2 people killed in Central America prior to heading to Florida



13 dead in Jamaica & Haiti
3 dead in Cancun
Total Dead - so far - 16

Forecasters have upgraded Wilma to the most dangerous Category Five level 
after she passed Jamaica, killing one person and flooding several low lying areas.

Wilma is expected to present a "significant threat" to Florida this weekend. 
Cuba, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Honduras and Nicaragua have all issued warnings in costal areas.



Record-breaking Hurricane Wilma heads for Florida

NEW YORK (Reuters) - All of the major weather models on Wednesday predicted that Hurricane Wilma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane in terms of barometric pressure ever recorded, would strike Florida later this week. 

The weather models show the storm moving northwest across the Caribbean Sea to the waters between Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba, where it is projected to enter the Gulf of Mexico and turn northeast toward the south-central Gulf Coast of Florida. 

Wilma will probably spare the U.S. oil and natural gas rigs and refineries on the Gulf of Mexico which had been badly battered by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late August and September. 

Hurricane Wilma has strengthened to an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm as it approaches western Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. An NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Wilma taken at 3:45 p.m. EDT on October 18, 2005, as the storm continues brewing into a stronger hurricane in the northwestern Caribbean Sea. (REUTERS/NOAA/Handout)
Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Wilma's barometric pressure of 882 millibars was the lowest ever recorded in the Atlantic. That is the lowest since Hurricane Gilbert registered an 888-millibar reading in 1988. 

The lower the barometric pressure, the more powerful the storm. 

In an advisory at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the NHC said the storm's maximum sustained winds were near 175 mph, with higher gusts, making Wilma a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm (winds above 155 mph) on the Saffir-Simpson scale. 

The NHC expects the storm to weaken to a Category 4 (winds 131-155 mph) or Category 3 (winds 111-130 mph) storm once it enters the Gulf of Mexico over the next 48 to 72 hours. 

The NHC said the center of the storm was located about 325 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. 

It is moving toward the west-northwest near 7 mph with a turn toward the northwest expected during the next 24 hours, the NHC said. 

The NHC will issue an intermediate advisory at 2 p.m. EDT, followed by a complete advisory at 5 p.m. 

Copyright 2005 Reuters

Keys Evacuates Tourists As Wilma Looms

Forecasters Fear Grim Scenario for Florida As Wilma Approaches; Tourists Evacuated From Key West

By MITCH STACY Associated Press Writer

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Oct 19, 2005  Visitors were ordered out of the Florida Keys on Wednesday as Hurricane Wilma exploded into the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, with meteorologists warning that it could maintain devastating power as it crosses Florida from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic.

The storm, which was menacing Cuba and Central America with sustained wind of 175 mph, could be a weakened but still significant threat to the state by this weekend, forecasters said.

Wilma was expected to come ashore in southwestern Florida, threatening coastal areas like Punta Gorda that were battered by Charley, the Category 4 storm that was the first of seven hurricanes to strike or pass close to the state since August 2004.

Monroe County officials ordered visitors out of the Florida Keys starting at noon Wednesday. Tourists are generally told to leave ahead of others on the lengthy chain of islands connected by one highway.

On the state's southwest coast, Collier County officials hadn't ordered anyone to leave the Naples area, but "we are telling those folks who are more comfortable evacuating to go ahead. If they wait there could be road congestion and other problems," said Jaime Sarbagh, a county emergency management spokeswoman.

Early Tuesday, Wilma was only a tropical storm with wind of 70 mph. With wind more than 100 mph faster by the same time Wednesday, it had shown in the most rapid strengthening ever recorded in a hurricane, said Hugh Cobb, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

It is forecast to be a potentially devastating Category 3 or 4 hurricane at landfall, although experts acknowledge they have little skill in making strength forecasts. A Category 3 storm has wind of at least 111 mph, a Category 4 has wind of 131 to 155 mph, and a Category 5 is anything above that.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, Wilma was still in the western Caribbean, more than 500 miles south of Key West and heading toward the west-northwest at 7 mph. However, the storm should eventually make a sharp right turn toward Florida and pick up forward speed in the Gulf of Mexico because it will get caught in the westerlies, the strong wind current that generally blows toward the east, forecasters said.

Third Category 5 hurricane breaks record

Hurricane Wilma has grown into a monster cyclone, becoming the third Category 5 storm of the 2005 North Atlantic hurricane season. It is also more intense than either of deadly hurricanes Katrina or Rita.

On Wednesday morning, Wilma's sustained wind speeds reached 280 kilometres (175 miles) per hour and its minimum air pressure dropped to 882 millibars. That pressure is the lowest ever recorded in the North Atlantic basin, although it was measured in an unusually small eye, less than 8 kilometres wide, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported.

Hurricane researchers judge storm intensity by measuring the drop in pressure at the eye compared to the average sea-level pressure of 1013 millibars. Hurricane Gilbert set the previous record in 1988 for a hurricane at 888 millibars when it was in the same area of the northwest Caribbean as Wilma is now.

Third time unlucky

Fortunately, Category 5 storms are rare in the North Atlantic. Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was only the 24th recorded since the first observations in 1928. Only twice before, in 1960 and 1961, have two hurricanes reached Category 5 in the same season. Now, 2005 has become the first year that three have reached the most intense level on the scale.

The storm is moving over very warm waters, experiencing low wind shear, and is now thought to be near its peak intensity, the NHC said on Wednesday morning. Hurricane-force winds this morning swept from relatively close to the eye within 30 km out to a radius of 85 km. Tropical storm winds extended outwards as much as 260 km.

A 24-hour hurricane warning is in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and a hurricane watch is in place for the western end of Cuba. Forecasters expect Wilma to move into the Gulf of Mexico through the channel between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba, then turn sharply to the northeast and pass over southern Florida. Projections indicate it will weaken before making landfall south of Fort Myers, Florida, late on Saturday.

Wilma Winds Hit 175 MPH as Storm Heads for Florida (Update1)

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Wilma, the strongest on record in the Atlantic Ocean, intensified into a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds and is forecast to strike Florida's western coast between Tampa and the Keys by this weekend.

Wilma is expected to weaken over the next few days and probably will be a Category 3 storm -- packing winds of 111 mph (179 kph) to 130 mph -- when it reaches Florida, National Hurricane Center meteorologist Jennifer Pralgo said.

