Mayor Right Not To Order Evacuation?

Hurricane Harvey Flooding Houston, Image Credit

Honestly, I haven’t been paying much attention of the Houston hurricane except to occasionally view a few photos of the aftermath and to keep up with how rescue and recovery efforts are going. I do hope these folks stay safe.

Anyway, I recently read an article in The New York Times with a similar title as this blog post (guess where I got the idea from) because it caught my eye. “Right NOT to evacuate,” I thought. Really?

After all, it seems to me that THE right action here would be to evacuate from an obviously dangerous situation, especially when you have time to do so, however, the author of the article asserts that:

“It is logistically impossible to evacuate millions of people from low-lying coastal areas ahead of a major hurricane. The disastrous evacuation in preparation for Hurricane Rita in 2005 proved the case.”

Sure, evacuating millions sounds like an impossible task for government officials anywhere even with days to plan for and execute it. And, besides, many folks are going to ignore the call to evacuate because that’s just human nature and likely because they’ve “been there and done that” before and found nothing bad happened to them or their homes when they did heed the call.

Looking only at the numbers from previous orders to evacuate there’s something to said for not calling for mass evacuation; the author goes on to state that:

“In total, some 130 people died in that [Hurricane Rita] evacuation, more than have ever perished in a hurricane in the state’s history, with the exception of the 1900 Galveston storm. Of those deaths, about half occurred before the storm hit Texas.”

Hmmm… that does make a compelling case for not evacuating, and if we measure success of calling for evacuation or not in death toll numbers (which currently stands at 14 as of this writing) then odds are that not ordering mass evacuation was the right move:

“While we do not have any hard numbers yet, my guess is that we will eventually learn that something less than 10 percent of the homes in the Houston region have been flooded by this storm. Had a general evacuation been called, 90 percent of the people would have evacuated for no reason.”

Ok, no reason to sound the alarm bells if we don’t need to. That said, maybe something more could have been done to ONLY evacuate folks expected to be directly affected by storm surge? Perhaps authorities did so and I’m just not aware of it.

Regardless, even if authorities don’t order mass evacuation there’s no reason for individuals and families to stay put if they have the means and ability to evacuate… we know for sure they would have had the warning time to do so, at least with respect to most hurricanes.

Of course, if I’d lived in a hurricane-prone area most of my life I would probably be quite hesitant to leave for a variety of reasons.

What would you have done? Stayed put and hoped for the best or high-tailed it out of there?

There is one wildcard here and that’s the flooding caused by rainfall which is difficult to predict yet still very dangerous:

“We can predict with reasonable accuracy what areas will be flooded by storm surge based on the forecast and elevations. But flooding from rainfall is highly unpredictable and variable based on the dynamics of each particular rain event. Rarely will we know days in advance which areas will be flooded.”

And this is where it gets dicey, in my opinion, to stay put. Even if authorities can reasonably predict where storm surge will flood, they can’t do so with flooding from rainfall. So, why stay put and take the chance?

Besides, even if you didn’t perish directly from the storm you could be putting rescue workers in greater peril trying to rescue you when they didn’t need to OR you could be taking away their time and efforts from someone else who really does need their help.

My advice: during the next hurricane go visit your in-laws whom you’ve been telling you’re going to come visit for the past ten years now but something always seems to come up last minute so you have to cancel the trip, lol.

FYI, here’s another good article on Why Hurricane Harvey became so extreme that was a good read if interested.


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10 thoughts on “Mayor Right Not To Order Evacuation?”

  1. Original NYT article is politically motivated trash to support current mayor of Houston, a Democrat, who made a series of really bad decisions…….another Liberal Lawyer, long-tenured state legislator, wanna be leader.

    Decision wasn’t “All or Nothing”. Low areas could have had mandatory evacuation prior to the storm arriving.

    I’ve lived through 15+ hurricanes, but we lived on high ground. Those living on low ground or near the beach or waterways ALWAYS evacuated and didn’t listen to the [your choice] Governor, Mayor, Selectman, etc.

    Bad Decision 1. The facts are the mayor waited too late to make a decision and the storm developed into Worst Case.

    Bad Decision 2. Then the mayor took the decision of lesser risk and doomed those living on low ground.

    Rationalization (CYA). The mayor then concluded that late forced evacuation would have caused gridlock and killed more citizens. Democrats always think they know better. Democrats in Houston just sacrificed how many Texans?

    1. Ultimately it comes down to this: don’t wait for your choice of elected official to make the decision for YOU. If you know you live in low ground and are likely to be in serious trouble when it floods then it’s on YOU for not choosing to evacuate.

      So you’re saying that the mayor should have ordered late “forced” evacuation of the entire city? Perhaps but people are stupid and, yes, the gridlock could have been a serious problem for MANY people who wouldn’t have otherwise been affected. Would they have died as a result? I don’t know as we can only speculate.

      1. No, you’ve misinterpreted my post. The entire city was not mentioned.

        Every time Houston gets hit with a Cat 2 Storm, the same areas flood. The mayor should have evacuated these and surrounding neighborhoods………BEFORE the storm hit……a Cat 4 hurricane.

        Based on estimated flooding escalation, the mayor should have evacuated the next level of higher elevation of low areas, areas adjacent to waterways, spillways & reservoirs.

        My point is its not evacuate the entire city or nothing! There’s probably 5-7 elevation groups/areas. The first 2-3 should have been under mandatory evacuation order prior to the storm landing.

        Once the storm hit, there was no effective evacuation possible. Shelter in place is the only option.

        The decisions made by the Houston mayor left the most vulnerable and probably poorest residents in the worst position on the lowest ground. Granted, nobody could foresee the storm stalling and Houston receiving 52 inches of rain in 2-3 days.

  2. The “human nature” side of me screamed OF COURSE YOU HAVE TO GET AWAY FROM THE BAD THING COMING AT YOU!!!!! But then the sensible side learned of the dangers (and futility) of mass evacuation. That made the difference.

    I live in earthquake country. I have never seen nor experienced typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, locusts, etc. My state will never warn us that an earthquake is imminent. I reluctantly agree that NOT evacuating was the right call here, despite how absolutely loony that sounds at face value. Leaving the area en masse would have caused many, many more deaths.

    1. Well, you really do have to make decision for yourself and not worry too much about what our elected “masters” tend to say. I’d ALWAYS encourage folks to get away from that “bad thing” if at all possible, it’s just the sensible action to take. I think the right call was NOT calling for a mass evacuation of the entire city. That said, it would have been wise to call for evacuations of those folks most likely to be impacted… that could have made a different.

  3. I’ve seen the chaos of even small evacuations from a large metro area. It’s a”damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. People need to pay attention and plan ahead, if possible. But the truth is,when nature strikes, we don’t always have an option.

    1. Yes, I would hate to be a public official in this situation as you really are “damned if you do…” Ultimately, you have to take care of yourself first and foremost.

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