July 20, 2006

One third of Americans wouldn’t flee a storm-study

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - Less than a year after Hurricane Katrina
hammered the U.S. Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,300 people,
one third of Americans in southern states say they might ignore
an order to evacuate their homes before a storm, according to a
study released on Thursday.

Homeowners, whites and long-term residents were most likely
to opt to ride out storms, according to a poll in southern
states by The Harvard University School of Public Health.
Overall, 33 percent of respondents indicated they might not
leave their homes in the event of a storm.

"It will be a challenge for public officials to convince
many of these people to leave their homes because they view
their homes as safe and evacuating as dangerous," said Robert
Blendon, the Harvard professor who conducted the survey.

Last year's Atlantic hurricane season saw a record 28
tropical storms, of which 15 strengthened into hurricanes,
including Katrina, which destroyed large swaths of New Orleans.
Officials expect 13 to 16 tropical storms for 2006.

The Harvard study, of 2,029 adults in Alabama, Florida,
Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina
and Texas found 68 percent of people believed their homes were
strong enough to survive a storm and 67 percent worried about
their safety in a shelter, where they felt they would risk
unsanitary conditions and the threat of violence.

In issuing evacuation orders, authorities tend to focus
more heavily on the risk of storm surges and inland flooding,
rather than the wind damage many individuals worry about.

"People don't realize that water is the big issue, not the
wind," said Peter Judge, public information officer at the
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, currently preparing
for Tropical Storm Beryl, the second cyclone of the 2006
Atlantic hurricane season.

Mike Stone, a spokesman for the Florida Division of
Emergency Management, said Floridians who decline to evacuate
often do not believe that they will not be rescued during the
worst of a storm.

"The reason for mandatory evacuations in the state of
Florida is there will be a time that essential services will be
suspended. Why? Because it is not safe for emergency workers to
transit the storm area," Stone said.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4
percentage points.