Wilma's Florida swipe

The storm's path spared the most densely populated parts of a hurricane-weary state.

Hurricane Wilma roared across southern Florida with all the grace and subtlety of a runaway freight train.

The fast-moving storm damaged roofs, uprooted trees, blew out high-rise windows, and ripped mobile homes to pieces, before moving out to the Atlantic Ocean. News reports said a window blew out in the Broward County Courthouse in downtown Ft. Lauderdale.

But by coming ashore where it did - in Florida's Collier County, south of Naples - Wilma spared more populated areas of the state. Much of the worst storm surge occurred along the unoccupied mangrove islands and shoreline of Everglades National Park. That meant that the expected storm surge threatened thousands of homes rather than hundreds of thousands of residences farther north along Florida's highly developed southwest coast.

Nevertheless, the fishing towns of Everglade City and Chokoloskee may have experienced up to 17 feet of storm surge, officials said. In Key West, officials said 35 percent of the city was flooded, including the airport, with up to five feet of water.

Thousands of Florida residents evacuated low-lying neighborhoods and mobile homes in the days leading up to the storm. Police in many communities went door-to-door to urge the reluctant to go and to help arrange transport for those unable to move. But officials expressed concern that less than 10 percent of residents in the Florida Keys had sought shelter on the mainland.

Part of the challenge may have been déjà vu. Wilma marks the fourth time residents of the Keys faced evacuation this year. Many objected to the delays and difficulties of returning to their homes after each storm. Wilma marks the eighth hurricane to strike the state since 2004.

Although it made history last Wednesday by briefly becoming the most powerful storm on record in the Atlantic Basin - with winds up to 175 miles per hour - it made landfall in Florida at 6:30 a.m. Monday with winds up to 125 m.p.h. That intensity made it a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, less powerful than the Category 4 strength (with winds up to 150 m.p.h.) that slammed into Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula last weekend.

The storm was blamed for seven deaths in Mexico and 10 fatalities earlier in Haiti.

Despite Wilma's weaker state, hurricane forecasters warned that it was nonetheless a major threat. In addiction to concern about storm surge, forecasters warned about possible tornadoes that could hit anywhere on the southern portion of the state. A tornado touched down Monday in Brevard County, damaging an apartment complex, the Associated Press reported. No one was injured. Wilma's arrival also was announced by at least four tornadoes Sunday night - including one near Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral - that damaged some businesses.

Gov. Jeb Bush estimated in a Monday briefing that 2.2 million to 2.5 million Floridians had lost power. He said some 10,000 power company workers, from both Florida and out of state, were on standby to begin restoration work.

Bush warned residents to remain safety-conscious, particularly after the storm is over. "We cannot say it enough. It is more dangerous after the storm than during the storm," he said in a message broadcast statewide.

Wire-service reports were used in this story.

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