Desperate tourists jockeyed for flights out of Cancun on Thursday as officials hauled thousands of visitors from luxury hotels to emergency shelters and Cuba evacuated more than 200,000 people ahead of a weakened but still mighty Hurricane Wilma.
The storm, which killed at least 13 people in the Caribbean, was expected to hit Cancun and its surrounding resorts and sideswipe Cuba early Friday. Forecasters said it would then swing around to the northwest and charge Sunday at hurricane-weary Florida, where Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency.
Briefly the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, Wilma remained a dangerous Category 4 hurricane at midday Thursday. Its 230 kph (145 mph) winds made it roughly as powerful as Hurricane Katrina at the time it plowed into the U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, killing more than 1,200 people.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm's wobbly center was roughly 320 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of Cancun, Mexico's top tourist attraction, the AP reports.
The forecast track would carry it directly to the city of some 500,000 people by late Friday.
The Cancun airport was packed Thursday. Lines of hundreds waiting for flights wound past queues of dozens seeking rental cars, taxis or automatic teller machines.
A canceled U.S. Airways flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was sending Matt Williams and his friend Jeff Davidson, both of Westfield, N.J., back to their hotel in Playa del Carmen south of Cancun. There, they faced a night in a ballroom-turned-emergency-shelter. A.M.
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18