Wilma Slams Both Florida Coasts

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

MARCO ISLAND, Fla., Oct. 24 -- Hurricane Wilma roared across Florida on Monday, its 125-mph winds leaving at least six dead and a swath of downed trees, power outages and blown-out windows that stretched from the tony beachfront neighborhoods of Naples, through the state's rural middle to the downtown buildings of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Wilma made landfall about 6:30 a.m. on Monday just a few miles from this island of suburban homes and waterfront high-rises before defying expectations on both sides of the state. Although damage was less than officials anticipated on the Gulf Coast, Wilma remained unexpectedly potent as it moved eastward, wrecking mobile homes, shattering windows and cutting electricity from Miami to Daytona Beach.

In suburban Naples, Wilma's wind toppled statuesque banyan trees, pulling up their roots and the water mains they entangled, leaving the city without drinkable water and, in some cases, no water at all. Around the farms of Immokalee, it tore the roofs off of packing plants and ripped open mobile homes. And in urban southeast Florida, it punched holes in the sleek, glassy skin of high-rises such as the 14-story Fort Lauderdale building known as "the crystal palace."

After shellacking south Florida, Wilma headed out into the open Atlantic and seemed unlikely to make landfall again. Forecasters projected the storm would pass east of North Carolina's Outer Banks and possibly reach the Canadian Maritimes late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

About 3.5 million customers in Florida were without power on Monday evening, the authorities said. The insurance industry said losses could be anywhere from $2 billion to $9 billion. Large parts of Key West were underwater from a storm surge that cut the city off from the rest of the state by flooding U.S. 1.

Meanwhile, the full extent of Wilma's devastation became clearer in Central America and the Caribbean. The death toll reached 13 in Haiti and Jamaica, and six in Mexico, the authorities reported.

In Cuba, nearly 250 people had to be rescued with inflatable rafts and amphibious trucks after Wilma set off waves that swamped Havana neighborhoods four blocks inland. In Mexico, troops and federal police were called out to control looting in Cancun, and officials struggled to evacuate an estimated 30,000 stranded tourists.

Florida officials, for their part, offered a mixed assessment in the wake of the storm's path. On the Gulf Coast, officials seemed relieved that damage was not worse, while in the Keys and on the Atlantic Coast, residents and authorities appeared surprised by the extent of the devastation.

In Naples and on this island even closer to the hurricane's landfall, the damage was largely limited to trees, signs, screened porches and scattered roof shingles, as well as some flooding. Naples Mayor Bill Barnett spent the night on his office couch in City Hall, listening to the howling wind.

"I tell you it was really scary, and this morning, I thought there'd be a lot more damage," Barnett said. "After Hurricane Charley, houses were decimated. We didn't see any of that here."

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), whose district includes Naples, said: "This storm wasn't what we thought it was."

Still, the authorities reported at least six deaths. On the Gulf Coast, Collier County emergency officials confirmed two storm-related deaths, one in a roof collapse and one in an apparent heart attack. The Associated Press also reported four other deaths in other areas, from falling debris, a downed tree and -- in one case -- a woman who was in a car crash while trying to evacuate over the weekend.

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