SMITH ISLAND - Kristen Bradshaw wasn't exactly sure what to grab yesterday as she fled her hometown here in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. But there was one thing she wasn't leaving to chance or to the winds and waves of Hurricane Isabel - her wedding gown.
Bradshaw, a 21-year-old island native, has a December wedding date with waterman Bryan Corbin, 24. "After all the time it took me to find the right dress, there was no way I was leaving without it," she said.
She was among more than 200 Smith Islanders who boarded the J. Millard Tawes, a state-owned buoy tender and ice-breaker, and a small flotilla of other vessels yesterday to escape the approaching storm.
Most went voluntarily; others reluctantly left their communities of white clapboard houses after state officials ordered residents to evacuate Maryland's only inhabited off-shore island. But police said at least 50 people defied the order, remaining in the island's three towns of Tylerton, Ewell and Rhodes Point to face the hurricane.
"We don't want to get in a fight with people. We don't want to get to a point of locking people up," said Maj. Michael G. Sewell of the state's natural resources police, which sent officers to the island yesterday afternoon to urge residents to leave. "They understand the conditions, the risks and that there would be nothing we could do if they got in trouble."
The Rev. Richard Edmund found the government's arguments convincing. Edmund, who has ministered at United Methodist churches in Tylerton and Ewell for the past three years, had planned to tough out the storm until he got a call from the state police asking him to reconsider.
"The police described the dangers of a tidal surge. I thought that being in a leadership position, I didn't want to go against the advice of the authorities," Edmund said.
Darlene Harrison said she and her husband, Ralph, had stayed and ridden out many storms, including Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, and they didn't plan on leaving this time.
"You'd be dumb not to worry a little bit, but our [house foundation] is four blocks high and we've never had water damage in all our years," Mrs. Harrison said. "Right or wrong, we're staying."
Many of the island's commercial fishermen moved their crab boats to more protected harbors on the nearby Pocomoke or Nanticoke rivers. While Bryan Corbin moved his, his bride to be was leaving on the Tawes, where Capt. Eddie Somers joked that he didn't have "a proper place for a wedding dress." The couple and their families planned to meet at a hotel in Salisbury, where they had booked a block of rooms.
Michelle Bradshaw (no relation to Kristen) boarded another boat early yesterday with her daughters, Sarah, 13, and Kathleen, 5, and the family dog, a pit bull named Louie Louie. Her husband is a Navy fighter pilot on active duty near Korea.
Michelle Bradshaw, having decided it was best to go stay with her family in Northern Virginia, clutched a plastic storage tub full of family photographs. She had left other valuables sealed in similar plastic containers in the island house the family is restoring.
Waterman Johnny Parks said he wasn't leaving, choosing instead to keep an eye on his house. "I've seen worse weather than we're going to get from this," said Parks, who nonetheless had sent his elderly parents to Crisfield.
Ewell Postmaster Maxine Evans and her husband, Marvin, a retired waterman, didn't give much thought to staying to ride out the storm. They quickly accepted invitations from their two grown daughters to come to Crisfield. The couple headed out as soon as she got permission to close the one-room post office.
Reba Tyler, who runs a sandwich carry-out and grocery in Ewell, said she and her family had moved their furniture to the second floor. But she said they were staying put despite Isabel.
"We've never left with any storm," Tyler said. "But I'll tell you, it's a bad feeling when they tell you this is the last boat leaving."