During this time of year, it seems as if one hurricane hits American soil, only to be replaced with another one of equal potential for disaster and loss of life. Growing up near the sea, I’ve lived through my share of hurricanes from category 1 all the way to category 5.They bring coastal flooding, gale winds, and, most concerning of all, an extraordinary amount of rain that eventually makes its way inland to cause flooding there as well. I’ve felt my house shake like a rattle in the hands of an infant; I’ve had trees crash through my roof; I’ve been without water, power, and cable for weeks; but I’ve survived. Many have not been as fortunate.

The preparations to remain and weather the hurricane (pun intended), take hours. And should your area be declared a state of emergency, evacuations take just as long if not longer while you wait in hours’ long traffic to higher ground. As the Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner said when they were about to get hit with hurricane Harvey, “You literally cannot put 6.5 million [people] on the road. If you think the situation right now is bad — you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare.” Houston was not evacuated.

Still, orders to evacuate are given with each category 4 hurricane or over higher. Always, there is a fragile window of time to declare an evacuation and many people to take into consideration before making the decision. Studies show that a full 24 hours pass before people follow definitive evacuation orders. And after that, they will probably need 10 hours of daylight to travel before hurricane force winds prohibit movement.

But there will always be a few who refuse to evacuate despite the dangers associated with staying put. Why? First, mandatory evacuation does not mean someone comes to your door and drags you out by your hair and brings you to a shelter. As far as evacuations are concerned, you’re on your own. And that is the number one reason people do not evacuate.

  • There are people who don’t leave due to disabilities — they simply can’t get out of their homes and don’t have anyone to help them.
  • Some people don’t hear the warning, although this is less likely now because of TV, smartphones, and old-fashioned door-to-door notifications.
  • There are people who can’t stand to leave their pets behind. Animals are not allowed in shelters and most hotels. To date, there are no laws protecting animals in a hurricane. A 2011 poll sponsored by the ASPCA found that around 30 percent of dog and cat owners who live in the South – where hurricanes are more common –don’t know what to do with their pets during an evacuation. 30% of these pet owners fail to evacuate.
  • Even people with greater means sometimes refuse to evacuate. Some are afraid of their home succumbing to vandals or being looted.
  • Many remember weathering a previous storm and feel confident in their ability to survive the current one.
  • It’s simply too expensive. Costs for hotels, gas, and food usually require having a few thousand dollars free. Many live paycheck to paycheck and just don’t have it. And although it’s illegal, airlines gouge their prices in areas where evacuations are mandatory, which makes leaving via the air cost prohibitive.
  • Yes, some people are just stubborn.

Sure, there are other reasons people do not evacuate, enough reasons that the mandatory evacuation rate for Hurricane Sandy was only 48%. So, when the next hurricane reaches a nearby shore and you hear of “stupid people” not evacuating, have a little compassion. Unless you’ve been through it yourself, err on the side of kindness.


Research

1. Evacuation During Hurricane Sandy: Data from a Rapid Community Assessment; Shakara Brown, Hilary Parton, Cynthia Driver. Plos Current Disasters. January 29, 2016.
http://currents.plos.org/disasters/author/crd14cumc-columbia-edu/

2. More Evacuations as ‘Monster’ Storm Looms; RICHARD FAUSSET, AMY HARMON and SCOTT DODD. New York Times. September 11, 2018.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/us/hurricane-florence-updates.html

3. Should I stay or should I go: timing affects hurricane evacuation decisions. The Conversation.
https://theconversation.com/should-i-stay-or-should-i-go-timing-affects-hurricane-evacuation-decisions-40141