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People need basic resources to evacuate safely from disaster zones

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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.

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.

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