Flood victims refuse to be rescued

BY: Seth J. Bokpe

The wall of their neighbour’s house was broken and water was gushing from all directions.

Many had fled their homes because the water level of last Monday’s torrential rains was threatening, but some residents of the Railway Quarters in Achimota refused to leave their homes.

They were cajoled, threatened by their neighbours and pressured by officers from the Ghana National Fire Service but they did not budge.

Although the officers of the Ghana National Fire Service trudged through almost chest-level water to rescue them, they refused to be evacuated.

Among those trapped in the house was a one-year-old child.

This reporter observed the unfolding drama from a storey building in the neighbourhood.


The incident started around 2.45 a.m. last Tuesday when neighbours of the trapped family that had earlier fled their home called the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) to rescue the  family.

After trudging through the flood for almost 30 minutes while being guided from afar by the neighbours, the fire officers returned saying: “They say they are okay and don’t want to be rescued.”

A senior NADMO official at the scene, not satisfied by the situation, demanded the phone number of any of those trapped in the house, and he was given.

He introduced himself and asked about the welfare of those trapped inside the house. The person on the other side of the line told him they were fine.

After series of questions ostensibly to establish the safety of those in the house, the person on the other side of the line got infuriated and said: “Why are you asking all these questions? I said we are fine.”

Professionalism

Responding very professionally, the fire officer said: “We are concerned about your safety and it is my job to ensure that you are safe. We are concerned about the child and would want to come for her.”

While the residents got infuriated by the responses from the other side, the fire officer maintained his composure, gesturing to them to keep quiet.

With their effort yielding no result, the fire officer told the person on the other side that they were leaving but he should call any time they needed help.

When the fire officers left, the neighbours called to blast the man on the other side.

“The weather is still heavy with rain and you are there saying you are okay; do you want to die? What is wrong with you?” one woman who was on the phone said.

“Do you value your properties more than your lives? You have a child with you; if you want to die, let her survive,” another screamed into the phone.

Almost an hour later, the fire officers returned but nothing had changed.

At that instance, power that had gone out in the neighbourhood was restored.

The fire officers advised the crowd not to enter the water as they could easily be electrocuted.

Why people refuse to move

According to experts, the relutance of people not to be evacuated is not due to ignorance or complacency, but a result of the enormous disruption and even hardship that vacating one’s home presents.

Other factors that keep people from evacuating their homes when there are hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters  include the fear of abandoning their homes or the inflated feelings of confidence people gain after surviving the disaster in the past.

Then there is the heartbreaking reality of elderly or disabled people who are simply unable to evacuate due to physical limitations. Those who don't have the assistance of neighbours or friends are sometimes left without a choice.

But it's not all grim. Perhaps one of the most fascinating reasons people don't evacuate hurricanes is linked to feelings of communal responsibility.

In a 2009 paper published in Psychological Science, Stanford and Princeton researchers polled Hurricane Katrina survivors — both those who evacuated and those who didn't — about their experiences. Their findings were far more nuanced than anticipated.