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Stay Or Go? Keys Residents Debate Leaving Island As Irma Approaches

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Despite Keys officials urging islanders to pack up and leave Thursday, many residents were still debating whether to stay or hit the Overseas Highway.  

Jim Heslin was putting shutters on a house at the top of Key West's Solares Hill, the highest point of the southernmost island.  

"We're not sure yet, so we have a back-up plan to get out on the 6 p.m. flight tonight," Heslin said.

He said he has been watching the advisories from the Hurricane Center.

"It all depends on the conditions. We're getting ready and depending on what happens, we'll either be here or we'll be gone."

Nancy Klingener
Credit WLRN News
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WLRN News
Jim Heslin, right, and Mark Barry protect the windows on a house atop Solares Hill, Key West's highest point. They were waiting Thursday to see the latest forecast before deciding whether to leave.

Read more: Taping My Windows Will Save Me! And Other Hurricane Prep Myths Debunked

Keys officials were trying Thursday to persuade people to go.

"You need to leave," said Roman Gastesi, Monroe County administrator. All three Keys hospitals are closing Friday morning and the county's rescue helicopters are being evacuated.

"If you stay and you're being irresponsible, don't expect us to risk the lives of our first responders because of your irresponsibility," Gastesi said.

Gastesi said it's not just surviving the storm — the aftermath could be even worse.

"We have 42 bridges that connect our 120 miles. If it comes this way, we'll probably lose a bridge or two. Now we're disconnected so you're stuck here," he said. "And it's going to be unpleasant. No electricity, no running water probably. It could be really bad. Why do you want to be here? Why do you want your family here? Now's the time to leave."

The county has opened shelters on the mainland and is offering free bus service to them. Pets are also allowed — in crates.