In other ways, though, he is fairly typical. Even with major storms bearing down, many people decide they’d prefer to stay in their homes. The reasons for this vary: Some people judge themselves able to weather whatever comes their way. Others are simply physically unable to evacuate. Sometimes they’ve lived through past storms and figure that if they’d made it through those they can take one more. Overall, the challenge is that hurricanes represent a high-risk, low-probability event, and some are inclined to bet that things won’t be that bad.
It’s hard to say what a “normal” percentage of residents to stick around is: Every storm is different, and more powerful storms tend to produce higher rates of evacuation, as do mandatory evacuation orders. The number of people who decide to stay may vary by region, too.
Although the residents of some low-lying areas in Harvey’s path have been ordered to evacuate, Corpus Christi as a whole has a voluntary evacuation order in place instead. “We could mandate it, but people need to make a decision of their own,” Mayor Joe McComb said Thursday. “I'm not going to risk our police and fire people going to try and drag somebody out of the house if they don't want to go.”
So Jones made his decision, and he decided to stay. For one thing, he’s betting Harvey will either miss Corpus Christi or come in a little weaker than the Category 3 storm some forecasts predict. He has also weathered storms in the area before. In 1980, Hurricane Allen dropped in power right before landfall. The reverse happened with Hurricane Brett in 1998: The storm got more powerful at the last minute, and Jones had to pull an all-nighter cutting wood and boarding up windows.
“If I had young children I would leave. If my wife was here I’d probably leave, but she’s not,” he said. By now, he figures the roads would be too clogged to effectively leave anyway. Besides, he feels an obligation to look out for his neighbors, many of whom are older and less mobile. He’s spent the last few days helping board up their houses. “I’m 66 and I’m in very, very good shape. Some of these people are not. The people on either side of me may need some help, and they really can’t leave.”
Older people, people with smaller social networks, and those who are less well-off, are more likely to stay put in a storm. These people worry emergency planners. Disaster experts agonize in particular over those who don’t understand what storms are likely to be like and don’t have a disaster-readiness kit like the ones Jones does, so on that count he’s way ahead. It’s the easiest way to prepare for any disaster, from a hurricane to a house fire, and yet many people don’t do it.
Whether they have a kit together or not, people’s memories of past storms tend to play a major role in decisions about whether to leave. That cuts two ways: New residents in a hurricane zone might not know what they’re in for; veterans tend to remember prior storms and assume that things won’t get any worse.