The historic Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West has been spared by Hurricane Irma, as 11 staff members and 54 six-toed cats have escaped unscathed after riding out the storm on the estate, news outlets reported. The storm made landfall on the Florida Keys Sunday morning.
On Saturday night, the museum posted on its Facebook page a photo of one of the cats with a list of names, with the message, “As our staff member, Nicole Navarro was confirming all cats were accounted for, the cat Grace Kelly took over roll call.”
As our staff member, Nicole Navarro was confirming all cats were accounted for, the cat Grace Kelly took over roll call.
Jacqui Sands, the 72-year-old caretaker and manager of the 1851 property, had decided to remain there during the hurricane, to ensure the world-famous cats, descendants of Hemingway’s own pet cats, were safe. The structure’s walls are made up of 18-inch-thick limestone. It has survived all tropical storms that have hit the island to date. Sands did not want to transport the cats in the heavy evacuation-related traffic and 90-degree temperatures, she said.
The staff had prepared for the storm by making sure all buildings had entrances for the cats to escape if necessary and taking precautions to ensure the cats would not drown.
Sands and the other staff members were urged by Mariel Hemingway, Ernest’s granddaughter, to evacuate for safety reasons before the hurricane hit. “Save the cats! Get all of the cats in the car and take off!” was her plea, TMZ reported.
In addition to Sands, another staff member who remained to ride out the storm was curator Dave Gonzales, who said he trusted the home at 902 Whitehead Street, to survive the hurricane. “We sit at one of the highest elevations of land in all the Florida Keys,” Gonzales told Forbes ahead of the hurricane. “Ten employees who lived in unsafe low-lying areas came to us. Now they’re safe. The home is constructed of 18-inch blocks of solid limestone. It hasn’t suffered damage in any hurricane since the day it was built in 1851.”
The museum’s Facebook page posted photos Saturday of Nicole Navarro, a staff member, taking care of the cats.
After hitting the Keys Sunday morning at 9:10 a.m. EST, the monster storm went on to make landfall on Marco Island shortly after 3:30 p.m. EST with winds of 130 miles per hour and storm surges that caused extensive flooding and damage. Monday morning, although the storm was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, it was still packing winds of 70 miles per hour and thrashing cities in northeast Florida.