``Hurricanes at this magnitude don't often hold their strength,'' Pralgo said in a telephone interview. ``We'll see the winds weakening in the next 12 hours.''

The storm may have the same punch Katrina had when it slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast in August, killing more than 1,200 people. Katrina was a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale when it reached land, not a Category 4 as originally assumed, Pralgo said.

Wilma's eye was 325 miles (523 kilometers) southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, according to a hurricane center advisory at 11 a.m. Miami time. The system was moving west-northwest at about 7 mph and is expected to turn to the northwest within 24 hours.

``Fluctuations in intensity are common in hurricanes this intense and are likely during the next 24 hours,'' the center said.

As Wilma advances, Florida's Lower Keys and the state's southwestern coast are expected to get rain, tropical-storm-force winds and tornadoes, said Stacy Stewart, another hurricane center meteorologist.

Tourists Told to Leave Florida Keys

Officials in Monroe County, which has about 80,000 people and encompasses all of the Keys, ordered all visitors to leave the barrier islands beginning at noon local time. The county, the southernmost in the U.S., also closed state parks and told people in boats and recreational vehicles to evacuate.

Residents likely will be told to leave too, county spokesman Greg Artman said.

``There's no question that will happen, it's just a question of when,'' Artman said. ``We think we'll have a major storm just north of us and people should leave the Keys for their safety.''

Hurricane-force winds, at least 74 mph, extended 50 miles from the center of Wilma and tropical-storm-force winds, from 39 to 73 mph, extended 160 miles, the center said.

Wilma is forecast to graze Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba by Oct. 21.

Lower Pressure, Greater Intensity

The barometric pressure in Wilma's center was 882 millibars (26.05 inches), the lowest ever recorded in an Atlantic Ocean hurricane, the center said. The lower the pressure, the greater a storm's intensity. The previous record was set in 1988 by Hurricane Gilbert, which had a reading of 888 millibars.

Wilma is the 12th hurricane of this year's June 1-Nov. 30 Atlantic hurricane season, tying a 1969 record. This year's season has already equaled the 1933 record of 21 named storms. The weather systems are named when they reach tropical-storm strength.

Crude oil fell for a second day on forecasts Wilma will miss U.S. rigs and refineries along the northern Gulf Coast and on expectations a report later today will show U.S. refiners increased output last week.

Crude oil for November delivery fell 80 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $62.40 a barrel at 10:36 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures have declined 12 percent since reaching a record $70.85 a barrel on Aug. 30, the day after Katrina made landfall. Prices are up 17 percent from a year ago.

Yucatan Warnings

Mexico issued a hurricane warning for parts of the Yucatan peninsula from San Felipe to Tulum including the island of Cozumel. A hurricane warning means winds of 74 mph or higher are possible in the next 24 hours. Mexico also issued a tropical storm warning for parts of the Yucatan Peninsula. Belize issued a tropical storm warning from the Mexico border south to Belize City.

Mexico earlier issued a hurricane watch for parts of the Yucatan peninsula, while Cuba issued a watch for the provinces of Matanzas west through Pinar Del Rio and the Isle of Youth. A hurricane watch means winds of 74 mph or higher are possible in the next 36 hours.

Rainfall of 10 to 15 inches was forecast for Cuba with as much as 25 inches in mountainous areas through Oct. 21. For Jamaica, Swan Island and the Cayman Islands, the forecast is for 5 to 15 inches through tomorrow. Parts of Honduras and Mexico's Yucatan are forecast to receive as much as 12 inches of rain by tomorrow.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Chris Dolmetsch in New York at;
Heather Burke in New York at
Last Updated: October 19, 2005 11:49 EDT\
'Significant Threat' to Florida

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Oct. 19, 2005) - The fringes of Hurricane Wilma lashed Caribbean nations on Wednesday, forcing schools to close and thousands to evacuate as it churned toward Mexico's Cancun resort and Florida after killing at least 12 people and becoming the most intense storm ever to form in the Atlantic

The National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that Wilma would be a "significant threat" to Florida by the weekend in a season that has already seen devastation from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Officials ordered tourists out of the Florida Keys.

"We had well over 1,000 lives lost in Katrina. If Wilma, you know, comes into the U.S., to the Florida coast as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that potential for large loss of life is with us," said hurricane center director Max Mayfield.

The White House, stung by criticism that it had not responded quickly enough to Katrina, promised to stay on top of the situation. "We are closely monitoring what is an extremely dangerous storm," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "People should take this hurricane very seriously."

Tourists packed Cancun's airport in hopes of catching flights out and MTV postponed its Video Music Awards Latin America ceremony, originally scheduled for Thursday at a seaside park south of the resort town.

Floridians braced for the storm by boarding up windows and stocking up on supplies, although forecasters at the hurricane center said the forward motion of the Category 5 storm appeared to be slowing, which could cause it to eventually weaken.

  By the Numbers  
882 millibars
Wilma's record-low air pressure reading

888 millibars
The previous record low, in 1988's Hurricane Gilbert

175 mph
Wilma's wind speed Wednesday morning

190 mph
Highest hurricane winds on record, set by 1969's Camille and 1980's Allen*

Wilma's Records
Source: AP

Mayfield said Wilma may not reach the Florida Keys until Saturday, possibly toward the evening. It had earlier been expected to reach the Florida mainland Saturday. It was still a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds, down from 175 mph earlier in the day.

Heavy rain from Wilma 's outer bands also forced evacuations in Honduras, Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti - even as much of Central America and southern Mexico was still recovering from Hurricane Stan, which left more than 1,500 people dead or missing.

Wilma was on a curving course that would carry it through the narrow channel between Cuba and Mexico on Friday, possibly within a few miles of Cancun and Cozumel.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Wilma was centered about 285 miles southeast of Mexico's Cozumel island and about 465 miles south-southwest of Key West. It was moving west-northwest near 7 mph.

Wilma 's confirmed pressure readings early Wednesday dropped to 882 millibars, the lowest minimum pressure ever measured in a hurricane in the Americas, but it later lost power and rose to 900 millibars, according to the hurricane center. Lower pressure translates into higher wind speed.

The strongest Atlantic storm on record, based on pressure readings, had been Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, which registered 888 millibars.

