Paradise threatened

Reporting in the Eye

Hello, my name is Jeremy Cox. Longtime blog-reader, first-time blogger.

Welcome to Marco Island, where the brunt of Hurricane Wilma is expected to arrive in roughly five hours. I am a reporter with the Naples Daily News, and I'm here in the break room of the Marco fire station, inhaling pizza fumes, to report on the storm's passage.

But first, a geography lesson: This island was completely reshaped by developers some 50 years ago. Where once there were rolling mounds and wetlands, there now are canals, condominium towers, megahouses, luxurious hotels. More than 15,000 residents live here, but roughly 90 percent have evacuated well in advance. For the 1,500 souls who have chosen to ride it out in this modern Venice, it will be a long night.

The two words on everyone's minds here are "storm surge." The National Hurricane Center in Miami predicts Southwest Florida can expect 9 to 17 feet of surge above normal tide. The next high tide is supposed to come at 3:39 a.m., adding more than 3 feet to that 17 feet. So, what does that mean to us. One of the police captains told me this facility, which serves as the city's emergency operations center, is about 9 or 10 feet above sea level. Do the math. But this will be no New Orleans. Marco is above sea level (albeit slightly) and the terrain is rather rocky and sandy, allowing for flood waters to return to the sea quickly.

And the wind? Collier emergency managers predict sustained winds on Marco of 115 mph. Gusts could reach 144 mph. The worst is expected to roll in at 6:30 a.m.

What's going on so far? Some squalls are moving through with increasing frequency. On my way south on County Road 951 near Mainsail Drive, a blinding squall suddenly erupted. The rain fell practically sideways from southeast to northwest. That would make sense, since 'canes circulate counter-clockwise.

Got my six-pack of Aquafina. Got my wireless laptop. Got my Weather Channel. And plenty of room-temperature pizza. Stay tuned.

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