There are no good places to be in a hurricane, only bad and worse.
And yet the denizens of one of the most dangerous spots to ride out a storm -- a mobile home park -- are some of the least able to get out of harm's way.
As Hurricane Dennis pushed toward the Florida Panhandle over the weekend, many of the region's blue-collar residents, short on money and social support networks, made their way to shelters in schools and government buildings to spend the night, or just escape the wind and rain for a few hours. They hoped that Dennis would not inflict as much damage as the devastating Hurricane Ivan did in September.
When Dennis was over on Sunday, many expressed relief and headed off to check on their homes.
During Ivan, "the place I was staying was leveled to the ground," said Darwin Rankins, 29, a landscaper, who sat out Ivan and Dennis in a shelter at the Pensacola Civic Center. "It put people out of work. This one here was nothing. It was very mild. I think it was pumped up a little bit. I wasn't willing to chance it. I thought it would be best to come to the shelter."
"We lucked out," said his friend William Garrard, 42, a carpenter, who also sought refuge at the civic center. About 1,200 people stayed at the arena-sized concrete and metal downtown building this time, officials said.
Both men live in an apartment building near downtown and said staying in a hotel or leaving the city was not an option.
"If I could have afforded it, I would have left, because the early predictions were saying it was going to be a lot worse than it was," Garrard said. "I would have taken their word for it and left."
Shaun Warren and her husband, Bill, 54, and daughter, Stephanie, 11, joined a capacity crowd of 276 people at a shelter at Bellview Elementary School on the city's west side.
"It's scary in a storm -- too scary for my daughter, and I don't want to put her at risk," said Warren, 47, who works at Home Depot. "I have to see my home. I just need peace of mind. There's a lot of heavy-duty praying going on, I can tell you that."
Ed Weyburn, 48, and Judy Nicols, 51, considered weathering Dennis in their home at the Deluna Village Mobile Home Park on West Bobe in Pensacola, until reports Saturday that the storm had gathered strength convinced them that the Bellview shelter would be a better choice. The pair, who are disabled and not working, spent Saturday night under a blanket on the floor.
"It got a little too rough for us in that trailer, so I decided we've got to get out of here," Weyburn said.
Nicols said she had trouble sleeping because others in the shelter were talking. As for bathing, "you just have to get a paper towel and wipe up the best you can," she said. "I hope we've got a trailer and some furniture to go back to."
The Bellview shelter, one of nine in Escambia County, is a one-story brown brick school building with metal siding along the roof. As Dennis rolled in Sunday afternoon, a dozen or so people gathered under the covered walkways outside to smoke cigarettes, talk and fret about the weather. Inside, blankets and baggage lined one hallway, and residents crowded into classrooms to take catnaps, play cards or watch television.
The number of people in area shelters more than doubled over the weekend, from 2,131 on Saturday night to 4,710 by Sunday afternoon, officials said. But capacity was 8,319, and plenty of space remained, said Sonya Smith, a county spokeswoman.
The steep increase was fueled in part by county officials who realized Saturday that many people could not leave their mobile homes because they did not have transportation. When officials began offering free rides over radio stations, "our phone just started ringing off the hook," said George Touart, the county administrator.
"You just never know whose life you are going to save today," he said. "It's just something that we overlooked, and thank goodness last night we were able to help."
Lisa Dale, 38, a cook and homemaker, said Ivan destroyed her home in September, forcing her into temporary shelter provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and, more recently, into a subsidized group house for the homeless.
Dale spent Saturday and Sunday in the Bellview shelter, and said she wondered whether the nightmare was starting all over again.
"We pray that if we go back, we have a house to go to," she said. "God knows I need some help."
After the storm had swept inland, leaving Pensacola bruised but not battered, Winford Lindsey, 40, and Sonjee Slaughter, 18, waited outside the civic center shelter for a taxi to take them back to their mobile home. Their landlord had forced them to leave for the shelter a few hours before Dennis made landfall, saying it was not safe to stay.
"None of these trailers are bolted down or anything," said Slaughter, nine months pregnant with Lindsey's grandchild. She said many people in the shelter warned her that she should have been in a hospital. The day was filled with anxiety, she said, but at least the storm had given her a name for her overdue baby.
"I'm going to name her Denise -- because I lived through Dennis," she said. "I was supposed to have the baby on July 1, but I'm still waiting."
An equally pressing concern was whether the mobile home would be there when Lindsey and Slaughter returned. Lindsey loaded two suitcases into the taxi and wondered about the state of the home that awaited them.
"It's okay. It should be," he said. "We hope so, we hope so."