With heavy rain, high winds, and rough seas already pounding coastal areas, flood-prone Honduras warned that Wilma posed "an imminent threat to life and property." The country closed two Caribbean ports.

The closest land to Wilma 's eye were the nearly uninhabited Swan Islands, once used by the CIA for propaganda broadcasts to Cuba. They were 35 miles west of the storm's center.

The head of Haiti's civil protection agency, Maria Alta Jean-Baptiste, said rains associated with Wilma caused floods and landslides that killed at least 11 people since Monday. At least 2,000 families were forced from flooded homes.

Jean-Baptiste later said she received unconfirmed reports that two more people drowned Wednesday while trying to cross a river that overflowed its banks in the southern town of Les Anglais.

Cuban authorities suspended classes in the western province of Pinar del Rio and prepared to evacuate tourists from campgrounds and low-lying areas, according to Granma, the Communist daily. More than 1,000 people were evacuated in the island's eastern Granma province .

Jamaica, where heavy rain has fallen since Sunday, closed almost all schools and 350 people were living in shelters. One man died Sunday in a rain-swollen river.

A military helicopter plucked 19 people from rooftops Tuesday in St. Catherine parish, where some areas were flooded with up to 7 feet of water, said Barbara Carby, head of Jamaica's emergency management office.

"The problem is that with the level of saturation, it doesn't take much more rain for flooding to occur, so we still have to remain very much on alert," she said.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson ordered the military to make emergency food shipments to stranded residents.

In the Cayman Islands, schools and most businesses were closed as heavy rains fell intermittently. About 1,000 residents lost power.

The storm was expected to dump up to 25 inches of rain in mountainous areas of Cuba, and up to 15 inches in the Caymans and Jamaica. Up to 12 inches were possible from Honduras to the Yucatan peninsula, the U.S. weather service said.

Forecasters said Wilma was stronger than the Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record.

But disruptive high-altitude winds in the Gulf of Mexico should weaken Wilma before landfall, said Hugh Cobb, a meteorologist at the hurricane center.

Wilma 's track could take it near Punta Gorda on Florida's southwestern Gulf Coast and other areas hit by Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm, in August 2004.

The state has seen seven hurricanes hit or pass close by since then, causing more than $20 billion in damage and killing nearly 150 people.

Forecasters said Wilma should avoid the central Gulf coast ravaged by Katrina and Rita. Those storms killed more than 1,200 people.

Wilma is the record-tying 12th hurricane of the Atlantic season, the same number reached in 1969. Records have been kept since 1851. On Monday, Wilma became the Atlantic hurricane season's 21st named storm, tying the record set in 1933 and exhausting the list of names for this year.

The six-month hurricane season ends Nov. 30. Any new storms would be named with letters from the Greek alphabet, starting with Alpha.

Associated Press reporters Mitch Stacy in Punta Gorda, Fla., and Jay Ehrhart in George Town, Cayman Islands, contributed to this report.

10-19-05 17:54 EDT

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
Storm Slows Down as It Roars Toward Cancun and Florida

CANCUN, Mexico (Oct. 20) - Much of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula was under a hurricane warning Thursday, as Hurricane Wilma swirled off its eastern shore. The storm, already blamed for 13 deaths, slowed down, pushing back predictions of when it might hit Florida.

Tourists were ordered to leave the Florida Keys, and everyone was told to evacuate the island of Isla Mujeres, near Cancun. Authorities were poised to move out thousands of others Thursday from low-lying areas in a 600-mile swath covering Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti and the Cayman Islands.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Wilma had lost some speed.

"Because it is moving slower, we don't anticipate it making landfall in Florida until sometime on Sunday," a day later than previously forecast, hurricane center meteorologist Jennifer Pralgo said.

Some of the estimated 70,000 tourists still in Cancun and surrounding areas were taking the warnings more seriously than others.

Standing knee-deep in the ocean and drinking beer in Playa de Carmen, south of Cancun, Mike Goepfrich, of Minneapolis, said: "As long as they give me beer in the shelter, and my kids are safe, we'll be fine. We're going to ride it out here."

Nearby, fisherman Rolando Ramirez, 51, was helping others pull their fishing boats from the water in preparation for Wilma's passage.

"People here aren't concerned about anything," said Ramirez. "They don't know that when the hurricane comes, this will all be under water."

At 5 a.m. EDT, Wilma had sustained winds of 150 mph, down from a peak of 175 mph, but forecasters said it could strengthen again.

Wilma was centered 195 miles southeast of Mexico's Cozumel Island, and was moving west-northwest at 8 mph.

Countries across the region prepared for the worst. Much of Central America was still recovering from Hurricane Stan, which left more than 1,500 people dead or missing.

The storm was on a curving course that would carry it through the narrow channel between Cuba and Mexico on Friday, possibly within a few miles of Cancun and Cozumel.

In the coastal state of Quintana Roo -- which includes Cancun -- officials ordered the evacuation of four low-lying islands, including Isla Mujeres, and also closed the popular cruise ship port on the island of Cozumel.

"This is getting very powerful, very threatening," President Vicente Fox said. Hundreds of schools in Quintana Roo were ordered closed Thursday and Friday, and many will be used as storm shelters.

Predictions differed on where the hurricane would go and how strong it would be when it reaches U.S. shores, where Florida residents began buying water, canned food and other emergency supplies.

Wilma's track could take it near Punta Gorda on Florida's southwestern Gulf Coast and other areas hit by Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm, in August 2004.

The state has seen seven hurricanes hit or pass close by since August 2004, causing more than $20 billion in estimated damage and killing nearly 150 people.

"People have learned their lesson and know better how to prepare. We're not waiting until the last minute anymore," said Andrea Yerger, 48, of Port Charlotte, Fla.

On Wednesday, tourists packed Cancun's airport even though skies were still partly sunny, looking for flights home or to other resorts.

Mark Carara cut his family's vacation short by two days, and tried to get on a standby flight home to Colorado.

"You hear it was the biggest storm on record, and yeah, that was the clincher right there," he said. "It was time for us to go."

Heavy rain, high winds and rough seas pounded coastal areas of Honduras on Wednesday, knocking out power to about 20 towns, cutting off roads to four others and forcing the evacuation of coastal villages and the closure of two Caribbean ports.

