By BRIAN SKOLOFF
Associated Press Writer
KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - With powerful Hurricane Ike still hundreds
of miles away and on an uncertain course, residents on these
low-lying islands weighed evacuation orders Sunday, perhaps a hint
that Gulf Coast residents as far away as Texas and New Orleans may
not heed similar calls to leave.
Sunday's forecast had Ike crossing Cuba and headed into the Gulf
of Mexico later this week. The Florida Keys were in an uncertain
position, and Gulf Coast states even more so. In Texas and
Louisiana, where people were just returning from the mass
evacuation for a weaker-than-expected Gustav, officials already
acknowledged that it may be difficult to get people mobilized
In Key West, many residents have their own formula for
determining whether to leave. Even though evacuation orders became
mandatory Sunday, traffic out of Key West was busy but not jammed.
Mike Tilson, 24, was in wait-and-see mode Sunday, stocking up
his Key West houseboat with supplies.
"I got tarps and champagne," he said as he pushed a
wheelbarrow of supplies including Heineken beer, ice and a loaf of
bread down the dock.
He said if the storm tracks north of Cuba, he'd evacuate.
Otherwise, he won't leave even if Key West is expecting a Category
3 (winds of 111-130 mph). "It's just a good party. I'll stay."
At 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, Ike was a Category 4 hurricane with
sustained winds of 135 mph, moving west at 13 mph. Hurricane force
winds stretched 60 miles from the center. It was forecast to track
over Cuba, re-emerging over the island's western coast Tuesday
morning about 100 miles south of Key West as a Category 1.
Though forecasts suggested the storm was headed into the Gulf,
historically, most major storms passing by Ike's position had
curved northward. If it gets into the Gulf, it could head anywhere
from Texas to the Florida Panhandle, and it likely would strengthen
President Bush declared a state of emergency for Florida because
of Ike on Sunday and ordered federal money to supplement state and
local response efforts.
More than 60 residents and nearly 90 people from a homeless
shelter had arrived at a shelter at Florida International
University in Miami by afternoon, but many others said they wanted
to see what the storm does over Cuba and possibly reassess on
Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson had a warning for people not
wanting to evacuate the area. He said anyone who thinks staying
through a major hurricane is "champagne time is someone who hasn't
thought it through clearly." He said emergency vehicles would be
pulled off the road if the area gets tropical storm force winds.
McPherson said 15,000 tourists had already evacuated the region,
and the Key West airport was set to close at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Passengers bound for Key West from the Miami International Airport
were being asked to show identification proving they lived there
and only residents were being allowed on Key Westbound flights.
Among those planning to stay in the United States' southernmost
city were Claudia Pennington, 61, director of the Key West Art and
Historical Society, who said she's staying to care for the group's
three buildings and their contents. Don Guess, 50, was putting up
plywood on a friend's house Sunday and said he was sticking around
because the storm didn't worry him.
At the Key West Convalescent Center, 70 sick and elderly
residents were being evacuated by bus and ambulance to Sunrise on
Edward Koen, 87, sat in his wheelchair outside the center Sunday
in the shade, staring up at the blue, sunny skies, waiting for the
"Why should I be nervous, because of a hurricane?" Koen said.
He'd rather stay put. "My gosh. I've been living here all my
The reluctance to leave didn't surprise Hugh Gladwin, the
director of the Institute for Public Opinion Research at Florida
International University, who has studied evacuations in Florida
and after Hurricane Katrina.
"Yes, there's always a certain number of people who won't
evacuate no matter what: they're fatalistic - they like being in
hurricanes," Gladwin said.
Compared to other areas, the Keys actually have pretty good
participation in evacuations, Gladwin said. That's partially
because some residents treat evacuations like snow days in the
Northeast: they plan for a certain number every year.
Still, Gladwin said he's never seen more than 80 percent
evacuation participation anywhere, even with the biggest and
scariest hurricane bearing down. And it can be harder to get people
to leave when they've evacuated recently.
In southeast Texas, where many evacuated before Gustav,
officials say they are unsure if residents will do the same if Ike
comes their way.
"These evacuations are so hard, especially on the elderly.
There are quite a few people that say they are not leaving again,"
said Crystal Holmes, spokeswoman for Southeast Texas Emergency
Management. "We ... always worry that we will get something like
Hurricane Rita (which hit southeast Texas in 2005), which was
devastating for our area."
The inconsistent approach to evacuating areas in the United
States stands in contrast to Cuba, where residents typically comply
with hurricane evacuations issued by its authoritarian government.
When forecasts projected Ike's eye would strike Cuba's northern
coast Sunday night and possibly hit Havana, Cuba evacuated
mountainous and coastal regions of Holguin province. Workers rushed
to protect coffee plants and other crops while others organized
food and cooking-oil distribution efforts.
Some New Orleans residents were already vowing not to evacuate
again. David Myers, 39, was one of many residents taking a break
from cleaning up the mess left after Hurricane Gustav to cheer on
the Saints in their season-opener.
Myers, a physician who rode out Gustav with relatives in Baton
Rouge before returning home to New Orleans on Tuesday, said it
would take a Category 4 or 5 storm to chase him away again. He
expects many other residents who ran from Gustav to balk at
evacuating for Ike.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said so-called "hurricane fatigue"
should not prevent people there from leaving their homes for the
second time in 10 days.
"We are likely going to have to become accustomed to evacuating
more frequently than when we were younger," he said.
Christopher Gargiule, 37, said evacuating for Gustav cost him
and his wife, Joanne, more than $1,500, and that they can't afford
to leave again even if Ike forces another mandatory evacuation of
the city. That's even though their home is 50 yards from a levee
that had water splash over it during Gustav.
"We're going to have to hunker down and cross our fingers,"
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers
Jessica Gresko and Deborah Hastings in Miami, Sarah Larimer in Key
Largo, Juan A. Lozano in Houston, Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans
and Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge, La.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)