While rains drenched the Upper Keys on Saturday morning, traffic flowed freely leaving the island chain. Many driving along the Overseas Highway were residents doing last-minute storm preparations.
Joe and Missy Catarineaut were at the Tom Thumb gas station in Islamorada putting 80 gallons of fuel into their 37-foot RV. But they weren't visitors heading out of the island chain. They are residents who will use it as their generator and kitchen if the power goes out for an extended amount of time.
"We lived in Miami for Hurricane Andrew so we know there are some things you like to have," Missy Catarineaut said. Her husband, Joe, added they may turn out to be the envy of their whole street.
Down U.S. 1, Forest Tek Lumber also was busy, but plywood wasn't flying off the shelves. Most residents in the Keys already have storm shutters and were just in need of shutter clips or wing nuts to fasten them. Many Keys homeowners also have high impact windows and glass, to help with insurance rates and peace of mind.
"It's not as busy as it used to be when people weren't as prepared," said Mike Rundgren, contract manager for Forest Tek. "But we do have quite a few last-minute people here for batteries and flashlights."
Several people were putting up storm shutters between heavy and light rain showers. Julie and Dean Eakin, owners of Islamorada Pool Co. and InsideOut interior design, decided when the tropical storm warning turned into a hurricane warning for the Keys that it was worth the 40 minutes to put up their shutters. "One coconut is all it takes (to break a window)," Dean Eakin said.
And Dominic Matias, who lives at the Sea Breeze RV and Mobile Home Park in Islamorada, braved the rains to let his dog Diva do his business. He said there wasn't much preparation he could do at his home. "I'm not too worried," Matias said. "But Diva doesn't like storms."
At 2 p.m., four shelters in Monroe County opened. They are at Key West High School on Flagler Avenue, Sugarloaf School on Upper Sugarloaf Key, Stanley Switlik School in Marathon and Coral Shores High School in Islamorada.
By late Saturday afternoon, only one person had showed up at the shelter at Coral Shores High School. Workers said most people who planned to ride the storm out at the shelter likely would arrive Sunday morning.
At the Key West High School shelter, 36 people had checked in Saturday afternoon. Jerry O'Cathey, shelter manager for Monroe County Emergency Management, said he expected more people to arrive through the night because of Key West's "high transient population."
Delores Conway arrived at the shelter by bicycle wearing a yellow plastic poncho bearing the logo of the Conch Tour Train. Conway usually stays at a homeless shelter on Stock Island. She came to Key West from Orlando about six years ago after hearing that clean-up jobs post-Wilma were paying $30 per hour. But that didn't work out so she delivers the Key West Citizen on her bike.
"It looks like the safest place at the moment," Conway said, referring to the high school. Of Wilma, she said: "People showed me pictures they had taken where their houses were messed up and their cars were gone."
Monroe County officials urged people who live in low lying areas and on boats to use the shelters. But people using them must bring all their own supplies: food, water, bedding and medications. Alcohol is prohibited.
While there is no visitor evacuation, Monroe County officials are strongly suggesting tourists leave the county if it is safe to do so.
The early Saturday morning rains that continued into Saturday afternoon caused some flooding in the Upper Keys in low lying areas and scattered downed tree limbs.
Marie M. Leondre, a housekeeper at Smugglers Cove Resort & Marina in Islamorada, wore garbage bags over her body and head to protect her from heavy rains as she waited for a public bus to take her home to Homestead.
The bus was running late, with bumper-to-bumper northbound traffic on the Overseas Highway. Tourists had been advised earlier in the day to leave the island chain. Some residents also thought it was a good time to leave.
At Smugglers Cove bar, manager Rick DeLara decided to close around noon Saturday, when the power went out and the wind gusts picked up. As he was placing chairs on the floor of the deck, thunder cracked. "See why I'm closing?" he said. "It's only going to get worse."
But less than a mile down the road at the Oceanview Inn & Sports Pub, the place was packed with beer-swilling patrons whose eyes were glued to the TVs showing football and The Weather Channel.
"We'll stay open until sometime Saturday night, when the police come and say we have to close," office manager Linda Mortimer said.