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Decision to Evacuate Not Always Clear Cut for Residents

Ignoring hurricane evacuation orders stems from complex psyche, says expert

By Kristen Meriwether
Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 1, 2012 Last Updated: December 5, 2012
Related articles: United States » New York City
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People affected by flooding and fire from Hurricane Sandy get a ride in New York City Police Department trucks on Oct. 30, 2012, in the Breezy Point area of Queens in New York. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

People affected by flooding and fire from Hurricane Sandy get a ride in New York City Police Department trucks on Oct. 30, 2012, in the Breezy Point area of Queens in New York. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK—News of an impending dangerous storm heading to New York City began circulating as early as Thursday, Oct. 25, and government officials took to the airways early and often prior to Sandy’s arrival, but still, many New Yorkers chose to ride out the hurricane from their homes.

On Friday Mayor Michael Bloomberg began telling residents in low-lying zone A to prepare for evacuations, warning that mandatory evacuations would be announced Sunday.

Louie Sanchez left his home in Jacobi Houses in the Bronx to be with his girlfriend who lives on the sixth floor of the Wald Houses located in an evacuation zone next to FDR Drive on the Lower East Side. The couple then sat and watched in awe out the window as the river breeched its banks, crossed a baseball field and eventually FDR Drive.

“I never thought it would be flooded,” said Sanchez, 54.

The water continued to rise toward Wald Houses before getting stopped by a hill, which it never breeched. “Thank God for that hill,” Sanchez said.

Being on the sixth floor, Sanchez was able to safely survive the storm, albeit without power, but others were not so lucky. The Fire Department of New York reported over 500 people were rescued using swift water rescue citywide during Hurricane Sandy, including over 100 incidents at Coney Island alone.

Resources and Psychology

“Place like in New York or places where hurricane comes once in a while people have a difficult time interpreting the information in a safe way and acting it,” said Dr. Pallab Mozumder, who studies social behavior surrounding hurricanes.

Mozumder, who has studied these patterns in places that often deal with hurricanes, such as Florida, Louisiana, and Houston, said his research points to two factors: resources and psychological factors.

A lot of people just cannot afford to leave their houses and stay 3–4 nights outside of the danger zone, Mozumder said. “They don’t have the capacity, the money, or the transportation,” he said.

Shelters Unattractive

New York City’s mass transit system makes getting around easier than in the hurricane-prone areas Mozumder typically studies, and the city provided 76 free shelters, which included meals.

Joe Velez, 76, who also stayed at the Wald Houses during the storm, didn’t like the idea of a shelter. “That’s the worst place to go,” Velez said, listing bad food and cramped conditions as deterrents.

Disregarding Risk

“Some people … are not familiar with this kind of disaster and have no idea what it will do to them,” Mozumder said.

“They are listening to the news, but still, psychologically they cannot connect to making the decision (to leave). They have not seen it in the past and just underestimate the risk, thinking everything will be all right,” Mozumder said.

Last year Hurricane Irene did not live up to the hype, at least in the city, with only some areas experiencing flooding—nothing as catastrophic as Hurricane Sandy.

Mozumder said when people experience a false alarm, similar to what happened with Hurricane Irene last year, some decide that they chose correctly not to evacuate, and that positive experience sticks in their minds. Others remember the hassle of evacuating for nothing, and choose to stay home the next time.

“People’s psyche is very complex. The same piece of information and same incident will affect people in different ways,” Mozumder said.

Sanchez’s reasoning was that with the supplies the couple had, they could handle anything Hurricane Sandy brought. Being six floors up, they avoided a swift water rescue. However, watching water rush over multiple barriers will likely leave a lasting impression.

Sanchez said, “It was an experience of a lifetime.”

With additional reporting by Zachary Stieber

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