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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

After Katrina, coastal residents reluctant to evacuate, Harvard survey finds

Almost two years after Hurricane Katrina, nearly a third of the people who live along the coastline from North Carolina to Texas say they would not evacuate if ordered to do so, according to a Harvard survey, up from almost a quarter of people who told researchers last year they would stay in their homes.

Fewer people who live in the New Orleans metropolitan area –- 14 percent –- said they wouldn’t leave. But 61 percent of the respondents in the New Orleans area said they didn’t know where the nearest shelter was, and 54 percent were sure they would be rescued if they stayed home.

"Public officials need to be concerned that the further we get from the severe hurricanes of 2005, the less willing people are to evacuate," Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in comments released with the survey today. "Officials need to remind people that many homes are vulnerable to major storms. They also need to ensure safe evacuation routes are available and the public is aware of them."

The latest survey, conducted last month, asked 5,406 people who lived in counties within 20 miles of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico how prepared they were for a hurricane. Almost half of them had lived in places that had already been hit by damaging hurricanes.

Three-quarters of residents who said they wouldn’t leave thought their homes would be safe during a hurricane. More than half were afraid that evacuation routes would be too crowded; about a third worried that leaving would be dangerous; and a third also were concerned about theft or damage to their homes. About a quarter didn’t want to leave their pets.

If they did have to leave their homes, about two-thirds said they were most concerned that shelters would be dirty, lack clean water and be too crowded. Almost two-thirds of respondents thought they would be exposed to sick people and have no medical care.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:27 PM
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