Why Do Some Stay, Despite Evacuation Orders?

New Orleans resident Richard Thomas heard the orders to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Katrina. But like thousands of others, he chose to stay and ride it out.

"They wanted to move, they wanted to go to Mississippi, but I said I wasn't going to go," he said.

"But I should have went, because we got a lot of water here. A lot of water."

When calm returns to an area devastated by a natural disaster like Katrina, it is hard for many people to understand the mindset of the people who ignored evacuation orders.

Why didn't they just get out of town?

"There's a certain amount of denial involved," said Dr. John Stutesman, director of outpatient treatment in psychiatry at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "They allow themselves to believe they can handle the storm."

In New Orleans, many residents said they had no means to leave. Many ended up in a stuffy, collapsing Superdome. Images of thousands of people shuffling around the stadium as the roof tore off will be a lasting image of the destruction caused by Katrina.

Kathleen Bartels, a Hammond, La., resident, told ABC News that she and her family tried to flee, but found they couldn't make it out. They decided to ride the storm out in their home.

"That was the best we could do," she said. "But we're safe and that's the important part."

Comfort, Control and Fear of Loss

When faced with the idea of being completely out of control of a situation and at the mercy of Mother Nature, people stay on because it gives them a sense of control, experts say. People also stay on out of fear of losing everything they have.

"They think if they stay, they can protect their stuff," Stutesman said. "And our property can be very important to us. It has much meaning."

Besides economic reasons and denial, some people also stay on because of a feeling of grandeur, according to Dr. Joseph C. Napoli, a specialist in disaster psychiatry, traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorders. Napoli is the president-elect of the New Jersey Psychiatric Association and is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.

"For a few people, they may be playing the hero," he said. "It's important to them to not be a coward."

For others, a sense of control keeps them in their doomed homes.

"They think 'Only I can take care of my stuff,' " said Napoli.

While some people may have never experienced a hurricane and believe it can't be that bad, some who've survived bad storms believe they can get through it again.

"People develop a false sense of safety and end up risking their lives to be in their beloved 'safe place,' " Patrick Tiner, director of the Employee Assistance Program at Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said via e-mail.

For a variety of reasons, the aftermath of Katrina saw scores of people stranded on their roofs, waiting for help.

"We know that last night we had over 300 folks that we could confirm were on tops of roofs and waiting for our assistance," Capt. Dave Callahan of the Coast Guard in Mississippi told ABC News today.

"We pushed hard all throughout the night. We hoisted over 100 folks last night just in the Mississippi area. Our crews over New Orleans probably did twice that."

Encouraging people to evacuate is the best many municipalities can do, say the experts. But prior to an emergency, people should prepare by establishing an emergency plan and procedure, Napoli said.

"It's less shocking if you know what to expect and have a plan," Napoli said. "This may be particularly so in the United States where instant and fast recovery and response is part of our culture and our values."

This response not only applies to those affected but those who are there for cleanup and rescue, Napoli said. These rescue efforts also need to take into account the grieving process many will go through.

In New Orleans, a city that thrives and throbs with people, the sight of forlorn residents being plucked from their rooftops is unsettling to many who see the city as undefeatable. How will residents deal with their city that may be forever changed? Long-term depression and hopelessness abounds after such a tragic event.

One of the best coping methods actually is helping others, Napoli said. Also, a positive attitude can go a long way.

"Grieving over what New Orleans once was will be abundant," Napoli said. "However, like the Phoenix from the ashes, it can be new and different."