The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) conducted an analysis that took a snapshot of some of the most at-risk counties in states from Texas to North Carolina—the states most hit by hurricanes—and found that only a fraction of the counties have provided information about how to evacuate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The analysis, conducted by Dr. Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist at UCS, looked at 16 counties total—two in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. The counties were selected because they have experienced some of the largest increases in COVID cases over the past two weeks and could be affected by storm surge from a Category 5 hurricane.
Only two of the 16 counties have materials to let their residents know how they should evacuate, including providing routes and transportation options; what shelters they should use and the capacity of each shelter; what their hurricane go-kits should include; and how to protect themselves from contracting the virus during and throughout their evacuation.
“People need to know how to evacuate safely before a hurricane strikes,” said Caldas. “If a hurricane is about to hit and you’re trying to figure out where to go, how to get there, and how to not contract COVID in the process, it may be too late.”
In the absence of adequate government action, community organizations and their leaders have stepped in to fill the void, according to a blog, also posted today, by Dr. Adrienne Hollis, senior climate justice and health scientist at UCS.
Hollis’ blog contains interviews with environmental justice leaders Hilton Kelley from Port Arthur, Texas, and Reverend Leo Woodberry from Florence, South Carolina, who talked about creating caravans to help people evacuate and opening Rev. Woodberry’s church as a shelter.
“Communities are forced to devise their own emergency preparedness plans,” Hollis concluded in her blog. “That should not be the case. Cities, counties, and states must be more proactive when it comes to pre-hurricane preparedness. And they must ensure that any plan that is developed is done so with input from the community and is communicated TO the community in an effective and efficient manner.”