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Hurricane Wilma Strengthening, Heading for Florida

Hurricane Wilma has turned towards the state of Florida and is expected to intensity before reaching the United States early Monday. The Southern half of Florida is under a hurricane warning and thousands of residents have been told to evacuate.

After lingering near the tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula for two days, Hurricane Wilma has begun heading for the southern U.S. state of Florida. Forecasters say it will quickly increase its forward speed and could strengthen in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

National Hurricane Center forecaster Ed Rappaport says Wilma will bring wind, rain, and as much as four meters of storm surge flooding to the southern tip of Florida.

"The problem with this wind is that it is going to be driving a very high storm surge across the shoreline in both the Keys and the southwestern part of Florida," he says.

About 160,000 people in south Florida were ordered to evacuate and shelters were beginning to fill up. But Monroe County emergency management director Billy Wagner said he fears many people have chosen to stay behind.

"We currently have a mandatory evacuation for the entire Florida Keys. We started our phased evacuation process four days ago and had to put it on hold and resumed it yesterday. I am very very concerned about our response in the Keys, especially the mobile home residents," Mr. Wanger says.

Hurricane Wilma has been blamed for 13 deaths in Jamaica and Haiti and at least three deaths in Mexico.

Wilma, which at one point last week was the most powerful hurricane ever seen in the region, will be the seventh hurricane to hit Florida in the past year and one-half. There have been 22 named storms in the Atlantic - a record number - this year.