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Evacuation

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A couple weeks ago, I headed up to Wyoming to see the total solar eclipse (BTW if you ever have a chance to do this, do it. It’s indescribably amazing). Since a few hundred thousand residents of the front range had the same idea, it took us ten hours to do what would normally be three-hour trip on the way back.

One thing this drove home to me is how putting any significant percentage of the cars in an American major metro area on the road at the same time means that nobody is going to get anywhere for a long time.

At this moment, Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever measured in the Atlantic, is following a track that is predicted to bring it directly into collision with the most populous part of the state of Florida. A meteorologist friend of mine emphasizes a couple of things:

(1) A difference of a few dozen miles east or west in the track will make an enormous difference. The most powerful part of the storm is the northeast quadrant of the eye wall, so if the storm tracks slightly to the west of the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, the devastation will be apocalyptic. OTOH if the storm tracks a few dozen miles east of the coast, the storm surge will still be very bad, but the overall destruction will be much less.

(2) As good as computer prediction models have become, they haven’t become good enough to predict accurately which of these scenarios is more likely at this time.

This situation would seem to counsel attempting to evacuate as much of southeast Florida as possible. But doing that is, as practical matter, almost impossible. The transportation networks aren’t designed to move millions of people hundreds of miles in a matter of a few dozen hours. And that doesn’t even touch on the problem that many people simply don’t have the resources to do this, at least not without massive immediate public intervention.

All this makes the pleas of officials like Gov. Rick Scott ring rather hollow:

Florida visitors and residents are receiving mixed messages about evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Broward County has ordered coastal evacuations, mandatory but with no enforcement, as is typical in Florida. Miami Beach has advised evacuating, but not made it mandatory for all areas.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued mandatory evacuation orders Wednesday night for two zones, A and B, and the Barrier Islands in Miami-Dade County. Officials encouraged tourists to leave.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said anyone who intends to evacuate should “get out now.”

However, with a storm track forecast up the middle of the state, it is unclear to many people where they should go.

As usual, the Onion is on target:

BATON ROUGE, LA—As punishing wind and rain from the former Hurricane Harvey made landfall, government officials urged Louisiana residents Wednesday to evacuate dangerous lower income brackets. “Given the extent of the potential destruction, we urge anyone in the path of the storm to make their way to higher median incomes immediately,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, adding that residents should resist any urge to wait out the dangerous weather below the poverty line and proceed directly to a higher tax bracket. “We know from experience that in hazardous conditions like these, the safest place for Louisianans to be is at least four or five times wealthier than they are now. This is no time to take risks—please, leave right now and make your way to the upper-middle class if at all possible.” Edwards went on to say that while no one could be forcibly evacuated, anyone who chose to remain in a lower income bracket should not expect to receive help anytime soon.

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