Hurricane Harvey: The Cost of Evacuating and the Cost of Staying

One refrain among the distressing stories coming out of the Texas Gulf Coast is that many people wanted to evacuate before Hurricane Harvey struck.  But they couldn’t leave.  They didn’t have the resources necessary to go.  From Think Progress:

The BBC recently interviewed residents in Rockport, Texas about why they decided to stay. [….] One woman, Judie, said she stayed because she had nowhere to go and didn’t have the money to leave.

As A. Mechele Dickerson concludes in a commentary in Fortune:

“To pay the costs—including transportation, housing, food, and other expenses—associated with an evacuation, the evacuee needs either savings, ample disposable income, or the capacity to finance an evacuation using short-term debt. [….] People stayed because they could not afford to leave.”

Evacuations in themselves can be expensive and dangerous.  But given that global warming may lead to stronger hurricanes and that the current US federal government is unlikely to do anything to mitigate climate change, perhaps we should be asking ourselves if we need to reevaluate our approach toward disasters such as these.

The question that I return to (from, admittedly, my dry vantage point up here in the northern part of the Lone Star State) is what we as a state and as a nation need to do to make available resources so that people who want to leave before a storm hits can do so.

Which really is a question of how to raise this issue with our elected officials.  In a state as conservative as Texas, where the ideas of fiscal responsibility and self-reliance permeate any sort of political decision, we’re not likely to find a receptive audience.

Do we really need to turn this into an argument about the cost of evacuation versus the greater cost of rescue and recovery missions?

Perhaps Harvey will spark more discussion of what we need to do to prepare for future storms.  But first, we may need to figure out the ways we need to talk about it in order to get a more humane response from our elected officials who are eager to put into place discriminatory regulation because it’s the “right thing to do,” but who are reluctant to do the right thing when it comes to helping out before actual threats.



  1. Siobhan says

    The question that I return to (from, admittedly, my dry vantage point up here in the northern part of the Lone Star State) is what we as a state and as a nation need to do to make available resources so that people who want to leave before a storm hits can do so.

    Tax the rich, give to the poor no strings attached.

    So, you know, good luck with that.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I wanted to post (links to) pictures of school buses sitting in flooded New Orleans parking lots after Katrina – but then I read the commentary on one such picture:

    That this photograph represents a bungled opportunity to have evacuated a substantial number of New Orleans residents ahead of Hurricane Katrina is not supported by evidence. Such a claim presumes an availability of resources (e.g., experienced drivers, fuel) and workable logistics (e.g., sufficient means of notifying and getting residents to departure points, sufficiently clear roads for multiple trips out of town and back, adequate facilities within a reasonable driving distance capable of providing shelter, food, and water to a large number of people for an indeterminate period of time on short notice) that may or may not have been present. (There’s no guarantee that all the buses shown in this picture were even in working condition.) And, given the particular geography of New Orleans, any such evacuation would have had to have begun well in advance of Hurricane Katrina to avoid exposing residents to the potential danger of being stuck in buses on traffic-clogged roads in the path of an approaching hurricane. … residents of New Orleans received no pre-Katrina warning from federal or state officials, nor from hurricane or engineering experts, that the city’s leveescould breach and fail. They weren’t looking to jump aboard buses and evacuate because they thought they were relatively safe; they didn’t anticipate that levee construction problems would end up destroying their homes and lives.

  3. Bruce says

    An alternative interpretation might be that all Texans should consider trying to move to the USA before Texas seceds again. Remain at your own risk. Failure to emigrate is in this sense perhaps a self-caused risk, for those rich enough to do so.

  4. coragyps says

    “In a state as conservative as Texas”

    This frigging state is blessed with a governor, lieutenant governor, and a majority in the legislature that aren’t too well described by “conservative.” “Reactionary” or maybe “misanthropic assholes” comes a lot closer to capturing it. That’s not to say that they bungled this event by not properly evacuating people – Pierce’s post makes a very good point – that ain’t easy. But my money is on them screwing over the poor, and providing all kinds of relief to the people whose housed bordered the golf course.

  5. says

    Regarding comment #1: Arranging transportation and temporary shelter for evacuees doesn’t strike me as “no strings attached” grants.

    And following up on #2 and #4: Evacuating a city–and doing so safely and in a timely manner–is necessarily a complicated process, further complicated by the fact that communication seems to be key here. Are people warned in enough time what problems could potentially arise? What factors might prevent them from taking messages about potential disasters seriously? Etc.

    We have a two party system in Texas: moderate Republicans and ultra-conservative Republicans. Disheartening on a good day….