Media coverage of natural disasters such as hurricanes has become almost predictable. The dangers of the impending storm are hyped non-stop. Authorities urge everyone in the storm’s path to evacuate. Pictures of bare store shelves and boarded-up houses make the rounds on the internet. And inevitably, many people fail to evacuate and end up needing rescue.
The reaction among many people viewing the storm from afar upon seeing those people being rescued is often, “How could those people have been so dumb? Why didn’t they evacuate?” But all too often that’s the result of Monday morning quarterbacking from those of us who are in a much more privileged position and who fail to understand the lives, lifestyles, and livelihoods of those who suffer from these natural disasters.
Take the recent example of Hurricane Florence, for instance. It was supposed to have been one of the strongest storms to hit the Carolinas in recorded history. Thankfully the storm’s winds weakened significantly before landfall, but the rain that was promised was just as heavy as predicted. Even today the Carolinas are dealing with floods resulting from the torrential rain unleashed by Florence. Evacuated residents were urged not to come back until flood waters had completely subsided.
So let’s think about the cost to evacuate for someone who was in the direct path of that storm. Imagine that they fill everything into their truck or SUV, which probably has about a 26-gallon gas tank. That’s $65-70 of gas just to get out of Dodge. Then you have to find a place to stay. Even a cheap hole-in-the-wall motel will set you back at least $50 a night. Figure that three meals a day at Waffle House or McDonald’s will cost probably $15-20 per person per day. That means that a family of four could expect to spend over $1,000 in fleeing the hurricane for a week. And once they got back they may find that they no longer had a house to come back to.
Let’s also consider that 40% of Americans are unable to afford a $400 emergency expense. That means that significant numbers of people in the path of a storm literally don’t have enough money to flee. The reason they’re not leaving isn’t because they haven’t watched the forecasts or because they’re downplaying the storm’s severity, it’s because they don’t have the money to afford to leave. Faced with staying put and spending money on fixing whatever gets damaged versus fleeing and still having to spend money on whatever gets damaged, it’s not surprising that many people decide to stay put.
That should always be in the back of our minds when we think about victims of natural disasters, that many of them may not have the means to escape and that we should empathize with them rather than ridicule them. But it should also be a wake-up call to anyone who lives in an area prone to hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc., to always have enough money saved up to be able to flee for a week or two in the event that something bad does happen to you and your family.