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Study: Panhandle, North Florida counties less prepared to evacuate those without cars

(MGN)

When it came to evacuation for Hurricane Michael, many Florida residents took a gamble.

Nearly 400,000 people were told to leave, but it appears many chose to stay.

A study just released by Florida Atlantic University shows Michael’s track went right through counties that were less prepared for evacuation— especially related to people in need— versus counties here in South Florida.

John Renne, Ph.D., a transportation planner who directs FAU’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions, released the study’s findings.

“The storm track that happened, unfortunately, went right through those counties that are relatively less prepared,” said Renne, who explained the study focused on how counties address people in evacuation zones who have no car or have special needs.

Renne also pointed out how even some tourists come to Florida without cars.

“A lot of those (North Florida) counties are sparsely populated,” he said. “They don’t have the governmental resources. You know, Florida has really good evacuation plans. But it’s easy to plan for people with cars. It’s much more difficult to plan for people that don’t have access to cars.”

And Renne has some firsthand knowledge.

“I moved to New Orleans two weeks before Hurricane Katrina, and I didn’t have a car,” he said, adding that he had been living abroad.

Fortunately, he had the means to rent a car.

“Typically, we find that vulnerable populations are much more likely to end up to be victims of natural disasters,” Renne said. “And the reason is because they don’t have the resources to leave.”

A growing segment of the population has no car, according to Renne, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with lower incomes.

For example, in Palm Beach County, the public bus system, Palm Tran, regularly takes people to hurricane shelters prior to storms.

FAU's study found the less prepared counties may also utilize public transportation for evacuation, but their plans were not as accessible or as well coordinated.

CBS12 News asked Renne about the overall low rate of evacuation ahead of Michael.

“In this case, we had people living 15 miles inland that didn’t necessarily think they were vulnerable,” he said. “But they may live along a creek or a river, and they end up flooding. And they may never have flooded before.”

Renne emphasized the study is not calling the evacuation plans in the North Florida and Panhandle counties bad. He said the study only points out those plans are not as good addressing vulnerable populations, in relative comparison to other counties.

For a map of Florida counties and how the study graded them, click here for an FAU news release.

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