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COVID-19

People need basic resources to evacuate safely from disaster zones

Andy Uhler Aug 26, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A resident runs into a home to save a dog while flames from the Hennessey fire get closer in Napa, California, on Aug. 18. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

People need basic resources to evacuate safely from disaster zones

Andy Uhler Aug 26, 2020
A resident runs into a home to save a dog while flames from the Hennessey fire get closer in Napa, California, on Aug. 18. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images
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As Hurricane Laura bears down on the Gulf Coast and wildfires continue to rage in Northern California, many Americans have been ordered to leave their homes for their own safety. Evacuations are difficult in normal times, but amid a health pandemic and recessed economy, getting out of town with what you need could be even tougher.

Taylor Thompson is a civil trial attorney in Beaumont, Texas — a town right along Hurricane Laura’s path. He said he left town about a day and a half ago to stay with his parents in Austin. But he’s not the only one there.

“This evacuation makes social distancing a little harder whenever you have your grandparents, your mom — who just finished chemotherapy — your dad and your uncles and aunts all in one house,” Thompson said.

He said the economic hardship of leaving town to stay with his parents is minimal for him. He’s not married and doesn’t have any kids. 

But Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said there are certain things individuals need to get out of harm’s way. 

“To evacuate, you need to have a car, you need to have a full tank of gas, you need to be able to potentially be able to rent a motel room for a night or two if the evacuation shelters are full,” she said.

And in the aggregate, those evacuation costs for Americans add up. 

“There is a number, that number is too big for us to count at the moment,” said Nora O’Brien, an emergency management consultant in California. She said it’s too big because we have disasters on top of disasters and a pandemic. 

She said because these events often straddle state lines, the federal government along with state and local governments have to coordinate resources to move folks from the path of a storm or a wildfire. But government spending is only one piece of the pie. 

“The private sector has a huge role in supporting community recovery when something happens,” O’Brien said. 

And when the evacuation order comes, people just need the resources to get out of a disaster’s way.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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