Hurricane Wilma Crosses over Florida

Hurricane Wilma is blowing across Florida after lashing Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula with wind and rain. Madeleine Brand gets an update on Hurricane Wilma and its impact on the region from Phillip Davis, reporting from Fort Myers, Fla.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Madeleine Brand.

Now to Hurricane Wilma. It came ashore this morning south of Naples, Florida. Wilma is currently a Category 3 storm, with sustained winds of up to 115 miles per hour. At a news conference today in Tallahassee, Florida, Governor Jeb Bush said Wilma was dangerous but the state was prepared to handle it.

Governor JEB BUSH (Republican, Florida): As the storm passes, our number-one priority is saving lives and restoring security. The Florida National Guard is on the move. More than 3,000 soldiers and airmen have been mobilized, and another 3,000 are on alert.

BRAND: With us now from Ft. Myers is NPR's Phillip Davis. Hi, Phillip.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Hi. How are you doing?

BRAND: I hear some wind battering your phone. How are conditions?

DAVIS: The conditions are--if you can believe it, we're still getting gusts of probably 40 to 50 miles an hour. But that's a big improvement from what it was earlier today when we were getting some really major wind and rain tearing down trees and downing power lines. And most of the area that I'm in, the Ft. Myers area, all the way down to Marco Island is without power right now.

BRAND: What parts of the state were the most threatened?

DAVIS: The parts of the states that are most threatened are the southwestern coast of Florida, from Ft. Myers all the way down to Naples, and also inland towns such as Everglades City that are just a few feet above sea level. They're in great danger of the storm surge and flooding. It's a little early to have reports coming back in from some of those inland towns, but they're in great danger and also because their housing stock is a little bit older than you would see here in the Naples area.

BRAND: And I understand the governor issued mandatory evacuation orders. How many Florida residents complied?

DAVIS: Well, that's a hard thing to gauge. But at least here in Ft. Myers and communities along the coast, people took the evacuation order pretty seriously. This area got hammered pretty hard by a hurricane named Charley last year, and they also have the recent memory of Hurricane Katrina. And so yesterday, the roads were almost empty. There were some local police officers going around to low-lying areas with bullhorns warning people to leave because they were within the storm surge area. But most people had taken heed already, which is why the shelters in this area are filled to capacity right now, much more so than in previous hurricanes.

BRAND: This has been a very busy hurricane season, I believe the busiest on record. Are you hearing from people that they're just fed up there, that they're going to leave for good?

DAVIS: Besides me? Is that what you're trying to say?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Hopefully you're not leaving anytime soon.

DAVIS: I was having a lunch at a little local hamburger joint yesterday, and I mentioned that, you know, the weather is a bit nicer in California this time of year than in Florida, and the locals all looked at me and said, `In California, you have mudslides, you have earthquakes. At least in Florida when there's a hurricane, you know when it's coming and you've got plenty of warning,' and they've gone through this before and they know how to deal with it. So nobody seems to be expressing any desire to leave after this.

Though, you know, the interesting thing is Miami and Ft. Lauderdale also got hit very hard by Hurricane Wilma and, in fact, some people are saying that the damage there might be greater than it is here on the southwest coast. So the next day or two is going to show what happened over there, as well.

BRAND: NPR's Phillip Davis outside, as we heard, in Ft. Myers, Florida. Thank you, Phillip.

DAVIS: Oh, you're welcome.

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