In Cedar Key — an island city of roughly 700 people in Florida’s Big Bend region — storefronts were boarded up and residents milled about on Tuesday in the slow pace singular to Floridians familiar with such storms. And yet, as the seasonal hurricane ritual started anew and city officials urged people to evacuate, locals expressed a less familiar feeling: worry.
“This one feels different,” said Mitchell Wright as he pushed an icebox onto his truck to take it to higher ground outside of Suwannee Spirits, a convenience store on the main stretch of the city’s Second Street. “This one will be bad.”
Moments later, Mr. Wright and his maintenance co-worker, Michael McMall, heaved the icebox up onto the truck bed and headed to the mainland. All that remained was a large pile of bags of ice — free to anyone.
“A lot of people have left,” said Mike Craig, a Cedar Key resident since 1967, pointing out that older residents seemed the most anxious to get out. “A lot of people I thought would stay have left.”
Still, at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Heath Davis estimated that about 100 people were planning to stay put — a number he hoped would shrink. He warned that when wind speeds reach about 39 miles per hour, as they were expected to do on Tuesday evening, the city’s emergency services would have to be suspended.
“We’re here to beg our citizens to heed this warning,” Mr. Davis said. “This storm is worse than we’ve ever seen. My family has been here for many generations. We haven’t seen a storm this bad, ever.”
Mr. Craig was among the residents planning to stick it out through the storm in his stilted two-story home, saying he would stay to take care of his two beloved feral cats, Big Man and Buttercup, as well as a friend’s cat, Nala.
“I’m an animal whisperer,” Mr. Craig said. “They come to me. Normally I sit in a chair over there” — he pointed to an empty spot in front of the boarded windows — “but they put it up for the storm, so I’m here.”
Inside Suwannee Spirits, people trickled in for their storm provisions of water, soda and liquor, their last chance to stock up.
“Closing up soon?” one patron asked, bag in hand.
“I’m trying,” one of the cashiers said.
Keegan Ward, another Suwannee employee, said that she was “used to” hurricanes in Florida, but that Cedar Key was particularly vulnerable. “The only difference is there’s more water here.”
Just after 2 p.m., the convenience store parking lot had cleared out, leaving only the sound of crickets along the deserted main thoroughfare as clouds rolled in.
Jacey Fortin contributed reporting.