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As Hurricane Irma Hurtles Towards Florida, Last Holdouts Decide To Stay In The Keys

Nancy Klingener
Sandy's Cafe, a favorite Cuban food lunch counter in Key West, was still serving at noon on Friday.

The slight veer south in the projected track of Hurricane Irma led some Florida Keys holdouts to hit the road Friday.

The entire Florida Keys island chain has been under a mandatory evacuation order for residents since Wednesday evening.

Still, some residents are sticking it out. Including Kerry and Diane Shelby of Key West.

"The entire state of Florida's evacuating. So we looked at both options and it just looked a little too difficult to get out," Kerry Shelby said. "So we decided we were on the good side of the storm, we were going to stay here."

Shelby said he was feeling "a little nervous, but there's a lot of intrepid people here and I know that we'll somehow find a way to survive."

Shelby is the deputy executive director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, the utility that provides freshwater to the Keys. It comes down a pipe from the mainland. Losing that supply is a major concern for post-storm recovery.

"We'll get it repaired as quickly as we can. We have some storage in the tanks," Shelby said. "But we'll probably only lose that for a long-term period if we lose a bridge — so that'll be all bets are off anyway."

Keys emergency managers were still urging people to leave Friday afternoon, with free buses marked EVACUATION traveling the island chain.

Others, especially those now directly in the projected path of the storm, decided to go.

"That craziness was hitting too close to home," Brad Bertelli of Islamorada wrote on Facebook Friday. "So we left in the wee hours of the morning and are now in Cape Coral, awaiting to plot our next move."

The choice was difficult for many. Kelly Bushey left Key West with children and dogs. Her husband initially stayed behind.

After seeing the images of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Harvey in Houston, Bushey said a couple days sitting in traffic is nothing compared to what you could experience if you stayed.

"You see these people floating on air mattresses with their children and that's something that I wasn't able to do," she said.

Michael Nelson didn't have much choice about evacuating — he lives on a house boat. And he's a librarian, so his choices about what to bring were also clear.

"I have a first edition printing of The Hobbit, which is worth a couple thousand dollars. I also have many first editions that are signed by the author," he said.

More than half a million Florida residents have been ordered to evacuate from Irma.