Here’s why some people in the path of a hurricane choose to stay put

Posted at 8:04 PM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-11 22:04:39-04

(CNN) — More than 1 million people in coastal areas in North and South Carolina and Virginia faced mandatory evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Florence‘s landfall on Friday. Emergency managers and mayors have warned residents about the danger the Category 4 storm poses.

But like in every hurricane, not everyone complies.

Here’s why some people in the path of a hurricane choose to disregard mandatory evacuation orders:

For some, evacuating can be a hassle

Some people would rather not deal with the hassle of loading up the car and driving someplace they would rather not be, said Jay Baker, a retired Florida State University geography professor who studies hurricane evacuation behavior. And re-entry can be a nightmare, too.

Tim Terman said family members have been pressuring him and his wife to evacuate their home in Bald Head Island, North Carolina, but they are staying put — for now.

“Once you leave, (it will be) hard to get back in to check on damage,” he said. “My home is all my wife and I have, materially speaking, a lifetime of stuff.” They say their house is about 20 feet above sea level.

The final decision will come on Wednesday, Terman said.

Baker said people would be more willing to face the trouble of evacuating if they understood the hazards. “When you ask people ‘Why did you leave?’ the overwhelming reason is that they thought they wouldn’t be safe where they were,” Baker said. “It was their understanding that public officials told them they had to leave.”

Some feel they have a good plan

Laura Randolph said she felt comfortable with her plan. She was going to ride the storm out in the Myrtle Beach area where she lives.

But Randolph didn’t rule out switching to a plan B.

“We just feel pretty secure with everything. We feel like we prepared. We have our kits ready,” she said Tuesday. “Of course, we’re keeping an eye on the forecast … so if something changes and we need to go, we’ll get out at [the] last minute if we have to.”

Often, there’s a false sense of security

Some people have weathered storms before but didn’t experience heavy damage. That could give them a false of security.

“They have misconceptions about how severely they could be affected by a certain type of storm because they haven’t experienced the worst of that type of storm,” Baker said.

Some are more worried about wind damage than a storm surge

Flooding is more life-threatening than wind damage. But most people are more concerned about wind damage than storm surge, Baker said.

“They know about hurricanes generally, but they don’t understand about storm surge, and they don’t understand how it will affect them where they live,” Baker said.

Baker said it’s important for emergency officials to clearly explain why people need to evacuate.

Some may not know their evacuation zone

Baker said emergency officials generally characterize evacuation zones by letters. But most people don’t know what zone they live in and may not know a mandatory evacuation order applies to their location, he said.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune implored her citizens to evacuate early to avoid traffic jams.

“We don’t have an interstate and aren’t connected to one. That makes the evacuation process very slow. People must not wait to leave.”

Last year, Houston, known for its susceptibility to flooding because of its flatness, was never put under an evacuation order — voluntary or mandatory — even as then-Hurricane Harvey threatened southeast Texas. Many residents were trapped on rooftops and wading through flooded streets, carrying children on their shoulders.

Mayor Sylvester Turner defended his decision not to order evacuations before the city was hit by torrential rain from Hurricane Harvey.

“You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road,” Turner said. “If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare

Some hold off on making a decision until very late

John McGowan gassed up his car on Tuesday, but he planned to stick it out, at least for now.

“I’ll make an evaluation tomorrow afternoon. If that thing is still coming at us about 120 mph, I may change my mind,” said McGowan, who lives in Compass Pointe, northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina.

He won’t have to hunt for gas if he changes his mind.