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This photo provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Sept. 10, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast.
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Environment

Not Everyone Can Afford to Evacuate for Hurricane Florence

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Climate change and extreme weather events bolstered by its effects are making large parts of the planet uninhabitable for humans — and those living in poverty will feel those impacts most. Join us in taking action on this issue here.

As Hurricane Florence makes landfall along the Carolina coast, over 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate. However, many low-income residents in the storm's path cannot afford to leave their homes, the Guardian reports.

In Myrtle Beach, a coastal town in South Carolina, pristine beaches and golf courses have shut down, and their patrons have fled. Meanwhile, some of the poorest residents who live in Sandygate Village, a government-subsidized housing complex for low-income people, have been left behind to face the life-threatening storm and its aftermath.

"They boarded up and now they're gone," Henry Mitchell, a 57-year-old resident who is unemployed and lives with a disability, told the Guardian. "I thought they were supposed to do it for us, too. It's crazy.

"It's too expensive to move out to a hotel, I could be out for days and I can't afford to leave my home behind," he added.

Take Action: Ensure All Communities Can Withstand Climate Disaster

The onset of Hurricane Florence is a reminder of the city's economic and racial inequality. In Myrtle Beach, 23% of people live below the poverty line, as compared to 14.5% in the US as a whole, according to the 2013 Census report.

Located in the path of the storm, Sandygate Village will probably be hit with strong rain and winds. The nearby river and ocean could also pose a serious flood risk, the Guardian reports.

"If anything happens to my home I just have to stay right where I am," Angela Smith, a 52-year-old Myrtle Beach resident, who is also unemployed and has a disability, told the Guardian. "I can't afford to own a car, so I literally can't leave."

To measure the potential impact of Hurricane Florence, nonprofit Direct Relief created interactive maps that break down its projected impacts on various communities based on their specific vulnerabilities including socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, housing and access to transportation, age, and disability.

The nonprofit's analysis found that low-income people and communities of color in the hurricane's path will be disproportionately burdened by the storm. In contrast, coastal residents, who tend to be affluent and white, are more likely to have the economic resources to evacuate and recover after the storm, though their homes are in higher risk areas because of their waterfront placement.

In recent years, the Carolina coast has seen massive development, which could have consequences for low-income communities living miles inland.

"The greater the development, the less open space there is for rainfall to percolate down into the soil because everything's paved over," Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, told CityLab. "So where's the water going to go? Well, it's going to run off and create a flood."

Read More: Hurricane Florence and the Rise of Storms Fueled by Climate Change

Hurricane Florence is not the only natural disaster to have devastating impacts on people based on their socioeconomic status and race. Rather, the predicted impact of Hurricane Florence on these communities reflects a pattern that hurricanes tend to follow, imposing an unequal burden on people with low-incomes and communities of color, before, during, and after a major storm hits.

While Hurricane Harvey affected white and non-white households last August, families of color in Houston, Texas, are having the most difficulty recovering, CityLab reports.

Due to Texas' lack of zoning laws, many low-income neighborhoods with primarily black and Latino residents have been built within feet of the city's superfund sites — bodies of land and water that have been contaminated and are deemed toxic. Already exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis, these communities were put further at risk when hurricane flooding and damage caused 13 superfund sites to release toxic waste into their neighborhoods, making them dangerous to return to.

In the aftermath of storms like these, communities of color are most vulnerable to displacement and health issues because of such systemic barriers.

This was seen when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans in 2005, where the damaged areas were 45.8% African American, as compared to undamaged areas, which were only 26.4%.

Similarly, in South Florida, hurricanes and rising sea levels have made land at higher elevations more valuable, propelling propelled climate gentrification. The communities of color, that have lived in "less desirable" neighborhoods like Little Haiti for generations, are being displaced because of their now-desirable location.

Since Hurricane Florence first hit North and South Carolina Friday morning, coastal towns have already seen more than half a million power outages, several structures destroyed, and multiple deaths, according to CNN. The region’s recovery will demand that people of all incomes, races, ages, and abilities work together to create more resilient communities that support the health and safety of all residents moving forward.