Sweat beaded on Sergio Naveros’ forehead as he leaned down, a cigarette dangling from his lips, to tighten a screw on the long metal panel he was installing Wednesday in front of a vacated storefront on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
“Hopefully nothing happens,” he said as he secured storm shutters that would protect the glass windows from the impacts of Hurricane Irma.
As the historically powerful storm churned over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, days away from South Florida, South Beach was relatively calm Wednesday afternoon. A few of the low-slung Art Deco apartment buildings had windows covered with plywood, but few other structures were visibly shored up for an impending storm.
There was a mad rush for supplies at stores, but no evidence of a mass evacuation. Some residents shared travel plans on social media. Other stated their intention to stay on the island. At a smattering of businesses across the city, workers began to put up shutters and wooden boards.
Some stores on Lincoln Road were preparing early Wednesday. Flood panels were in place or going up on storefronts. Workers boarded up windows at boutiques and galleries.
“We were here for Andrew,” said Nicole Pozos, owner of Galeria del Sol. “We’re doing that exact same thing again.”
As she supervised the installation of plywood boards on the front of her art and framing boutique, she said she’s hoping for the best, particularly because it doesn’t take a lot of rain for water to rise in front of her business. Just a month ago, when a heavy thunderstorm dumped more than six inches of rain in the Beach, water rose to the gallery’s doorstep.
At Miami Beach Fire Rescue Headquarters on Dade Boulevard, city volunteers and workers were shoveling sand into bags for residents. The demand was so high that some people waited hours before getting sandbags.
“It’s nice to see these public servants working here,” said Joe Gerstein, who lives near the station but waited in a long line of cars for three hours. Gerstein wants to do as much as he can to protect his home, but he said he’ll likely evacuate the Beach.
Mayor Philip Levine personally asked people to begin evacuating the city Tuesday afternoon — a day before Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced a coastal evacuation order for coastal Miami-Dade and the barrier islands, including the Beach. Gimenez made it official Wednesday night, instructing more than 100,000 Miami-Dade residents to leave their homes starting Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, some residents hit the road, caught a flight or made plans to do leave on Thursday. Others plan on staying put.
“We’ve lived here since 1984, and we don’t like to panic,” said Shelley Baker, who lives in a single-family home in Mid-Beach. She thinks people who are making plans to head north — some of her friends left for Atlanta and Savannah on Wednesday — are taking unnecessary precautions. “You hope and pray for the best. But the panic is just the worst.”
Her husband, Manish, is less certain they’ll be in the Beach when Irma’s impact arrives.
“I”m going to wait until tomorrow to see what we’re going to do,” he said.
They were snacking at the Frieze Ice Cream Factory just south of Lincoln Road as they lovingly argued the merits of staying versus leaving, depending on what the forecast says in the next few days.
Meanwhile, owner Lisa Warren was worried. If power goes out, her moneymakers are at risk of melting. She has contracted with a company that has warehouses with freezers that have backup generators where she can store ice cream.
She decided to move half of her stock to the warehouse and keep half at the store, to hedge her bets.
If not, there might be a ice cream giveaway in Lincoln Road’s future — just like there was after Hurricane Wilma left half of Lincoln Road without power 12 years ago.
“I’ll do it again,” she said.