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September 12th, 2008
08:44 PM ET

Ike: Why some people stay behind

Michael S. Gittelman
Senior Photojournalist

It seems it's always the same at these cataclysmic events; the poor folks suffer the most.

We talked with a woman today whose front yard filled with 2 ft of water in just the 20 minutes we were there. She has no place to go with her teenage children, so there they sit.

They are afraid to leave because of the pet snake, lizard, two scorpions, a tarantula, at least six dogs, and several cats. They seem to be in a state of denial, but the truth is they can't afford to leave town.

The rich folk always seem to fare better in these things. We didn't see anyone in the upper middle class neighborhoods staying around because of their pets. The fact is, a doctor we met was going to lock the dog in the pantry, while she and hubby went to her sister's place on higher ground!


Filed under: Hurricane Ike
soundoff (179 Responses)
  1. Charles

    Wow! The ignorance on this thread is breathtaking! Of course it's easy to sit up there on your high horse and judge everyone who is less fortunate than you when you have NO idea what people go through to survive and just how little resources the poor have in this country. Just because YOU have the resources to get out and it may seem so simple to you doesn't mean everybody is able to also. We saw the same thing with Katrina. "Those people should have just gotten out" or "It's been long enough, how long does it take to get back on your feet?" Easy to judge when you have the means to leave and the financial resources to sustain yourself while you're displaced. People in this country have no idea what it's like for these people.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:56 am |
  2. Barb from the Jersey Shore

    Mr. Gittelman, it's compassion for the plight of others (in this case, the poor) that exposes a layer of a story that might otherwise go unnoticed and adds to the historic record. Lovely work. I hope you and your team are safe.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:55 am |
  3. Bridget

    The sad fact is that poor people just don't have anywhere to go. They cannot afford a hotel, food to eat out, etc.

    I notice that animals are rarely discussed during hurricanes and tornados. They need protection also because they cannot 911 for help. More emphasis needs to be placed on the animals safety. This is very unfortunate.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:53 am |
  4. Carmen

    For the family in the article I think one very telling statement is "they seem to be in a state of denial." I think this happens more often than most people realize. Some people, when confronted with a disaster of unimaginable magnitude, DO go into a state of denial. They are not ignorant, stupid, or even purposely jepoardizing the lives of emergency workers. They don't know what else to do or how to do it. In the face of the overwhelming, they shut down, against all logic. Their decisions may seem foolish or crazy to us as we sit safe and comfortable at our computers, but we are not in their situation. More sympathy and less vitriol would really change this country. Are Americans really so hateful?

    September 13, 2008 at 8:52 am |
  5. Joel

    There is a lot of righteousness and selfishness in some of these e-mails, especially about people and their devotion to their pets. In many of these cases the people have probably rescued the pets and they have become part of their family. In other cases, even if people are poor and face almost insurmountable odds, their pets give them solace and refuge from some of these problems. It's not a case of family vs pets!

    September 13, 2008 at 8:50 am |
  6. roberta

    I have no problem with the fact that people choose to stay behind. It's their life and their decisions BUT....once that choice is made and the point of no-return comes, you need to deal with your decision, be it for the best or the worst outcome. People need to accept responsibility for their actions.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:47 am |
  7. Luzia Rifkowitz

    I lived through a hurricane, a typhoon. It destroyed our home. I was 7 months pregnant at the time, and required an emergency C-section the following day. I had a premature baby, and my husband and I had no place to bring our new baby. The shelter would have been unacceptable for a 3lb preemie! (Consider the hygiene issues.)
    We stayed in a hotel for two months, and then moved into a condo owned by a friend who reduced the rent for us. Needless to say, the experience was EXPENSIVE ! ! ! ! !
    It would be interesting to do an article on what the personal expense is for people living through these disasters...... loss of home, additional costs of new housing, additonal cost of buying new necessitites to replace old ones, loss of job and salary, etc., etc.!

    September 13, 2008 at 8:38 am |
  8. Melissa

    I would leave WITH my pet. That doctor has no heart nor should ever be given, sold, adopted a pet again. i honestly believe in the eye for an eye punishment. He/she deserves to be tied in a room, go through a man-made (if need be) storm and be scared to death alone and then if he/she was lucky enough to survive, given no treatment for their mental anguish. I cannot believe that, in this day and age, that people still are so thoughtless and cruel. Take your animals and yourself and leave...Like one person already wrote..walk, crawl, run, skip...ANYTHING...LEAVE!!! THERE'S NO EXCUSE FOR THIS!

    September 13, 2008 at 8:36 am |
  9. Peter

    I wonder if there were any buses like they had in New Orleans this time around for Hurricane Gustav. If they were prepared, this would not be an issue of poor people making it out in time, because the buses should be able to pick people up at a central location and take them to higher ground, in safe shelters. Sometimes plagiarism (or cut in paste) of good ideas makes sense, and this is a good example of one.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:33 am |
  10. Dawn

    I agree with what alot have said. They were warned and told it will be deadly. If they have children but chose to stay and something horrible happens to one of those children then that is something they are going to have to live with for the rest of their life. They always say you should have some sort of an emergency plan/kit. They need to start saving up money and putting it asside for situations like this. My prayers to all.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:32 am |
  11. Pepper

    There is difference between a bunch oh idiots thinking the hurricane is just wind and water and people who cannot leave their homes because they CANNOT!

    in response to the 2 main accusations here...

