Evacuations Ordered as Wilma Heads Toward Florida

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Hurricane Wilma is now heading for the west coast of Florida, where landfall is expected early Monday. Many Florida Keys residents heed Gov. Jeb Bush's call to evacuate. Russell Lewis of member station WGCU reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Wilma is now in the Gulf of Mexico taking aim at southwest Florida. Forecasters say Wilma is picking up speed like a rocket and could make landfall by dawn, most likely as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane. Florida Governor Jeb Bush has ordered 160,000 residents to evacuate, mostly from the Keys.

Governor JEB BUSH (Republican, Florida): I cannot emphasize enough to the folks that live in the Florida Keys, a hurricane is coming. And a hurricane's a hurricane, and it has deadly force winds. And while there have been evacuations over the last 14 months and there's not been a hit, perhaps people are saying, `I'm going to hunker down.' They shouldn't do that; they should evacuate, and there's very little time left to do so.

ELLIOTT: Coastal residents of Ft. Myers Beach, Marco Island, Sanibel and parts of Naples are also being told to flee. We turn now to Russell Lewis of member station WGCU in Ft. Myers.

Hi, Russell.

RUSSELL LEWIS reporting:

Hi.

ELLIOTT: We just heard the governor tell people that this is serious business, that they should be moving out and now. Are people there heeding the call to leave?

LEWIS: Well, some are. In this neck of the woods, about 70,000 people are under the mandatory evacuation zones. But in local shelters around here, what we're hearing is that there are only between one and 2,000 people in the shelters right now.

ELLIOTT: Why do you think everybody hasn't left yet?

LEWIS: These people have been through a lot of hurricanes over the last couple of years, and, quite frankly, when they hear that it's a Category 1 or a Category 2 storm, they think, `OK, it's not as bad as a Category 3 or 4, and we can weather it just fine here in our houses.'

ELLIOTT: Wilma has taken its time to make it to the United States. Has that affected preparations at all?

LEWIS: Yes, it has. Every extra hour that the storm has taken to get here has given people extra time to board up their homes, to take the necessary papers, to gas up their vehicles. And so every extra hour has given people more time to get everything done that they need to.

ELLIOTT: Russell, we all saw the images in advance of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita of people stranded on interstates as they tried to evacuate. Is traffic an issue there at all?

LEWIS: Not like what we saw there. There have been some slowdowns on the interstates, but by and large, it's been a very quick kind of thing for those people that have decided to leave. They left a day or two ago, and we're just not seeing people trapped on the roads and stuck on the roads. And so from that perspective, people seem to have heeded the call to evacuate. And for those that have, they've decided to leave and leave early.

ELLIOTT: The storm has picked up speed and is expected to move pretty rapidly once it makes landfall across the Florida peninsula. I would guess that's good news there.

LEWIS: Yeah, it's quite a contrast to what this storm did over the Yucatan Peninsula there in Mexico. It's not going to sit and spin and just deluge this area with rain. It's going to, what we're hearing, is drop between four and eight inches of rain and then be gone. And, you know, there are some thunderstorms where you can get two inches of rain, so when people hear four to eight inches of rain, they think, `Well, it's not going to be too bad if this storm just sort of kicks through and has its high winds and the storm surge. And if it leaves quickly, then that'll be a good thing.'

ELLIOTT: Russell Lewis is a reporter with member station WGCU in Ft. Myers.

Thank you, Russell.

LEWIS: You're welcome.

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