Hurricane preview coverage is usually rote and unspectacular. There is footage of beaches; there are FEMA press conferences; there are imbecilic statements from President Trump (again, predictable); and there are on-screen graphics — lots of on-screen graphics.
Still, it’s tough to turn away from the proceedings, in part because there’s always a chance that some beachside reporter will snare an interview with someone determined to hunker down in defiance of all the official guidance.
More than a million people are under mandatory evacuation orders on the southeastern coast in advance of Hurricane Florence’s arrival. “Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. “If you wait until conditions get bad, it may be too late to get out safely, and you also put first responders at risk.”
The risks from this monster are plenty: tropical storm-force winds, extended power outages and extreme flooding.
So why would people resist the evacuation orders? Well, ask them!
At Carolina Beach, N.C., part of the state’s evacuation zone, Kerry Sanders of NBC News corralled an interview with a mother and her three children. The family lives in Wilmington and has decided not to evacuate. When Sanders asked the kids what they’d be doing during the storm, one of them responded that they’d be coloring and doing what they normally did at home. The mother said this:
From my experience, getting back into town after the storms is very difficult, and knowing that our family and friends and our home are all here, we didn’t want to leave them all unprotected for a long amount of time, so we’re going to try to stay put . . . . We have several neighbors staying put, we feel like there is some strength in numbers. We’ve checked in with one another, and we’re just going to band together and make it through.
Now, network news correspondents don’t double as scolds. Their job is to get quotes and reflections from people, and place them before the TV audience. Yet when people are stating on national television that they’re going to court death, there has to be a way to voice your concern. This Sanders did quite well. As he concluded the interview, he addressed the kids, saying, “We wish you the best of luck. Guys, hang tight to mom. Remember, if you need to get into an interior room in your house, you do that in, like, the bathroom. Get in the bathtub.”
Maybe that family is rethinking its decisions.
CNN’s Kaylee Hartung straddled the same line in an interview, also at Carolina Beach, with a new-to-the-area couple frolicking with their young child. She cited the warnings about the coming storm, and the father, Casey Dodson, responded:
Honestly, I’m not even worried at all. We got all the windows boarded up and we’ve got water — plenty of water, plenty of food, and, I mean, we’re just really not worried. We’ve got a sturdy house, and it’s just faith in God that we’re going to be here when it’s all over. That’s pretty much that.
In her next question, Hartung used the term “life-threatening” twice as she asked whether the family had any experience with the conditions. Dodson:
Honestly, no. But I’m just one of those people that’s not afraid of stuff like that. I mean the most that can happen is your windows are going to get busted out, or you’re roof’s going to rip off, or you’re going to get flooded. But we’re not in a flood zone. So I’m not worried about it being flooded. I’m not worried about the windows being broken. And, I don’t know, we’re going to lose power, but we’ve got plenty of flashlights and stuff like that. So we’re just going to bunker down and see what happens.
Then Hartung turned to the mom, Nickya Rivera, and laid it all out there: “You all are going to have five people, including your child, with you. How do you describe the sense of responsibility you feel in a situation that officials say is truly life-threatening?” Rivera more or less repeated her husband’s arguments, including this:
I feel actually more comforted being in our home — it’s brick, you know, the roof is hurricane-proof, with our neighbors beside us. You know, we know where the bomb shelters are. We know where the, you know, hurricane shelters are. Then being out on the road, you know, with possible flooded-out roads, or not being able to get gas. So that’s a little bit more concerning to me at this point than, you know, just hunkering down and, you know, being at home where we know where we can go, you know, if we have to.
Stepping up the level of journalistic warning, Hartung bid adieu to her interviewees: “Well, Nickya, Casey, you guys be as safe as you can staying on this island. You will have officials knocking on your door at 8 p.m. tonight as they ask for contact information . . . for next of kin to anyone who’s making the choice to stay here.”
Next of kin! If that phrase doesn’t scare these folks into an evacuational scramble, what will?
Compare those families’ rationales to those of one Christine Meinhold, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., who told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin that she, too, would be riding out the storm. Thing is, she claimed to lack a good approach to transporting her seven dogs. “These are rescue dogs, and every one of them have their own little problems, their own little quirks,” she said, citing one “poor” little pooch who is “terrified of men.”
Baldwin passed along her most heartfelt wishes for her safety. “Everyone watching only wants what’s best for you and your dogs,” she said.