Hurricane sweeps across Florida

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Hurricane Wilma is sweeping over Florida after making landfall near the city of Naples, US meteorologists say.
Wilma struck the coast as a Category Three storm with winds of 125mph (200km/h) and an expected storm surge of up to 8ft (2.5m).

It was downgraded to Category Two as it crossed the state towards the Atlantic coast, dumping up to 25cm of rain.

At least 17 people across the Caribbean have died as a result of the hurricane - once the strongest on record.



Wilma's projected path
Florida residents who had defied evacuation orders were urged to head for emergency shelters.

"This is a very dangerous hurricane," National Hurricane Center (NHC) director Max Mayfield said.


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After making landfall at about 0630 (1030 GMT), the storm moved inland over Everglades City and rain is now pounding Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Wilma is moving north-east over the state at 23mph and is expected to reach the Atlantic off Palm Beach County in a few hours' time. It is then expected to head north up the coast.

The eye of the storm is estimated to be 60 miles (96km) wide.

Jaime Sarbaugh, an emergency management worker close to where Wilma made landfall, said: "The rain is coming down sideways. We've had a handful of tornadoes."

Florida Power and Light said 1.6m customers had lost electricity and it had shut three nuclear power stations.

The BBC's Oliver Conway in Fort Myers, in the Florida Keys island chain, said the windows of his hotel had blown in and he had been told to evacuate.

"The wind was so fierce it was almost knocking people over. The trees are wobbling, the leaves are pushed back all in one direction and even lamps are shaking with the ferocity of this wind," he said.

About 80% of the 80,000 residents of the low-lying Florida Keys are thought to have ignored repeated evacuation orders.

On Sunday, Florida Governor Jeb Bush appealed to residents to leave.

"I cannot emphasise enough to the folks that live in the Florida Keys a hurricane is coming, and a hurricane is a hurricane and it has deadly force winds," he said.

Flooding

Wilma, at one point the most intense hurricane on record in the Atlantic, forced 600,000 Cubans from coastal areas, where several villages were flooded by big storm surges.

Cuba's capital, Havana, has also been hit by large waves with high water levels penetrating hundreds of metres into the city and flooding basement apartments.


The storm tore roofs off buildings on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula

Wilma finally left Mexico's Gulf coast on Sunday after pounding the Yucatan peninsula, killing at least six people and destroying hotels and thousands of homes.

Floods and high winds have forced tens of thousands of people, including many foreign tourists, to remain in emergency shelters for a third day.

The army and navy are planning to drop aid supplies for the tens of thousands of people in overcrowded shelters.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic were earlier drenched by torrential rains brought by Tropical Storm Alpha, now downgraded to a tropical depression.

Forecasters warn Alpha, whose formation made this year's Atlantic hurricane season the most active since 1933, could strengthen again.

It is the first time the NHC has had to resort to the Greek alphabet to name a storm, after all 21 names pre-assigned for storms this year were used up.


The hurricane season still has five weeks to run.
 
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