The worst of Hurricane Irma’s winds were still to come Sunday morning, but Arthur Nelson, 73, was more than willing to wait.
The homeless Army veteran was sleeping under an overhang of a car dealership in Little Havana, where he said he was staying put, despite a behemoth hurricane that within hours would be bearing down on the state.
“Ain’t no sense in worrying,” he said, as the early rains swept little waves down the street in front of him. “Nothing to do about it.”
As Irma inched through the Keys Sunday morning headed up along the state’s west coast, Miami looked set to escape the catastrophic damage that had panicked residents and triggered mass evacuations earlier in the week.
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Some of the region’s most vulnerable, like Nelson, decided they’d stay put. Homeless for much of his life, Nelson said he had no intention of going to a shelter to wait out the storm.
“I’ve been to so many shelters, I’d rather sleep right here in the rain,” he said. “All you get is a bunch of people wanting to mess with you.”
He’d been lying on flattened cardboard and a rolled-out towel under the overhang for a few weeks, along with a shopping cart piled up with his belongings. He’d wrapped his feet to keep them warm and rolled up some of his clothes for his head.
Nelson said that he had held a few jobs after he was discharged in the mid-1960s but that he had been homeless for decades. He was also on the streets in Miami when Hurricane Andrew blew through in 1992.
“It was blowing down buildings and everything,” he recalled. “I don’t know if this thing is going to be worse.”
There were several other homeless people who also planned on staying out on the streets in the storm, he said. “They’re all over the place.”
In a trailer park near Miami’s Little River, the winds had already knocked down a tree behind Greslet Petit’s home onto the roof. But Petit, 49, and his wife, Theresa, 50, both said they didn’t plan to leave, despite a forecast that predicted heavier gusts to come.
Police had come by the gate a few days ago, asking if they knew about the hurricane headed their way. Some of their neighbors, they said, had heeded the warning and gone. But many more in the impoverished neighborhood had stayed, despite squalls that had started shaking the metal siding on Petit’s trailer home and cut their power around 11 a.m.
One of Theresa’s daughters had asked her to stay at her home instead, where they still had electricity. But Theresa said she’d rather stay at home with her husband in the trailer they’d lived in for five years.
“We’ll make it through,” she said. Irma so far was nothing like Andrew, when she remembered “roots coming up out of the ground, and bats and owls and everything after the hurricane in the back of our house.”
Their trailer park Sunday morning was largely intact, save a couple of downed tree limbs and puddles. In Andrew, “there was a lot of flooding, you couldn’t walk through it,” she added.
Petit wondered if the tree that had crashed onto the roof had caused damage.
“That roof is not broke, child,” his wife chided. “It’s fine.”
In Little Havana, where 15-year-old Denise Agurcia’s extended family was huddling from the storm, Irma’s winds had already knocked over two trees near their single-story home on Southwest 22nd Avenue. The first tree fell around midnight, crushing a bus shelter on the corner and knocking out power to their home for 30 minutes.
The lights flickered back on, she said, but went back out around 2 a.m. They’d been without power ever since.
Agurcia’s little brother, 10, and cousin, 5, began sobbing with fear when the tree came down, she said. “They’re really scared.”
But leaving the home, where they had moved in just five months before, wasn’t an option. Nine people had come to take shelter in Agurcia’s home, including her cousins, as young as 4.
“We’re worried about the lights, because of all the food,” mother Aleyda Lopez said in Spanish, as Agurcia’s uncle Paul Tercero took photos of the damage. The other tree had crushed the gate, narrowly missing his car.
This was the worst hurricane that they could remember, Agurcia added. Katrina had brought only heavy rains where they lived at the time, and Agurcia’s family hadn’t been around when Andrew hit.
There was still another tree in their front yard, and Agurcia said she hoped if it fell, it’d fall toward the street and away from their home.
“Otherwise, my bedroom is right there,” she said.