Why They Stayed: Hurricane Victims and Socio-Economic Class

While watching footage of the victim rescues on the news, I noted that nearly everyone I saw was black, and the roofs of the homes from which they were rescued were smallish.

I asked my husband: “Was there a form of free public transportation available for evacuation?”

He said he didn’t think so.

This led me to wonder if a lot of the people who stayed behind did so out of lack of other options. If they didn’t own a car, and couldn’t afford what would be a very, very expensive taxi ride, what could they do? You can’t walk out of the path of a three-hundred-mile-wide storm, especially if you have elderly or very young family members.

Secondly, the possessions of the poor possibly represent all they own in this world. They don’t have investments or bank accounts, and probably have little or no home insurance. If their possessions are looted, they lose everything with no possibility of replacement. The idea of abandoning everything for a storm which might not be as bad as predicted, or might hit another area may seem ridiculous. (They may have been getting their information through word of mouth because of a mistrust of the media.)


Cut and pasted from another thread on New Orleans:

I thought you made an excellent point on that other thread, Eve, and I’m happy to see it repeated here.

Like I said in another post, having been a single parent and chronically ill most of my adult life, I have definitely endured times when we were dirt poor, and even without a car in a metropolitan area that survives on cars. During those times I often wondered what in the world we would do if we were faced with having to evacuate. You know, when you leave, you don’t just take you and your family, you have to take enough food and water for at least a couple of days. And in my case, if it were summertime, I would also have to take at least a small cooler for medicine I need to live that can’t be kept over room temperature for extended periods of time. So you take several days’ worth of food and medicine and carry it on your back, with your small child in tow. And go where? Forget a hotel when you have $1.58 in your pocket. And believe it or not, there have never been enough shelters provided that would actually HOLD all the people that needed shelter if, by some miracle, every one DID evacuate. And you still have to get there - depending on the disaster and the area, the closest shelter could be 20, 30, 50, 100 miles away. And if by some miracle you manage to get far enough away from the disaster before it was scheduled to hit, then, if it’s a false alarm, you’ve got to get BACK in time to not miss your next shift at work.

Facing all that, and keeping in mind the high number of false alarms, I am definitely not among those that are tsk tsk-ing the people who chose to stay at home. If it were me, and I was in one of those dirt-poor phases, I can’t say that I wouldn’t choose to stay.

I don’t know what I’d do. But since I have walked that mile in those shoes, I’m not about to condemn the folks that decided to ride it out.

My elderly aunt and uncle in Slidell chose to ride it out…and we still have no word on their fate. The main reason they wouldn’t/couldn’t leave or go to a shelter? My uncle refused to abandon his cats. Of course, compounding the issue is their age and health status: my uncle is 75 with Parkinson’s disease and my aunt is 86 with her own, albeit less serious, health issues. They have no family close to them–they have no children together, though my aunt has a son from a previous marriage who lives far away; the rest of her family is in Connecticut; my uncle’s siblings are scattered between Baltimore (my father), Muskogee, and Denver. They are in no condition to drive long distances with no set destination and most local shelters will not accept pets. Therefore, they elected to stay in their house. (Some good news–from what I can gather, their subdivision wasn’t flooded or completely destroyed by wind; however, Slidell in general took a bad hit).

This shelters-won’t-allow-pets issue is bothering me because it seems to be an issue in a lot of cases–I’ve seen footage of several rescues where people are being retrieved with pets in tow. Perhaps if at least some of the shelters advertised being pet-friendly more people would be willing to leave their homes and seek shelter there? Of course, a responsible pet owner should have a disaster plan for their animals, but for the elderly or poor it may be difficult to find the resources to put together such a plan or pay for emergency lodging for their pets. It’s bad enough to have to abandon your home and property with no idea of when you’ll be able to return and almost no way to get word on what’s happened; it’s even worse if you had to leave a beloved pet behind. For many of the elderly, especially, those pets may be the only close family they have.

There is a train station in New Orleans. There are Greyhound stations. I bet you can even ride city busses out a good ways out from the city. Thousands of people ride Amtrak and Greyhound daily, often with elderly people or small children. It’s not the most comfortable way to go, but it beats a helicopter ride off a rooftop minus a couple family members.

I’m sorry, but I can see no reason not to do everything humanly possible to get out of the path of these storms. I know that earthquakes are a possibility in my area, and I have an earthquake plan. “My town was hit by a natural disaster” holds a lot of weight when asking to sleep on an old friend’s couch for a couple days. Heck, even hanging out in a bus station or getting picked up by the police for vagrantcy beats weathering a hurricane. I’m usually the first one to stand up for the poor and explain how much more difficult their lives are than popularly imagined, but in this case I think 99% of people could get out of town if they needed to.

That said, it would be useful to look at how we can increase evacuation complience by reaching out to the poor. Free transportation out would be a good start. I’m sure nearby cities and schools could donate some busses for a couple days. Creating and publisizing pet and family friendly shelters is another good idea. Maybe we could even start a bunking program where evacuees could stay with families in other areas for a while. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, but it’s been a long time since Americans experienced any extraordinary times and I think we’ve grown to expect natural disasters to be comfortable and a lot of refusal to leave is because of the general PITAness of evacuating.

As evidenced by some of the behavior going on right now, I’d venture a guess that some living proximal to high crime areas might have feared that had they left they’d have fewer possessions to return to.

Maybe we could find a way to return the money not spent rescuing people to the people who evacuated as requested instead of staying to protect their stuff.

