Wilma accelerates toward south Florida

Leaving devastation and at least 20 deaths in its wake, Hurricane Wilma roared away from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and accelerated toward south Florida with winds that grew late Sunday to 115 m.p.h. Residents of a place hit or brushed by seven hurricanes in the last 14 months and now becoming known as the Here We Go Again State were philosophical.

"You just roll with the punches, honey," Arlene White, 54, said Sunday as she tried to attach a plywood storm shutter to her home near Miami. "We live in Florida."

Depending on Wilma's path, it could be south Florida's worst weather since Hurricane Charley in 2004. Wilma's core was expected to reach Florida's southwest gulf coast at around dawn today, as a Category 3 storm.

Then it's expected to race across the southern half of the state at about 30 m.p.h., likely carving a wide path of destruction.

Five to 8 feet of storm surge, the dome of water that surrounds the center of a hurricane, could wash over the Florida Keys. Eight to 13 feet could swamp the southwest coast and wash deeply into the Everglades.

Forecasters and emergency managers warned of tornados, at least 4 to 8 inches of rain and severe coastal flooding in the Keys and in Naples, Marco Island and elsewhere along the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida.

"It's going to be a rocky ride," said Tony Carper, Broward County's director of emergency management.

Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, predicted Wilma would dramatically pick up speed as it approached Florida. "It's really going to take off like a rocket," he said.

Because of that, residents of Atlantic coast cities such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale were likely to face hurricane-force winds nearly as strong as those on the gulf coast, forecasters said.

Residents of the Keys were urged to leave before the sea severed U.S.-1, the only escape route. Causeways on the mainland also could flood, forecasters said, reports Detroit Daily Press. I.L.