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Survey: Many won't flee hurricane

Survey also finds coastal residents unprepared for major storm.

BOSTON | July 24, 2007

"Public officials need to be concerned that the further we get from the severe hurricanes of 2005, the less willing people are to evacuate."

—Robert J. Blendon

Nearly one-third of people living in high-risk hurricane areas would refuse government orders to evacuate in a major hurricane - up from 23 percent one year ago, according to a Harvard survey released Tuesday. Only 14 percent of residents in New Orleans, however, would refuse such an order, it said.

"Public officials need to be concerned that the further we get from the severe hurricanes of 2005, the less willing people are to evacuate," said Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health which conducted the survey. "Officials need to remind people that many homes are vulnerable to major storms. They also need to ensure safe evacuation routes are available and the public is aware of them."

The survey also indicated that people were unprepared for a major hurricane. Twenty-three percent would run out of clean water after two days and 54 percent would run out after six days. Thirty-nine percent did not know where an evacuation center was located in their community. In New Orleans, 61 percent did not know the location of an evacuation shelter.

"It is worrisome that New Orleans, the site of one of the most severe hurricanes in U.S. history, has such a large proportion of people who don't know the location of an evacuation center," Blendon said. "An important priority for government and voluntary agencies should be to inform people of the location of shelters well before a storm hits."

New Orleans residents gave poor marks to government and voluntary agencies for the response to Hurricane Katrina. Seventy-eight percent said the response was fair to poor, compared to 39 percent of residents in other areas affected by a hurricane. Nineteen percent of New Orleans residents said the response was good or excellent, compared to 57 percent in other areas.

The results were based on interviews conducted June 18 to July 10 with 5,046 adults in eight states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Only residents living in counties within 20 miles of the coast were surveyed.

Among those who said they would refuse to evacuate, 75 percent said they believed their homes were well-built and they would be safe there. More than half - 56 percent - cited crowded roads as a reason for not leaving, while 36 percent said they felt evacuating would be dangerous. One-third of respondents were worried about their possession being stolen or damaged; 27 percent said they did not want to leave their pets.

The survey also reported that while low-income and minority residents were more willing to heed evacuation orders in the event of a major hurricane, they were also more likely to need help in evacuating.

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Hurricane Readiness in High-Risk Areas (data)

Hurricane Readiness in High-Risk Areas (charts)

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