Those who ride out storms lack common sense

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Mad Magazine had it right. Alfred E. Newman seems to be alive and well in every disaster area of the country.

The events of the summer hurricane season remind me that there appears to be a significant disconnect between the professionals who send out warning messages and those who apparently can't be bothered with paying attention.

It seems to be related to the enormous variables in weather forecasting as evidenced by the difficulty in tracking tropical storms such as Hanna and Ike. For a time, it appeared that Hanna was headed for the east coast of Florida. Then it appeared to be headed directly for Savannah, Ga. Then it was Charleston, S.C., and finally the storm made landfall around the North-South Carolina state line.

Ike did much the same thing until it was clear that it would miss south Florida and come up the Gulf of Mexico.

Finally, the monster hurricane headed for Galveston Island, Texas, and Houston. Hurricane Ike, according to the Insurance Information Institute, is expected to become the fourth most expensive hurricane in history from a destruction of insured property standpoint.

With all this indecision, the public has a hard time knowing what to and what not to do in the way of preparation.

For the first time that I can remember, the warnings from the National Hurricane Center included the words "you face certain death" for those who would not evacuate Galveston and the surrounding area.

Did that make a difference? Reports indicate that up to 40 percent of the island's population did not leave. Now there are still about 400 people not accounted for.

Amid all the concerns about the 25- to 30-foot storm surge and waves, it turned out that the surge wasn't as high as predicted and many were able to ride out the storm regardless of the vast flooding and property devastation.

So what's imprinted on these so-called "hardy souls" is that the predictions were wrong and no matter what officials say, "we can ride it out." One local resident said riding out the storm was better than being stuck in a traffic jam for 18 hours during Hurricane Rita.

The insurance industry provided a list of things to do in preparation for a major storm including stocking up on several days supply of food, water and ice. Law enforcement told everyone to evacuate, as did local officials. The next day there were lines of people needing food, water and ice. It happened in Miami, it happened in New Orleans, and it happened in metro Houston.

Now that the storm has passed, we look back on the people who called for help, saying they changed their mind, all during the night of the storm even though officials emphatically said there would be no rescues after 9 p.m. due to dangerous conditions.

Officials broadcast warnings and so many people just don't listen. Year after year, event after event, and there are always the ones who refuse to use common sense.

They put themselves, their families and rescuers at risk.

What's the point of declaring a mandatory evacuation and then saying we can't force people from their home?

It's just another day in paradise ... that will take billions of dollars in insured property losses to rebuild.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or by e-mail at dcolmans@giis.org.


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