After Matthew, some second-guess their decision
Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
October 18, 2016
MIAMI — Maureen Miller was among the 2 million people
ordered to evacuate coastal areas in the Southeast ahead of Hurricane
Matthew. Her family and their dog spent two nights in a hotel and
struggled through police roadblocks to return.
When they finally
got back, their Brunswick, Georgia-area home was
unscathed. Now they wish they had never left.
"I will never evacuate again," Miller said. "If we
stayed, we'd be fine. I'm sure there are a lot of people
who feel the same way."
Weather experts and government officials worry that
people who quickly packed up and left but whose homes
sustained little or no damage might be reluctant to
evacuate next time, leading to deadly consequences.
"We are a culture that seems to get angry if the
worst-case scenario doesn't happen and we prepare for
it," said Marshall Shepherd, director of the University
of Georgia Atmospheric Sciences Program. "I am
continually baffled at the people that seem to anger
that there is not more loss of life and destruction.
That is the point of evacuating."
An old hurricane adage says that people should hide from
the wind and run from the water. Much of the concern
about Hurricane Matthew was focused on its howling 145
mph winds. At its height, the system was a Category 4
storm. But the reason for the evacuations had more to do
with potential coastal storm surge.
Police check proof of residence on Sunday as
drivers come to the Bull River Bridge on their way to Tybee
Island in Georgia. Residents were allowed back to their homes
until 10 p.m. Sunday after Gov. Nathan Deal put an end to the
mandatory evacuation he called due to Hurricane Matthew.
"Nine out of 10 people who lose their lives in
hurricanes do so from the water, not the wind. And half of those are due
to storm surge," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the Miami-based
National Hurricane Center. "Many people do not realize the sheer power
Predictions in Florida called for storm surge of up to 9 feet above
normal, with large waves on top of that. While the surge did not quite
reach those levels, it did cause flooding and massive beach erosion in
places such as St. Augustine and Flagler Beach.
David Waters, spokesman for Brevard County emergency operations, said
some people on barrier islands began calling for help early Friday, but
first responders were not able to safely go out.
"I've talked to other families who have said things like, 'We're scared.
We wish we hadn't stayed,'" Waters said.
Others say the massive evacuations may have been an overreaction.
Retirees Rick and Judy Rumford live in a mobile home park just across a
two-lane highway from the surf in Flagler Beach. They evacuated inland
and returned Saturday to find their home virtually untouched aside from
debris in their small yard and an electrical outage.
Judy Rumford noted that sheet metal and porches were peeled off numerous
homes in their community, but her husband said he regretted evacuating.
The wind and storm surge weren't that bad, he said, and leaving just
wasn't worth the trouble.
"We'll think about it harder next time," Rumford said.
State officials were universal in urging people to leave storm
surge-prone areas, often using alarming terms such as "catastrophic
damage" or "major destruction." Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia said Sunday
that from his point of view, things went as they should have.
"To begin to nitpick and be Monday morning quarterbacks does not serve
any of us very well, and I would hope we do not see too much of that,"
Deal said. "By all measures, I think we have done a superior job
preparing for this, as best you could prepare."
In Atlantic Beach, Laura Twyman and her husband, Chad, reluctantly
relocated to a friend's condominium in nearby Jacksonville. Their home
was undamaged when they returned.
"I would rather be safe than sorry, and it's inconvenient. It's a pain.
You know what? We have a house to come back to. So I can't complain,"
Laura Twyman said.