KEY WEST, Fla. – With plywood, storm shutters and a trademark no-worries attitude, residents of the Florida Keys (search) prepared for Hurricane Charley (search) with a shrug on Thursday, convinced it would leave behind little destruction.
"When I get butterflies in my stomach, I know we're going to get hit," said Al Perkins, 55, a small-business owner who has braved other storms here. "And I haven't gotten butterflies yet."
Charley's center was expected to pass just west of the Keys early Friday before striking Florida's central gulf coast with 95-110 mph winds and heavy rain.
Key West (search), the southernmost city in the continental United States, has lots of experience with hurricanes, so residents maintained their laid-back, "Margaritaville" attitude as Charley approached. Businesses boarded up and residents stocked up on supplies, but most hurricane veterans said they planned to ride out the storm.
"It's only going to hit about 100 miles per hour," deadpanned 28-year-old Ivan Armas, who helped two co-workers board up their motorcycle rental shop.
True to form, Key West maintained its sense of humor. Spray-painted signs on plywood storefronts read, "Sorry Charley." A closed sunglasses shop along Duval Street bore the message: "You don't need sunglasses in a hurricane."
But by dusk, Mallory Square, home of a nightly sunset celebration, was largely deserted of its staples: stampedes of tourists, local performers and a glorious, fading sun.
"I am almost actually scared. I'm feeling as if I'm watching something of Biblical proportions," said drummer V'ketah, who provides music at the celebrations.
At the Chicken Store, which sells T-shirts and fresh eggs and serves as a shelter for orphaned chicks and Key West's numerous free-range fowl, redheaded roosters crowed as employee Jesse Watland stood on a six-foot ladder to secure the green window shutters. Stacked cages holding chickens and roosters were being prepared to move indoors, where the floor was covered with cedar chips.
"We need a shake-up once in a while to get us back to reality -- even in Key West," Watland said.
Along the marina at nearby Stock Island, where wooden Florida lobster traps were stacked amid dozens of white and orange foam buoys, concern over Charley loomed.
Charlie Renier, a lobsterman, said the hurricane was striking at the worst time possible, only a week into the season. The local lobster industry has suffered three bad years, and he worried the storm would wreck another one.
"If this hurricane blows them away and ruins our traps, we're in big trouble," Renier said.
At the city's top tourist attraction, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, a carpenter fitted plywood to cover stained glass windows as managers planned to protect the property's 53 "Hemingway cats," who descend from a six-toed feline given to the writer.
Hemingway wrote "A Farewell to Arms" and "To Have and Have Not" at the house, and manager Jacque Sands said the writer would have taken this storm in stride.
"Personally, I think he'd roll his eyes," Sands said. "He was a man's man."