Why Some Residents Stay Put in Storm's Path

Even in the face of life-threatening danger, many refuse to evacuate their homes believing the excitement outweighs the risk.

By Colin Bertram
|  Tuesday, Oct 30, 2012  |  Updated 12:52 PM PDT
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In every major natural disaster, there are the hold-outs. For them, leaving an area deemed dangerous by government officials is just not on the agenda.

“I just wanted to be here for it, see it, experience it, and try to take care of my house as much as possible,” said Peter Mercatanti, who lives on Deauville Beach in Mantoloking, N.J., an area that lies in a mandatory evacuation zone. Mercatanti, 26, told NBC News before Sandy hit that he had kayaks ready and had packed wet suits, waterproof book bags, flares, glow sticks, flashlights, propane and food to bear out the storm. "I’ve pretty much kind of prepared for every possible situation," he said. "I can be sustainable and floating."

People's reasons for staying put, even in the face of imminent danger, vary says New York City-based psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig. It could be denial, rebellion, excitement and perceived knowledge as factors contributing to flee or fight decisions.

"There is a tendency to look at the news as being a little sensationalistic – especially if people have experienced warnings of a hurricane in the past and it did not take place," says Ludwig.

This is particularly applicable following Hurricane Irene, which resulted in more than $15 billion in damages but left many people believing they had over-prepared as the storm affected similar areas in 2011.

How much of the news is perceived as accurate versus how much is sensationalistic plays a large role in how threatened people feel, adds Ludwig.

"There is a feeling of ‘Oh I’ve heard this before and nothing happened’ and 'I don’t want to be inconvenienced for a sensationalistic brouhaha.' So in part it is denial and in part not having experienced that kind of trauma before. If they had experienced trauma in the past their reaction would be very different because they can imagine the future as being harmful."

Officials, however, repeatedly warn that staying in a mandatory evacuation zone not only endangers the person but also any rescuers who likely will have to come in when things take a turn for the worst.

“These decisions are both stupid and selfish," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a news conference.

But not all holdouts see it that way. Sure, some like the feeling of bucking trends. Others just want to take care of what is theirs.

"There is such a strong connection between people and their homes that they feel somehow if they are there, they can save the home, protect the home, they can’t imagine a scenario so bad that staying there would jeopardize themselves," says Ludwig.

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