Keys Evacuated, RSW Closed As Southern Florida Braces For
Hurricane Wilma -- which, barring a sudden and unexpected shift
in direction, will be the seventh hurricane to hit Florida in
the last 14 months -- is barrelling towards the
southwestern coast of the state, and is expected to make landfall
around 8 am Monday as a strong Category 2 or 3 storm.
The Florida Keys have been under an evacuation order since
Friday, although some hearty souls vowed to weather the storm.
Southwest Florida Regional Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers was expected
to close Sunday night, and many carriers had already suspended
operations. As of Sunday afternoon, few seats were available on
commercial flights out of southern Florida -- mostly for First
A hurricane warning has been issued for the Florida Keys, as
well as for the east coast of the state from Titusville, southward
and along the west coast from Longboat Key southward. Preliminary
forecasts indicate the storm will hit in the area of Ten Thousand
Islands, just south of Marco Island.
The speed of the storm has increased since moving out of
Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Sunday, after battering that region will
torrential rains and winds in excess of 100 mph. Forecasters are
predicting Wilma may have sustained winds as high as 130 mph when
it hits Florida, according to Bloomberg News.
The state is expected to begin feeling the effects of the storm
by Sunday night, even as the heart of the storm is as much as 200
miles away. Forecasters warn there may also be several tornadoes
ahead of the storm, as the hurricane's warm, moist warm air makes
contact with the cooler, drier air ahead of the front deflecting
the storm towards Florida.
"The most important thing for people to do is follow the advice
of local emergency workers," said Ed Rappaport, deputy director at
the National Hurricane Center in Miami, in a televised news
conference. "We are advising people to prepare for a Category
Florida Governor Jeb Bush has also urged Florida residents to
brace for the storm, as well as stating "heavy power outages" are
expected in the area between Fort Myers, and the Florida Keys.
Emergency officials in Florida advised residents and tourists in
the southern part of the state to head north toward Orlando.
New York, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas have contributed a
portion of 24 Blackhawk and 10 Chinook helicopters standing ready
for emergency service, Bush said.
Now, we wait...