Four fishermen were reported missing at sea and about 500 U.S. and European tourists were moved to safe locations at hotels on Honduras' Bay Islands.

The head of Haiti's civil protection agency, Maria Alta Jean-Baptiste, said that at least 12 people had died in rain and landslides there since Monday. At least 2,000 Haitian families had been forced from flooded homes.

Jamaica, where heavy rains have fallen since Sunday, closed almost all schools and 350 people were living in shelters. One man died Sunday in a rain-swollen river.

The storm was expected to dump up to 25 inches of rain in mountainous areas of Cuba through Friday, and up to up to 15 inches in the Caymans and Jamaica through Thursday.

In Belize, a nation south of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, officials canceled cruise ship visits and tourists were evacuated from keys offshore.

Wilma's confirmed pressure readings early Wednesday dropped to 882 millibars, the lowest minimum pressure ever measured in a hurricane in the Americas, according to the hurricane center. Lower pressure translates into higher wind speed.

The strongest Atlantic storm on record, based on pressure readings, had been Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, which registered 888 millibars.

Wilma is the record-tying 12th hurricane of the Atlantic season, the same number reached in 1969. Records have been kept since 1851.

On Monday, Wilma became the Atlantic hurricane season's 21st named storm, tying the record set in 1933 and exhausting the list of names for this year.

The six-month hurricane season does not end until Nov. 30. Any new storms would be named with letters from the Greek alphabet, starting with Alpha.

Associated Press writers Mitch Stacy in Punta Gorda, Florida, Vanessa Arrington in Havana, Cuba, and Jay Ehrhart in George Town, Cayman Islands, contributed to this report.10/20/2005 05:54:14

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

Deadly Storm Roars Across Mexico's Caribbean Coast



CANCUN, Mexico (Oct. 21, 2005) - Hurricane Wilma tore into Mexico's resort-studded Mayan Riviera on Friday with torrential rains and shrieking winds, filling the streets with water as thousands of stranded tourists hunkered down in hotel ballrooms and emergency shelters.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Wilma officially made landfall about 4:30 p.m. EDT, with the center of the storm's eye hitting the cruise-ship magnet island of Cozumel.

The fearsome Category 4 storm, which killed 13 people in Haiti and Jamaica, was expected to pummel the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula for two days, sparking fears of catastrophic damage. It is forecast to sideswipe Cuba before bearing down on Florida.

"Tin roofing is flying through the air everywhere. Palm trees are falling down. Signs are in the air and cables are snapping," Julio Torres told The Associated Press by telephone from the Red Cross office in Cozumel.

"Not even emergency vehicles have been able to go out on the streets, because the winds are too strong."

The wind bent palm trees and the surf washed away tiki huts on hotel beaches. Power was cut early Friday to most parts of Cancun - a standard safety precaution.

Shop windows were shattered, cars were crushed under fallen trees and pay phones jutted from waist-deep floodwaters in the famed hotel zone.

At the same time, its outer bands pounded western Cuba, where the government evacuated nearly 370,000 people. Forecasters said Wilma could bring more than 3 feet of rain to parts of Cuba.

About 7,000 residents were evacuated from the coastal fishing village of La Coloma in Cuba's southern Pinar del Rio province. "We thought we'd be spending a lot less time here," Maria Elena Torre said at a shelter set up inside a boarding school. "Now we have no idea how long we'll be here."

Civil defense official Adolfo Nilo Moreno said the 725 evacuees at the school were likely to remain in place until Tuesday or Wednesday. "Luckily, we have enough food for four months," primarily rice, chicken, bread and milk, he said.

In Florida, emergency officials on Friday issued evacuation orders for the west coast town of Naples and a nearby island, which the storm was expected to reach Monday. Florida Keys residents also were asked to start leaving.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Wilma's winds were at 140 mph - down slightly from 145 mph a few hours earlier - as the storm made landfall on Cozumel, the hurricane center said. The hurricane was about 430 miles southwest of Key West, Fla., and was moving northwest at about 5 mph.

"It's going to be a long couple of days here for the Yucatan Peninsula," hurricane center director Max Mayfield said.

No injuries were reported as the hurricane moved in. Cancun Red Cross director Ricardo Portugal said the biggest problem so far had been "nervous crises," and 11 pregnant women were ferried to hospitals because of worries the storm had induced labor.

Mexican officials said about 20,000 tourists were at shelters and hotels on the mainland south of Cancun, and an estimated 10,000-12,000 were in Cancun itself.

Juan Luis Flores, an emergency services official in Quintana Roo state, said about 65,000 people were evacuated. Mexico's civil defense chief, Carmen Segura, assured people "their families are protected as they should be."

But instead of luxury hotel suites over a turquoise sea, many tourists found themselves sleeping on the floors of hotel ballrooms, schools and gymnasiums reeking of sweat because there was no power or air conditioning.

Scott and Jamie Stout of Willisville, Ill., were spending their honeymoon on a Cancun basketball court with a leaky roof.

"After one more day of this, I believe people will start getting cranky," said Scott Stout, 26. "Things could get messy."

The Stouts, at least, had food and coffee. Devon Anderson, 21, of Sacramento, Calif., was sharing 10 rooms at a rundown Cozumel school with 200 other Americans.

"We are all sleeping on the floor," Anderson said. "There's no food, no water."

At the Xbalamque Hotel, a downtown Cancun shelter for evacuees from beachfront resorts, American tourist Becky Hora, 37, watched floodwaters rise up the steps toward the lobby as winds howled and trees thudded to the ground.

"It's awful," she said. "I thought that last night we had made it through the worst of it. And now it turns out this is only the beginning. It's hard to stay calm."

Ronnie Croley, 46, said he lost power at his Madison, Miss., home for four days after Hurricane Katrina struck, then he helped his company clean up a factory damaged by Hurricane Rita.

"This was supposed to be a little break for us, but now here we are again," he said.

Wilma briefly strengthened to Category 5 and became the most intense hurricane recorded in the Atlantic Ocean with 882 millibars of pressure, breaking the record low of 888 set by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Lower pressure brings faster winds.

Associated Press reporter Vanessa Arrington in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, and David Royse in Key West, Fla., contributed to this report.

