RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Here's the latest on Hurricane Wilma. The back half of the storm is battering the southwest coast of Florida and it's proving stronger than the front of the storm that reached Florida earlier this morning. The storm has been downgraded somewhat, but it's still a Category 2 hurricane with winds measured at 110 miles per hour. We're going now to NPR's Phillip Davis. He's on the line from Ft. Myers, Florida.
And, Phillip, I understand you've been out to have a look around. What have you seen and felt?
PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:
Yeah, the second half of this storm is proving to be quite interesting. We're feeling the cold front that's coming down as well, so the temperature is dropping precipitously and the wind is picking up. I wouldn't be surprised now if there are gusts--I don't like to exaggerate these kinds of things--but I would think they're in the 90- to 100-mile-an-hour range. There is a line of Melaluca trees parked in front of the little motel that I'm staying at and they--most of them have just been uprooted. One just barely missed my vehicle. Luckily, I'd moved it into the middle of the parking lot. And there are downed tree limbs and lots of wind right now.
INSKEEP: Downed power lines, too.
DAVIS: Yeah, downed power lines from Ft. Myers all the way down to Marco Island. Most of the southwestern coast of Florida is without power. Two hundred thousand and more people are without power, perhaps as many as two million by the time this storm has made its way all the way across to Miami. I'm getting reports in Miami as well that there are power outages there and that they're getting extremely strong winds up in that area, too.
INSKEEP: Philip, we know that there are a couple of million people whose homes are in the path of this storm, most of them were told to evacuate, some did not. What are emergency officials most worried about right now?
DAVIS: Well, I think right now emergency officials are worried about keeping people inside while they go out and assess the damage that has been done. The good thing about this hurricane--Hurricane Wilma is that you can't say the storm didn't give everyone plenty of warning. We've known the storm was coming for a good week and evacuations started as early as last Wednesday in Key West for tourists, so I think that everybody who wanted to leave has left and everybody knows that it's time to leave. The rest of the people here within--east of the storm surge area are just sort of hunkered down and waiting out the storm right now.
INSKEEP: I suppose this storm might serve as a reminder that whether hurricanes are really getting worse or not as the years go on, more people are moving into the path of hurricanes. This is a heavily developed area that you're reporting from.
DAVIS: It is. It's one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States and for a long time it didn't get hit by very many hurricanes. It's only the last couple of years that the southwestern coast has been kind of on the radar screen of these hurricanes, and so it's a new experience for a lot of people here. Luckily, a lot of the construction is new and it's pretty hurricane proof, but there's still a lot of old vacation homes, a lot of old mobile homes, unfortunately, in places like Punta Gorda and Everglades City that are very vulnerable to this type of a Category 2, Category 3 storm.
INSKEEP: Now there was a storm in Punta Gorda--there was a storm that hit Punta Gorda, Florida, not too long ago and hit it very hard. Do you get a sense that people were more willing to get out of the way of this one or feeling like they were getting used to this?
DAVIS: Oh, yeah, people have learned their lesson. Hurricane Charley last year, which was a smaller, more compact storm than Hurricane Wilma, but it did a lot of damage in Punta Gorda and areas around there, and people have that in mind as well as experience of Louisiana and Mississippi with Hurricane Katrina and Rita. They're taking this storm very seriously and there's probably at least 5,000 or 6,000 people in Red Cross shelters. They've been filling up much faster than they have been in recent years and I think that people are taking these storms much more seriously than they have in the past.
INSKEEP: We've been talking to NPR's Phillip Davis. He's in Ft. Myers, Florida.
And, Phillip, thanks for riding out the storm for us.
DAVIS: Thank you.
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