'Why didn’t you evacuate?': Expert explains why fleeing Florence’s wrath wasn’t a privilege everyone could afford
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
September 19, 2018, 2:23:51 PM EDT
Days before then-Category 4 Hurricane Florence was projected to pound the Carolinas, government officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for areas expected to face a significant impact.
However, of the more than one million people ordered to evacuate, not everyone chose to escape harm’s way. In the aftermath of Florence, which made landfall as a downgraded, yet still deadly, Category 1 hurricane, emergency responders and members of the Cajun Navy conducted several water rescues for those trapped by rising floodwaters.
In the midst of these rescues, a number of users on social media asked, “Why did they not evacuate?,” or “Why are they putting the lives of first responders at risk?”
The reasons vary but for many, the privilege of evacuating was one they simply could not afford.
“It's easy to be frustrated with or judge those who did not evacuate from a serious storm like Hurricane Florence,” said Dr. B.D. Wortham-Galvin, director of Clemson University's Master of Resilient Urban Design program. Wortham-Galvin had to evacuate Charleston, South Carolina, to escape Florence’s impending threat.
“However, not everyone has the means to leave when a mandatory evacuation is declared; many households in the evacuation areas do not own cars and/or live paycheck to paycheck,” Wortham-Galvin said.
Families in these situations lack the resources to leave. Missing a single day of work means they can’t pay basic bills or put food on the table, according to Wortham-Galvin.
“Not all businesses closed down during the evacuation,” she said. "This means these workers did not have the option of leaving, even though they would have liked to. The hardship on low-wage and hourly workers is real enough that many risk their lives because they have no other choice.”
People might also have limited resources and lack immediate family members in the area that could help out. “During Hurricane Sandy (in 2012), low-income families in New Jersey lost $832 million in wages and yet only a fraction received FEMA disaster relief,” Wortham-Galvin said. “This sends the message to those in need and most at risk that they need to work as long as they can rather than evacuate.”
Difficulties evacuating during high-risk storms also extend to the elderly population and those with medical issues, Wortham-Galvin said.
When Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017, at least eight people in a Hollywood nursing home died after the storm knocked out power, leaving them without air conditioning.
A month prior, emergency responders in Texas worked to rescue elderly citizens from nursing homes flooded during Harvey.
Some people, like Jennifer Dimitriu, a North Carolina resident who lives near Charlotte with her family, didn’t evacuate because only towns along the coast were ordered to leave.
Why evacuating is a bigger hurdle for the poor, elderly and disabled ahead of major disasters
Know your zones and routes: How to leave home safely if a hurricane prompts a mandatory evacuation order
6 essential apps to have on your phone for when natural disasters strike
What to do if you're away at college and a hurricane looms and you've never experienced one before
Avoid these 5 common, potentially deadly mistakes when a hurricane strikes your area
“Still, we are asked by everyone we know in other states, ‘Why haven't you evacuated?,’” Dimitriu told AccuWeather.
Although it’s assumed that it’s the safest option, she said, the numbers tell a different story.
“We did not evacuate because 76 percent of hurricane-related deaths are in vehicles,” said Dimitriu, whose family is in the midst of its first-ever hurricane season. “The flooding on roads is what kills most people, not the wind, and since we are inland where most of the threat is flash flooding, it is logical to dig in.”
“We've learned that you have to decide well ahead of the evacuation order,” she added. “Odds of survival are far better at home if the decision to evacuate isn't made ahead off all the traffic and rainfall. You have to leave at the first hint of real trouble.”
Wortham-Galvin noted that Florence’s impacts have extended beyond the coast, and that while media coverage has focused on the drama surrounding storm surge on the coastal areas, hurricanes and tropical storms can wreak just as much havoc inland, she said.
For over a week, AccuWeather meteorologists have been warning and emphasizing the dangers of catastrophic flash flooding and major river flooding expected to mount across North Carolina and northern South Carolina in Florence’s wake.
In the case of Hurricane Florence, heavy rains in North Carolina can result in flooding in South Carolina because of the interconnectedness of the watershed system, according to Wortham-Galvin.
“The flooding of rivers is a significant and devastating outcome of these types of storms, and our inland preparedness and awareness needs to increase in order to save more lives and infrastructures therein,” Wortham-Galvin said.
“While these storms can be difficult to predict in terms of paths, we need to focus not just on the point of landfall, but on the larger path thereafter in terms of how officials and residents view emergency preparedness and areas of evacuation,” she said.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 3:21:07 PM EDT
A lunar rainbow, one of the rarest types of rainbows, appeared during the super worm moon earlier this week.
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 12:42:06 PM EDT
The colorful festival of Holi celebrated by the Hindu community marks the beginning of spring.
In case you missed it: Pence assures Midwest flood victims as damage tops $1 billion; 50,000 visitors overtake California town to see vibrant superbloom
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 11:39:12 AM EDT
Flooding in the Midwest has put entire towns underwater and forced thousands to abandon their homes while a cyclone in southern Africa became one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region in decades.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica to inundate Australia's Pilbara Coast with life-threatening flooding
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 1:17:16 PM EDT
Lives and property will be in severe peril later this weekend and early next week along the northwestern coastline of Western Australia as Severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica slows down and unloads extreme rainfall.
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 2:42:11 PM EDT
A storm forecast to spread rain from the Mississippi Valley on Sunday to the Atlantic coast on Monday may end as a period of snow from parts of Ohio to parts of Massachusetts early next week.
Australia faces a dual severe tropical cyclone strike this weekend starting with Trevor in the Northern Territory
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 1:29:34 PM EDT
As Veronica threatens to cause a flood disaster in northwestern Australia, the dangers to lives and property are expected to expand well away from where Severe Tropical Cyclone Trevor makes a dangerous strike on Australia's Northern Territory early this weekend.
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 12:24:17 PM EDT
The winter of 2018-2019 will go down in the record books for being the wettest on record due to relentless rain and snow, so AccuWeather ranked the cities that were buried under the most snow this winter.
Cyclone Idai flood catastrophe: Estimates of more than 1,000 dead as 'inland ocean' forms in Mozambique
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 10:21:37 AM EDT
More than 1,000 people are feared dead in Mozambique and Zimbabwe as the flood catastrophe caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai continues to rage. Drier weather is expected to finally return later this weekend.