As Hurricane Florence churns up record-breaking waves on its way across the Atlantic, warnings about the strength of the storm are getting more strident.
“The time to evacuate is now,” Jeff Byard, the associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery at FEMA told reporters Wednesday. “It’s a disaster, it’s going to disrupt services and destroy homes and infrastructure.”
In total, more than a million people have been advised to evacuate. Some may not be able to return to their homes for a long time; electricity could be out in some areas for weeks after the storm, an official from Duke Energy North Carolina told reporters.
A looming question is where exactly where all the evacuees will go, particularly those who cannot afford a long trip. In North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, three states that could be hard hit by the category 3 storm, over 15% of people live below the poverty rate. Over 10% of Virginia residents live below the poverty line.
Some poor communities are particularly vulnerable to flooding, like North Carolina’s Tyrell and Hyde counties, which “are among the poorest counties in the state (98th and 100th out of 100) with elevations so low that high tides turn land into water,” according to Oxfam.
FEMA has suggested that people turn to their neighbors, or even strangers, for help. Asked specifically about people who feel they are too poor to evacuate, Byard said they should reach out to those “who they would work with daily” for social services. “A lot of our communities will provide resources to move those individuals out,” he said.
Evacuations will be handled by state governments, Byard said, although FEMA sometimes provides support transportation. Many shelters will be run by the Red Cross in state or federal buildings, though these rely on FEMA for supplies like drinking water and non-perishable meals, said Charley English, the National Emergency Liasion for the Red Cross.
Poor people should also turn to individuals they know, Byard said, and people should help each other. “It’s neighbor-helping-neighbor in this situation,” he said.
Facebook groups have sprung up with people as far away as Connecticut and Western Pennsylvania offering their homes to evacuees. Some families have launched pleas online to raise the funds to travel.