Hurricane Irene: East Coast urged to heed evacuation warnings


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Don’t play the hero. That’s the message from FEMA as officials warn that Hurricane Irene could prompt widespread evacuation orders up and down the East Coast. Residents have been urged to heed those orders, for their safety and the safety of emergency workers.

In a media conference call Thursday morning, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate stressed that if residents waited too long to flee to safe ground they could find themselves stranded and without help, as has happened in previous natural disasters.


“If you live in an evacuation zone, your plan should be to evacuate if an order comes,” Fugate said. “There is a point that local responders will not be able to get to you if it gets too bad.”

Fugate’s voice seemed tinged with frustration, irritation and, perhaps, resignation. It’s a common disaster scenario, be it wildfire, flooding or hurricanes: Some residents refuse to evacuate until it’s too late. And, officials stress, that puts emergency works in a quandary and drains valuable resources.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

Fugate recalled just such a scenario in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. That 2004 storm killed nearly 100 people as it traveled a similar course, ripping through the Caribbean on up through the East Coast. Ivan remains of the most intense and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. People who refused to evacuate during that storm soon found themselves stranded on roads that were cut off due to water that was rising -- and rising fast. “And they’re calling 911, begging to be saved, and no one could get to them,” Fugate said. “This is really about life safety.”

Fugate noted from past experience that some residents were furious when they complied with evacutation orders only to come home to find it safe and sound, just as they left it. If that happens during Hurricane Irene, he said, “count your blessings.” Pinpointing which homes will and will not flood, he said, is impossible. So, “it’s so critical that you heed the evacuation warnings.”

The latest prediction from the National Hurricane Center is that Hurricane Irene will make landfall in the Carolinas by Saturday morning.


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--Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch