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Hurricane Builds to a Category 4

October 19, 2005|From Times Wire Services

MIAMI — Hurricane Wilma strengthened rapidly to a Category 4 storm early today with top sustained winds near 150 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Wilma was expected to strengthen on a path that could threaten coastal areas in southwestern Florida such as Punta Gorda that were hit by Charley, a Category 4 storm that was the first of six hurricanes to strike the state since August 2004.

Wilma was centered 175 miles southwest of Grand Cayman Island at 1 a.m. EDT. Computer models showed Wilma moving into the Gulf of Mexico and possibly bearing down on Florida by Saturday.

"When this storm makes the turn, it's going to start moving very quickly. So people need to get their supplies now. It's a good time to beat the rush," said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane specialist at the center.

Rain from the season's 21st named storm triggered mudslides that killed up to 10 people in Haiti. Mexico issued a hurricane watch for parts of the Yucatan, and Cuba issued a watch for the provinces of Matanzas west through Pinar Del Rio.

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