"We're just braving it out and cheering everybody on. We're all in this together," said Nadine Davis-Crosby, a nurse in the maternity ward, where the Weather Channel showed nearly nonstop footage of Ivan, which, in satellite images, was far bigger than the entire island of Jamaica.
More than 400 people sought shelter at the National Auditorium in the city center. Kerron Bailey, 26, and about 20 members of his extended family arrived at the shelter Friday morning from their home in Port Royal, one of the most vulnerable seaside communities in the area.
A man in Jamaica jumps as he crosses a street flooded by the first rains of Hurricane Ivan. The eye was forecast to arrive on the island late yesterday.
(Walter Astrada -- AP)
Hurricane Ivan: The storm wreaks havoc throughout the Caribbean as it heads toward the Florida Keys.
"It's better to be safe than sorry," Bailey said, as children played on the concrete floor and grandmothers sat silently on wooden bleachers, with blankets around their legs. "Some people needed a little persuading to come, but I talked them into it. We left just material stuff at home, and all that can be easily replaced with time."
Some of the people who declined to evacuate said that they had heard many storm reports over the years but that the last direct hit by a hurricane was Gilbert in 1988.
Fire officials in Port Royal, which sits at the end of a long peninsula that acts as a breakwater for Kingston Harbor, estimated that only half the town's 700 residents had left as of early Friday.
Port Royal is reached by a six-mile road down the narrow peninsula, which was pummeled by 20-foot waves late Friday. Kingston's airport is also along the road. At least 10 Air Jamaica and American Airlines jets sat on the tarmac Thursday afternoon, but there were no planes at the airport Friday.
Port Royal is at sea level, or perhaps even a little below in places. It is a small, quaint cluster of whitewashed buildings, most of which have tin roofs. Since the destruction of Gilbert in 1988, some new concrete houses have been built. But many of the structures are little more than shanties, and they are surrounded on three sides by water.
A large white Volvo bus was parked in the town's small center, a few feet from the waves, as residents piled aboard with bags full of supplies to go to the shelter at the National Auditorium. Angela McLean, 33, and her son, Christoff, 8, hurried aboard loaded down with food, pillows, clothes and important personal papers stuffed in garbage bags and a small backpack.
"I know this is God's work, but I'm scared and I'm leaving," she said. "I don't like the sea."
Roy Brown, 44, stood next to her and scoffed. He had sent his wife and child to the shelter, but he said he was staying behind.
"I'm not leaving," he said. "What's to be must be. I can't run from that."
The mixed feelings were evident across Port Royal, as some young men stood on the sidewalk casually smoking marijuana as a firetruck raced by, its siren wailing to try to spur people into leaving. While some people rolled suitcases and hauled bags to the evacuation bus, others enjoyed a leisurely morning drinking Red Stripe beer at Kevin's Sea Food, a small outdoor restaurant near the beach.
Tyrone Paisley, 29, and a friend stood on a street corner in a light rain and talked about how Port Royal had so little crime that "you can sleep on the sidewalk and people leave their windows open." Asked how that would help in a hurricane, Paisley shrugged: "We don't fear anything. Father God will turn it for us."
Down by the concrete Customs House, where open boats had been hauled out of the water and stacked on the beach and in the street, customs officer Peter Limton hustled toward his front door. He had a length of rope in his hand to tie down an awning that looked like it could blow away. He said many of the people in Port Royal think of the place as more than their home; because many of them are fishermen who earn their living from the sea, Port Royal seems more like their ship.
"We're going to ride it out," he said. "The captain goes down with the ship. The captain cannot leave the ship."