Slow-Moving Wilma Whips Yucatan Peninsula

Hurricane Wilma settles over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, battering beach resorts for more than 24 hours with 100 mph winds and drenching rains. The slow pace of the powerful storm increases its danger to the region.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Hurricane Wilma is pummeling Mexico's coastline, still a Category 3 storm, still dumping water onto the Yucatan Peninsula and still expected eventually to move toward Florida. The eye is about 10 miles southwest of Cancun and moving slowly. The Florida Keys are now under a mandatory evacuation order. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in the Yucatan and headed closer to the affected area. She joins us from roadside.

Lourdes, thanks for being with us.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

Thank you.

SIMON: And how they holding up in Cozumel and Cancun under all this wind and rain?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, is you can imagine, they must have had a particularly difficult night. This is a hurricane that, as you mentioned, is moving extremely slowly. The effects were felt almost a full day ago in the areas of Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Cancun. And what we're hearing is that there has been quite a bit of damage in Cancun. The streets are flooded, lines are down, concrete walls have fallen over. Usually these storms tend to move more quickly than this, but it has literally just been sitting over this area, just pounding over and over again. And as the winds keep on going, you can imagine that some of these buildings are going to sustain quite a bit of damage.

SIMON: Yeah. Now this is an area many Americans are familiar with as a vacation spot, but of course there are thousands, tens of thousands of residents who live there all the time, and often their homes are not as well equipped as some of the huge tourist hotels are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, exactly. I mean, the traditional home of this area is called the palafa(ph), and it's a thatched-roofed type of structure, very flimsy. It would not really have held up to some of the winds that we have been seeing in the Yucatan Peninsula, so of course, that is a really big concern and it remains to be seen now well those people were evacuated. Some of these areas are extremely outlying. Obviously in one of the--in the main tourist centers they were able to get into schools, able to get into hotels that were farther inland, but some of these other smaller villages perhaps were not so well evacuated.

SIMON: Wilma's not only a powerful storm, but it's enormous in size. It's already been responsible for several deaths in Jamaica and Haiti. Are Cuba and the Florida Keys at some risk even if they're not directly in the path?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Absolutely. I mean, this is a huge storm. I'm about 180 miles away from Cancun, and certainly it's been felt in the western province of Cuba as well. This is a tobacco-growing area, Pinar del Rio. They evacuated around 300,000 people from the westernmost region of Cuba, and the effects, of course, being felt there as well.

SIMON: Any good estimation of where the path of the hurricane will take Wilma now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, as we've been saying, it's moving extremely slowly but it appears that it will be heading towards Florida once it finally gets off the Yucatan Peninsula. It will be a weakened storm because it has been over land for quite some time.

SIMON: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in the Yucatan. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.

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