If hundreds or thousands died, why didn’t more people leave town? I can think of a few hypotheses:
1. They were plain, flat out stupid.
2. They were not stupid per se, but human beings underestimate the potential for small probability, massive disruptions to their accustomed status quo.
3. They made a rational calculation, but just happened to catch the wrong number on the roulette wheel of nature.
4. Bad policy meant they didn’t have many good options for leaving.
Sadly, #4 seems to have played a role:
As many as 100,000 inner-city residents didn’t have the means to leave, and an untold number of tourists were stranded by the closing of the airport. The city arranged buses to take people to 10 last-resort shelters, including the Superdome. (link here).
Some tourists took 76-mile cab rides to Baton Rouge, where they rented cars. Admittedly, the stayers (arguably even the poor stayers) were stupid not to have done this, but saving lives is more important than who is to blame. A different framing of the choices might have brought many more people out of town.
Government could have commandeered a fleet of buses to help the carless leave town altogether. (Was it enough to offer to take them to unappealing shelters?) Some people foresaw the potential problem in advance, but only Wednesday did buses start taking people out of the city. Neither FEMA nor the state of Louisiana nor the mayor appears to have done a good job.
When such a disaster comes, should we waive price gouging laws, and temporarily repeal liability for those helping strangers?
Should we expect these same people to protect us from avian flu?