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They've been warned but Florida diehards insist on staying put

Carl Roberts has Chinese food, a case of water and a million-dollar view in his 17th-floor Gulf front condominium - all he needs, he says, to weather the massive storm coming straight at him.

Authorities have begged more than six million people in Florida and Georgia to evacuate before Hurricane Irma's storm surge and fierce winds make it impossible to flee or be rescued.

But many are staying, even boasting about surviving Camille, Andrew, Katrina and other storms.

"Number one, I don't have anywhere to go," said Mr Roberts, a lawyer.

"And I'm on the 17th floor. I have security shutters, so I should be quite safe here."

Mandatory evacuation orders apply to all barrier islands around South Florida, including Redington Shores, where Mr Roberts' condo complex towers over a narrow reach of sand.

The entire Florida Keys were supposed to be emptied and firefighters went door to door in mobile home parks, urging residents to get out.

People who refused to evacuate were not being arrested, but were told they would not be rescued once the storm arrived.

"You can call, but we're not coming," Pinellas sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Carol Walterson Stroud believed Irma would turn elsewhere at first. Then, she did not evacuate Key West because she is a nervous wreck driving alone and her husband, "a hard-headed conch", would not leave.

So as Irma's winds and rain began to lash Florida's southernmost city, she took cover in a borrowed apartment in the senior citizens' centre where her husband Tim works, along with their granddaughter Sierra Costello, and dog Rocky.

Her daughter, Breanna Vaughn, refused to leave her animals in her home a few blocks away.

"I'm afraid," Stroud acknowledged. "Tonight, I'm sweating. Tonight, I'm scared to death."

Many poor people had few options. People with more resources didn't want to stay in crowded sheltrs, or risk driving hundreds of miles north.

"If you drive to Atlanta or Tallahassee, you're risking running out of gas and being in your car in a category four hurricane," said Michel Polette, who lives in Miami Beach.

Mobile home parks were subject to mandatory evacuation orders, be they inland or near water, but even there, people stayed put.

"I'm not going anywhere," said Laurie Mastropaolo, 56, at the Treasure Village Mobile Home Park in St Petersburg. Her T-shirt, with a photo of Grumpy Cat, said, "This is my happy face".

Ms Mastropaolo said she weathered Sandy and other storms on Long Island, and was not convinced she had to leave, even after projections moved Irma's most deadly winds from Florida's east coast to the west.

"If I lived in Miami, I'd be out of there," she said. "I'll wait till the last minute.

"I'm not going to get on the road with the crazy people."

Former firefighter Roger Schwartz, 75, says several hundred of his mostly-retired neighbours were riding out the storm at the sprawling Gulfstream Harbour community of some 800 mobile homes.

"We may be sorry, I hope we're not," said Mr Schwartz, who was staying inside with his wife; his 50-year-old son Jeff; and their cat, Mr Murphy.

If the wind starts ripping off their roof, they can squeeze into a crawl space underneath, he says.

"I'd rather take the chance and be here, maybe get out and help other people around here," he said.

"People in their neighbourhood are pretty good darn good here."

A survey of survivors to see why they fled or stayed put produced unexpected results, according to a study published by the American Meteorological Society this year.

"Those who stayed and who were under mandatory evacuation, they had more dependable social networks than those who evacuated," said Jennifer Collins, one of the University of South Florida researchers.

"Their neighbourhoods and local communities - they felt very comfortable to hunker down with them."

That would include the regulars at Mac's Club Deuce, the most infamous South Beach dive bar, where people were knocking back drinks, playing pool and playing the jukebox on Saturday.

Clouds of cigarette smoke floated in the air as Kathleen Paca, 56, was perched on a stool.

She had just spray painted "We're Open Irma" on the plywood covering the bar's windows, covering the same defiant statement about "Wilma" in 2005.

"It's not going to be that bad," she said.

"I'm on the second floor and have impact windows. I've thrown coconuts at my windows and they don't break."

AP

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