10/21/05 17:12 EDT


Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
Storm Weakens as It Pummels Mexican Resort

CANCUN, Mexico (Oct. 22) - Hurricane Wilma punished Mexico's Caribbean coastline for a second day Saturday, ripping away storefronts, peeling back roofs and forcing tourists and residents trapped in hotels and shelters to scramble to higher floors. At least three people were killed.

Waves slammed into seaside pools and sent water surging over the narrow strip of sand housing Cancun's luxury hotels and raucous bars, joining the sea with the alligator-infested lagoon. Downtown, winds tore banks open, leaving automatic teller machines standing in knee-deep water.

Wilma weakened to a Category 2 hurricane by midafternoon as it inched northward, with sustained winds of 100 mph, but it was expected to pick up speed Sunday after moving out over the Gulf of Mexico. It was likely to sideswipe Cuba before hitting Florida, probably Monday.

A hurricane watch was issued Saturday for the entire southern Florida peninsula, with heavy rain from Wilma's outer bands already causing hip-deep flooding in the Fort Lauderdale. At the same time, a record 22nd tropical storm - Alpha - formed in the Atlantic.

As Wilma's eye passed over Cancun on Saturday, the air became calm and eerily electric. Some residents ventured briefly from their hiding spots to survey the flooded, debris-filled streets.

Several dozen people looted at least four convenience stores, carrying out bags of canned tuna, pasta and soda, while others dragged tables, chairs and lamps from a destroyed furniture store. Police were guarding only larger stores, including a downtown Wal-Mart and an appliance store.

A brief outing during the eye's calm revealed a downtown Cancun littered with glass, tree trunks and cars up to their roofs in water. The only cleanup crew visible consisted of two workers using saws to break up a tangle of tree branches. The front half of a Burger King had collapsed, and at least one gas station had its roof blown away.

State and federal officials said they had little information on damage because Wilma's winds, at 110 mph, made reconnaissance almost impossible.

Yucatan Gov. Patricio Patron told Formato 21 radio that one person was killed by a falling tree, but he offered no details. And in Playa del Carmen, two people died from injuries they sustained Friday when a gas tank exploded during the storm, Quintana Roo state officials said.

The storm earlier killed 13 people in Jamaica and Haiti.

Quintana Roo State Civil Protection Director Maj. Jose Nemecio said a few emergency crews were able to begin distributing emergency supplies in Playa del Carmen on Saturday. But there were few reports on the overall extent of the damage.

"We really know nothing. There are no telephones, no cell phones,'' he said. "We have no news from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Cozumel. I think this is going to be a catastrophic situation.''

Added Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Cantu: "Never in the history of Quintana Roo have we had a storm like this.''

On the island of Cozumel, which has been isolated since weathering the brunt of the storm on Friday, fruit and vegetable salesman Jorge Ham, 26, told The Associated Press by phone that winds had dropped significantly. He saw no catastrophic damage during a brief tour of downtown Saturday.

"There are broken windows, downed trees, fallen power lines, but nothing else,'' he said. "People have taken shelter.''

In Playa del Carmen, to the south of Cancun, screaming winds flattened wood-and-tarpaper houses and sent water tanks and plywood sheets flying.

In Cancun, the storm's angry winds ripped roofing off luxury hotels and knocked out windows, filling rooms and shelters with water and forcing some evacuees to seek higher ground. Others slept with plastic sheeting as bedding.

Weak ceiling tiles forced officials to evacuate at least one downtown shelter housing some 1,000 people, mostly Americans.

Hotel workers pushed furniture up against windows, but the force of the wind blasted through the improvised barriers.

In the streets, office furniture and broken glass bobbed in water that sloshed between buildings. Residents watched the debris float by from upstairs balconies.

Buildings shook in the wind as if earthquakes were hitting them, terrifying tourists and residents waiting out the storm in sweltering, dark shelters.

"This was a little more than I bargained for,'' said Julie Martin, 47, of Charlotte, N.C., one of about 20 people who were evacuated from the beachside Ritz-Carlton resort to the downtown Xbalamque Hotel.

"You really don't think it's this bad when you see it on TV,'' she said. "You really don't know what it's like until it's happening to you. It would be very easy to panic but you know you just can't.''

At least Martin had a room.

Fellow Ritz refugee M.J. Dellaquila 63, of Cloverdale, Calif., found herself with about 20 others sleeping on the floor of a common area of the Xbalamque after the windows in their individual rooms were blown out by Wilma's winds.

"With a storm this big the effect would probably be the same in the United States, but there you can rent a car and get out,'' she said.

  Hurricanes by the Numbers  
ZUMA Press / Reuters
Atlantic hurricanes this year, tying a 1969 record
Hurricanes that have hit or skimmed Florida since August 2004
Number of named storms this season, the most since record-keeping began
People dead or missing in Mexico and Central America after Hurricane Stan
U.S. lives lost from hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Days left in hurricane season as of Oct. 22

Source: AP

President Vicente Fox planned to travel to the affected region on Sunday. In a taped address to the nation, he said that, while the Mexican government was taking care of thousands of stranded tourists, it hadn't forgotten its citizens.

"Make no mistake. Our priority, our job ... is with our own people,'' he said.

The army and navy was already preparing emergency supplies, including food, water, medicine and roofing, in various southern cities. Fox said it will be sent in as soon as possible.

The U.S. Embassy was sending consular officials to shelters Sunday, an effort to help people prepare for the evacuation of some 30,000 tourists after the storm.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Wilma was moving north near 2 mph with maximum sustained winds near 100 mph. It was located about 25 miles northwest of Cancun, Mexico or about 405 miles west-southwest of Key West.

Even as it battered Mexico, the storm's outer bands whipped the western tip of Cuba, where the government evacuated more than 500,000 people. A tornado spun off from the storm flattened 20 homes and several tobacco-curing huts.

The twister demolished the wooden home of Caridad Garcia, who huddled with her family in the bathroom, the only room left standing. "It sounded like the world was coming to an end,'' said Garcia, 58.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Alpha formed Saturday in the Caribbean Sea, setting the record for the most number of storms in an Atlantic hurricane season, forecasters said. Alpha is the season's 22nd tropical storm and marks the first time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm names is used up. The previous record of 21 storms stood since 1933.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm had sustained winds of about 40 mph. Its was moving northwest at about 15 mph, the Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm warning was in place for Haiti and parts of the Dominican Republic, and a tropical storm watch was in effect for the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas.

