TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) – Hurricane Wilma whirled into the record books Tuesday as the 12th such storm of the season, on course to sideswipe Central America or Mexico and looming as a “significant threat” to Florida by the weekend.

Forecasters warned that Wilma was “a major hurricane” that was likely to rake Honduras and the Cayman Islands before turning toward the narrow Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico’s Cancun region – then move into the storm-weary Gulf.

By 2 p.m. EDT, Wilma was centered about 180 miles south of Grand Cayman Island, and was moving toward the west-northwest at nearly 8 mph, with maximum sustained winds at 80 mph. Forecasters said Wilma was likely to become a Category 3 hurricane, with winds reaching 120 mph by Thursday.

Wilma was already blamed for one death in Jamaica as a tropical depression on Sunday.

“It does look like it poses a significant threat to Florida by the weekend. Of course, these are four- and five-day forecasts, so things can change,” said Dan Brown, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Wilma is the record-tying 12th hurricane of the season, the same number reached in 1969, and 12 is the most in one season since record-keeping began in 1851.

On Monday, Wilma became the Atlantic hurricane season’s 21st named storm, tying the record set in 1933 and exhausting the list of names for this year.

The deadly season has already witnessed the devastation of Katrina and Rita in the past two months, which killed more than 1,200 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Honduras and its neighbors already are recovering from flooding and mudslides caused earlier this month from storms related to Hurricane Stan. At least 796 people were killed, most of them in Guatemala, with many more still missing.

The government of flood-prone Honduras warned that Hurricane Wilma posed “an imminent threat to life and property of the people of the Atlantic coast.” Neighboring Nicaragua also declared an alert.

Honduran President Ricardo Maduro declared “a maximum alert” along the northern coast and his office said emergency personnel and resources had been sent to the area, where evacuations were possible.

In Nicaragua, national disaster prevention chief Geronimo Giusto said the army, police and rescue workers were being mobilized and evacuation points readied.

Authorities in the Cayman Islands earlier called an alert and Jamaican officials evacuated 100 people from low-lying communities flooded by rain associated with Wilma. They said a 35-year-old farmer drowned in a river Sunday while trying to rescue goats.

Forecasters said Wilma should avoid the central U.S. Gulf coast that was devastated by Katrina and Rita. “There’s no scenario now that takes it toward Louisiana or Mississippi, but that could change,” said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Florida, meanwhile, has seen seven hurricanes hit or pass close by since August 2004, causing more than $20 billion in estimated damage and killing nearly 150 people.

The six-month hurricane season ends Nov. 30. Wilma is the last on the list of storm names for 2005; there are 21 names on the yearly list because the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are skipped.

If any other storms form, letters from the Greek alphabet would be used, starting with Alpha, for the first time. Storms have gotten alphabetical names only in the past 60 years.

There have been 10 late-season hurricanes of Category 3 or higher since 1995.

Associated Press writers John Pain in Miami and Jay Ehrhart in George Town, Cayman Islands, contributed to this report.

On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

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