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Saturday, October 22, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Mexico reels under force of Wilma

BBC NEWS | Americas | Mexico reels under force of Wilma Mexico reels under force of Wilma
Storm surges are reaching as high as the third storey of some hotels as Hurricane Wilma batters Mexico's popular Cancun resort area.

The "extremely dangerous" hurricane is "relentlessly pounding" Cancun and Cozumel, the US hurricane agency said.

Local governor Felix Gonzales said winds of 140mph (225km/h) had damaged buildings considered hurricane-proof.

Hotel windows on the resort island of Cozumel have been shattered, trees and roofs torn down and streets flooded.

Wilma is expected to linger over the Yucatan peninsula for 30 to 36 hours at the weekend, Alberto Hernandez of Mexico's National Meteorological System said.

It was downgraded to a Category Three hurricane early on Saturday as wind speed dropped to 125mph (205km/h).

But the National Hurricane Center in the US still described Wilma as "really clobbering northeastern Yucatan".

It has already left Cancun without electricity and with only sporadic telephone service, with hundreds of power and telephone poles torn down, Mexico's El Universal newspaper reports.


HAVE YOUR SAY
The heavy steel shutters are secured and generators are in place
Patrick Sheehy,
Homestead, Florida

Hundreds of thousands of tourists and residents have moved to shelters in Cancun.

In Cuba, some 370,000 people have been ordered out of the hurricane's path as it lashes western areas with heavy winds and rain.

And people are fleeing their homes in Florida, which the storm is expected to reach early next week.

Slow-moving

Mr Gonzales, governor of Quintana Roo state, said the storm had caused "great destruction".

He said the slow pace of the hurricane made it particularly dangerous.

"The eye is enormous, which means that there will be a six- or seven-hour calm, people will think that the storm has passed but that will not be the case," he said.

With Yucatan airports now closed, tens of thousands of tourists in the area have been moved inland or are now taking cover from the winds.

Conditions in scores of emergency shelters in Cancun and elsewhere are said to be cramped and hot, with no power to run air conditioning.

"I never in my life wanted to live through something like this," cook Guadalupe Santiago told the Associated Press news agency as winds lashed the Cancun hotel where she had taken refuge.

Mexico's President Vicente Fox said he planned to travel to the affected region as soon as possible.

"Now is the time to save lives and protect the population, and we are working on that," he said. "Afterward, we will begin the phase of helping citizens and reconstruction."

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Cancun says the spectacle has remained both dramatic and unchanging for hours, with an increasing amount of debris blown from buildings as they slowly succumb to the storm.

The peninsula and isolated areas of Cuba can expect 25 to 50cm (10 to 20in) of rain by Sunday, with some parts of Cuba hit by up to 100cm (40in), the NHC says.

Huge waves are crashing on to Cuba's westernmost tip, and heavy rains were reported to have cut off several small communities.

Record season

In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush has declared a state of emergency, although mandatory evacuations for Florida Keys residents were put back, as Wilma's slow speed means it may not arrive until Monday.

2005 has been one of the most destructive hurricane seasons on record. Wilma is the 12th of the year - a figure equalled only once, in 1969, since record-keeping began in 1851.

By one measure, Wilma was the strongest ever, with the lowest barometric pressure on record in the Atlantic basin.

Thousands of people died in Central America earlier this month in landslides and floods following torrential rains brought by Hurricane Stan.

Mexico: Tourists told to leave high-risk coastal resorts
Cuba: Coastal residents evacuated and some schools closed
US: Visitors and non-residents ordered to leave Florida Keys
Times: All times GMT

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