Associated Press writers Israel Leal in Cancun; Vanessa Arrington in Pinar del Rio, Cuba; Lisa J. Adams and Niko Price in Mexico City; and David Royse in Key West, Florida contributed to this report.

10/22/05 19:26 EDT

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
Storm Punishes Mexico's Caribbean Coast
Category Two Hurricane Kills at Least Three People

CANCUN, Mexico (Oct. 23) - Residents and tourists wandered the flooded streets of Cancun in search of food Sunday, as the sun returned to Mexico's hurricane-battered resort coastline and military convoys arrived with water, medical aid and other supplies.

About 30,000 people had weathered Hurricane Wilma's screaming winds and torrential rains for two days in sweltering, leaky shelters. The majority were tourists who couldn't be evacuated before the storm hit.

State officials said three people died in Mexico during the storm. One was hit by a falling tree and two others died from injuries they received when a gas tank exploded. Four badly decomposed bodies were found floating in flood waters on Cozumel Island, but officials said it was unclear if the deaths were related to the storm.

The storm earlier killed 13 people in Jamaica and Haiti.

In Cancun, people waded through submerged streets, trying to start flooded cars or clear debris from their homes.

Tourist Linda Plourde, 54, of Stoney Creek, Ontario, snapped photos of the scene in front of the hotel where she sought shelter.

"Why not look at this as an adventure and try to have some fun?" she said. "Misery takes more energy."

After pummeling the Yucatan for two days, Wilma was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph as it started to drift northward. It was picking up speed Sunday and was expected to sideswipe Cuba, then slam into Florida on Monday.

The storm could drop an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain on the already saturated Yucatan before moving on, the hurricane center said.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm's center was located about 285 miles west-southwest of Key West, Fla. It was moving toward the northeast at 8 mph.

President Vicente Fox planned to travel to the affected region on Sunday, as the army and navy began moving in emergency supplies, including food, water, medicine and roofing

The U.S. Embassy was sending consular officials to shelters to help American tourists prepare for their eventual evacuation. The U.S. government also offered to donate $200,000 in hurricane aid.

On Saturday, the hurricane sent water surging over the narrow strip of sand housing Cancun's luxury hotels and raucous bars, joining the sea with the resort's alligator-infested lagoon. Lobbies were gutted as waves from the open sea slammed into some low-lying hotels, Quintana Roo state Gov. Felix Gonzalez said.

Downtown Cancun was littered with glass, tree trunks and cars up to their roofs in water. The front half of a Burger King had collapsed and at least one gas station had its roof blown away.

Quintana Roo's state civil protection director, Maj. Jose Nemecio, said a few crews were able to begin distributing emergency supplies in Playa del Carmen, to the south of Cancun, where screaming winds had flattened wood-and-tarpaper houses.

On Cozumel, isolated since weathering the brunt of the storm on Friday, authorities were not yet able to assess the full extent of the damage as winds made air surveillance almost impossible. The storm washed away a jetty and did heavy damage to naval facilities. Three feet of water blocked coastal highways.

In Cancun, the wind ripped part of the ceiling off a gymnasium being used as a shelter, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 people late Friday.

Stacy Presley, a 22-year-old honeymooner from Milwaukee, was among them. She and 120 others were moved to a kindergarten where they had to sleep on miniature desks nearly submerged in rising flood waters.

"There were people getting sick from the urine on the floor," she said. "We had to do something, so we took off. We were running through flooded streets, passing downed power lines."

She ended up at another school sheltering more than 2,000 people. It had mats to sleep on, emergency officials and supplies.

Well inland, Juan Carlos Fernandez, a 39-year-old clothing designer, said the winds were so strong that he and two friends shuttered themselves in a closet.

"Everything went flying. The electric garage door went flying," he said. "I'm afraid -- very, very afraid."

In Cuba, the government evacuated more than 560,000 people, while a tornado spun off from the storm flattened 20 homes and several tobacco-curing huts.

The twister demolished the wooden home of Caridad Garcia, who huddled with her family in the bathroom, the only room left standing. "It sounded like the world was coming to an end," said Garcia, 58.

In Florida, residents streamed out of the Keys and coastal communities under mandatory evacuation orders after officials posted a hurricane warning for the entire southern peninsula, the Florida Keys, Florida Bay and the Dry Tortugas.

The Bahamas also issued a hurricane warning Sunday for the northwestern part of the country.

Early Sunday, Tropical Storm Alpha reached the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where days of heavy rain have already swollen rivers and saturated the soil. Forecasters warned that deadly flash floods and mudslides were possible, prompting the evacuation of about 30,000 residents.

Officials used the Greek alphabet to name Alpha -- the record-setting 22nd named storm of the Atlantic season -- after running all the way through the 2005 storm name list. The hurricane season runs through the end of November.

Associated Press writers Israel Leal in Cancun; Vanessa Arrington in Pinar del Rio, Cuba; Jose P. Monegro in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and David Royse in Key West, Fla.; contributed to this report.

10/23/2005 12:18:30

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

Wilma Now a Category 2 Storm; Winds at 110 MPH
Made Landfall at 6:30 a.m. ET South of Naples, Fla.

One Death Reported in Fort Lauderdale
300,000 Homes, Businesses Without Power

Tropical Storm Alpha Breaks Record 
Looting a Problem in Cancun 

Wilma Barrels Across South Florida
One Death Reported in Fort Lauderdale

NAPLES, Fla. (Oct. 24, 2005) - Hurricane Wilma plowed into southwest Florida early Monday with howling 125 mph winds and pounding waves, swamping Key West and knocking out power to millions of people as it dashed across the state toward Miami and Fort Lauderdale. At least one death in Florida was blamed on the storm.

The same storm that brought ruin over the weekend to resort towns along Mexico's Yucatan Coast came ashore in Florida as a strong Category 3 hurricane, but within 2 1/2 hours it had weakened into a Category 2 with winds of 110 mph. It flattened trees, tore off roofs and screens, littered the streets with signs and downed power lines, and turned debris into missiles.

"We have been huddled in the living room trying to stay away from the windows. It got pretty violent there for a while," said Eddie Kenny, 25, who was at his parents' home in Plantation near Fort Lauderdale with his wife. "We have trees down all over the place and two fences have been totally demolished, crushed, gone."

