Though Monroe County has not issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors or residents ahead of Tropical Storm Isaac, emergency management officials strongly recommended that visitors leave the Keys if they safely can.
Officials directed residents living in low-lying areas, mobile homes and boats to seek shelter and encouraged visitors to leave by Saturday night before conditions worsen. For those that can't leave, they are warned to stay indoors.
“If you choose to remain in the Florida Keys during this storm, the only safe place for you to be is inside,” said Irene Toner, emergency management director told the Florida Keys News Bureau. “Our goal here is to keep everyone safe.”
Key West Mayor Craig Cates says there won't be mandatory evacuations, "it's too late for that." He did say city leaders are mulling a curfew when the storm hits. They'll decide on that Sunday morning.
"It was kind of lax til it was upgraded to a Catgeory 1. Everyone took it more serious," said Eric Allen.
As Isaac approaches, the weather was expected to deteriorate in the Keys with bands of rain and wind coming in periodically, officials said. The storm will begin to impact the Keys early on Sunday and throughout the day into Monday morning. It is possible that Category 1 winds of 74 to 95 mph may impact all of the Keys.
Key West International Airport will stop operating at 7 p.m. Saturday and all day Sunday. Operations will resume when tropical storm force winds dissipate. The Marathon airport will close at 7 p.m. Saturday too.
Jeff Gerling's Sunday flight out of Key West was canceled.
"We're renting a car," he said. He's expecting an eight or nine hour drive home to Clermont in the Orlando area.
Beginning at 2 p.m., shelters opened at Key West High School, Sugarloaf School, Coral Shores High School in Plantation Key and Stanley Switlik School in Marathon, officials said. Mobile home residents, people who live on boats and in low lying areas are directed to seek shelter.
Officials said the shelter will not have supplies, so residents must bring their own medicine, bedding, food and entertainment. Alcoholic drinks are not allowed in the shelters. Monroe County shelters are pet friendly, but the pets will be housed in a separate location from where people wills stay.
The Snake Creek Bridge was locked in the down position as of 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Florida Keys are under a hurricane warning. Officials in Monroe said their biggest concern remained flooding and heavy rains.
“The greatest threat would be heavy rains because of the area the storm covers,” said Bill South, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Key West. He predicted Isaac would bring 6 to 8 inches of rain to the area.
The emergency hot line is 1-800-955-5504 or click here for online information on Monroe County.
Hurricane conditions are expected in the warning are in southwest Florida and the Keys on Sunday, with tropical storm conditions expected early Sunday. Hurricane conditions are also possible in the hurricane watch are in southeast Florida on Sunday.
"We're ready where people need us," said James Williams, with the Red Cross. He said the agency has 30,000 heat meals ready to deliver if necessary. "They're like glow sticks," he explained. "They can be snapped to transform into a hot meal of chicken soup or ravioli."
As of 11 p.m., Isaac was located about 65 miles northeast of Camaguey, Cuba and 340 miles east-southeast of Key West, the National Hurricane Center said. The center of Isaac was nearing the north coast of Eastern Cuba. Isaac had maximum sustained winds at 60 mph and was moving northwest at 17 mph.