Florida Keys Mostly Deserted Ahead of Ivan

A slight westward "wobble" by Hurricane Ivan (search) gave storm-weary Florida a tiny glimmer of hope Saturday, but the still-threatened Keys stood mostly boarded up, deserted by evacuating residents and tourists well on their way to safety.

Hurricane Ivan and its 150 mph wind were still a couple of days away, but many residents and tourists had already driven north to the mainland. Before leaving, fatigued residents put up shutters and boarded windows with plywood as business dropped to a trickle in the tourism-dependent island chain.

"Charley hit and the season died," said Jose Moya, a clerk at Millie's Sundries in Key West (search). "It's going to be a ghost town for the rest of summer — if we make it."

Monroe County officials ordered an evacuation of the entire 100-mile Keys, which barely rise out of the water and are extremely vulnerable to storm surge. Its the third evacuation in a month for tourists and first in three years for the chain's 79,000 residents.

Ivan was centered about 60 miles south of Montego Bay, Jamaica (search), Saturday morning and moving west-northwest at 8 mph. Hurricane Center forecasters said Ivan "wobbled" west a few miles south of Jamaica, possibly sparing the island the worst. But forecasters warned it could still move back to its predicted course and hit the state.

Ivan has killed 37 people in Grenada, Venezuela, Tobago, Barbados, and the Dominican Republic.

Ivan was forecast to strike Cuba and then either hit the Keys directly or pass near enough for the islands to feel hurricane force winds, said Richard Knabb, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

From there, Ivan is expected to move north in the Gulf of Mexico, reaching north Florida on Tuesday.

"But that could be anywhere from Jacksonville to Pensacola," Knabb said.

Meanwhile, on Florida's east coast, hundreds of thousands of Frances victims were still without power in the summer heat. Thousands dealt with overflowing sewers in Palm Beach County. About 767,000 homes and businesses still lacked power.

Throughout the state, memories of the previous storms that killed a total of 50 people in Florida and knocked out power to millions caused residents to line up in droves at gas stations and supermarkets. Officials said gas companies and retailers were trying to avoid the shortages that plagued areas during Charley and Frances.

Ivan already has killed at least 37 people in the Caribbean and was closing in was passing just south of Jamaica early Saturday. The Category 4 hurricane could strengthen to a 5, top of the scale with maximum sustained winds of at least 156 mph, forecasters said. Current predictions have Ivan possibly hitting the Keys as early as Monday.

County officials weren't sure how many people heeded the evacuation order. Traffic leaving the Keys on the Overseas Highway was about double normal levels Friday, officials said.

"There are some people in Key West, they want to stay and see what Category 4 looks like and feels like," said county emergency manager Irene Toner. "That's a concern for us."

Florida has not been hit by three hurricanes in a single season since 1964, and this season has been the worst in Florida since 1992. Charley, which hit Aug. 13, and Frances, which hit Sunday, caused up to $20 billion in combined damage in Florida.