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Basking in sunshine, bracing for the worst

In the last 14 months, Florida has been hit by seven hurricanes and people are weary. But with the threat of Hurricane Wilma growing, they are preparing yet again. NBC News' Kerry Sanders reports from Naples, Fla.
Jim Randolph wheels a gas powered genera
Jim Randolph wheels a gas-powered generator he purchased in preparation for Hurricane Wilma at a home improvement center in Naples, Fla., on Thursday. Robert Sullivan / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

It looked like any other beautiful day in Naples on Thursday.

People were out on the beach, others were jogging. There was even an older gentleman with a metal detector looking through the sand to see if he could find some kind of buried treasure. A boat, maybe 60 yards off the shore, was sitting in completely still waters.

“It’s hard to believe there is a hurricane coming,” said one man as he walked down the Naples pier.

But, the threat of Hurricane Wilma making landfall on Sunday is real enough for Gov. Jeb Bush to have declared a state of emergency, and to send Floridians scurrying.

Hurricane fatigue
In the last 14 months, Florida has been hit by seven hurricanes and people are weary. But they are preparing nonetheless.

Lilian Elizondo, a native Floridian and mother of four children between the ages of 18 and nine, said that she and her husband aren’t taking any chances this time.

“This one is a little scary,” Elizondo said. “I usually don’t leave, but this time, we have hotel rooms up in Orlando. I live close to the water, so we’re getting out of here, just in case. We’re going to be prepared.”

“We have hurricane shutters and we brought in all the patio furniture. We are just battening down the hatches,” said Elizondo.

Stressful routine
There is a lot that goes into preparations ahead of a potential hurricane, and even if the hurricane doesn’t arrive, it all adds up to a lot of stress. 

There is the hassle of going to the grocery store, and getting what is needed in terms of supplies — because a lot of the items are somewhat perishable — people end up buying them again and again. 

Then there is the hassle of boarding up a house and bringing in all the furniture and pots that are outside. A pot with a pretty plant can become a missile when it’s picked up by a 120 mph wind.

Hauling that stuff in and out, again and again, gets really old after a while. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of time. There are a lot of homes in Florida where people took in their lawn furniture at the beginning of the hurricane season and it’s still stacked up inside their house. 

So, when you think of the routine people have had to gone through here over the last 14 months on at least seven different occasions, you can begin to understand the emotional toll the threat of each hurricane takes. 

Wish it would just go away
Bill Barnett, the Mayor of Naples, said that he doesn’t wish Hurricane Wilma on anyone else, but he certainly hopes that it goes somewhere else.

The mayor would like to see, as likely everyone here would, that Wilma would steer south of the Keys, head out into the Atlantic, and just go away.

Forecasters say that’s a lot of wishful thinking at this point. There is no real indication that will happen.

Florida is unfortunately full of hurricane veterans who know how to look at hurricanes and know when to move.

There probably won’t be the crush of cars and the massive traffic jams that happened in the Houston area ahead of Hurricane Rita. People here, unfortunately, have too much experience in these matters and know how to trickle out.

But, some are still holding out hope that this area will escape the wrath of Wilma.

Hurricane novice gets ready
Pete Greco, who actually only just moved to Naples from Utica in upstate New York three weeks ago, expressed confidence that Wilma would not hit his newly adopted home town. “I don’t think it’s going come this way and I don’t think it’s going to be that bad.”

Greco admitted that he is a hurricane novice, but he figured, “I’ll worry about it on Saturday.”

He has a back-up plan to head to the home of a nephew who lives 13 miles inland if the storm does start to threaten the coast.

The real need to move and evacuate is at this point just down in the Florida Keys because it’s so hard to get people out of that little chain of islands.

Forecasters on Thursday said that Wilma now looks to be moving a little bit slower. With forecasters now predicting it might make landfall sometime on Sunday or Monday, that buys people a little more breathing time and an opportunity to come up with plans and decide what to do.

There is at least one silver lining, it is a chance to get out of town. Elizondo said that her four children are at least excited to go to Orlando. "It’s a chance for a vacation.”