As Hurricane Irma hammered the Florida Keys, John Hines huddled in his Key West home while blinding rains and howling winds raged outside.
Hines lives in a mandatory evacuation area but decided not to leave despite the governor’s plea to 6.3 million Florida residents to flee north.
“It’s going from crappy to worse,” Hines said by phone early Sunday as winds whistled loudly in the background.
“All the interior doors are starting to rattle now, sounds like someone is knocking on the front door. The winds are picking up. It’s only going to get worse.”
In Key Largo, David DeBrule posted a Facebook Live video showing palm trees bent almost in half. “This is bad,” said DeBrule, who decided not to evacuate.
“We had a family business here for over 40 years and won’t leave our community,” he said.
Hines and DeBrule are among a hardy — some might day foolhardy — band of South Florida and Gulf coast residents who defied mandatory evacuation orders and have stayed home to face whatever Irma brings.
Hines believes he’s safe in his home, a concrete building with storm shutters.
“I have an emotional attachment to Key West,” he said. ” All my family’s ashes are in Key West, so I’m staying.”
And if there’s utter devastation, he said, he prefers to be at home, on this side of the bridge to the mainland in case it collapses.
‘I felt safe in our home’
Other Floridians have stayed because they want to protect their livelihoods.
“Number one, we stayed because I felt safe in our home. It’s a concrete structure on stilts with a concrete roof,” said Amy Denius, who lives in Islamorada.
“And my husband is a fisherman. Our boat is our life and we need to be here to protect it after the storm so we have a livelihood. ”
Kristin Bell decided to heed the warnings and leave her home in St. Pete Beach and head inland to St Petersburg, four miles away. She drained her pool to minimize flooding and took off with her photo albums, her computer hard drives, two Labrador retrievers and some cats.
Bell is staying at a friend’s house with their children and 20 pets between them — all cats and dogs. A day before Irma hit, she visited a deserted beach a mile from her house and marveled at its white sand and endless blue waters.
“It was empty. There was no one in sight on such a beautiful day when it’s normally packed,” she said. “It was absolutely magical. I was wondering what it would like when I get back.”
Bell posted a video on Instagram of the deceptively calm beach a day before Irma struck.
‘We need everybody’s prayers’
Peggy Monahan, who lives in Fort Pierce, stayed behind to take care of her family farm. She grows citrus fruits and raises cattle on her farmland, which has been in her family for generations, she said.
Monahan is sheltered at her home about 10 miles from the Atlantic coast, along with several neighbors.
“We need everybody’s prayers — this storm seems very bad,” she told CNN’s Zain Asher. “We are close to harvesting our crops, and we need to be here to stick the trees back on the ground if they are blown up.”
Monahan also said she wants to ensure her cows deliver their calves safely.
“I don’t have the luxury of leaving. … I’m prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. I hope my house will hold up,” she said.
Fort Pierce, about 60 miles north of West Palm Beach, was under mandatory evacuation orders for people living in mobile homes and low-lying regions prone to flooding.
Authorities have gone door to door in Florida warning residents to leave or take shelter.
‘I’ve tried to get some sleep but I can’t’
Joni Emmanuel said she didn’t leave her house in Bal Harbour, north of Miami Beach, because her boyfriend, who’s 92, wanted to stay behind.
“It didn’t seem humane to leave him alone,” said Emmanuel, who declined to give her age. “So I stayed to help him stay safe.”
She’s scared, she said, but they’ve stocked up on food, water, medication, batteries, flashlights and cell phone chargers.
“We are on the first floor, and we are prepared to go to a higher level if we see any waters rising,” she said Saturday.
In Fort Myers on the Gulf coast, where storm-surge warnings were in effect, Evanson Ngai stayed up all night, tracking the hurricane.
“I’ve tried to get some sleep but I can’t. Just the nervousness, trying to keep an eye on it to see if its track will change,” he said Sunday morning.
Ngai said Fort Myers was already being buffeted by heavy winds. He’d moved everything away from the windows, and was crouching in his bathtub.