Hurricane Evacuation Plans Create New Worries During Pandemic : Shots - Health News In Florida, officials fear widespread confusion when stay-at-home policies conflict with evacuation orders, and they worry about the coronavirus spreading in crowded shelters.
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Hurricane Season Collides With Pandemic As Communities Plan For Dual Emergencies

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Hurricane Season Collides With Pandemic As Communities Plan For Dual Emergencies

Hurricane Season Collides With Pandemic As Communities Plan For Dual Emergencies

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hurricane season starts today, June 1. You are allowed to take a moment after hearing that - first a pandemic, then waves of protest, now hurricane season. Forecasters expect above-average activity in part because climate change is making the Atlantic Ocean warmer. Amy Green of WMFE in Orlando has been asking, how do you plan for hurricanes during a pandemic?

AMY GREEN, BYLINE: Robin Rokobauer doesn't like to chance it. When there's a hurricane, she almost always evacuates. Rokobauer lives in Cocoa Beach, Fla., on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River Lagoon. Her mother is 93.

ROBIN ROKOBAUER: She's got to have flushing toilets. She's got to have fresh water. She's just got some physical needs that require that.

GREEN: But this year, Rokobauer is thinking hard about her hurricane plan. She's 65 - like her mother, considered at higher risk to the coronavirus.

ROKOBAUER: If I have to go any further or if I have to go somewhere, then you're going to be exposed to more people in different environments, and you don't know where those people have been.

GREEN: In Florida, a record 6 1/2 million people evacuated for Hurricane Irma in 2017. This year, that will be a harder decision. Craig Fugate used to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its Florida counterpart. He fears some people won't evacuate because they'll fear exposing themselves to the virus.

CRAIG FUGATE: That may result in more people staying behind and increasing the risk of loss of life.

GREEN: But there's another risk - sheltering evacuees to gather in school gymnasiums and other enclosed spaces, as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis points out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: If you pile people into a place, under normal circumstances that may be fine. But that would potentially allow the virus to really spread if somebody is, in fact, infected.

GREEN: That's why his administration is considering stay-at-home orders in areas where houses are newer and sturdier or sheltering evacuees in hotels and motels the economic collapse has left vacant. Most at risk are nursing home patients. Many low-lying facilities have evacuation agreements with facilities on higher ground. But Kristen Knapp of the Florida Health Care Association says, this year, nursing homes will have to reexamine these arrangements.

KRISTEN KNAPP: If you are a facility that is in an evacuation zone and you have positive cases in your building, you may not be able to go to the typical facility that you would evacuate to if they don't have positive cases in their building.

GREEN: Florida leaders also are socking away protective gear for shelter and utility workers, and they're making sure stores have plenty of food and water so people can stock up before a storm. In central Florida, before Irma hit, utility crews converged from across the country to help restore electricity. This year, Linda Ferrone of the Orlando Utilities Commission anticipates longer outages than usual. That's because COVID-19 makes it harder to house and feed these workers while preventing the virus' spread.

LINDA FERRONE: It will take longer to check them all in. It will take a little longer to get them all to the point that they can be out in the field working.

GREEN: Robin Rokobauer of Cocoa Beach considered not evacuating but feels she would have to because of her mother. Already, she's checking with hotels so she can be ready for a hurricane.

ROKOBAUER: I hope that we don't have any. I mean, we've been through a lot this year.

GREEN: Meteorologists are predicting up to 10 hurricanes and up to six major ones between now and December.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Green in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF CANYONS OF STATIC'S "VEIL")

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