To evacuate, or not to evacuate?

Sep. 17, 2008
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Residents of Galveston Island recently faced this question, and, according to reports I’ve seen, nearly 40% of its population chose the latter.  They decided to ride out Hurricane Ike, which made landfall on Saturday morning around 2:00 a.m. local time.  They made this decision in light of the following:

  • Meteorologists were predicting an upper Texas coast landfall as early as Tuesday.
  • Meteorologists, in light of a near census among computer models, forecast a Galveston Island landfall early Wednesday.
  • Mandatory evacuations for parts of the island were ordered as early as Wednesday evening; the entire island and many parts of south Houston were under mandatory evacuations by noon Thursday.
  • The National Weather Service office in Houston/Galveston issued a very strong statement on Thursday evening, and I quote: "All neighborhoods ... and possibly entire coastal communities ... will be inundated during the peak storm tide.  Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single-family one- or two-story homes will face certain death."


Here are some arguments I’ve heard by people that decided to ignore evacuation orders:

Evacuating an island from which one must take a single road (Interstate 45), a highway that leads into a city of 4 million people with probably the worst traffic in the U.S. (on a good day), does not sound easy, particularly on a Friday.

Okay, I understand this.  Evacuating would be one stressful, uncomfortable experience; those that did have my sympathy.  Would I risk my life to avoid it?  No.

Meteorologists often forecast the location and intensity of land-falling hurricanes wrong.  This might be much ado about nothing.

Nailing down the exact position and intensity is very difficult.  There’s a lot of science involved that we simply don’t understand.  [The National Hurricane Center, to its credit, does a pretty amazing job.]  However, when dealing with a storm 900-miles in diameter, and with winds of 110 m.p.h., a forecast landfall position and intensity uncertainty of 30 miles and 5 m.p.h., respectively, shouldn’t be enough to make you breathe easier.  Listen to meteorologists.  They know more about hurricanes than you.

I don’t have the means to evacuate.

Again, I understand this, but federal, state, and local officials acted early and provided transportation off the island, both before and after the storm, as well as other means of escaping the apparent danger.

I rode out [insert insignificant hurricane from the past], and everything was fine.

Yes, you’re right.  The present can be no different than the past.  How could I be so stupid?

I don’t mean to make light of the situation, but for me the decision would have been very easy, particularly if I were in charge of a family.



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