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Hurricane Ploughs Destructive Path Through Florida

Hurricane Wilma hit the southern half of Florida on Monday with winds of more than 200 kilometers per hour. Millions of people were left without electrical power.

Wilma, the eighth hurricane to hit the state of Florida in the past 15 months, cut a destructive swath across the southern Florida peninsula on Monday. It moved quickly from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Ocean, leaving more than three million people without electrical power and prompting President Bush to sign a disaster declaration for the damaged area.

There were at least four hurricane-related deaths in Florida from Wilma, which claimed 17 lives in the Caribbean last week.

In the state capital of Tallahassee, Florida Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings said officials were just beginning to assess the damage. She urged people to stay at home to avoid downed power lines and rising waters. "Law enforcement officials are trying to clear the debris off the roads. We do have debris. They're assessing the bridges and roads and they are responding very quickly to emergencies," he said.

Residents in Fort Lauderdale, along Florida's heavily populated southeast coast, were being told to boil municipal water before drinking it because of broken water mains. In Miami, the windows of downtown skyscrapers were shattered. Key West suffered a two-meter storm surge that put almost half the city under water at the height of the storm.

Thaddeus Cohen, secretary of Florida's Department of Community Affairs, said major cities were not the only areas affected. "Part of our initial assessments indicate that there has been significant damage happening in our rural communities," he said.

After striking Florida on Monday, Hurricane Wilma strengthened again and began to race northeast along the United States' Atlantic Seaboard.

There have been 22 named tropical storms so far this year in the Atlantic, the largest number ever recorded, and the hurricane season still has more than one month remaining.