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In harm’s way: mandatory evacuations under way ahead of Hurricane Florence

Satellite image of Hurricane Florence. Photo:NOAA

As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Southeastern coast of the US, more than a million people are under mandatory evacuation orders. Oxfam is closely monitoring the path and impact of Florence, and will be making a determination about where resources could make the most helpful impact for those affected.   

The Governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina are heeding the warnings of historic flooding and high winds (140 mph!), and saying simply, "This is not a storm that you need to try to ride out" (North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper).

The impulse to get out of harm’s way is a good one; we’ve seen the devastating impacts of these extreme hurricanes up close in Puerto Rico (still reeling from Maria) and New Orleans (still feeling the wounds of Katrina). From all predictions, it looks like Hurricane Florence might inflict that same kind of damage – taking lives, shattering infrastructure, destroying homes.

However, it’s not always easy to run away. We’ve also seen the enormous challenges that the most vulnerable face when climate disaster hits. And we’re keenly aware that it may be impossible for thousands of people to pack up and head inland.

Even if you have everything you need to escape – money, mobility, transportation, gas, adequate medicine and food, shelter for pets, supplies for children and elderly, clothes, time off work—it’s still an enormous task.

Now imagine you’re missing any one of those things. Studies of social vulnerability make it clear that being challenged in any number of ways impedes your ability to prepare for, ride out, and recover from a natural disaster. 

Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall Friday morning. Photo: Maps4News/HERE

Del. Marcia S. "Cia" Price talked to us about the challenges facing her constituents in Virginia.  Some areas have poor public transport and shuttered shelters. Many families have no cash on hand (they can’t afford transportation, hotels or restaurant meals), or have family members who can’t be easily moved (elderly, disabled, ill). In some areas, people are maintaining farms, with animals and people in their care.

While the coastline features several wealthy beach communities, it also holds pockets of poverty and vulnerability. For example, the Sea Islands of South Carolina feature high poverty indicators, high percentages of elderly, and poor infrastructure. Tyrell and Hyde Counties in North Carolina are among the poorest counties in the state (98th and 100th out of 100) with elevations so low that high tides turn land into water. It’s terrifying to consider what Hurricane Florence will do to the thousands of residents in these counties.

A few years ago, Oxfam released a report on climate hazards and social vulnerability in the US Southeast. Exposed documents which areas are likely to suffer the most from disasters, because the risk is so high and their vulnerability so pronounced. Tyrrell and Hyde Counties, smack in the middle of the predicted path of Hurricane Florence, have the highest levels of risk in both dimensions.

As we wait with bated breath for Florence to slam into this fragile coast – most likely early Friday morning—we keep these regions, and these people, in our thoughts.

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