Don’t discount the fact that many people are just obstinate.

lorinada, I just wanted to say what a beautiful and insightful post that was. I agree completely and often wonder how in the world can people get beyond sometimes horrible means that appear insurmountable. Everything involved can be so unbelievably difficult. Thank you for reminding me of all that.

I think there is a lot to the “cry wolf” problem.

People along the coast have heard hurricane warnings thier entire lives. Even when one did hit now and then it was not nearly this bad…most of the time it hit somewhere else anyway.

Lay people in general just don’t understand the concept of risk and probility. It is human nature to equate “no problem this time” to “the risk was overstated in the first place”

Hell, NASA managment has fallen in spectacular fashion for this fallacy a couple of times, and those folks ARE supposed to be rocket scientists.

even sven typed:

Greyhound had, in fact, suspended Bus Service a day prior to issuance of the evacuation order.

Outside of New England you might get one train a day. Where I live we get two a week.

I grew up on the Texas Gulf coast and saw many hurricanes come through the area. While I think there are many reasons people stayed in the area I think a large part of this may be attributed to the idea that “We rode it out before, we’ll ride it out again.”

I remember growing up we traveled further inland on a number of occasions when hurricanes threatened. They almost always involved huge traffic jams and a very long time spent in the car only to find that the storm had veered off at the last moment and missed our town completely. After a number of years, we tended to stay in town for the storm and nothing bad ever happened. I can imagine there were many people along the Louisiana/Mississippi/Alabama coasts who did the same in this instance. To some degree they may have reached a point where all the dire predictions seemed exaggerated.

Do they do air lifts before the storm hits?

It seems more effective to get a bunch of people in a cargo plane beforehand than to try to pluck them off a rooftop by helicopter afterward.

New Orleans is a minor rail hub. Both The City of New Orleans and Southern Crescent leave (or at least left) daily and the Sunset Limited passes through several times a week.

That sucks about Greyhound though. Isn’t this the time we need them the most? Why wern’t busses being pressed in to service?

It makes me wonder what would happen if America was ever in a major crisis situation- like a war- would the essential industries just drop the ball if it wasn’t about profits for a while? Would we all die in our homes clinging to our gamecubes and old photographs instead of banding together to do what must be done?

the gov. of la is rather upset at how major transport shut down in new orleans. particularly the airport. she feels they closed well before they needed to.

city buses, greyhound, and trains included.

gov.s and mayors of large cities esp. those cities where you have a large pedestrian population should take note and put plans in place for the future.

nola is not the only major city in the hurricane zone.

When the Los Angeles riots broke out, the Rapid Transit District stopped running all its bus lines*, stranding thousands of peoples dozens of miles from their homes, potentially for a few days. Not nice.

*They probably left the ones in nice neighborhoods running. My memory is fuzzy.

I heard people on the radio say they could leave but wouldn’t because they’d rode out the last storm. I’m pretty sure one of these folks owned a B&B or some such establishement below the levees. It was a multi-storey building, so he said, so he and whoever was with him probably survived by climbing floors, but it’s almost a certainty that they had to be evacuated by boat or air.

I am sympathetic to those who lacked the means to get out by car, but it’s clear many people simply refused to recognize how dire the forecast really was, and obviously some of those folks paid with their lives.

The estimated death count in NOLA is up in the thousands now. I have to assume many of those who couldn’t flee did have the option to take refuge in the Superdome. As unpleasant as that has turned out to be, it’s better than being dead. So my question is: Why didn’t they at least go somewhere reasonably safe within walking distance?

If you are dirt poor how do you afford the fare?

Maybe when an evacuation is declared, the feds can pay the fares.

Maybe cheaper than paying for search and rescue operations.

Still these are pitiful resources – the USA is very much short of passenger rail capacity. Even rounding up and hooking up cattle cars and getting them to NO would take a couple of days. Rail could only be a very, very small fraction of any evacuation anywhere with the possible exception of the NE DC-Boston Corridor.

The thing is, it’s standard practice for scheduled transport carriers – airlines, Greyhound, trains – to shut down ops and if possible relocate any rolling/flying stock well in advance of critical conditions. It’s the the Emergency Management authorities who have the duty to have a plan in place to do a succesful evac, and if the plan counts on the commercial carriers, to make sure this is arranged in advance – you can’t comandeer a bus into service in New Orleans, not even at bayonet-point, if that bus never made it past Little Rock last night in the first place. If the state of Louisiana does not ASK for Greyhound, or Delta Airlines, or CSX (or whatever the railroad’s called these days) for assistance with the pre-storm evac…

And it looks to me like in any case the situation has outstripped what Emergency Plans Lousiana DID have. In other massive emergencies (hurricanes, earthquakes), at least help and relief can GET THERE, overland (even if the main roads are ruined) and there are SOME pockets of functioning facilities for immediate relief e.g. hospitals, armories, etc. Here not only do we have places that are essentially cut off, but the emergency centers were themselves destroyed or rendered inoperable.

lorinada, of course, gives us a good perspective on what it’s like to be the person who feels they can’t afford to “head for the hills” even knowing it’s the sensible thing to do. Add to that:
(a) As mentioned, the “cry wolf” mentality (from prior storms and floods)
(b) The “failure of imagination” scenario – as in “it can’t possibly be that bad”. I’m sure a lot of people were halfway through breathing a sigh of relief that they did not get blown off the face of the Earth, that the house stood just fine… when they started wondering why the water was still rising.
© The fatalistic attitude that can get under the skin of many growing up and living on the wrong side of the tracks. You start feeling like there is no point in making an extraordinary effort to save yourself, if you live you live, if you die you die, etc.