Hurricane Watch: Wilma strengthens to most powerful Atlantic storm ever

According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Wilma tied one record when it became the 12th hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season on Tuesday over the northwestern Caribbean Sea. And early Wednesday it was reported barometric readings indicated it was the strongest measured to date. People were already being evacuated from south Florida, as it tracked north and east off the Yucatan Peninsula...

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 19, 2005 (VOANews with staff reports) -- As if Mother Nature hasn't yet proven herself, Hurricane Wilma emerged yesterday as a threat, traveling northward off the Yucatan coast toward Cuba and expected to veer east across Florida.

As a matter of fact, U.S. weather forecasters say the Category Five hurricane has strengthened into the most powerful Atlantic storm on record, already prompting evacuation of the Florida Keys.

The National Hurricane Center says a reconnaissance aircraft measured the storm's pressure at 882 millibars early Wednesday - breaking a record set by Hurricane Gilbert 17 years ago.

Lower barometric pressure is one sign of an intense hurricane. At last report, Wilma's sustained winds had reached 280 kilometers per hour.

At least 10 people have died in flooding and mudslides in Haiti, after several days of heavy rain from the storm. The storm has also brought heavy rains to Jamaica, Honduras and the Cayman Islands.

Wilma is currently centered in the northwestern Caribbean, on a course that will carry it Friday through the narrow channel between western Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

Forecasters say the storm is likely to turn east and hit the U.S. state of Florida later this week.

Considering the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the central and western Gulf of Mexico, crews were rushing to prepare for the onslaught and secure basic and emergency services as well as possible. The AWWA estimated damage to public drinking water infrastructure alone by Katrina was expected to top $2.25 billion. That report projected $1.6 billion will be required for 47 water systems serving more than 10,000 persons, with an additional $650 million required in 885 smaller, primarily groundwater systems. The systems are all in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Wilma became the 12th hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season on Tuesday over the northwestern Caribbean Sea. This season now shares the record for the most hurricanes in one season with 1969. On Monday, Wilma became the season's 21st named storm, tying the seasonal record first set in 1933. Hurricane records date back to 1851. Wilma also is the final name on the 2005 list of storm names. Any additional tropical storms and hurricanes that form this season will be classified by the NOAA National Hurricane Center using the Greek alphabet, beginning with Alpha. Doing so would be a first since the naming of storms began in 1953.

For further details on tracking of Hurricane Wilma, see: www.nhc.noaa.gov/text/MIATCDAT4.shtml.

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