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Wilma brings surge of evacuees in Florida

Hurricane Wilma Makes Landfall In Florida
Alejandro Santiago and Erica Hernandez sit with their daughter, Jennifer, at the Red Cross shelter at Golden Gate High School in Naples, Fla., in advance of Hurricane Wilma's arrival.Carlo Allegri / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Just before hurricane Wilma was upgraded to a Category 3 storm late Sunday, another 1,400 residents of Naples saw the light — the evacuation light — and piled into shelters in this southern Florida community. 

There are now 6,000 residents seeking shelter. By Sunday afternoon the number was just 2,000. At 5:30 p.m. it had swelled to 4,600. After dark, as the approaching storm began to look more real to southwest Florida residents, another 1,400 evacuees showed up at the county’s nine shelters. Emergency management spokesman Jaime Sarbaugh said they welcomed the surge in evacuees before the storm-force winds begin to pummel the county.

Collier county has a quarter of a million residents. Emergency managers believe about half the population has evacuated to safer areas. In the mandatory evacuation zone of about 60,000 residents which runs along the coast and back bays, officials believe about 80 percent evacuated.

On Marco Island, which has a population of some 20,000, officials believe 90 percent have sought refugee from the storm. Marco has an elevation of between 9 and 11 feet above sea level and emergency managers are very concerned about a storm surge flooding the popular residential and winter vacation island. The bridge linking Marco to the mainland will remain open as the storm makes landfall, but emergency workers will not try to make rescues while hurricane force winds rake the islands. Those winds could reach land by 3 a.m. ET. The most intense part of the storm, the eastern eye wall, should reach the coast about two hours before the eye.

Wilma is now moving at an estimated 18 mph according to the National Hurricane Center. That could bring it ashore near dawn.

A NOAA measuring instrument at the Naples fishing pier has already recorded a 6 inch rise in sea levels. This is before the anticipated storm surge begins to push into the vulnerable Florida coast line.  Sarbaugh, with the Collier County Emergency Operations Center, said at midnight that they now think the storm will reach the coast just south of Naples, so the surge may not be as bad in the city as once feared. But she cautioned that hurricane force winds will extend 85 miles either side of the eye of the storm.