Keys residents weigh evacuation, Gulf Coast next?


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

Sunday afternoon.

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,"

Gargiule said.


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.)