Before the winds picked up at Braden Castle Trailer Park early Sunday, John Martin sat quietly on his couch in his dark mobile home, as the TV played an infomercial in the background.
He was waiting for a phone call from a family that would be taking him to a shelter in Lakewood Ranch.
He had never evacuated in his 11 years there. He hadn’t planned on it, but just hours before Hurricane Irma is forecast to hit the Manatee County area, this was his last chance.
“If there’s 100 mile-an-hour winds, this place isn’t gonna fare well,” he said. “I’m more important to me than this place.”
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His home overlooked the mouth of the Braden River as it entered the Manatee River, which could be seen from cutouts of the lattice fencing that would protect his sliding-glass door.
“We just got a new roof, too,” he said. “We’ll find that out on Manatee Avenue.”
Bradenton police officer Todd Freed’s patrol car crawled through neighboring Twin Rivers Mobile Home Park. Over the past few days, since mandatory evacuations had been called for those who live in Zone A and in mobile home parks, law enforcement had been warning residents to seek a safe shelter as soon as possible.
He said people had placed red dot stickers on their doors if they planned to stay despite warnings.
Six miles south at Gold Tree Mobile Home Park, rain started to come down in sheets. Jeanette Caucci was packing her 4-year-ol Labrador mix, Savannah, into her four-door. Next would be her 8-year-old parakeet, Sweetie; her cat, Caboodle; and her husband, Charles.
“We weren’t anticipating on all of this rain coming this early, but we’re just about ready to go,” she said.
Caucci wasn’t taking any chances on Irma. She had been planning for a few days to bunk with her son a few miles away.
“We moved here in 2004 when they had three or four evacuations, right after we moved here,” she said. “So we’re used to it. I don’t like it, but we’re accustomed to getting out.”
She had grabbed the essentials, like blankets, canned food and family photos.
“I’m hoping this place will be here when we come back on Tuesday,” she said.