October 22, 2005

Key West fights boredom as Wilma bears down

By Laura Myers

KEY WEST, Florida (Reuters) - Instead of fleeing, many
hurricane-fatigued residents of the Florida Keys on Saturday
went on an "Evacuation Pub Crawl." Instead of boarding up
homes, others hammered away at "Fantasy Fest" floats.

The authorities in the low-lying and vulnerable Florida
Keys urged people to take Hurricane Wilma seriously as the
storm, at one point the fiercest hurricane ever recorded in the
Atlantic, pounded Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and appeared
likely to set a course for Florida.

But, after days and days of waiting for Wilma, many in the
town of Key West at the southernmost tip of the United States
seemed to be ignoring the advice or waiting to find out more
definitively how close the storm would come.

"We'll stop anywhere they'll let us in," said drag queen
bar co-owner Jim Gilleran, handing out beads as costumed
revelers gathered at the Hog's Breath Saloon to march up Duval
Street and hoist a few cocktails.

Gilleran also handed out copies of an "Hurricane Wilma
Evacuate Song," with the words "Evacuate, Evacuate. It Ain't
Time to Procrastinate!"

Restaurateur Amy Culver-Aversa said the pub crawl would
"alleviate some of the tension. We're super-prepared and we
know the drill."


At one stop along the way, bar and strip club owner Mark
Rossi, a city commissioner, estimated only a quarter of the
town's 26,000 residents had evacuated by mid-Saturday, when a
mandatory evacuation order went into force.

"A lot of people don't have the money to leave. If you
leave Key West, it's at least $250 a day. My people are the
working people," he said.

Across town, friends David Hutchinson, a boat captain, and
David Richard, owner of an adventure outfitting company,
hammered away at a float for Key West's annual Fantasy Fest.
The 10-day extravaganza is slated to kick off on Tuesday as a
Wilma-delayed five-day celebration.

"We decided it was our duty as citizens to carry on," said

The authorities say they are ready for Wilma.

Newly-elected Mayor Morgan McPherson offered advice for
those opting to stay.

"Batten down the hatches and be prepared. All I can say is,
'Good luck,"' he said.

Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. National Hurricane
Center in Miami, said the center's best guess was that Wilma
would come ashore on Monday on Florida's southwest Gulf Coast,
well to the north of Key West.

But he cautioned that Wilma could be stronger than
expected, and would also affect a very large area.

"I can assure you that a strong Category 2, a possible
Category 3, will have a major impact on our state of Florida,"
Mayfield said, referring to the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale
used to measure hurricane intensity.