Wilma Surprises Florida's East Coast with Ferocity

Hurricane Wilma passes over the east coast of Florida as a Category 2 storm and surprises residents with its power. Far from diminishing as it moved over land, the storm's wind stayed strong, tossing trees and ripping roofs.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

People along Florida's Atlantic Coast were surprised by the power of Wilma when it reached them. NPR's Phillip Davis drove today along Hurricane Wilma's path, and he's in Broward County now, on the east coast.

Phillip, what did you see today?

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Well, I've driven across Alligator Alley all the way into the Atlantic coastal areas of Florida and Broward through brand-spanking-new subdivisions, and it looks like this area was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Wilma. There are lots and lots of snapped palm trees, poinciana trees, downed fences, lanais, which are the sort of enclosed porches that are very popular here in Florida--a lot of them have been destroyed by the storm.

SIEGEL: Now people in these areas are old hands at dealing with hurricanes, and they had several days' warning. What had they expected?

DAVIS: Well, there's two things that was going on here in Florida. First of all, people sometimes can be too old of a hand when it comes to hurricanes. And there's a conventional wisdom that when a storm starts on one side of the state and goes through the state and exits on the other side, it weakens considerably in the process. That did not really happen perceptively with Hurricane Wilma. It actually stayed a very strong storm because it moved through the state so quickly. Secondly, just like in the southwestern coast of Florida, this area has seen an incredible amount of growth over the past few years. And a lot of people that I talked to had moved here for the first time, and this is only the first or second time they've had to deal with a direct hit from a hurricane like this.

SIEGEL: What's your sense, Phillip, of how well state and federal officials were prepared to help people with their immediate needs?

DAVIS: Well, one good thing about Wilma is that there was a lot of time to prepare, and I believe that the Florida officials have a lot of plans in place. I--you can already see some crews starting to clear streets already. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had more than 200 trucks filled with ice, water and more than three million meals ready to eat prepositioned on either side of the storm's path. And Florida Power & Light is out already trying to restore power to the two million people that are without power. So I think the response is going to be a little bit faster than what we might have seen in the last few storms.

SIEGEL: OK, Phillip, thank you very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Phillip Davis talking to us from Broward County, Florida.

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