Some would defy hurricane evacuation orders

Published 5:52 pm Thursday, July 20, 2006

One in four people in Southern coastal states said they would ignore government hurricane evacuation orders, according to a Harvard University survey done earlier this month.

The most common reasons respondents gave for not evacuating were confidence that their home is well-built, belief that roads would be too crowded and concern that evacuating would be dangerous.

“Public officials have to realize a substantial group of people are going to remain and be very dependent on rescue efforts after a storm hits,” said Robert Blendon, the Harvard health policy professor who directed the survey.

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The telephone survey, of 2,029 people, was conducted from July 5 to July 11.

All participants were 18 and older and lived in counties within 50 miles of the coastline in the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Nearly 50 percent said they had evacuated because of a hurricane before. “These are people with a lot of experience with storms,” Blendon said.

When asked if they would evacuate if government officials said a major hurricane was going to hit in the next few days, 67 percent said they would, 24 percent said they would not and the rest said they didn’t know or it would depend on the circumstances.

If it turned out they later needed rescuing, 75 percent of those who would or might stay voiced confidence they would be saved.

The rescue findings were surprising, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Blendon said.

Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, devastating southern Mississippi and flooding much of New Orleans. The storm killed more than 1,500 people in one of the largest natural disasters in modern American history.

It’s noteworthy that 25 percent of the respondents who would not evacuate would not count on a rescue, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.

“There are many people who have an extremely low level of confidence in the government,” Redlener said.

Images of stranded cars and filthy hurricane shelters after Katrina seemed to have an effect on survey participants. Of those who said they might stay put in a hurricane, more than one in three said they felt evacuation would be dangerous.

“Pictures of cars being stalled and unable to move, and the idea that storms could be rolling over the highway — I think that really concerned people,” Blendon said.

About 35 percent of all respondents said they would be very worried about staying in a shelter. The leading concerns were that shelters would be unsanitary, there wouldn’t be enough water to drink and they would need medical care that a shelter couldn’t provide.

Other survey results:

— Nearly 60 percent said their level of preparation for a hurricane is about the same as it was a year ago. “For many people in high risk areas, seeing Katrina did not change their view of what they need to do in order to be prepared,” Blendon said.

— Homeowners, whites and long-term residents were the groups most likely to try to ride out a major hurricane.

— About 60 percent said it was likely their home would be flooded or wind-damaged in a big storm. But about 24 percent said they do not have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

— Of those who said they would evacuate, 91 percent said they would go by car, and 57 percent said they would flee 100 miles or more. About 77 percent said they have a place to take their pet.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers designed the federally funded survey. It was conducted by ICR of Media, Pa., and had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.