Evacuation Realities This Week

Sigh showing evacuation route ahead of hurricane

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not considering evacuation. You are probably not one of the hundreds of thousands of people who, right now, are displaced, wondering when they can head back home, trying to figure out if home still exists!

It’s been an astonishing couple of weeks. Evacuation orders impacted tens of thousands in the Bay Area of California and over 1.5 million people in Louisiana and Texas!

The current evacuation situation is calming, but . . .

As of today (September 1, 2020), all hurricane evacuation orders have apparently been lifted. A few new orders are still coming out in California for specific wildfire hot spots.

For many, the nightmare of cleaning up has already begun – in the worst cases, with no safe water and no electricity. (Read on for some more details.)

When will it be your turn to evacuate?

My “job” here at Emergency Plan Guide is to help make people aware of potential disasters. Maybe you’ve never had to evacuate before. But that good fortune may be running out. Not because you “deserve” to have anything bad happen, but because the number and the intensity of disasters is increasing. Take a look.

Bigger and fiercer wildfires still threaten the West.

For example, in California, where wildfires are of course expected this time of year, we have never seen so many at one time!!  Two weeks ago there were 560 wildfires burning simultaneously! The fires grew so quickly and so big that they outgrew their original names and came to simply be called “complex” fires! 

We watched real-time maps that showed the creeping growth of the CZU Lightning Complex, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the LNU Lightning Complex, in the North Bay near San Francisco, and the SCU Lightning Complex in the South and East Bay.

And did you notice the word “Lightning” in each of these names? The record-breaking heat I wrote about last week was accompanied by thousands of lightning strikes. These strikes sparked the smaller fires that joined to make up the complex fires.

Even today, while temperatures are somewhat cooler, more thunderstorms and lightning strikes are expected over the next few days. (And they don’t bring any rain with themselves.)

I have lived in CA for most of my adult life – and Lightning Complex fires are new to me! The way experts are talking, it looks as though this is just the beginning . . .

The peak for hurricane season has yet to arrive.

Thousands of miles away, along the Gulf Coast, it was a one-two punch as Louisiana’s first Category 4 storm made landfall. Tropical storm Marco was right behind. This year’s hurricane season had been forecast to be “extremely active.” and the forecast is proving accurate. This is the first hurricane season on record in which 9 tropical storms formed before August and 13 formed before September. And the historical peak of the season doesn’t come for another couple of weeks!

As I’m writing this, the National Hurricane Center warns that 3 more storms are forming in the Atlantic.

If an evacuation were called right now, would you be ready?

This year we added another book to our Q&A Mini-Series. It carries the title “Evacuate!”  (With exclamation mark.) The intro to this mini-book asks four simple questions that I think are worth reviewing right now.

  1. Are you confident you would HEAR the call to evacuate?
  2. Do you think you would BELIEVE whoever made the call?
  3. Are you sure you would UNDERSTAND what you are being asked to do?
  4. Are you PREPARED for what you would need to have and do?

Now like the other booklets in the Mini-series, this book goes on to discuss about a dozen preparedness issues associated with evacuations. Along the way, it helps you answer these four questions.

Do you need a quick review of your readiness to evacuate? Grab a copy of the booklet and take the time to read the questions, consider the answers and fill in the blanks about your own situation. Here’s the direct link to Amazon.

But wait, there’s more . . .

But because I wrote this before the continuing spread of COVID-19, here are some more evacuation issues that have come up. You’ll want to build them into your own evacuation planning.

COVID-19 has made recent evacuations more difficult and longer-lasting.

In California, the high heat, hundreds of fires and the number of fire fighters incapacitated because of COVID-19 (including the thousands of inmates that usually support fire-fighting efforts) means that resources have been stretched much thinner than usual. Even though National Guard troops have been activated, and crews, aircraft and bulldozers have been arriving from other states, the big complex fires are still less than 50% contained. Evacuees are facing more days of waiting to try to get back home.

Social distancing and quarantine requirements for ill patients have further complicated matters.

Sign for Evacuation Assembly Point marked FULL

In Louisiana, one emergency planner trying to move people out of the way said that 2/3 of their bus capacity was lost because buses could be only filled up part way. It was the same story with community shelters. People were sent to hotels to maintain distancing.

In Texas, the Circuit of the Americas race track was being used as an intake center where evacuees could get a voucher for a local Austin hotel. But thousands showed up, where only hundreds were expected. Available hotel rooms were full by Wednesday, the day before the storm hit. In some cases, even where rooms were available, they couldn’t be used because staff had been furloughed or was sick because of the pandemic.

And more people could not afford to evacuate at all because they’ve been unemployed for weeks. They had to depend on public shelters or simply ride it out.

Recovery is now underway – but it’s going to be tough.

For hundreds of thousands of people, even if they can get back home to begin clearing debris and/or rebuilding, they’ll have to work and live without electrical power or water.

These difficult conditions add to the disaster. In Louisiana, half the 16 casualties of Hurricane Laura have come from carbon monoxide poisoning as people used generators to offset loss of utility electricity.

Mayor Nic Hunter of Lake Charles, Louisiana posted on Facebook: “There is barely a trickle of water coming out of most faucets in the homes of Lake Charles.” No estimated time of restoration for utilities was mentioned. “Make sure you understand the above reality and are prepared to live in it for many days, possibly weeks,” Hunter wrote.

Is it time to double down on your own preparations?

A doubling up of disaster – COVID-19 plus storm, or earthquake, or heat wave – will stretch everyone’s capacity. Now would be a good time to review your own preparations with regards to your emergency supplies (both home and Go-Bags) and your readiness to evacuate.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Really, our Mini-Series booklets were designed just for this review purpose. Check them out.

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