The flashing blue and red lights of Manatee County Sheriff’s Office cruisers blocked Cortez Road at Palma Sola Boulevard early Sunday, turning back the few drivers trying to head west toward areas such as the fishing village of Cortez and Anna Maria Island.
Past the roadblock, in Cortez, the tide was low and rain was trickling down around 8:30 a.m.
Hurricane Irma was on the way, although the worst of the winds and storm surge weren’t expected for a few hours.
Though there was nearly no one outside, lights were glowing from several windows throughout the village streets. Pickups were making the rounds through the boat docks and hauling away some of the few remaining vessels.
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Linda Molto came walking down the street near an old wooden house with the words “NE Taylor Boatworks” painted outside.
Molto said she knew the owners, who allowed her to stay in the home because hers is closer to sea level.
Many of her neighbors stayed behind to ride out the hurricane, she said.
“We have a strong connection to each other here. That’s the one thing that’s so special about Cortez, is if somebody needs help, we’re here for them,” Molto said. “We have such a connection to the village ... it pulls everyone together in tough times.”
Flooding and storm surge are her biggest concerns. She’s more afraid of this storm than any other in the 33 years she’s lived in the area.
“I’ve been boarding up windows and doing things like that, like what everybody else does,” Molto said.
The home she’s staying in for the storm had boarded windows and had a healthy supply of food.
“People do crazy things and they call us crazy, but if I’m going down, I’m going down with the ship, she said.
Tom Polch’s boat was the last to be pulled from the water Friday in the fishing village of Cortez. He works for NE Taylor Boatworks and has spent the last week helping everyone else prepare for Imra.
In the Sunday morning rain, he was out at the boat yard again, this time tying down his own boat.
“When we get done with all this mess, we’ll come together as a community, get back down here, dust ourselves off, make it happen again. Bring it back to what she was. We’re a strong community,” he said.
As he made the last-minute arrangements, his boss pulled up in his red pickup to help. They all planned to drive to homes in the eastern part of the county to seek shelter before the storm arrives.