updated 9/4/2004 6:37:19 PM ET 2004-09-04T22:37:19

Half the room caught a college football game, the other half stared into small televisions showing Hurricane Frances rumbling toward Florida. In the middle of it all, one man snored away on a floor covered almost entirely by blankets, sleeping bags and couch cushions.

The 26 men crammed into Classroom 144 at Pinewood Elementary School moved in only two directions _ toward the door for another quick cigarette, or toward the one bathroom they would share for the near future.

"I've gone through a lot of stuff in my life. I've lived in my car, I've lived on the street," said Joseph Desimone, 23, a landscaper from Port Salerno. "I've worked and worked to build up a little bit of something, and it's all getting blown out."

About 1,450 people gathered at the school, among the 70,000 Floridians who arrived at public shelters ahead of Frances. Until the storm passes, the residents share boredom, cramped spaces and worries.

"It's not the Sheraton," said Tiffany Lenoir, 24, who was at the shelter with relatives, her boyfriend and her two children. "But it's better than getting blown away."

State officials ordered about 2.8 million residents to leave their homes _ the biggest evacuation request in state history. Shelters along virtually the entire coast were filled, with Red Cross officials vowing not to turn people away even if a facility was over capacity. Other people went to hotels or friends' homes further inland.

The Pinewood shelter's official capacity of about 1,300 was exceeded by early Friday evening. Evacuees were segregated into different classrooms for the night in groups of single men, single women, families and Spanish-only speakers.

Lines for dinner _ a slice of frozen pizza and a small dish of sweet peas, served on a foam tray and with a plastic spoon _ were 30 minutes long. Many expected the modest offering to be the last chance at a hot meal for at least a couple days.

There were few amenities. No telephones, and cellular service was spotty. Each room was provided with one television, though some people brought their own. Electricity wasn't supposed to last for long, and when it went, so would the ability to flush a toilet _ that is, in the rooms that had indoor facilities.

And still, there were few complaints.

"People seem to be taking it very much in stride," said Scott Fabling, the shelter's coordinator. "Usually you see a lot of anger and confrontation in situations like this. It's been minuscule here."

But not everyone handled the apprehension well. Lenoir, who is seven months pregnant, was hospitalized briefly Wednesday after having contractions apparently brought on by an anxiety attack.

At least three pregnant women felt labor pains and were taken to the hospital; one delivered her child, while the other two returned to the shelter.

In Lenoir's room, her family of seven was staying with 10 strangers. By Friday night, they were playing musical chairs, Hangman and Simon Says together.

"My house is sturdy enough to stay in, but I didn't have money for plywood," said Lenoir, who works at a Dunkin' Donuts shop. "So we came here and told the kids that we just got a bunch of new neighbors."

But both residents and volunteers manning the facility were growing weary of the wait for the storm to reach land.

During the hours residents were allowed outside their rooms, they passed the time playing dominoes, kicking around a soccer ball, or walking around the campus. Some sat in their cars, making cell phone calls or listening to music.

And they all wondered and worried.

"I just hope that everybody turns out safe, and that we all have homes to go to when it's over," said Karl Porter, 52, who left his mobile home and checked into the shelter Thursday. "This is a necessity that you have to do. It's the price you pay for living in the Sunshine State."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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