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.
Hurricane Wilma carried an unexpected punch as it crossed Florida from the Gulf to the Atlantic. Hurricanes often dissipate swiftly after landfall, but Wilma dropped only from a Category 3 to a Category 2 hurricane during its seven-hour surge across the Florida peninsula.
Low-lying and agriculture-heavy Glades County reported significant damage to mobile home parks, as did Broward, where 40 percent of the county's mobile homes were left uninhabitable, said Dave Erdman, spokesman for the Broward County Sheriff's Office. Broken glass littered streets in Miami, where the wind and pressure had smashed countless windows.
Gus Rodriguez, 53, was in Miami for Hurricane Andrew and endured last year's Jeanne, which was a Category 4 storm. Rodriguez brewed cafe con leche on his gas stove for his neighbors, who were disheveled and displaced after losing windows and power.
"That was bad, this was unexpected," he said. "I panicked at 7:30 this morning because of the sudden intensity and glass shattering all around."
Washington officials said they had applied lessons from the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, and state and federal officials congratulated each other on their teamwork.
President Bush signed a disaster declaration for hurricane-damaged areas, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had dozens of military helicopters, medical supplies, food and ice in the area ready for distribution. In Washington, FEMA Acting Director R. David Paulison said the agency had applied lessons from the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. To improve communications and get more rapid and accurate damage reports from the ground, federal authorities distributed more than 300 satellite phones to Florida counties ahead of time.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) touted the emergency response, highlighting the importance of local and state efforts with backup from the FEMA. "It's working the way it's supposed to," he said.
After Katrina, he said, "In Louisiana, it was left for the federal government to fill the voids, and the consequences are there for the rest of the world to see."
Even before the storm hit Florida's west coast, it created some moderate street flooding.
An underlying worry after Hurricane Wilma could again be growing complacency. More than 30,000 people went to public shelters, but because Wilma did not deliver a knockout punch after days of warning, some worry that residents may be more likely to try to ride out the next hurricane.
"When you have an event like this, you don't want to over-exaggerate what might happen," Mack said. But he defended the ominous warnings that had been sounded by emergency officials prior to the storm. "If this thing had jogged to the north a little bit, it would have been a lot worse," he said.
Alex "Bud" Diaczynsky, a 54-year-old auto-parts store owner in Naples, had ridden out the storm and surveyed the damage in front of his Naples home a few blocks from the beach. A Royal Palm tree was tilted slightly and missing fronds. A Norfolk Island pine had lost branches on one side. A wooden fence had fallen down.
"It could have been a lot worse," he said.
Even so, life in Naples will be difficult, at least in the short term. Because of downed power lines and a lack of electricity and potable water, city officials have forbidden residents to return, at least until Tuesday.
Jeff Biden, 56, and Linda Biden, 52, were visiting their Marco Island garden shop after staying in their Naples home during the storm.
Jeff Biden shrugged off the dozens of potted plants that had been upturned. "We're going to open tomorrow," he promised. "These things get blown out of proportion."
His wife wasn't so sure.
"Gosh, the way the wind was howling I didn't go to sleep," she said, adding that she was "amazed" at the minimal extent of the damage. "It was scary."
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu in Washington and special correspondents Christina Del Sesto and Catharine Skipp in Miami contributed to this report.