Hurricane Florence is expected to hit parts of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia between Thursday and Friday. The storm is supposed to linger for days, bringing with it damaging winds, heavy rainfall, potentially “catastrophic” flooding and storm surges.
Mandatory evacuations have been issued in parts of these three states. And although many residents have already fled or are preparing to leave, some people will ultimately stay put. Against the advice of authorities, these folks will try to weather what is currently a Category 4 storm with 130-mph winds.
“Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Tuesday at a press conference. “Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”
This isn’t new. During any natural disaster, there are people who don’t evacuate for a number of reasons. For the elderly, disabled and those who don’t have easy access to a car, fleeing can be particularly challenging without proper support. Others stay behind because they’re worried about their property and the possibility of theft and looting, even though experts say such post-disaster crimes occur far less frequently than many people have been led to believe.
“Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”
Finances can also have a major impact on someone’s decision to not evacuate, said Sarah DeYoung, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s Institute for Disaster Management.
“Most people prefer to evacuate to friends and family, but if those networks aren’t within a few hours of driving, it becomes more difficult,” she said. “Also, the family or person leaving may consider alternatives such as hotels for shelter and that may not be financially possible for all families. The public shelter is oftentimes seen as a last resort but can provide a safe temporary location.”
There are also those who stay because they do not want to abandon pets or livestock, since many shelters only allow service animals. (Certain locations outside of the evacuation area ― including some hotels, veterinarians offices and kennels ― will accept family pets.)
And then there are those who have ignored evacuation orders in the past without any significant repercussions; they might think they’re facing a “boy who cried wolf” situation and aren’t in any real danger.
But if your loved ones are refusing to leave despite living in a mandatory evacuation zone, you should urge them to reconsider for their safety.
DeYoung said the best way to do this is to emphasize that this storm is unlike one they’ve weathered before and help them sort out any logistical details relating to their evacuation.
“People may make decisions based on past experiences, but the flooding and damage from this event may be catastrophic,” she said. “Families have different dynamics, but if you are trying to convince someone to leave, make sure first that they have the resources to do so. Offer a place for them and their pets to stay that makes the evacuation more feasible. Help connect them with transportation, a sheltering location and other supplies they might need.”
There’s no “magic bullet” that will convince your loved ones to leave, said Randy P. Quevillon, a founding member of the University of South Dakota’s Disaster Mental Health Institute. But he said it might help to say the evacuation order was very carefully considered before it was issued ― and stress that it wouldn’t have been issued if there weren’t a legitimate threat of danger.
“In a hurricane, there is nothing you can do by being there that can do any good at protecting your possessions. Getting out is your only effective way to safeguard loved ones and treasured possessions.”
Point out that taking these steps is the responsible thing to do, he said.
“In a hurricane, there is nothing you can do by being there that can do any good at protecting your possessions,” Quevillon said. “Getting out is your only effective way to safeguard loved ones and treasured possessions.”
Hilary Bergsieker, an assistant professor of psychology at University of Waterloo, has interviewed many hurricane survivors in her research. She found that some people, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, may decide to stay because they have strong ties to their community. Appealing to these bonds might help persuade a loved one to evacuate.
“Survivors often mention staying put to help friends and family, worrying that fleeing without these people would mean abandoning them,” Bergsieker said. “To encourage people from working-class backgrounds to evacuate to safety, emphasize that their loved ones want them to be safe and survive, even if it means leaving home for a short while. In this sense, escaping to safety is an act of loyalty and enacting the hopes others have for you.”
Try to remind concerned friends and family members that people in other communities are ready to welcome them during this time of need.
“You can trust that evacuating will not leave you vulnerable and alone, but instead surrounded by people who want to help you,” Bergsieker said.