SURFSIDE BEACH, Texas (AP) - At first, even the threat of "certain death" was not enough to persuade Bobby Taylor to flee this small town directly in the path of Hurricane Ike.
His wife, Elizabeth, left when police drove a dump truck through flooded streets in last-ditch effort to urge people to leave. Those who refused were told to write their names on their arms in black marker, so their bodies could be identified later.
Eventually Bobby Taylor changed his mind. He abandoned his stilted, one-story home and waded in waist-deep water up the main street, wearing a red slicker and towing a blue kayak. His wife greeted him joyously. "Now I'll pray for our neighbors," she said.
Citing faith and fate, tens of thousands ignored calls to clear out Friday ahead of Ike, coastal authorities said. The National Weather Service warned that people in smaller structures in some areas "may face certain death."
The choice to stay-always questionable, sometimes fatal-was an especially curious one to make so close to Galveston, site of a 1900 storm that killed at least 6,000 people, more than any other natural disaster in U.S. history.
By afternoon, Mayor Larry Davison said only one person was believed to be left in Surfside Beach, a Gulf Coast town of about 800 people 30 miles southwest of Galveston.
Davison said authorities had been told the man had left, but later saw him on his porch. He had no phone.
"When we finally saw him, it was too late to get back in there," the mayor said. "We had to retreat."
A mandatory evacuation order was in place, but there were no signs anyone was being forcibly removed.
"We're not going to drag them out of there and handcuff them," Davison said. "They've made their decision."
Forecasters said Ike could pack a 20-foot storm surge when it rolls ashore early Saturday near Surfside Beach. By midday Friday there was 5 feet of water in some places, with more coming in.
It was enough to persuade the Taylors' neighbors to relent. David Fields, 45, and wife Dondi, 50, had written their Social Security numbers on their arms. Dondi Fields added "I heart U" and "for my kids" on hers.
"We didn't want anybody to have to risk their life to come and get us," Dondi Fields said.
Nearby Freeport was all but deserted, and quiet except for the increasingly roiling sea. Truck driver Darryl Jones Sr. and his neighbor, Keith Glover, talked about the impending hurricane without concern. Nearly everyone around them had obeyed a mandatory evacuation order.
"I'm just enjoying the serenity, really," said Jones, 48, sitting in his electric golf cart. "You never know what the aftermath might hold, but right now it's very peaceful."
Glover, who works for the nearby city of Clute, will work removing debris after the storm, but said he would have stayed anyway.
"Worrying's a sin," he said.
Water already covered one low-lying road in Freeport near refineries and a listing shrimp boat. The road became an attraction for those who stayed. Truck after truck pulled up, drivers jumping out with video cameras in hand. One woman leaned comically into the wind, smiling for the camera.
"It's going to be fun," Jerry Norton said as he snapped a cell phone image of the flooded road. He said he was sending the picture to his children and grandchildren who fled inland to Austin.
Norton said he had filled his bathtubs with water-for drinking, but also for flushing toilets in case the sewer system breaks down. He bought groceries and secured doors and windows.
"If my stuff is going to get washed away, I'm going to watch it get washed away," Norton said.
Some who stayed behind in Galveston relied on faith. Retiree William Steally, 75, said he was planning to ride it out, but his wife and sister-in-law left Thursday.
"She got scared and they left. I told them I believe in the man up there, God," Steally said as he pointed to the sky. "I believe he will take care of me."
Others quieted their own concerns and rolled with it.
Clarence Romas, a 55-year-old handyman, said he would ride out the storm in his downstairs apartment with friends.
As for the "certain death" warning? "It puts a little fear in my heart," he admitted, "but what's gonna happen is gonna happen."