Sunday 14 September 2008

Why Do Some People Stay in Harm’s Way?

Watching the first early morning pictures coming in showing Ike’s devastation.

One thing the newscasters and interviewees keep bringing up are how people refuse to leave their homes despite opportunities, offers and resources to do so. I can’t figure this out. It’s one thing to be isolated and out of touch and therefore stranded. It’s another to deny reality when you’ve been given the information.

Any insights into why this is?

Thinking good thoughts for all.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 04:12 | Comments (42)

Comments (42)

  1. Here are my thoughts: Not getting out of the way of a catastrophic hurricane (when given the chance) smacks of denial in the face of reason and is a form of complete stupidity, it is also still exercising personal choice, and I’m all for ‘choice’.

  2. I suppose this is something mixed between :
    – “Something as bad can’t happens.”
    – “If I leave my home, it will be looted.”
    – “I don’t want strangers help.”

  3. Having lived in the New orleans area for Katrina, allow me to dispel some myths.

    Moving everything you hold dear to yourself is exhausting. Quick, gather everything you cannot live without, your important papers, try to make plans to go, um, WHERE exactly? Hotels book up 3 days to a week before a hurricane lands, and God help you if you have pets because your opportunities just got cut in half or less.

    Which way do you evacuate? You only TRULY know which direction on the gulf coast a hurricane will fall within 24 hrs. of landfall. With Katrina, we stayed slightly to the west of New Orleans, and we are glad we because had we evacuated east (like we did for Ivan the year before) we would have likely holed up in a hotel in Mississippi and been line sight of the eye.

    You get punch-drunk from hurricanes. Every. Single. Year. And worse yet, so do your employers and fellow workers. Those who see you box up and head out of town resent you for leaving, especially if turns out that the storm misses you and you therefore got a week’s “vacation” in their minds and they got stuck left cleaning up the mess.

    Plus, do you know how many hurricanes WEAKEN dramatically before landfall? Tons. What was a Category 5 Storm of the Century two days ago can grind down to a Category 2 before it ever sees civilization. Evacuate for what was a Category 3 48 hrs ago (and trust me, you have to make this decision and roll the dice a minimum 48 hrs beforehand, or get stuck for half a day in traffic that would typically only take 4-6 hrs on a bad day), and you’ll be sitting on the edge of your bed in a hotel somewhere hearing that the most your town got was some wave action along the lake (this is EXACTLY what happened with Ivan the year before Katrina, where lots of people scrambled out of N.O. — we went to Houston — only to find out the only damage to the entire city, a city that was in Ivan’s line-sight 36 hours before, had veered to the east at the last second and crashed into Mobile bay. meanwhile, how do you think the people of Mobile and the Florida panhandle felt when they thought the storm was headed for New Orleans and awoke to it punching them in the mouth?

    Finally, it’s a judgement call in terms of degree. Having grown up in Florida, I’ve had worse thunderstorms than Category 1 hurricanes (seriously, you get no warning to bring stuff in when a summer t-storm rolls through Florida, and you REALLY get flash floods, scattered debris, etc.) So I would always ride a Category 1 out. No matter what. There’s just no way that a Catergory 1 offsets the epic struggle of uprooting your life, taking a guess which way to evacuate, paying for room and board elsewhere for anywhere between 2 and 5 nights minimum (evacuating is EXPENSIVE, not to mention gas money and availability), and then having to explain to your employer, who tells you “well, evacuate if you really feel you must” and they throw in the token “be safe with your family” which never rings true as they and half the staff stay put and fling passive aggressive comments at you upon your return. I also feel like any town built on the Gulf Coast should be able to withstand a Category 2. There is simply no excuse for urban planning and civil engineering to allow for the flooding messes that happen, except that major population centers get off lucky with no direct hits for decades, and the cities sprawl into areas they have no business sprawling into. But the developers are willing to roll the dice for a disaster every 50-60 years or so, and the local government, while having laws to prevent you from living directly IN harm’s way, has absolutely no problem with letting you live VERY NEAR harm’s way. *You* think they’ve already vetted the area, because that’s the responsible thing to do. But they haven’t. Yet you only find out about it painfully, way too late.