    1) Ample time to leave?
    Only on Wednesday did we knew the severity of Ike. Making the decision of leaving everything you ever owned behind is not a easy as most of you here think. I am surprised the fear of losing everything doesnt scare you! Some people do make that decision and leave and some just cannot cos they cannot afford the gas and a hotel room.
    And in most cases there was no gas left in an y local stations by thursday afternoon. Some greedy people emptied all the gas.

    2) why not take the public transport and stay in shelters?
    You cannot take all you have with you unlike in your car! Once the option of taking your car is gone, you HAVE to really leave everything behind!

    I am not saying these people are being very smart risking their lives staying but it beats me how most posting here have total lack of empathy!

    September 13, 2008 at 8:32 am |
  12. Pam

    I have a dog that I love and can 100% say there's no way in hell i would leave him behind to drown as I left to go to a relative's home. it's simple – you get in the car, you put the dog in the car. no brainer. i don't even know these people, but i'm sitting here thinking about this poor dog i don't even know scared to death or God forbid, dead by now, all alone.

    On the spike in gas prices, yes, another "excuse" for the oil companies to raise gas prices and our government to sit back and do nothing – letting our reserves go unused. I hope whoever is in the white house next time around is more sensible.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:25 am |
  13. Joe

    How could you possibly afford to feed all those animals and yet be too poor to leave. I see some discord there.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:24 am |
  14. Hollis

    I doubt anyone reading this board has lived a life completely void of bad judgement or poor decisions that put themselves or others in some sort of harm.

    Ever had just one drink more than you should have and gotten behind the wheel of a car? Tried to beat a train? Driven over the speed limit because you were late? Stayed with an abusive spouse?(etc.)

    I'm not defending or condeming those who stay, but I do understand that there are a whole host of reasons why people sometimes have trouble doing what is best for themselves and their familes.

    What does stun me is the inability for people to see this in themselves and to wish harm to others so that they don't have to pay taxes to help someone else out.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:22 am |
  15. Paige

    Well, we're upper middle class, and we never evacuate. Though we're in Destin, we've never had significant damage even from direct hits. If I were concerned, I would leave with my WHOLE family. There is no way I would leave my pets behind to fend for themselves. People like the doctor are the arrogant ones. They just don't get it. They are not more important than those they promised to care for and protect: yes, their pets.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:19 am |
  16. Sam

    How about people don't leave because the media is always over sensationlizing these events. Every hurricane seems to be the "mother of all storms" or the one that will bring "certain death". Unfortunately people don't take the warning seriously anymore because of the over dramtic coverage. The sad thing is the one time the media does get it right many people will suffer........

    September 13, 2008 at 8:11 am |
  17. Keith

    As my dear departed Dad used to say, you, "Can't make something idiot proof". The world will always have its share of ignorant people who simply don't know enough to get out of harm's way.

    I vividly recall all the "hurricane parties" that were held along the Mississippi Gulf Coast by such ignorant people back in the 1960s in the face of catastrophic Hurricane Camille. For many of them, those "parties" turned out to be their last.

    As George Santayana once said, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

    September 13, 2008 at 8:04 am |
  18. Jeanne Hudnall

    Many of the people in Houston chose to leave during Rita, and were on the road for 24 hours in order to reach San Antonio! The thought of that kept them home this time.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:01 am |
  19. Patrick

    As someone already pointed out, these areas get hit with hurricanes EVERY year. Obviously a hostile environment for humans, certain areas should not be INHABITED by humans. Seems like a big insurance scam that hurts the rest of the country to allow people to inhabit these areas.

    September 13, 2008 at 8:00 am |
  20. Phyllis

    I am so hurt reading the comments of so many Americans putting other Americans down because they do not think or feel the same way you do. If you have never walked in their shoes you are only guessing what you would do if you had nothing. I have lived in what I would call tough times with 3 children to raise by myself. The decisions I made were a lot different than when I had the comfy chair and a weekly pay check. to look forward to each week. I can not imagine what NOTHING must feel like.
    So think about what you say because all your help with used underwear, worn out furnture, and rude comments does not give anyone a sense of worth. Keep in mind somthing I was told many years ago, Choose Your Words Wisely.

    September 13, 2008 at 7:57 am |
  21. Kenny

    One of the reasons they stay is pretty simple. They see these idiotic news anchors setting up right in the path of the storm to do their live shots, and the public views that and says, "Hey, if they can ride this out and be in the storm itself, surely I'll be okay in my own home." When the National Weather Service says those that stay behind will face "certain death", news anchors need to follow that same advice. IIf they don't, people will ignore it. (And don't worry, your ratings will be fine covering the storm from a distance.)

