I’ve been reading a lot of mean-spirited comments regarding people who are not evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma. After spending a lifetime as a television journalist, I’ve learned that there are many real and legitimate reasons why people do not flee from an impending storm. I have been one of those people for most of my adult life.
In September of 1979, I was a frightened cub reporter who said goodbye to my evacuating parents and siblings and then drove to the television station where I worked. I would be there, in and out of the Hurricane Frederic’s wicked weather, for days. Did I want to pack up and get out of town? You bet! Could I? No. The career I had chosen required me to stay behind. It required me to do my best to keep the viewers in my area informed, calm, and safe. The storm eventually passed and my family returned.
25 years later, in September of 2004, I was a frightened, seasoned anchor who said goodbye to my evacuating children and then drove to the television station where I worked. I would be there, in and out of the wicked weather caused by Hurricane Ivan, for days. You see the pattern. It was a pattern that replayed itself every hurricane season when a storm came to town.
Who doesn’t evacuate? And, why? Well, of course, there are “hurricane cowboys” who think it will be adventurous to ride out a storm, even though they have the time and resources to get out of town. And, I'll agree with you that they are irresponsible, reckless, and so very foolish. Sometimes there are those who truly believe the storm will not be “that bad.” And, they live (hopefully) to regret not taking the warnings seriously. But, those two groups are in the minority.
Most of the ones who stay behind simply can’t leave for one reason or another. First responders, hospital personnel, and journalists are just a few of the people who can’t evacuate. Ministers stay to keep watch over their churches and congregations.Sometimes people are recovering from surgery, or have medical conditions that prohibit them from packing up and heading out. Some refuse to leave aging and sick family members who can't evacuate. Some people have no transportation. Some don’t have the financial resources. Some can’t get away until it’s too late- the roads are gridlocked and there’s no fuel.
If you have been reading my blog, you know that circumstances put me in the Orlando area ahead of this storm.The scheduling was coincidental, accidental, or providential depending on how you want to look at it. I drove by a stretch of Orlando's Highway 192 late yesterday that was lined with hotels, grocery stores, and gas stations. They were all open. Someone has to stay and take care of the customers—the customers who are hunkering down and the customers who are trying to get out of town. I thought of the front desk personnel at hotels. Instead of leaving for safer ground, they are still here, making sure that those from mandatory evacuation areas (like Miami and the Florida Keys for instance) are checked in, tucked in, and calmed down. Both of my daughters have careers that keep them from leaving. (Funny how life plays out sometimes, isn’t it?) My son-in-law is a doctor, my sister is a nurse, and they also cannot leave. Thankfully, we are not under mandatory evacuation orders, and we have safe places to go. But we all know it is going to be a difficult and frightening ride. The only upside is that we will be close to each other and my girls won’t have to face this monster from a distance of hundreds of miles away from their mama-bear mother.
Many people in Florida have never seen a hurricane this large and powerful. They are frightened. They are apprehensive. They are already weary. Every westward or eastward blink that Hurricane Irma makes spikes the anxiety meter.
So, here’s what I propose. Hold off on criticizing the people who have not evacuated. There will be time enough to take to task those who defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed when they absolutely could have, and should have, left. Instead, pray for them. Pray for their safety and that their foolishness will not endanger law enforcement and/or medical personnel. Pray for the ones who can’t leave. Pray for people who stay to help others. Pray for the people who stay to inform others. Pray for the ones whose jobs demand their presence. Pray for the ones who can’t leave because of health or family concerns. Pray for the people who open their homes and businesses to those who have nowhere else to go. Pray for the ones who have evacuated and for the ones who are stuck in evacuation traffic. Pray for the ones who are not in mandatory evacuation areas, but who will most certainly experience pain and loss of some kind.
Florida will appreciate it. And, we will thank you on the other side of it.