Hurricane Wilma left flooded streets, power outages, downed trees and other damage in its wake after crashing into the Florida coast early Monday with 125-mph winds, the Associated Press reports.
State and local officials blamed at least five deaths on Wilma and said the damage, which crossed the state from Key West to Daytona Beach, would be in the billions.
In Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Miami Beach, high-rises had countless windows blown out. The Broward County Courthouse and the 14-story school board office complex looked like bombed-out buildings.
“Fort Lauderdale hasn’t seen anything this bad in a long time,” said Adam Baer, 27, a courthouse employee and lifelong resident.
More than one-third of Key West flooded, cutting off the island, and there was scattered floodwater elsewhere.
“All the streets are rivers. You can see water just rushing through,” said Noah Ackerman, a 25-year-old bartender who rode out the storm.
In the Florida Keys, about 80 percent of the residents ignored a mandatory evacuation order, according to The New York Times. Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin told CNN Monday that flooding was the worst he had seen in recent years.
A man in the rural Immokalee area in Collier County died when either his roof collapsed on him or a tree fell on his roof, county spokesman John Torre said. In Loxahatchee in Palm Beach County, a man died when he tried to move his van and debris smashed him into the windshield of his vehicle. An 83-year-old St. Johns County woman died in a weekend car crash while evacuating and a 67-year-old Collier County man had a fatal heart attack while walking in the storm. Additionally, a man in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Coral Springs died when a tree fell on him.
“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, the AP reports. “We have trees down all over the place and two fences have been totally demolished, crushed, gone.”
Wilma, Florida’s eighth hurricane in 15 months, made landfall at 6:30 a.m. ET near Cape Romano, 22 miles south of Naples.
“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.”
Within 2 1⁄2 hours after coming ashore, Wilma had weakened to a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds. However, early in the afternoon, it was back up to Category 3 with 115 mph winds as it swirled out into the open Atlantic.
The same storm devastated resort towns along Mexico’s Yucatan Coast over the weekend. In Cancun troops and federal police worked to control looting at shops ripped open by the hurricane, and hunger and frustration mounted among Mexicans and stranded tourists.
In Cuba, waves crashed into Havana, swamping neighborhoods up to four blocks inland with floodwaters reaching up to 3 feet.
Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday at least 2.2 million homes were without electricity, and he asked that Florida be granted a major disaster declaration for 14 counties.
President Bush promised quick action and signed a disaster declaration for hurricane-damaged areas.
“We have prepositioned food, medicine, communications equipment, urban search-and-rescue teams,” he said. “We will work closely with local and state authorities to respond to this hurricane.
At 5 p.m. EDT, Wilma had cleared the state and was centered over the Atlantic about 230 miles northeast of West Palm Beach.
The hurricane is expected go up the Atlantic Seaboard and reach Canada by early Wednesday. Forecasters said Wilma may absorb Tropical Depression Alpha along the way, but stay offshore.