MELBOURNE, Fla. – They were laughing in, if not at, the storm.
In houses up and down the central Florida coast, families and friends were opening bottles of wine, telling jokes and gathering around potluck-style stockpiles of food and board games.
What might otherwise be called hurricane parties became small festivals as Hurricane Frances (search) crawled toward Florida. Many people hunkered down together Friday only to find out they had at least two more days to wait out the storm.
"This sucker is taking forever," said Bonnie Berg, who threw the party. "I'd go crazy if I wasn't having a party.
Instead of first-aid kits and hurricane charts, the nine people at her party raised champagne flutes to go with steamed crabs and potato chips.
Norm Yacovino, whose daughter works with Berg, praised his host for her preparations.
"When everyone was running around for lumber, Bonnie was running around for Moet," short for the French champagne Moet & Chandon (search). Six bottles sat in her refrigerator.
The parties were more than a free pass to play hooky from work. For some struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley (search), the gatherings were a much-needed prescription for peace of mind.
Monique Misso was in near-panic when she first saw reports of Frances' size and strength.
"I just moved here from New York, so I'm not used to this," she said.
Surrounded by others drinking beer, strumming guitars and taking photos, her feelings changed.
"Now I'm not nervous at all," Misso said. "It's exciting."
The group gathered in a house with no shutters less than two miles from shore. They were depending on surrounding palm trees to protect them, knowing the trees could be a hazard of their own.
A roomful of laughter was silenced by the latest storm update but, for the most part, the party floated on embarrassing stories and jokes. Between the laughs, the evacuees stressed they hoped the storm would do little damage.
They also hoped the champagne didn't run out.