Wilma weakens to Category 4, likely to regain force soon

MTV postponed its Video Music Awards Latin America ceremony scheduled for today at a seaside park south of Cancun

Hurricane Wilma has become of the most intense storms that has ever been registered in America. Wilma lashed Caribbean coastlines Wednesday, forcing tourists to flee as it threatened to slam into Cancun and southern Florida. The hurricane weakened barely to a Category 4 hurricane late Wednesday, but officials said it could regain strength Thursday.Hurricane Wilma nears Florida

At least 13 deaths have been blamed on Wilma this week, including a man who drowned Wednesday while trying to cross a river that overflowed its banks in southern Haiti.

Forecasters said Wilma has the potential to make an extremely damaging impact. With its center still over open water, the storm's sustained winds were near 155 miles per hour Wednesday night, down from 175 mph earlier in the day.

Tourists packed Cancun's airport even though skies were still partly sunny, looking for flights home or to other resorts. MTV postponed its Video Music Awards Latin America ceremony scheduled for today at a seaside park south of town.

Wilma is expected to produce total accumulations of as much as 15 inches of rain, with 25 inches in some areas, across Cuba Friday, the National Hurricane Center said. An Air Force reconnaissance plane recorded 884 millibars of pressure in the storm's eye, breaking the old record of 888 in 1988's Hurricane Gilbert.

Wilma is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico, then veer northeast toward Florida. World oil prices dropped amid hopes that Wilma would not hit oil installations on the storm-weary US Gulf Coast.

Floridians boarded up windows, gassed up their cars and bought storm supplies Wednesday, AP reports. Like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita earlier this season, Wilma Hurricane Wilma gathers strengthwas expected to weaken before coming ashore. But after seeing what those storms did and after four storms hit Florida in quick succession last year many people were taking no chances.

Officials began clearing tens of thousands of people out of the low-lying Florida Keys. "We had well over a 1,000 lives lost in Katrina. If Wilma, you know, comes into the U.S., to the Florida coast as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that potential for large loss of life is with us," National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said.

AP photos

Source: agencies

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Author`s name Olga Savka