    As far as their economic status, that has nothing to do with them evacuating or not. I don't care if I was broke – you better believe I would get the heck out of there. They had options, they just chose not to exercise them.

    September 13, 2008 at 7:57 am |
  22. jmy , lakewood , co.

    helping those that can't afford to leave should be on the list of priorities for fema. they know, i'm sure, that this problem exist but are they doing anything about it. apparently not. pressure needs to be put on our elected officials to address this problem.

    now those in the new orleans area that stay behind should know better by now. the poor folks were helped last time and should have made a new life where had been temporarely relocated.

    i have meet people moving in to my area, rich, poor, black and white. many saying they would never return... some seemed to just want to ride the fema train for all it's worth. . come on wise up, you can't live below sea level and on the bay and not expect nothing to happen. i lived for 19 yrs on the cheasapeake bay and dealt with hurricanes, my family still has houses on stilts on the water front and they'll never leave, even after one house was completely washed away. i know both sides of the coin here

    back to new orleans, it should be condemned and the whole place relocated. it could still be on the water just ABOVE the water table. this was done in tornado alley after the government got tired of yearly baling out those same towns constantly being destroyed.

    stop wasting my tax dollars and fix this. sometimes people need help but are ashamed or afraid to ask. they shouldn't have to and the poor blue collar people, my self included, should be the first ones receiving help.

    just my 2 cent rant

    September 13, 2008 at 7:56 am |
  23. wendy

    I'm sorry but this excuse of "people are too poor to leave" is a cop-out. How poor do you have to be to not be able to afford to get on a bus for free and be evacuated.

    Those who stay because they think they can ride it out or who stay because of their pets or stay because they"re too poor to get on a free bus out will be the first ones to cry out for help that will put rescuers' lives in danger.

    Get out of the area or take your own chances later; don't risk the lives of others just because you choose to risk your own life.

    September 13, 2008 at 7:49 am |
  24. jully

    May be these folks who stay behind like poor folks in New Orlean have no transportation or money to leave. I don't hear the state there try to move them

    September 13, 2008 at 7:47 am |
  25. Sarah

    Huh? Why are people judging the doctor – the fact that she has to leave the dog behind shows she had no better choices than the woman with two kids and a zoo in her house. Obviously she chose the pantry because she figured it was the safest place and least likely to flood. Are people seriously thinking that the lady with the zoo is the one who is making the correct choices? The difference between them isn't income.

    September 13, 2008 at 7:37 am |
  26. Mike

    I think you miss the mark. Many people choose to stay because it is often very dificult to get back to your home after a storm has gone through. That delays getting repairs done and the danger of what items might be left in your home being damaged or stolen by looters. If your home is at a higher elevation or you have a second story, hunkering down with plenty of supplies and waiting out the storm is not a bad option.

    September 13, 2008 at 7:37 am |
  27. Joe Foley

    Perhaps one of the reasons is that media and the weather forecasters are always forecasting the worst possible scenario and every time they are wrong they lose credibility. People then become more cynical about the predictions and more comfortable ignoring them.

    Joe

    September 13, 2008 at 7:32 am |
  28. trudi

    Prayers for all the people involved with this hurricaine.
    Truth is, they were told to "get out"/ and that they face "death" if they stay.
    Couldn't the pets go with them? ie. New Orleans (this time)/ what about the shelters? the Red Cross and all..........
    I understand not wanting to leave pets behind/ and reluctance to leave, but it is spelled out/ GET OUT

    re: the "doctor" and their dog............i agree with everyone......animal cruelty that should be dealt with after the storm.....

    just my opinion

    September 13, 2008 at 7:31 am |
  29. David W

    Some people here need a good reality check! Sherry is right...mandatory should mean you are on your own if you stay...nobody is coming to bail you out.

    A lot are saying something about being fortunate enough to live in another part of the country...last time I checked, anybody can move if they want to. It isn't necessarily going to be easy but other people manage to do it all the time. What makes you special and what makes it everyone else's problem?

    One of the problems with this great nation is you have way too many people going through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands! Many, many of those that have no money find literally hundreds of dollars every single month for alcohol...in lots of those cases we the taxpayers are paying for that too.

    I have made some poor choices in my life and have paid dearly for some of them. But they were MY choices and I am the one who needs to pay the price for them...anyone who wants to jump in and bail me out is more than welcome!

    What really gets to me personally in all this is to see all the 'poor folks' who for whatever reason choose to live in coastal areas then expect and demand the government bail them out when the hurricanes that happen ever single year, happen. I will guarantee you, the person in Kansas who lost everything to a tornado still lost everything just like the person on teh Gulf Coast!!! If they, who very well may be totally broke as well, don't have insurance they are 'on their own'. What makes the people who live on the coast so special? Where is FEMA for them?

    Sorry...WAY to many people are expecting the 'government' to pick up the tab on WAY, WAY too much and then complain because they have to pay taxes! Oh, and guess who isn't paying any taxes into the pot at all...those broke folks who sit on their butts and drink all day and expect everyone else to give them a handout.

    September 13, 2008 at 7:29 am |
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