Evacuating During A Natural Disaster Is An Issue Of Privilege

Photo: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images.
It might be a long time before we know the full impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas. But as the city of Houston and the surrounding areas continue to face devastating flooding, some people are asking why people didn't evacuate the city.
First, Mayor Sylvester Turner didn't give the order to evacuate, fearing that people would get stuck on the road, which happened during Hurricane Rita in 2005. "You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road," he said in a press conference Sunday. "If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare."
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The sentiment was echoed by Marshall Shepherd, who directs an atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. He tweeted, "People disproportionately die in cars from floods, so evacuation is not as straightforward a call as seems."
And while that assessment is true, the decision of evacuating or not also comes down to privilege. For people who are poor, older, or have a physical or mental condition, evacuating during a natural disaster can be almost impossible.
Scientist Mika McKinnon created a Twitter thread explaining why. She started by sharing a photo of the precipitation predictions in Houston and wrote, "Please be gentle on people for the choices they're making. This monster is way off the scale of normal."
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For low-income people in particular, missing a day of work or leaving their belongings behind is unthinkable. They might live paycheck-to-paycheck (as 78% of Americans have at some point) and can't afford to lose wages for an unknown number of days.
It's also costly to leave, and it's likely low-income families don't have the funds to evacuate. Along with paying for gas, many people would have to find a place to stay, particularly as space in shelters is limited, which can be difficult and costly.
On top of those financial factors, getting assistance from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can take a long time, and folks are not in a position to wait during a natural disaster.
Evacuating is also difficult for the elderly and those who have physical or mental disabilities, as Houston resident Kam Franklin pointed out.
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Many people with disabilities simply can't leave their houses, and more often than not, they don't have someone to help them. And older folks meet the same difficulties, with the addition of stress and likely attachment to their home.
As the situation in Houston gets more dire, it's important that we're compassionate towards those who decided to remain home. And if you have the means to help out, here's a guide on how to help the Harvey victims no matter where you are in the country.
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