Hurricane Wilma Strikes Florida; Airports Suffer Severe Damage

Key West International Airport had at least five feet of storm surge near the entrance and as many as three feet of water on the runway.


Millions of people still shuddered in shuttered homes this morning as the back half of Hurricane Wilma -- carrying viciously destructive wind -- raced through South Florida.

The storm inflicted severe damage. President Bush declared Florida a major disaster area.

More than 2.5 million customers are without power throughout the southern half of the state, including 1.2 million in Miami-Dade and Broward. A blackout darkened the entire city of Homestead. Power failed throughout the Florida Keys.

One man was killed in Coral Springs when he was struck by a falling tree, authorities said.

There were no other immediate reports of casualties, but significant damage already was evident, especially in the Florida Keys, Broward County and parts of Miami-Dade County.

State officials said Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami lost part of its roof, but hospital officials told The Herald they had a leak in one stairwell, it was repaired and the facility sustained no roof damage.

State officials also said that every hospital in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties was relying on generator power.

Many roofs were severely damaged in Pompano Beach, Coral Springs, Carol City and elsewhere. Fire stations reported major damage. Water mains broke and residents of Tamarac, Plantation, Lauderhill and Pompano Beach were advised to boil water before using it.

''I guess I'm going to be one of several hundred thousand looking for a roofer,'' said Susan Schur, who lives in the Devon Aire subdivision in Kendall.

Wilma is the eighth hurricane to strike or brush Florida in 14 months. It could be the worst to hit Broward in 50 years.

''Broward took a hard hit and almost every city is reporting severe damage,'' said Carl Fowler, a spokesman for the county's emergency operations office.

Crashing through the state's back door, Wilma landed along the southwest Gulf Coast as a major Category 3 storm and swiftly rolled its front half and then its eyewall and then its eye through the region.

Just when much of South Florida thought it might be in the clear, the back side of the storm attacked.

Sustained, extraordinarly powerful gusts roared from the west and southwest into Weston, Sunrise, Pembroke Pines and other western suburbs.

In many cases, what the front half left behind, the second half took with it. Barrel tiles peeled off like paper, often slamming through the windows of parked cars. Trees toppled and pool screens collapsed. Rain seeped into many homes.

Jose Fuentes, director of regional services for the South Florida Water Management District, spent the night and day monitoring the smallest rise in canals and tidewater. Then, he received and unexpected and unwanted update.

''My neighbor called and said an avocado tree just went through my carport,'' said Fuentes, who lives in Coconut Grove.

Traffic lights were down throughout South Florida.

''Conditions outside continue to be dangerous,'' Gov. Jeb Bush said at 10:06 a.m. ``Please stay hunkered down. We will get through this storm.''

Serious damage also appeared in downtown Fort Lauderdale and downtown Miami. Many windows shattered in several high-rise buildings in the Brickell area.

''It looks like an explosion,'' said Carmen Rodriguez, who lives in the area.

Wilma's powerful eyewall moved over Fort Lauderdale and all of Broward. It also hit many parts of Miami-Dade. At 11 a.m., the storm's top winds were still 105 mph.

According to the National Weather Service, gusts of 116 mph were reported just off the coast of Key Biscayne, 102 in Lake Okeechobee, 101 mph at Palm Beach International Airport, 95 mph at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and 85 mph at the National Hurricane Center in West Miami-Dade and in Opa-locka.

Broward officials said they had unconfirmed reports of a 120 mph gust in Pompano Beach, 108 mph in Dania Beach, 105 mph at the Fort Lauderdale courthouse and 100 mph at the Miami Dolphins training camp in Davie.

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