    I would always leave for a Category 3 or higher IF I COULD. But then, you still have to decide WHICH WAY TO RUN. Do you see it isn’t as simple a question as “why don’t you flee?” I won’t get into the psychological aspect of being terrified of coming back to nothing, whereas there’s some comfort in knowing you’ll see it go… like somehow by being there, you’ll understand the loss better than coming back and absorbing the shock all at once, like a burglar ransacking your home while you were away on vacation.

    THIS IS A YEARLY OCCURRENCE on the Gulf Coast. I know it’s impossible to understand for those who don’t live down there, but truly think about it… no one wants to stand in front of a loaded gun, so there are reasons, right? Well, I just scratched the surface from my own observation. I hope this helps broaden the understanding in some small way.

  4. Correction: We evacuated to the East for the Hurricane before Ivan. Sorry. Got my hurricane wires crossed. 😉

  5. And those who do leave, why go back?

  6. It’s cool to live by the water, it has an amazing view, it can be a paradise when all is well.

    I think when disaster is looming and if you really want to live in these areas, you should have an escape plan and a willingness to leave it for your life’s sake (and for the sake of lives of the rescuers and their families).

    Also, I think you have to be prepared to NOT get saved if you decide to ride out the storm. It’s not fair to ask others to RISK their lives because of the choice you made, and yes, we are warned far enough in advance of hurricanes to actually make a choice about our own welfare.

  7. For many home is all they have, it is what they know, it is their corner of the world. Perhaps, too, it is better/easier to deal with the devil they know rather than the one they don’t.

  8. A lot of people stay because of the number of times they have evacuated and nothing has happened. The weather channel actually had a word for it or it was the local news. But having just moved here there is no way I would stay if a hurricane was supposedly heading to my area. We leave even if it might hit us, but then we live a mile off the coast. Katrina put the fear of god back in some people but apparently not enough who didn’t have to go through it.

  9. As an outsider (Netherlands)I think some of the reasons (not mine) are;
    – If you run for something, you are a loser. Running is not The American Way.
    – No faith in the government. Who can blame them after Katrina.
    – An unrealistic believe in the fairy tale that “nothing bad can happen to good people”.
    – They have never experienced the destructive power of wind and water.

  10. The main reason (to me at least) is that these people have ‘survived’ a few hurricanes before and believe they can do it again. My aunt has done it many of times.

    It’s like a badge of honor. I guess…

  11. Sigh. I wish my long comment would come out of moderation. I think some folks might re-think their stance if they got to read it (from someone who lived in New Orleans for seven years, and Florida for 18). It’s not a badge of honor, it’s not a feeling of “I am good, and therefore bad things won’t happen to me,” it’s not “running is for the losers,” it’s not any of those things. That’s all utterly ridiculous hogwash, and gives no credit for people having brains and hearts working in tandem.

  12. I think Hurricane Ike proves that white folk in Texas can be just as stupid as black folk in New Orleans. And in the aftermath, just as likely to go “Boo hoo, I need help, government save me”. (The Proud Independence so often evaporates AFTER the disaster) But maybe less likely to be disappointed with the response. (Contaminated trailers might go over much better with people who lived next door to an oil refinery)

    Cynical? Me? I’ve been close to the epicenter of two of the biggest California earthquakes of the last 50 years and I WISH quakes gave the kind of obvious warning that hurricanes do. So, I’m particularly disdainful of those who DON’T TAKE THE WARNING. Just because Gustav was not as bad as predicted (unless you were in inland Louisiana like an online friend of mine – the News Media saw Gustav miss NOLA and ran full-speed back to the GOParty, NO CLASS), it doesn’t mean warnings shouldn’t be heeded. Although whoever gave out the warning that included the words “CERTAIN DEATH” was also very irresponsible.

    And just for the record, SCIENCE has proven the old “big earthquake makes California fall into the sea” prediction is as likely as the LHC making a black hole that destroys the world. I’m living 3 miles from the Pacific Coast, closer than any time before in my life (but not taking visitors until I finish my SPRING cleaning), but 100+ feet above sea level – with the most alarmist Climate Change warnings, I’ll be well above water for the rest of my life, just closer to the beach. I’m also farther from a major faultline than I used to be, but I still keep Emergency Supplies where I can reach them if the roof falls and I have two accessible escape routes (although they’re less accessible than they will be when I finish my SPRING cleaning). I am so much more prepared for disaster than most (just messier), but I still wish EARTHQUAKES GAVE WARNINGS LIKE HURRICANES DO, and have no respect for those who disregard the warnings.

