Floridians girded for one of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record Wednesday by boarding up windows, buying supplies and praying it would go somewhere else, an all-too-familiar drill.
Forecasters warned that the Category 5 Wilma could send flooding and towering waves smashing into the state's Gulf Coast and spread devastating winds all the way to the Atlantic coast.
Some South Floridians started heading for Gainesville, and Roland Loog, director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said Alachua County hotels will be at 100 percent capacity on Thursday. That includes bed and breakfasts and mom-and-pop motels, Loog said.
The hurricane was expected to weaken to a Category 3 or 4 before hitting the state this weekend, but officials began clearing people out of the low-lying, vulnerable Florida Keys. Many people were well aware of the death and destruction caused by the seven hurricanes that have hit or passed by the state since August 2004.
"I don't think I want to live in Florida," said Betty Bartelson, a tourist visiting Marco Island near Naples from Wind Gap, Pa. She planned to flee across the state to Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville Sun reports.