NAPLES, Fla. — Winds of up to 120 miles an hour whipped through this tiny Gulf Coast city as the eye wall of Wilma, Florida’s eighth hurricane in 15 months, made landfall early Monday morning.
Palm fronds were ripped off palm trees and tiles were literally peeled from roofs, forming small — and dangerous — airborne missiles.
A “Welcome” mat that should have been at someone's front door flew by at about 25 feet up in the air. It looked like something out of the "Wizard of Oz."
And there was still more to come. After the eye passed through, the back side of the storm hit.
A path of desruction
Tree limbs, as well as entire trees, are down, causing extensive damage to power lines. Close to the waterfront, the predicted storm surge appeared to have arrived, leaving water up to five feet deep.
It's hard to tell the full extent of the destruction. Early assessments, though, show that though Wilma has caused damage, it is nothing like that seen in the wake of Katrina, or even in the aftermath of Rita. It was a Category 3 hurricane when it originally came through, but within two hours it had weakened into a Category 2 storm with winds of 110 miles per hour.
The real question is what happened a little further to the south — on exposed Marco Island, and specifically, down in Everglades City.
It'll no doubt be difficult to reach Everglades City because Tamiami Trail, which links the town to Naples, is narrow and lined with trees, many of which are likely to have come down. We’ve attempted to make some phone calls, but so far we have been unsuccessful in contacting anyone.
Everglades City, mostly a fishing village where people go out for stone crabs, has about 400 residents. It seems that most of the people there heard the warnings and evacuated, but there were some stubborn fishermen who said they weren’t going to leave.
As for Naples, it's unclear how many people left. Since the storm hit, the Collier County Emergency Operations Centerhas urged all residents to stay inside and to refrain from calling 911 unless there is a true emergency.