“Yes we’re open,” “Temporary hurricane shelter,” “No food on premises,” were three signs hanging on the front doors of the Rubonia Community Center just before noon on Sunday.
It was still and quiet in the community’s streets. Ducks crossed the street without the threat of oncoming cars. One family sitting on their front porch, and the community center manager were the only souls on the streets.
Though not an official shelter opened by Manatee County, Rubonia Community Center manager Morris Goff came in Sunday to open the building as a shelter on his own.
There was no one there yet by noon, but he anticipated a few would show up as Hurricane Irma blows in.
“All I’m asking is they bring a lawn chair or something to be comfy in and some food because it’s a last-minute thing,” Goff said.
Empty chairs and tables were set up in the main room and a foosball table sat waiting to be used. In the background, storm coverage played from the lone television in the room.
The last time Goff opened the shelter during a hurricane, only about 18 people – three families in the community – came to take refuge inside. But he believes that once the waters start rising in the flood-prone community, some will start showing up.
He proudly pointed toward the windows, explaining they were hurricane storm windows that were installed in January. Just outside, a view of the parking lot showed only the community center van, his vehicle and the remains of what used to be a pile of sand.
Goff said residents were asking for sand earlier this week to put into sandbags to protect their homes.
With only light rains starting Sunday morning, a few of the drainage ditches along Rubonia streets were already filling up with water. Hurricane Irma was expected to bring several inches of rain and several feet of storm surge to Manatee County.
Goff hopes the storm blows through overnight Sunday, but said he will be at the community center Sunday night and Monday.
“God Bless this Community,” was scrawled in spray paint across plywood boarding up one community home. Nearly every house in the small community was boarded up, and several had sandbags stacked in front of their doors. One home had a metal pole barn tied down to a pick up truck in the driveway.
Goff eventually retreated to his office to start calling elderly residents in surrounding streets to let them know the doors were open.
“I’m glad to be helping, especially the seniors,” Goff said. “I grew up with a lot of them, they helped raise me.”