 80,000 residents left, she said.

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