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.


The storm is carving through the area with lightning speed -- making forward progress at 25 mph -- and authorities urged residents not to venture outside during the brief period of relative calm.

''We're going to see some very hard weather, probably until mid-afternoon,'' said Tony Carper, director of Broward's emergency management office. ``People need to stay indoors and off the road until it's all clear.''

The Florida Keys came under particularly intense attack. Instruments measured wind gusts of 120 mph at Cudjoe Key, 101 mph at Sombrero Key and 74 mph at Long Key.

Key West International Airport, the city's only airport, suffered severe damage, with at least five feet of storm surge near the entrance and as many as three feet of water on the runway.

A building that housed Cape Air was destroyed, according to airport director Peter Horton. The airport's tower was damaged, as were 100 cars in the airport's parking lot.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy said the runway at Naval Air Station Key West's Boca Chica facility is under water and workers are assessing the damage.

Forecasters warned that eight-foot storm surges could sweep over the Keys. Sea water already severed U.S. 1 around Mile Markers 31, 73 and 110.

''We have a real disaster here,'' Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin told a Key West city commissioner. ``We are in sad shape right now.''

Authorities in Miami-Dade said conditions compelled them to stop responding to most 911 calls for help. At the hurricane center, forecasters lowered storm shutters over the doors. The blue-green glow of electrical transformers exploding lit the sky over Miami International Airport.

Roof damage, downed trees and significant street flooding were reported in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Weston, which sat directly under the worst part of the eyewall.

Fences and screen enclosures blew away in Cooper City. At least one office building in Pembroke Pines lost its front door, leaving the lobby flooded.

In the initial hours of the storm, a 250-foot construction crane reportedly collapsed onto coastal State Road A1A in Hallandale Beach.

''It was spinning around, counterclockwise,'' said Stu Rabin, who was watching from a nearby apartment building. 'I was like, `Holy cow!' It was bending, bending to the north, and in five seconds it went 'Boom!' ''

In downtown Miami, the headquarters of law firm Greenberg Traurig, a highrise at 15th and Brickell Avenue, took a terrible hit from the storm, said Rodriguez, the Brickell resident.

''About 80 percent of the windows have blown out,'' said Rodriguez, who owns an insurance agency in Coral Gables.

Looking down on the street from her condo, Rodriguez said she could see at least three feet of water on the street on Brickell Bay Drive. ''The one car on the street has water almost up to the window,'' she said.

The leading edge of Wilma's touched the mainland at Cape Romano as a major, Category 3 hurricane. Landfall came just before 6:30 a.m., about 20 miles south of Marco Island along the lower Gulf Coast in a largely uninhabited area.

Wilma's maximum winds were measured at 125 mph at landfall, making it a strong Category 3 hurricane.

Then, the eye rolled across the state, largely along Alligator Alley, and moved through populated areas of Broward and Miami-Dade.

Four tornadoes were reported around the state, including one that caused some damage at the Kennedy Space Center.

Power outages continued to spread -- minute by minute, block by block.

In Miami-Dade, significant outages were reported in Kendall, Miami Gardens, Coral Gables, Hialeah and North Miami Beach, according to officials at the county's emergency operations center.

The city of Homestead, which generates its own electricity, was completely without power.

Repair crews, including those in 1,000 utility trucks waiting to the north, cannot be deployed until winds fall below 30 mph -- which could be late this afternoon.

In Weston, power repeatedly blinked on and off. In the Falls subdivision, residents could be heard cheering ''F-P-L, F-P-L,'' every time electricity returned.

In the Keys, damage reports were spotty, but flooding on the Atlantic Ocean side of Key West was extensive, according to Billy Wagner Sr., Monroe County's senior emergency manager. Some reports mentioned four feet of water in the city.

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