You'd be crazy not to evacuate, they said.
It's not worth the risk to stay, they implored.
I live in a South Florida town called Doral, just west of Miami. It is about as far away from the coast as one can get in South Florida without ending up literally in the Everglades. No part of Doral was under an evacuation order during the lead-up to Hurricane Irma.
Despite not being in an evacuation zone, the messages didn't stop coming. Family, friends, people I hadn't spoken to for years - all begging me to leave. My boyfriend and I had firmly planned on staying - we live in a modern apartment complex that looks like a concrete bunker - but eventually they got to us. The hysteria of our friends combined with images from Barbuda and St. Martin took their toll, and we decided to get in our car and go.
Now, I think that everyone should have an evacuation plan. If the order comes down, you should at least try to leave - whether that be to a friend's house, a shelter, whatever. The people who give Mother Nature the middle finger and decide to ride it out in their beach house for no reason other than stubbornness are definitely being stupid. But my experience in evacuating has shown me that just "get up and go" is an option that is simply not available to everyone.
1: It's Expensive as Hell
Ok, granted, shelters are free, as is transportation to them in many cases. But shelters are and should be a last resort for people with nowhere else to go - no city is ever going to have enough space in its shelters for all of its citizens. When people say "evacuate", what they typically mean is, "get of town". So that's what my boyfriend and I did.
When the entire state of Florida is trying to flee for the hills, gas and hotels are scarce. We took what we could get. We left Doral late on Friday night and returned on Monday afternoon. This little jaunt to Gainesville and back cost us:
- Approximately $60 in gas
- Approximately $545 in 3 nights of hotel rooms
And that's after the nearly $200 we had spent on Hurricane supplies when we planned on staying in Doral.
We are very lucky in that dropping ~$1000 out of the blue is a thing that we can do. For people living paycheck-to-paycheck, that is simply not an option.
2: Employers Can Be Evil
We both work for a company where working remotely once in a while is never a problem - a place where if you say you can't be in one day, that's the end of the story. We also are financially stable enough that even if we don't get paid for our days out of the office, it doesn't matter. For so many people, this simply isn't feasible. So many people living paycheck-to-paycheck desperately need all of their shifts to make ends meet. And even when money isn't the main consideration, some people can't just take time off. A friend of mine is facing failing out of a program because she wasn't allowed to make up a quiz - a quiz she missed because she was evacuating her four children out of Homestead, FL. I read countless Tweets and Facebook statuses of people who were unable to ask for shifts off from grocery stores or restaurants - even though of course those establishments ended up being closed anyway.
3: It's Really Tough to Leave with Kids, Pets, or the Elderly
My boyfriend and I have no children. We have no pets. We are not living with or near any elderly relatives. For us, evacuating was as easy as throwing some stuff in a suitcase, jumping in the car, and going. How different would the scenario be if we had babies? A relative relying on oxygen? Four dogs and a cat? Or what if one of us relied on medication that required refridgeration? The possibilities are endless. Or what if you don't have a car?
Like I said earlier, I honestly think that if you are asked to evacuate you should at least try. But the chorus of people all across the Internet lamenting and wondering about why people don't just leave are missing the bigger picture. Evacuating requires money, it requires time, it requires transportation, and it requires a low-maintenance family. Simply put, picking up your life and leaving requires a level of privilege that so many people simply don't have.