PORT CHARLOTTE — The shelter at Kingsway Elementary School in Port Charlotte was a busy place Saturday.
Outside, Hurricane Irma marched toward Gasparilla Bay. Inside, more than 900 people were stuffed into the cafeteria and hallways, everybody's stuff touching everybody else's stuff.
To greet each new arrival were the smiling Rick and Jaye Scarberry. They had been designated by shelter manager Trish Sturgess her "upbeat people," there to set the tone for guests as soon as they left the registration table.
"If you could give someone something to just brighten their day a little bit, you're good," Jaye Scarberry said about her designation.
In reality, the couple had stationed there because of the location's proximity to a wall outlet. Rick Scarberry can't sleep if his sleep apnea machine isn't plugged in.
But that doesn't mean they didn't get a kick out of the assignment. They got to see every person and thing that came through the door, an endless source of entertainment for them.
"We love people-watching," the husband said, before rattling off all the odd moments they've seen and things people have carried in:
A microwave going upstairs, with a coffee pot, they said. Complete with frozen cheeseburgers to go in the microwave.
Someone with four life jackets, and he went upstairs. "How high does he think the water will get?" they joked.
And a goldfish in a sandwich bag.
The couple would have evacuated north, like all their neighbors, but they don't have a place up there. Instead, their job is to assess the damage to their friends' houses and report back.
Despite the cheer, Rick Scarberry worried. Not for their safety, but for what they might return to at home.
Not Jaye, she didn't worry.
"As long as my TV makes it, I'm set," she joked, and flashed her upbeat smile.
• • •
In addition to the people, the shelter housed more than 150 animals.
Including a skunk. Named Skittles.
It belongs to the Grover family, who checked into the elementary school Saturday morning, originally with just their Husky, Blue, and their cat, Glitch.
But when they found out the shelter was willing to take anything with a cage, they went back and brought the musteloid. Bones the ball python remained at home.
They didn't intend to own Skittles, but when they saw her in the pet store, Denise Grover fell in love with the animal, according to her husband, Mike Grover. Skittles, who is de-scented, is nearly bleached white, the only apricot skunk among her litter of regular black-and-white brethren. She looked like a pom pom in the pet store, Mike Grover recalled.
"Nobody wanted the oddball," he said.
But she was too cute.
"When she gets kind of shy, she'll just roll up into a ball," Grover said.
With their animals in a cordoned off portion of the elementary school, the Grovers occupied their small space in the cafeteria with their two teen daughters, some blankets and clothes. But no food. It was their first time in an emergency shelter.
"This caught us by surprise," said Grover, who watched the storm's track shift west until it targeted Port Charlotte. "A couple people around here have pitched in."
• • •
This has been an eventful week for 5-day-old Trent Scurlock.
He was born on Monday — a Labor Day baby, his mom said — at 1:08 a.m. He came home from the hospital Wednesday, had a doctor's appointment Thursday and then evacuated to the shelter Saturday morning.
"He's not even supposed to be (outside) yet," Trent's grandmother, Kerry Koch, 41, of Punta Gorda, said. Not for another week.
Trent's mom, 20-year-old Aaliyah Koch, and his father, Dylan Scurlock, 22, had just finished Trent's nursery in Aaliyah's parents' house, a safari-themed bedroom with a quilt featuring stitched elephants, lions and crocodiles.
And now they're not sure what will be left.
"Probably nothing," Kerrie Koch said. "Probably a disaster."
Trent's grandfather, Nakia Koch, 42, said he hated the shelter, and that the family should have gone north. But it wasn't so easy: travelling with a newborn didn't seem like a good idea, either. Plus, nobody could get gas.
But at least, he said, the family was together. During 2004's Hurricane Charley, which decimated Punta Gorda, they were separated. The storm took such a sudden turn inland from the Gulf of Mexico that Nakia was stuck at the family's house while Aaliyah, who was 7 at the time, and Kerrie were at Kerrie's mother's house.
"All I remember," Aaliyah said, "is being a crybaby."