Wilma makes landfall in Florida

Hurricane Wilma made landfall early on Monday on the south-west coast of Florida, packing sustained winds of up to 201kph, a United States government weather service said.

“It made landfall at 6.30am [10.30am GMT] at Cape Romano,” said Eric Blake, an official with the National Hurricane Centre.

Cape Romano is located about 32km west of Everglades City, Florida.

The centre said it expects Wilma to weaken as it passes across the peninsula toward the Atlantic Ocean.

No deaths have been reported so far, but one woman was lightly injured in Key West after a tree fell on her house, authorities said.

A storm surge up to 4,5m above normal was forecast for the south-western part of the state.

“This is a very dangerous hurricane,” hurricane centre director Max Mayfield told CNN television, urging those who had not yet evacuated the coastal area to do so and find a reliable shelter.

The Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, where the space shuttle is launched, closed and told employees to stay home on Monday.

Nasa also said it closed the payload bay doors of the shuttles Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis and placed the New Horizons spacecraft, which will blast off in a mission to Pluto next year, in a protective canister.

Wilma killed at least eight people when it struck Mexico.

Four bodies were found on the island of Cozumel where there has been three days of torrential rain, and roofs were ripped off many buildings.

The governor of Quintana Roo state said two people died in Playa del Carmen and one in Cancun. A fourth in Yucatan state was crushed by a tree. Two fishermen were also missing at sea.

More than 71 000 people, many of them foreign tourists, remained in emergency shelters for a third day, unable to leave because of the floods and damage.

Wilma pounded western Cuba with heavy rain, floods and high winds.

Six people were injured in Cuba after five tornadoes touched down in Pinar del Rio province.

About 640 000 people had been evacuated from Cuban coastal areas.

The Caribbean was earlier threatened by Tropical Storm Alpha, which became the 22nd storm of the Atlantic season, breaking the all-time record for the most active season in the Atlantic basin.

Alpha, however, was later downgraded to a tropical depression.—AFP

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