On the eve of Superstorm Sandy, after the city issued mandatory evacuation orders for much of Staten Island’s coast, I queried if the state could force someone to evacuate.
The National Weather Service has some intense warning that ranged from logic, to guilt, to emotion.
SOME IMPORTANT NOTES...1. IF YOU ARE BEING ASKED TO EVACUATE A COASTAL LOCATION BY STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS, PLEASE DO SO.2. IF YOU ARE RELUCTANT TO EVACUATE, AND YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO RODE OUT THE `62 STORM ON THE BARRIER ISLANDS, ASK THEM IF THEY COULD DO IT AGAIN.3. IF YOU ARE RELUCTANT, THINK ABOUT YOUR LOVED ONES, THINK ABOUT THE EMERGENCY RESPONDERS WHO WILL BE UNABLE TO REACH YOU WHEN YOU MAKE THE PANICKED PHONE CALL TO BE RESCUED, THINK ABOUT THE RESCUE/RECOVERY TEAMS WHO WILL RESCUE YOU IF YOU ARE INJURED OR RECOVER YOUR REMAINS IF YOU DO NOT SURVIVE.4. SANDY IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS STORM. THERE WILL BE MAJOR PROPERTY DAMAGE, INJURIES ARE PROBABLY UNAVOIDABLE, BUT THE GOAL IS ZERO FATALITIES.5. IF YOU THINK THE STORM IS OVER-HYPED AND EXAGGERATED, PLEASE ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION. WE WISH EVERYONE IN HARMS WAY ALL THE BEST. STAY SAFE!
At the time, I noted:
Even if you don’t want to move for yourself, think of what will happen if you call 911 and they can’t help you. Think fo the risk to the recovery teams who will have to find you and rescue you. Or, think of how difficult it will be for them to recover your remains. That is morbid thought.
The long-and-short of it: if you don’t evacuate, you’re on your own.
Later, Governor Christie said people who refused to evacuate were “stupid and selfish.”
A few weeks later, we know how it turned out for those who refused to evacuate. On Staten Island, many people died, including 8 fatalities in the Midland Beach section (not too far from where I went to High School).
The Times has a lengthy piece about Staten Island, and the residents who did not evacuate. This line really stuck out at me:
Like most of the neighborhood’s residents, the victims ignored numerous orders to evacuate, a decision that underscores an independent streak that runs deep on Staten Island.
“I tried very hard,” Ms. Contrubis said through sobs at her brother’s funeral on Monday. “Before the storm I called him up and said, ‘Gene, the storm, it looks bad!’ And he said, ‘Everybody’s staying; nobody’s leaving.’ He just told me: ‘I’m not going to leave. I’m not going to leave.’ ”
I have family members who refused to evacuate. My mom pleaded with her sister, who lives in Seagate–a place that was totally destroyed–but she refused. Fortunately, my aunt survived the storm, though houses one block away were washed into the sea.
I don’t know that I understand the mentality of not evacuating. In my mind, survival and self-preservation is the first order of magnitude. Perhaps because I have never owned a house, I cannot relate, but a house is just a house. Or to put it more pragmatically, how does staying behind improve the situation? How can one person prevent a house from being destroyed by a superstorm? Once the storm hits, it is too late to move out important belongings or cherished keep-sakes. Perhaps a person could help bail out water in the basement, but if water is flooding in that quickly, you probably should not be down there (at least one person in Staten Island died after getting stuck in a basement).
I remember having similar feelings on the eve of Katrina, when residents of New Orleans refused to evacuate. Other residents were confident that they could ride out the storm in the Superdome.
I know there are some people who are not able to evacuate–due to health, financial, or other reasons. I am not commenting on those people. My comment is limited to those who have the means to evacuate, but knowingly choose not to.
And, to answer the question I initially posed, apparently failing to evacuate is a crime in New York City.
Linda Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services, said the city works with nonprofit groups to coordinate the evacuation of homebound older residents. But if people are not in facilities like hospitals, she said, getting them to evacuate can be challenging.
“If a person does not want to leave their own home, we cannot force them,” she said.
In the end, only about half of the residents in Zone A around the city evacuated, officials estimated. In Midland Beach, residents said they believed that an even smaller percentage left their neighborhood.
Refusal to obey a mandatory evacuation order is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Yet the authorities rarely make arrests in such cases.
Officials now say they plan to conduct a thorough review of the Hurricane Sandy evacuation.
“We are going to look at people who left and people who didn’t, and we’re going to talk to them about why,” Mr. Holloway said.