In Cuba, rescuers used scuba gear, inflatable rafts and amphibious vehicles to pull nearly 250 people from their flooded homes in Havana after Wilma sent huge waves crashing into the capital city and swamped neighborhoods up to four blocks inland with 3 feet of water. 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.

Wilma, Florida's eighth hurricane in 15 months, came ashore in Florida at 6:30 a.m. EDT near Cape Romano, 22 miles south of Naples, spinning off tornadoes and bringing a potential 18-foot storm surge, the National Hurricane Center said. Up to 10 inches of rain were forecast in Florida.

"I looked out our place and I saw a bunch of stuff flying by," said Paul Tucchinio, who was riding out the storm in a condo three blocks from the beach in Naples. "It sounds like someone threw a bunch of rocks against the boards. It's wicked."

The storm flooded large sections of Key West and other areas and knocked out power to up to 2.5 million homes and businesses as it raced across the state and began buffeting heavily populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties on the Atlantic coast with gusts over 100 mph.

A gust was clocked at 104 mph at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, causing howling even in the bunker-like building.

In Weston, near Fort Lauderdale, Kim DuBois sat in her darkened house with her two children and husband, with the power out and the storm shutters up. For light they used a 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." She added: "Really what I'm afraid of is tornadoes."

A man in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Coral Springs died when a tree fell on him, Broward County spokesman Carl Fowler said. Wilma killed at least three people in Mexico and 13 others in Jamaica and Haiti as it made is way across the Caribbean last week.

Gov. Jeb Bush said more than 3,000 National Guardsmen had been mobilized, and another 3,000 were on alert. "Don't be fooled by the lull" as the eye passes, he warned.

More than 33,000 people were in shelters across the state. But in the low-lying Florida Keys, not even 10 percent of the Keys' 78,000 residents evacuated, Sheriff Richard Roth said.

About 35 percent of Key West was flooded, including the airport, said Jay Gewin, an assistant to the island city's mayor. No travel was possible in or out of the city, he said. U.S. 1, the only highway connecting the Keys to the mainland, was flooded.

Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin said the flooding was severe - "more extensive than we've seen in the past." But he said he would not know until the full extent of any damage until the winds died down.

By 9 a.m., the storm was centered in the middle of the state about 45 miles southwest of West Palm Beach. It was moving northeast at about 25 mph. Flooding was reported a few islands to the north on the snowbird enclave of Marco Island, and in downtown Naples.

Elaine Kelley, a 43-year-old waitress, was staying in her daughter's condo near the water in Everglades City, a village of about 700 people on the southwest coast. After wading through thigh-deep water to get to a nearby hotel, she said she wouldn't make the mistake of staying through a hurricane again.

"I'll never go through another one," a wet and shivering Kelley said. "I didn't expect anything like this. I was watching roofs blow off all over the place."

By midafternoon, Wilma was expected to head into the Atlantic off Palm Beach County. By early Wednesday, it was expected to be off the coast of Canada, but forecasters said it may not bring heavy rain because its projected track was far off shore.

David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA personnel were in shelters waiting for the hurricane winds to die down before they could assess the damage and begin relief efforts. He said he was worried that so many people in the Keys did not evacuate.

While FEMA was bitterly criticized for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, this time the agency had people working side by side with state emergency officials, Paulison said.

"We are going to make sure that we have good visibility on anything that's going on the ground to make sure we ... understand exactly what's happening," he said on CBS.

FEMA personnel are "ready to go," Paulison said on CNN. "They're motivated, they're going to get on top of this and move very quickly."

Weary forecasters also monitored Tropical Depression Alpha, which became the record-breaking 22nd named storm of the 2005 Atlantic season. Alpha, which drenched Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Sunday, was not considered a threat to the United States.

Florida's governor asked for a major disaster declaration for 14 counties. Many of the areas bracing for Wilma were hit by hurricanes in the past two years.

State and federal officials had trucks of ice and food ready. FEMA was prepared to send in dozens of military helicopters and 13.2 million ready-to-eat meals. Wilma prompted the fourth hurricane evacuation of the Keys this year.

After battering the Mexican coastline with howling winds and torrential rain, Wilma pulled away from the Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday as a Category 2 storm and strengthened in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Wind shear that was expected to rob Wilma of some strength did not materialize.

A tornado touched down Monday in Brevard County, damaging an apartment complex. No one was injured. Wilma's arrival also was announced by at least four tornadoes Sunday night - including one near Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral - that damaged some businesses but caused no injuries.

One serious injury was reported in Florida on Sunday: a 12-year-old girl suffered a fractured skull in Wellington when falling hurricane shutters struck her head, said Palm Beach County Sheriff's spokesman Paul Miller. She was hospitalized in critical condition.

In Europe, crude oil slipped below $60 as traders expected Wilma to avoid already battered Gulf of Mexico oil producing and refining facilities. At least four companies operating in the gulf shut down production platforms.

Associated Press writers Allen Breed in Naples, Erik Schelzig in Marathon, David Royse in Key West, Fla., Melissa Trujillo in Oakland Park, and Ron Word and Brent Kallestad in Miami contributed to this story.

10/24/05 11:04 EDT

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
Florida Recovering From Another Hurricane
Oct 25 11:20 AM US/Eastern


Floridians in search of water, cleaning supplies and generators lined up Tuesday morning outside the few stores that were open after Hurricane Wilma cut a costly, deadly swath across the peninsula.

The storm slammed across the state in about seven hours Monday, causing billions in insured damage and leaving 6 million people without electricity. Wilma was blamed for at least six and possibly as many as eight deaths statewide, and thousands of residents remained in shelters Tuesday.

Officials of Florida's three most populous areas _ Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties _ prepared to distribute ice, water and other essentials to storm-struck residents Tuesday, while utilities warned that restoration of services could stretch into weeks.

"It will be days or weeks before we are back to normal," Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said.

Before smashing into Florida, Wilma killed at least six people in Mexico and 13 others in Jamaica and Haiti.

The storm devastated resort towns along Mexico's Caribbean coast, severely flooding the tourist hotspot Cancun, where looters ransacked entire blocks of stores. Thousands of tourists remained stranded along the resort-studded Yucatan coast Tuesday.

