Yahoo News explains: “Get Out:” Mandatory evacuation orders

By Dean Arrindell

Residents in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are preparing for Hurricane Florence to come ashore this weekend. The storm is expected to slam coastal regions with massive amounts of rain. North Carolina could receive up to 40 inches of rain and a storm surge as high as 13 feet.

Because of the potential damage from Florence, 1 million people in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina have been ordered to evacuate. And officials are trying to convince residents to heed the orders.

“If you’ve been asked to evacuate, don’t wait. Leave now,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “You put your life at risk by staying.”

Yet, in spite of the expected conditions and mandatory evacuation orders, many residents have decided to stay in their homes. When asked if residents who defied mandatory evacuation orders would be arrested, Wrightsville, N.C., police chief Daniel House responded, “It depends. I’m not saying we would. Not saying we wouldn’t.”

How are these evacuation orders enforced? Can residents be removed from their homes, fined or arrested? Yahoo News explains.

Governors and local officials both have authority to issue mandatory evacuation orders when public safety is at stake. They could be due to a major event like a storm or something comparatively minor like firefighters evacuating a burning building. In some states, among them Virginia and North Carolina, it’s a misdemeanor to refuse a mandatory evacuation order. South Carolina — where almost all the residents along its coast were told to evacuate because of Florence — doesn’t have a penalty for refusing to evacuate. But the state does make it a misdemeanor to disregard a police officer’s command during an emergency.

While some states prescribe penalties, enforcement is another question. It’s unlikely that local law enforcement will forcibly remove residents from homes while a natural disaster is underway. And there are civil rights implications to consider. For example, in their attempt to uphold evacuation orders during Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement officials were sued for false arrest, wrongful imprisonment and civil rights violations.

Just as residents probably won’t be forced from their homes, many believe it’s unlikely they will be arrested for staying. The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office in Virginia stated on  its Facebook page that “No person living in York County or Poquoson will be arrested by any York-Poquoson Deputy Sheriff for failing to evacuate.”

But it might not be the threat of arrest that persuades people to evacuate. Officials emphasize the possibility of injury and death to motivate people to leave. They also note that the ability of emergency crews to reach people in need may be curtailed or impossible.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster warned residents about the severity of Hurricane Florence and emphasized evacuation orders. “We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence,” he said. “We don’t want to gamble. …You must go.”