    Thanks for letting me rant.

  13. If that house is all you have – you’re likely to be very reluctant to give it up!

    Especially when you consider how badly the insurance companies behaved after Katrina. People do not trust insurance companies nor do they trust the government (whether that’s wise, correct, or just plain common sense is for another debate), but they do trust their own instincts and senses – no matter how wrong, incorrect, inconsistent, ill-informed they may be. (Which is a long way of repeating Thacker’s point.)

    One of the principles of emergency rescue is that you do not ask why someone is in the position they are in. You just go rescue them. The idea is that life is more important than figuring out the morality of “should we rescue them?” That’s why people put themselves in harms way to rescue others.

    Carolyn Ann

  14. I don’t live in a hurricane/cyclone zone so this is purely conjecture; I’m not sure what I’d do if I was in the circumstance and hope that I never have to find out.

    Watching the news over the weekend, my initial thoughts were that those that had stayed behind were simply foolish. Having considered it – albeit briefly – I think my initial reaction was, in fact, simplistic and foolish.

    The news image cliché after a hurricane – of a roof shattered across the front lawn – is often caused by the house being penetrated in some way and the house explodes

    If you lose a window or door during a hurricane, you’re in big trouble. Extreme winds push through an opening in a building, increasing air pressure inside like blowing up a balloon beyond its capacity. If you force enough air pressure inside a house, it can break at its weakest point, usually the roof. (source)

    If the home owner is present, they can make running repairs to a building during the storm – even something as simple as putting a tall cupboard in front of a broken window – and attempt to save their house. Repair efforts may be ultimately unsuccessful, but it may be end up saving their most valuable asset.

    Add to this an emotionally charged environment and you that’s when you end up with someone making what may be considered the wrong decision, but if you save your house may be the best decision you ever got wrong.

  15. I just made it back to my house in downtown Houston a few hours ago when the power got turned on. I’ve seen some fascinating things in the last few days – the power of wind, followed by the power of rain, followed by the power of community. We had one friend that had electricity, and we all dog-piled his house, pets and all.

    As for why people stay, I think this quote sums it up best: “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

    Most people on the coastline have been through a hurricane before. It’s part of the territory. I’m sure people in California know how to deal with an earthquake. There’s bound to be some idiot that lives on a fault line, and when their house gets destroyed, you can say “I told you so”, but they’re living there for a reason – it’s all they can afford. They know the risks, and a majority of the time it’s false alarms. When things do go bad, it sucks, but that’s basic risk v. reward economics.

  16. Molly, maybe some in America are aware of the dangers to come.

    I write this 6 hours before the opening of the stock markets in America. By the day out the beginning of the end of the greatest nation on earth will unfold. The economy of America is beginning to implode. Soon you will hear the mentioning of the North American Union between United States, Canada and Mexico and the Amero.

    The rise of the police state may happen. When you get over the initial shock of what is coming, then the fingers will point back to 9/11. Let’s hope the world avoids World War Three as America becomes like a new Argentina.

    The warnings have been known for years of possible martial law.

    Please do what ever you can to remove the criminal elite from Washington before they can begin a war with Iran and Russia. The clock is ticking.

    In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. – Mark Twain

    Peace to all.

  17. @Alan – You know I appreciate participation on this site and am very, perhaps too lenient with people at times. However, I feel that when a specific topic is discussed, it’s good to stick to that topic as much as possible. In this case, I asked a very specific question, and I don’t think your prior post really offered a personal response to that. Rather, it’s a political/social post that really is off topics.

    I’m not going to remove it but in the future I hope you will respond in the context of the discussion. When people make strong statements that are not in the specific flow of the conversation, things go off topic and it gets harder for me to manage and deal with, and farther away from the value I hope my site provides for others as well as for me.

    Thanks for understanding 🙂 -M

  18. OK Molly, enough with ‘off topic’ posting. As I said before, maybe some people just want to stay home since they see it as the safest thing to do.

    Look at what you write, “It’s another to deny reality when you’ve been given the information.” Why do you question the motives of people who would want to stay with their homes? I would agree with what Bryan Peters says above.

  19. My first impulse was to reply “Because they don’t think anything bad will happen to them.” But after reading some of the posts above, I am reminded that I lived through two natural disasters – a ginormous earthquake in CA and a huge wildfire and evacuation in NM that left me out of my home for 1.5 weeks, and many of my friends without homes.

