- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) — One in four people in Southern coastal states said they would ignore government hurricane evacuation orders, according to a Harvard University survey earlier this month.

The most common reasons respondents gave for not evacuating were confidence that their home was well-built, fears that roads would be too crowded and concern that evacuating would be dangerous.

“Public officials have to realize a substantial group of people are going to remain and be very dependent on rescue efforts after a storm hits,” said Robert Blendon, the Harvard health policy professor who directed the survey.

The telephone survey of 2,029 persons was conducted from July 5 to July 11.

All participants were 18 or older and lived in counties within 50 miles of the coastline in the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Nearly 50 percent said they had evacuated because of a hurricane. “These are people with a lot of experience with storms,” Mr. Blendon said.

When asked whether they would evacuate if government officials said a major hurricane would hit in the next few days, 67 percent said they would, 24 percent said they would not and the rest said they didn’t know or it would depend on the circumstances.

If it turned out they later needed rescuing, 75 percent of those who would or might stay voiced confidence they would be saved.

The rescue findings were surprising, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Blendon said.

Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, devastating southern Mississippi and flooding much of New Orleans. The storm killed more than 1,500 people in one of the largest natural disasters in modern U.S. history.

It’s noteworthy that 25 percent of the respondents who would not evacuate would not count on a rescue, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.

“There are many people who have an extremely low level of confidence in the government,” Dr. Redlener said.

Images of stranded cars and filthy hurricane shelters after Katrina seemed to have an effect on survey participants. Of those who said they might stay put in a hurricane, more than one in three said they felt evacuation would be dangerous.

“Pictures of cars being stalled and unable to move, and the idea that storms could be rolling over the highway — I think that really concerned people,” Mr. Blendon said.

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