tampabay.com

West Palm Beach endures the eye of the storm

Two unconfirmed deaths have been reported along with widespread power outages.

By STEVE THOMPSON
Published October 24, 2005


WEST PALM BEACH - The number of 911 calls increased dramatically before noon Monday as Hurricane Wilma ripped through Palm Beach County with 100 mph winds.

Among the calls were reports of two deaths, said Steve Delai, deputy of chief of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

One of the possible deaths was someone who had gone outside to secure property as the storm's eye passed over, Delai said. As of 12:30 p.m., officials had not confirmed the deaths.

Another call came from people who were trapped inside their overturned mobile home.

Still another call came in from a woman who was in labor and could not get to the hospital. Rescue workers could not reach her, but were helping by phone, Delai said.

At Glades General Hospital, the power went out, and its emergency backup power failed, said Assistant County Administrator Vince Bonvento. It was unclear as of 12:30 p.m. how officials there were coping or if power had been restored.

Between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., the storm's eye passed over the county, the winds died down and the sun appeared. Rescue workers used the calm to make a couple of rescues, Delai said. But about 11 a.m., the winds returned seemingly as strong as before. And this time, they ripped through from the opposite direction.

About 90 percent of the county was without power, officials said. There were reports of structure fires and water mains breaking. Officials were telling people to boil water in the cities of Lake Worth, Delray Beach, Gulf Stream, South Bay, Riviera Beach and Highland Beach.

Gravel blew off the roof of the emergency operations center and shattered the windows of at least two dozen cars. As the eye passed over, people went out to tape plastic across their car windows, plastic that surely would be gone by the time they saw their cars again after the storm passed.

The thin metal roof of a Hampton Inn in West Palm Beach peeled back with a roar about 9 a.m. and landed on cars in the parking lot, flapping against them in the gale.

The county's special care shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds got its front bay doors blown in. Firefighters pulled a fire truck in front of it as a temporary fix.

"So far, fortunately," Delai said about 12:30 p.m., as the winds continued to tear things apart, "it's working."