    Earthquakes give no warning, so you cannot blame people for staying. However, the wildfire gave us days of warning. Then we were given hours to evacuate our very small town (completed in approx. 8 hours). Even though we could see the smoke change color as it alighted homes on the edge of town as we waited in traffic to leave, some people still stayed – in part because they didn’t believe their’s would be one of the burned homes, but mostly because they thought they could do a better job at fighting for their homes than the firefighters could. Armed with nothing more than garden hoses.

    So, I’m changing my answer. I think some people stay because (A) they don’t think anything bad will happen to them, and (B) because if they stay, they can fight Mother Nature and single-handedly fight back the wind, the waves, and the flames MacGyver-style to save the only thing on Earth that they own.

  20. You tell everyone that it’s dangerous to drive while intoxicated, yet a small percentage of people still do it. Why?

    You tell everyone that it’s dangerous and wasteful to drive over the speed limit (75 mph), yet when I drive the speed limit on the freeway, I get passed by morons in SUV’s and pickup trucks. Why?

    You tell people that eating a crappy, fat filled diet is bad and will make you life miserable and eventually kill you, yet Americans are the fattest people on the face of the earth. Why?

    You tell people that a hurricane is coming and will destroy their home and kill them, yet some choose to stay and risk death. And you ask why?

  21. Okay, lets say that even if the storm was very minor… whats the point in staying? Most people have evacuated and the area is virtually a ghost town. What are you going to do… dress for work and show up at your job which is closed due to evacations and all your coworkers are gone for a few days? Buy food at the stores which have been shut down and boarded? Now look at the situation with Ike which DID do damage. Instead of spending a few hundred bucks to camp out west or stay in a cozy hotel (where possible), people choose to live in terrible conditions where there is no food, water or electricity. And obviously no stores or businesses will be open for quite awhile so you can forget about going to work or shopping for food. I think its much more of a hassle to stay than to go. Is staying to protect your money or valuables any good to you when you are dead?

  22. I am all for choice and staying, but don’t complain when it takes the government a while to help you off the roof of your house, rescue you from a boat, or aid you in food for the next week. You know the risks – don’t complain about YOUR decision.

    I am not heartless – I give and help whenever I can.

  23. As a Tucsonan (MI transplant), and someone who paid for a plane ticket to evac a Katrina survivor, only to have her go back to help her family in their post-Katrina evac place and were hit by Rita – I say: bad stuff happens all over. There is no ‘safe place’ – should the q be Why Stay? or should it be: Why are people allowed to live in a geo-hazardous place, at all? At U of AZ Geoscience’s geohazards class they used to include (it’s been a few years): earthquakes | floods | hurricanes | mud and landslides…I would also add climate extremes like heat and almost no water (AZ) and raging snowstorms (MI). So some form of ‘bad stuff’ happens in the NE, the midwest, the mid-Atlantic, the Pacific Coast, the Rocky Mountain states, the Southeast – what’s left?

    People aren’t told to evacuate when some of these other geohazardous events occur, yet people die in these cases too. At some point, there may be a brown-out in Phoenix like there was in CA a few years back, and then what? People will die, not evacuate. It will be a surprise, like Katrina was to many, yet everyone knows the desert is hot in summer. Bad stuff is gonna happen pretty much anywhere…life = risk, and it’s a gamble as to which is the right choice in any situation.

    I kind of agree with Rick. A doctor friend of mine was told, at one of the best medical schools in the country, that the way she could save the *most* lives was to encourage her patients to buckle their seatbelts. But people don’t – we are often lazy/stupid.

    BTW- same doctor makes OODLES of money (paid off a house in the foothills in cash in 3 years) diagnosing skin cancer…risk can be short term, like Ike, or long-term like radiation over-exposure, or eating foods with toxic pesticides.

    Oth- if people educate themselves about the science behind their options (but science literacy is at an all time low) and hold the government accountable to help them weigh their choices and provide accurate information and first aid…I don’t know – Eric and Stacie’s points have merit.

    Off topic – wish I could be there for the bagels – currently on sabat_ical. Have fun! I love the pastries from Beyond Bread for weekend noshes 🙂

  24. Very interesting opinions to this issue.

  25. t was pointed out to Thorton that both may be one in the same.

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