A man in a striped polo shirt stood with his cell phone in the air along Gulf Drive around 3 p.m. Saturday.
He was one of the last people on Anna Maria Island.
Driving down the main stretch, there were boarded windows, abandoned condos and empty businesses. Going past the Freckled Fin, there was no music to be heard.
The island and the rest of the west coast of Florida are on high alert and many areas ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Irma approaches.
The Category 3 storm is expected to reach the Tampa Bay area Sunday and tropical storm force wind gusts Sunday morning, according to Bay News 9 forecasts based on the 5 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
Brian Finelli, from New York originally, has been living on the island since 1986 and works at the Holmes Beach Barber Shop.
Saturday, he was one of the last people on the island, surrounded by shuttered windows and a pleasantly whipping breeze that cooled the sunny, 85-degree day.
Finelli was out in front of his Gulf Drive community taking pictures with his cell phone to preserve his memory of the place he’s called home for years.
“It’s sentimental, I don’t know what I’m going to come back to after the storm and everything. I just wanted to treasure the area and the spots that mean so much to me,” Finelli said.
His parents lived in the same complex on the island when they moved to Florida in 1978.
He said he would be leaving soon to head to the eastern part of Manatee County, but he couldn’t quite tear himself away.
“The island means so much to me; it’s special and everything. And it was just tough to leave and everything, so many fond memories of being here so many years that I just want to stay till the bitter end so I can treasure the time,” Finelli said.
He’s nervous the island won’t survive Irma’s impact.
“It means a lot to me, living and working on the island,” Finelli said. “Just a die-hard, staying till the bitter end.”
It was almost eerie, the empty island that is usually bustling with activity. Saturday, an abandoned beach ball bounced across Gulf Drive like a tumbleweed.
There were still a few people dotting Anna Maria Island beaches Saturday afternoon. Any other weekend, it would have been a perfect time to be at the beach.
It was quiet and empty with crystal blue and green waters and the bright, white sand could be seen, nearly untouched, for miles. The water and sand were warm and made it seem as though, for those moments, there shouldn’t be a care in the world.
But Saturday, local law enforcement and county officials could be seen driving trucks up to the small number of beachgoers and urging them to get off the island. A hurricane was coming, and storm surge and dangerous winds were imminent.
Eric Ramirez was one of those people asked to vacate the beach. He and his seven family members came to the Gulf Coast from Miami to get away from Irma’s path earlier this week when it appeared to track to the east coast of Florida.
“They said they were evacuating, and we couldn’t be on the beach,” Ramirez said. “We left not to get hurt, that’s why we’re not swimming.”
Ramirez said he and his family came to Coquina Beach on Saturday to see the sights and take a few pictures. The beaches on Anna Maria Island, he said, were cleaner than the ones he’s used to in Miami.
He and his family planned to leave the beach soon to stay with other family members. But if the storm looks like it will get worse, Ramirez said they will likely move further north.
“After I seen what (hurricane) Andrew can do, I don’t want to be around,” Ramirez said.
Traffic onto the island will be restricted beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday. Once the storm passes and officials deem it safe to return, it will take two forms of identification to return to the island.