In Cuba, the storm flooded Havana's streets and ripped off chunks of the famous Malecon seawall.

In Florida, most stores remained closed because of the widespread power outages, creating long lines at those that were open. More than 500 people queued up outside a Broward County Super Wal-Mart, which was letting in about 20 people at a time.

The first person in line, Joyce Carr, had been waiting several hours in hopes of buying a generator only to learn the store was out. But she still wanted to buy a grill, charcoal and water.

"We've heard different reports that the power will be out for some time so we're worried about supplies for our family," Carr said.

At a Home Depot in Weston, a Fort Lauderdale suburb, about 100 people waited in line late Monday for supplies.

"Nobody's arguing, nobody's fighting, nobody's pushing," said Garry Greenough, who needed a chain saw to deal with 10 trees that fell in his yard, one on his home.

President Bush promised swift help and signed a disaster declaration.

"We have pre-positioned food, medicine, communications equipment, urban search-and-rescue teams," the president said. "We will work closely with local and state authorities to respond to this hurricane."

More than 8,200 people were in shelters across the state early Tuesday.

Wilma struck Florida's Gulf coast as a Category 3 hurricane, littering the landscape with power lines, wrecked signs, torn awnings and other debris.

Trees and roofs dotted expressways, and all three of South Florida's major airports _ Miami International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Palm Beach _ were closed. Miami's airport might not reopen until Wednesday, spokesman Marc Henderson said.

"Miami is a major point, and this is a major disruption," said John Hotard, a spokesman for American Airlines, which has a major hub in Miami.

At 5 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Wilma's center was located about 310 miles east of Cape Hatteras, N.C. The system was still a Category 3 storm with 115 mph sustained wind, and was moving northeast incredibly fast for a tropical system _ 53 mph. It was expected to lose its tropical characteristics over the cooler Atlantic.

Although it was so far out to sea, it was contributing moisture to a nor'easter that was blowing through the Northeast, causing power outages in Connecticut and Massachusetts and hammering New Jersey beaches with 20-foot waves.

Officials warned residents to boil water in parts of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. A water main breach in downtown Miami sprayed water 15 feet in the air.

"We've lived here 37 years and we've never had a hurricane like this," said Paul Kramer, 71, of Tamarac, in Broward County. "We didn't expect this. This one got our attention."

In Key West, Chuck Coleman's routine also was broken. Normally this time of year, his two charter fishing boats would be packed with out- of-towners hoping to chase sailfish.

But on Monday he was standing on the dock, losing perhaps $1,000 a day until the customers come back. Although the dock took a beating and the fish freezer was a loss, the boats weren't damaged by Wilma. But they can't run if there's no one to go fishing.

"Without tourists we die," said Coleman. "There is no other form of income."

Eqecat Inc., a risk modeling firm, said early estimates projected that Wilma's insured losses would range from $2 billion to $6 billion. AIR Worldwide Corp. estimated that insurance companies will have to pay claims ranging from $6 billion to $9 billion. Risk Management Solutions estimated a range of $6 billion to $10 billion.

Authorities said two people were dead in Collier County, two in Palm Beach County, one in Broward County and one in St. Johns County.

Wilma, the eighth hurricane to strike Florida in 15 months, prompted Monique Kilgore to use a hand saw and shears to get rid of debris in front of her Fort Lauderdale home.

"I want my house to look nice," she said. "I'm also bored. I can't sit in the house any longer. No power, no lights _ you know."


Associated Press writers Michelle Spitzer in Coral Springs, David Royse in Key West and Adrian Sainz in Miami contributed to this report.


On the Net:

National Hurricane Center:


Tropical Storm May Threaten Florida as Hurricane
Gamma, the 24th Named Storm, Kills Two in Central America

MIAMI (Nov. 19) - Tropical Storm Gamma blew along the coasts of Belize and Honduras on Saturday as it threatened to turn onto a path that could threaten South Florida this coming week.

Residents look at a damaged bridge in northern Honduras after rains from Tropical Storm Gamma swept through the region.

Track the Storm: Projected Path | Location | Watches, Warnings

The storm already had caused flooding and landslides in Honduras that killed at least two people and prompted the government to evacuate hundreds from coastal towns. President Ricardo Maduro said soldiers were delivering food, water, medicine and blankets.

Gamma, the 24th storm of the busiest hurricane season on record, had top sustained wind near 45 mph and could become a hurricane before reaching the Florida Peninsula, forecasters said at the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect Saturday for the north coast of Belize and the Bay Islands of Honduras. Mexico issued a tropical storm watch for the eastern Yucatan Peninsula, which was hit hard last month by Hurricane Wilma.

Six to 15 inches of rain was possible.

In Belize, a small plane belonging to the exclusive Blancaneaux Lodge resort, owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, disappeared Friday after taking off with two passengers. Five fisherman were missing after their boat capsized.

By 10 a.m. EST Saturday, Gamma was centered about 160 miles east-southeast of Belize City, Belize, and 255 miles south-southeast of Tulum, Mexico. It was moving north-northwest at about 5 mph and was expected to turn toward the north later in the day, the hurricane center said.

The long-term track from the hurricane center indicated that Gamma might take a path similar to Wilma's and head northeast toward the Florida Peninsula. Wilma sliced across the southern portion of the state Oct. 24, causing more than 20 deaths.

Florida has been pummeled by eight hurricanes and three tropical storms in the past 15 months. Insured losses from this year's storms are estimated at more than $10 billion in Florida, according to the state Department of Financial Services.

Gamma extended the Atlantic's record-breaking storm season. The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933 and, for the first time, officials had to turn to the Greek alphabet for names.


11-19-05 10:10 EST







updated - 10-19-05 - HURRICANE SEASON OF 2005 - PAGE 5

updated - 10-5-05 - HURRICANE SEASON OF 2005 - PAGE 4

updated 9-19-05 - HURRICANE SEASON OF 2005 - PAGE 3

Lots of rain but no deaths reported due to the storm.

updated 10-5-05 - HURRICANE SEASON OF 2005 - PAGE 2

updated 8-11-05 - HURRICANE SEASON of 2005-PAGE 1
10 dead in Cuba - 15 Dead in Haiti


4 die in JAMAICA