Survey: Gas and violence among hurricane worries

Published 5:39 pm Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nearly one-fourth of people in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina would refuse to evacuate for a storm if told to, a survey released Wednesday by Harvard University found.

Even after their experience with the hurricane that devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, 23 percent of people in Katrina-affected areas would not evacuate, the Harvard School of Public Health study found. Overall, 27 percent of coastal residents in eight states agreed.

“We think that’s a serious number,” said Robert Blendon, the Harvard professor who directed the survey. “It’s not just somebody that’s somewhere near a coast that never had a problem. These are people who have been hit either by Katrina previously or by another major hurricane in the last five years that damaged their communities.”

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Blendon said two primary factors motivated respondents’ opinion: their faith in the stability of their homes and their fears of an evacuation.

“People are convinced that their house could survive almost anything,” Blendon said. “And a concern of people is that there is a danger in evacuating. They’re not sure that they can get out safely.”

The survey found residents of hurricane-prone areas worry most about having sufficient gas, medical care and fresh water to survive a storm. In a sign of post-Katrina times, 44 percent also said they fear violence. In the wake of that storm, the world saw television images of looters and heard widely publicized but mostly untrue rumors of rapes and murders.

“There are a series of worries but violence is clearly one of them,” Blendon said.

Harvard’s telephone survey was conducted by ICR, an independent research company, from May 27 to June 23. It included a sample of adults living in counties within 20 miles of the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.