Dealing with Disaster - Warnings are a Necessity
Gulf Coast residents faced the same dilemma this summer in the busiest hurricane season on record. Hurricane warnings did make a difference to many affected by the storms.
Katrina survivor Katie Dugas said, "The worst part about it is the wait. To know if everything is OK. Somebody can call you and say, hey, everything looks find from the outside, but you don't get closure until you see it for yourself and actually be there. When somebody called us and said everything is OK, I was like, good, we can go back we can stay, when in reality, everything wasn't OK."
Katie Dugas and her family used to live just south of New Orleans. But they now live in Moberly. Before Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore in August, they paid close attention to warnings from local officials and the National Weather Service.
Originally, they planned to stay and ride the storm out in their home which sits on a stretch of lowland that juts into the Gulf of Mexico.
Dugas commented, "We had Ivan last year and it was such a close call and such a scare. After so long you just get tired of running from hurricanes that never do anything. We were like, we're not going to go, it's going to turn, it's not going to hurt us, we we're going to stay."
But they did evacuate in part because of warnings issued by the New Orleans National Weather Service the day before Katrina made landfall. One particular message which was distributed by local media and government officials warned residents that most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks perhaps longer. Power outages will last for weeks and water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.
Paul Trotter oversees the New Orleans National Weather Service Office. His office issued that warning.
"Our mission is to save lives and property, be environmental stewards and to help this nation's economy. All those things were compromised," Trotter said. "We tried to do the best we could by getting the message out and in fact go over and beyond the call of duty to try and do things because we sacrificed ourselves and our homes in order for others to have a better way of life."
Trotter and his staff endured hours of hurricane force winds in excess of 120 miles per hour, a leaking roof, a limited water supply, and long hours, all while away from their family and not knowing what had happened to their homes.
"I use this analogy, and it is kind of frightening. We were in a coffin watching what's happening, but we weren't dead. Everyone else was at the viewing, but we were here at the funeral," Trotter commented.
More than 1,000 people died in their area of responsibility. Some had no way out of the area, others simply refused to leave.
"We put out the watches and warnings, but we cannot go out and physically move people," Trotter said.
"We were made a good example for the rest of the U.S. When you don't listen, you suffer the consequences," Dugan said.
While KOMU was in New Orleans and Mississippi, people talked about how they stayed despite the repeated warnings. They all said they wouldn't do that again.
Next week, Sarah Hill travels to Sri Lanka to find how a group of Mid-Missourians helped Tsunami victims there deal with disaster.