Hurricane Wilma tore into Mexico's resort-studded Mayan Riviera on Friday with torrential rains and shrieking winds, filling the streets with water, shattered glass and debris as thousands of stranded tourists hunkered down in hotel ballrooms and emergency shelters.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Wilma officially made landfall about 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. EDT), with the center of the storm's eye hitting the island of Cozumel, a popular cruise-ship stop.
The fearsome Category 4 storm, which killed 13 people in Haiti and Jamaica, was expected to pummel the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula for two days, sparking fears of catastrophic damage. It is forecast to sideswipe Cuba before bearing down on Florida on Monday.
The wind bent palm trees and the surf washed away tiki huts on hotel beaches. Power was cut early Friday to most parts of Cancun a standard safety precaution. Shop windows were shattered, cars were crushed under fallen trees and pay phones jutted from waist-deep floodwaters in the famed hotel zone.
Officials evacuated loaded more than 1,000 people into buses and vans after a downtown cultural center being used as a temporary shelter suddenly became uninhabitable, Cancun Red Cross director Ricardo Portugal said without elaborating.
At the same time, Wilma's outer bands pounded western Cuba, where the government evacuated nearly 370,000 people. Forecasters said Wilma could bring more than 3 feet of rain to parts of Cuba.
Waves of up to 21 feet crashed on the extreme westernmost tip of Cuba and heavy rains cut off several small communities. About 7,000 residents were evacuated from the coastal fishing village of La Coloma in Cuba's southern Pinar del Rio province, the ABC News reported.