Opinion: Safe disaster evacuation is everyone’s business

In 2005, Uncle Peck and Aunt Viv’s home in New Orleans faced the catastrophic epicenter of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath. They and their daughter, Heidi, just a year or two older than me, lost everything.

We collected our toys, lots of stuffed animals, action figures, legos, robots, DVDs, and shipped them to Texas, their source of refuge.

Then Hurricane Rita struck, and they fled again.

Despite all they lost, they escaped with their lives, unlike many. Evacuating and listening to government direction saved them. If directed to, we all must evacuate under mandatory direction, not just for ourselves, but for others as well.

The warnings issued before this year’s storm-of-the-century, Hurricane Florence, were heeded by many, but not all. In total, around 1.7 million people were ordered to evacuate.

On Sept. 13, I watched fraught CNN anchors report the great-for-ratings drama of the hurricane on pristine beach fronts in coastal North Carolina. The anchors were shocked to see locals frolicking among the waves in anticipation of the Category 4 hurricane projected to make landfall within hours.

Perhaps they should be more accustomed to anticipating a certain amount of innate human selfishness in noncompliance. That doesn’t make it right but, instead, simply expected.

Graphic by Diamond Pham

Everyone has an instinctive desire to protect one’s property by oneself. This impulse is understandable Who is going to protect my stuff with as much fervor as I will? but must be suppressed for the good of the community. It is not only homeowners and the stubborn who are put in harm’s way; first responders die trying to rescue those that stay behind.

There are other, very, legitimate reasons why people stay behind. Oftentimes, low-income individuals have an impossible task of finding transportation out of a storm’s path and finding shelter if and when they flee. Some stay to protect their pets. Disabled people face specific obstacles.

While government provides some assistance, it is not nearly enough.

In order to protect both civilian and first responder lives, it is worth the government offsetting the loss of income that workers expect to incur from evacuating.

Additionally, publicizing free transportation and out-of-town accommodations is key to increasing low-income evacuations. The government should have shelter options for individuals with pets and physically aid disabled people in their exit.

Even if the government does those things, though, there’s still the issue of the people who literally don’t have the ability to evacuate.

Some prisons in South Carolina refused to evacuate inmates. Not only does this obviously put the prisoners’ lives at risk, but it potentially puts any personnel (guards, prison staff) in danger as well.

In fact, people under the protection of the government were abandoned, trapped in feet of floodwater, during Hurricane Katrina. According to the Human Rights Watch, 517 prisoners were never found.

Advanced warning of Florence made it exceedingly clear that there was a risk of up to 20 feet of floodwater. Nevertheless, the Department of Corrections refused to evacuate.

This is not even close to a moral dilemma and, moreover, the hypocrisy of a government institution not complying with its own government’s mandatory evacuation orders is staggering enough to warrant action.

If waterboarding is considered torture, then forcing prisoners to wallow in neck-high (or higher) water during life-threatening storms surely is as well.

Everyone must evacuate (or be evacuated) from a potential disaster zone. It saves lives. It is cost-effective. And it remains the most moral course of action. Whether it is a fire, earthquake, or hurricane, it is imperative that we, rule-questioners, follow rules and obey orders.

Zachary Freiman PO ’20 is a Music and Public Policy Analysis double major from Sleepy Hollow, NY. He seeks retribution for Merrick Garland in everything he does.

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