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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Wilma sparks Florida fear and complacency
By Daniela Relph
BBC News, Florida's south-western coast

A van passes through flooding in downtown Naples
Wilma felled trees and power lines and brought storm surges in Florida
It's hard to know how you're going to respond to a hurricane until you're actually in one - even more so when this is the eighth you have had to deal with in 14 months.

So perhaps it's no surprise then that for the residents of Florida Wilma brought a mixture of fear, complacency and recklessness.

She came ashore as a Category Three storm.

That meant torrential rain and winds of 125mph (200km/h).

Our hotel in Fort Myers was just one of the many buildings across the state which was unable to deal with Wilma's ferocity.

The windows on our makeshift office smashed through, doors came off their hinges, the walls buckled and of course, the power went out. The entire hotel was evacuated - to the underground car park!

For two hours we watched as Wilma battered and bruised her way East.

By hurricane standards she was a hit-and-run - in from the Gulf of Mexico, across land, and back out to the Atlantic, in just four hours.

With her she took the electricity of three million homes and plenty of pieces off some of Florida's sturdiest buildings.

All she left behind was sunshine, showers and flood water - and plenty of it, too.

Under pressure

But Florida was ready for Wilma. For five days the state obsession was watching the weather channel - plotting every twist and turn of this often unpredictable storm.

And after Katrina, when the state's governor is the brother of President George W Bush, he needs to be ready.

Jeb Bush was under pressure to get it right. He ordered the mobilisation of thousands of National Guard troops, set up dozens of evacuee centres and ensured there was enough food and water, should Wilma do her worst.

Blake Crawford and Carlos Galceran take advantage of the heavy winds as they skateboard down a street as Hurricane Wilma passes through
Few listened to a mandatory evacuation order
The response was effective and appears to be working. But it's the Florida Keys that are causing the most concern.

This narrow stretch of beauty at Florida's southern tip is now effectively cut off from the mainland. Search and rescue teams are struggling through the flood waters.

There was a mandatory evacuation order here, but few listened, especially in Key West.

Once immortalised by writer Ernest Hemingway, this southernmost point of the continental US remained resolutely stubborn.

Like Hemingway, who used to prop up the odd bar stool on Key West, they had organised a number of parties.

The bars stayed open late, there was a carnival atmosphere, and then Wilma arrived - bashing Key West and her partying residents.

There is only one road in and out of here, and it will be a while yet before the full story emerges. But the fact that so many stayed has irritated emergency managers.

The man in charge of rescue and relief issued the starkest of messages to those left behind in Key West.

"One day, your luck is going to run out", he said.


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