Hurricane Wilma Sweeping Through Mexico While Florida Prepares for Landing

( [email protected] ) Oct 22, 2005 05:13 PM EDT

Hurricane Wilma is now passing over Cancun, Mexico, flooding the streets several years deep. around 30,000 tourists hid in hotels and shelters.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said that Wilma officially made landfall about 4:30 p.m. EDT when the eye of the storm hit Cozumel, Mexico's largest island. Wilma then moved inland reaching the Yucatan Peninsula seven hours later, striking the region between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos.

As the eye of the storm passed over Cancun, people looted convenience stores, carrying off bags of pasta, soda, and canned tuna. Some stole furniture from furniture store. Police guarded only large stores like Wal-Mart.

The strength of storm was so strong that it tore off roofs of Hotels and shattered windows. At least one shelter in downtown Cancun had to evacuate 1,000 people overnight because the ceiling threatened to collapse.

"This is the equivalent of having four or five hurricanes of this size pass over one after the other, given the amount of time we have been suffering hurricane-force winds," said Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Cantu, whose state includes Cancun. "Never in the history of Quintana Roo have we had storm like this."

The storm was expected to pummel the tip of Yucatan all day Saturday before moving into the Gulf of Mexico, curling around Cuba's western end and sprinting toward Florida for an expected landfall Monday.

Meanwhile, the Florida Peninsula began a mandatory evacuation today at noon in anticipation of Wilma to hit on Monday morning. Although the storm is still in Mexico, the United States already is feeling the effects of the pending hurricane. Reports indicate that there have been rain and thunderstorms in many areas in the Florida Peninsula. In addition the Ohio Valley, Appalachians, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Southeast have been experiencing heavy rain.

"We are talking about a record hurricane as far as rain is concerned," said meteorologist Alberto Hernandez Unzon to AP.

Operation Blessing, a Christian relief agency based in the United States, has reported coordination efforts in Ocala, Fla.

"If Wilma comes ashore in Florida, Ocala may be ideally located to support relief efforts," said Bill Horan, president of Operation Blessing in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army - which runs the second-largest disaster relief operation in the United States behind the American Red Cross - also has 20 feeding campaigns "staged and ready to come in when the storm [passes] through the state," according to Melissa Temme, public relations specialist for The Salvation Army.