Wilma weakens as hurricane watch and evacuation order are issued for Florida Keys

Wilma weakened to a Category 2 storm Saturday as a hurricane watch and mandatory evacuation order were issued for the Florida Keys and residents and emergency officials in the southern part of the state made preparations for the storm's arrival.

Hurricane-force wind of at least 74 mph (119 kph) could begin affecting the Keys within 36 hours, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm's outermost rain already had reached parts of the state and 4 inches to 8 inches (10-20 centimeters) of rain is expected in southern Florida through Tuesday, with up to a foot in some areas.

At the same time, an area of rain showers south of Puerto Rico developed into a tropical depression, the center said. If that strengthens into a tropical storm, it would be called Alpha because Wilma was the last name on this year's official storm list. The Greek alphabet has never been used in roughly 60 years of regularly named storms.

Many people in the low-lying island chain and parts of the mainland had started leaving Friday, when Wilma slammed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm weakened Saturday to a Category 2 with sustained wind near 110 mph (177 kph), down 25 mph (40 kph) from its strength during the night.

Outer rain bands were already reaching parts of the state Saturday, causing some knee-deep flooding that forced people out of at least 50 apartments and houses in the Fort Lauderdale area. About 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain fell overnight in that area, according to the National Weather Service, AP reported. V.A.

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