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Wilma lashes Caribbean coastlines; 13 die
Updated: 2005-10-20 08:31

John Hyndman, a 59-year-old electrician from Ottawa said his hotel had asked guests to leave. "I think people are more panicked just about what a hurricane can do," he said. "It can be very scary."

Quintana Roo state, where Cancun is located, announced that hundreds of schools would be closed Thursday and Friday, and many will be prepared to serve as shelters for expected evacuations.

Floridians braced for the storm by boarding up windows and stocking up on supplies, although forecasters at the hurricane center said the forward motion of the storm appeared to be slowing, which could cause it to eventually weaken.

This image provided by NOAA taken on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005 at 4:26 pm EDT shows Hurricane Wilma.
This image provided by NOAA taken on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005 at 4:26 pm EDT shows Hurricane Wilma.[AP]
Predictions differed on the hurricane's path and how strong it would be when it reaches U.S. shores. Though some weakening was expected by Thursday, the "potential for large loss of life is with us," said Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. hurricane center.

"This is one of those cases where we have a tremendous amount of uncertainty," said Mayfield. Referring to Wilma's explosive two-day growth from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane, Mayfield said "this is one of the most perplexing storms we have had to deal with" this year.

At 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Wilma was centered about 285 miles southeast of Mexico's Cozumel island and about 465 miles south-southwest of Key West. It was moving west-northwest near 7 mph.

Wilma's record-level intensity was measured in its pressure. Confirmed pressure readings early Wednesday dropped to 882 millibars, the lowest minimum pressure ever measured in a hurricane in the Americas, but it later lost power and rose to 900 millibars, according to the hurricane center. Lower pressure translates into higher wind speed.

The strongest Atlantic storm on record, based on pressure readings, had been Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, which registered 888 millibars.
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