November 21, 2005
The number of people killed by hurricanes in the United States has declined during the 20th century and there are several contributing factors, however, the most important is mobility, says Randal O'Toole (Cato Institute).
- People with access to autos can leave an area before it is flooded or hit with hurricanes, tornadoes or other storms.
- When earthquakes or storms strike too suddenly to allow prior evacuation, people with autos can move away from areas that lack food, potable water and other essentials.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been heavily criticized for failing to foresee the need for evacuation and failing to secure enough buses or other means of evacuation, but people who own autos don't need to rely on FEMA, they can just drive themselves to safety.
According to the 2000 census:
- Nearly a third of New Orleans households do not own an automobile; compared to less than 10 percent nationwide.
- There are significant differences by race; 35 percent of black households do not own an auto, but only 15 percent of white households do not.
Thus, it was auto ownership, not race, which meant the difference between safety and disaster during Hurricane Katrina, says O'Toole.
Furthermore, rather than helping low-income families achieve greater mobility, New Orleans decided to provide tourists with subsidized streetcars. Had the money been used to help the 26,000 low-income families who don't own a car, says O'Toole, then the city would have had $6,000 for each family, enough to buy them each a good used car.
Source: Randal O'Toole, "Riding Out the Storm," Liberty, Vol.19, No. 11, November 2005.
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