Some Floridians refuse to evacuate but worry about Hurricane Dorian's unclear trajectory

"It's scary as heck," said a woman as female inmates from the Brevard County jail stacked sandbags in the trunk of her car.
Image: Hurricane Dorian
Kayla Rapp, from left, and other residents of Titusville, Florida, fill sandbags Friday on an embankment on the side of the road to protect their home from potential flooding as Hurricane Dorian approaches the state.Ed Ou / NBC News

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By Phil McCausland

TITUSVILLE, Fla. — About a dozen people dug shovels into a sandy embankment Friday evening as friends and family members stood by holding plastic sacks and zip-ties. One group had dug their way down to their hips, while people in the crowd made their own sandbags to protect their homes.

With cars lining the block for the one remaining location handing out free sandbags in Brevard County, the diggers and sack holders had parked their vehicles along a busy roadway in the hopes of saving time as they prepared for Hurricane Dorian's imminent arrival on the east coast of the state.

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As Deborah Henson, 49, watched her boyfriend and daughter dig themselves deeper into a hole, she said this is her third hurricane since she moved to Titusville, about 35 miles east of Orlando, more than a decade ago. She promised it would be her last, especially as the location of Dorian's landfall continued to build stress for her and her family.

"Oh my God, where's it going to hit?" she said. "It looked like Titusville straight up, then Orlando, and now it's somewhere between here and Miami. So yeah, it's insane."

Models on Saturday morning forecast that Florida may avoid a direct hit, and the storm would instead carve its way up the coast toward the Carolinas.

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Henson said she didn't think they could safely evacuate even if they wanted to. The alternative would be getting stuck on the highway in traffic during evacuations at the end of a holiday weekend as the storm made landfall.

As she leaned on her shovel, Kayla Rapp, 32, said she used to be more confident ahead of hurricanes. But now with a young son at home, she said she didn't feel as resilient.

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"Now that I'm getting older, it's getting more scary," she said, a thin layer of sand dusting her cheeks. "Hopefully everything will turn out OK."

That sentiment didn't change much for those lined up to get 10 free sandbags from the county at Chain of Lakes Park only a few miles away.

A constant stream of people waited for female inmates from the Brevard County Jail to fill thousands of sandbags and stack them in the trunk of their cars.

Inmates from the Brevard County Jail fill sandbags at the Chain of Lakes Park in Titusville, Florida on Aug. 30 2019. (Ed Ou/NBC News)Ed Ou / NBC News

"It's scary as heck," said Jean Simoes, 77, as women in striped uniforms quietly made sandbags for her under the watchful gaze of deputies from the sheriff's office. "If the governor orders it, I'll go. I have family in Georgia."

But not everyone felt the same sense of urgency.

About an hour south of Titusville in Magnolia Beach, Don and Carol Killingsworth, both 70, enjoyed an evening cocktail on their back porch as the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. Swollen, white and grey cumulus clouds served as the only warning of a potential threat.

The couple said they had evacuated once from their home, situated on an unnamed barrier island, since they moved into it in 2007. Both said they didn't plan to depart again unless a Category 4 or 5 hurricane was expected to directly hit their beachside property — much to the chagrin of their daughter who lives in Orlando.

"We've had several friends text and call us to say we're welcome to stay with them, as far away as Nashville," Don Killingsworth said. "But we're going to stay here unless it's a direct hit."

Only an hour later, however, Brevard County ordered a mandatory evacuation of all barrier islands, including where the Killingsworths live. The evacuation order extended to residents in low-lying, flood-prone areas, those in mobile homes and those with special medical needs.

Still, this elderly Floridian couple seemed committed to their home.

"I don't know if it will go," Carol Killingsworth said of her house prior to the evacuation order, "but I guess we'll go with it if it does."