GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Ike may be taking aim for the low-lying coast of Texas, but grocery store worker Jacqueline Harris is staying put -- in a flimsy, wooden beach bar.
“If nature is going to come and get us, bring it on!” Harris said as she sipped a Bud light beer at the Poop Deck, a tavern a stone’s throw from the sandy coastal strip thrashed by white-capped waves.
“Everything I own and love is on the island; I‘m going down with the ship,” she added.
Residents of vulnerable coastal areas like Galveston Island are under a mandatory evacuation order. They face 111 mile per hour (177 kph) winds and tidal surges of up to 20 feet (6 metres) if Ike makes landfall as a dangerous Category 3 storm as expected late on Friday.
Texas governor Rick Perry urged residents to heed evacuation orders in such low-lying areas of the Gulf of Mexico that face severe flooding from tidal surges and heavy rains.
Some have decided to stay, boarding up their windows and preparing to move to higher floors ahead of the storm’s surge, which is tipped to top Galveston’s 17-foot (5-metre) sea wall and flood the island from end-to-end by daylight on Saturday.
A Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in Galveston in 1900 killed at least 6,000 people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
The manager of the Poop Deck Marie Aldrich-Creasy says she has no plans to leave. She has stockpiled batteries, candles and a few tins of food, but said would not be shuttering her bar, which faces the sea a few yards (metres) across a highway.
“I don’t believe I am endangering anyone. The doors are open; if they choose to come, that’s their free will,” she said, sipping a vodka and mocha cocktail in the bar.
Every hurricane has its holdouts. Those who risk all to stay put do so for a variety of reasons.
“This is our home. Why run and come back to nothing?” said Harris, sitting at a table with other regulars in the bar.
Waitress Nanette Crouch said she was put off by the huge traffic jams she faced fleeing the coastal strip ahead of the last hurricane, Rita, which barged ashore in Texas three years ago.
“I’ve been praying a lot, I‘m scared, but I‘m never going in that traffic again, not after Rita, it was 17 hours of hell,” she said, as she stood on the deck of the bar, with her mother Nancy.
Others opted to stay for the extreme thrill of riding out the storm, which has grown in size since roaring through the Caribbean, wreaking havoc in Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas.
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do -- experience a hurricane,” said Andrew Lawrence, a former convict turned builder, as he knocked back beers and shots in the bar.
“I’ve been in prison, I’ve been shot ... I figure if I do this, I’ll be the Michael Phelps of travesties,” he said, referring to the U.S. swim champion who won a record-setting eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympic games.
Staying on was not for all though. One couple said they were preparing to get off the island, and faced gentle mockery from others in the bar.
“They’re voted off the island!” quipped housewife Eva Broughton. “This is ‘Survivor,’ this is reality.”
Editing by Eric Walsh