Amid coronavirus scare, Americans flock to remote land, survival retreats

Carey L. Biron
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Washington, United States / Thu, April 2, 2020 / 06:05 pm

A bunker is seen at Fortitude Ranch in Mathias, West Virginia, on March 13, 2020. The narrow, worn track in West Virginia, close to the foothills of the Appalachians, leads to a camp set back in the woods, where a group of US survivalists began preparing for the collapse of civilization long before the arrival of the new coronavirus that has brought so much of the world to a halt. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm )

As Americans stockpile basic supplies, pet food and school items amid coronavirus-related closures and “shelter-in-place” orders, many are turning to another strategy to protect their families: fleeing to remote areas.

With branches in multiple US states, Fortitude Ranch dubs itself a “survival community” and offers paying members access to remote, secure grounds and residences under the motto “Prepare for the worst, enjoy the present”.

The ranch has seen a “huge surge” of interest in joining its survival retreats amid the pandemic, said chief executive Drew Miller, who estimated inquiries have increase tenfold.

“People are concerned that if this virus mutates to be more lethal … or if these short periods of quarantine don’t work, the economy collapses, food distribution gets disrupted, then law and order can break down,” Miller told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Underground bunkers offer protection from nuclear blasts, surrounded by a concrete wall “easily manned by defenders”, according to the company’s website, and shelters are stocked and furnished by members.

The business is designed to keep members safe “when society breaks down, there is widespread looting, marauding, lawlessness, and it’s not safe to be in cities or suburbs,” said Miller.

The United States has the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world — about 215,000 on Thursday morning, according to John Hopkins University.

So far, cities have seen the most infections, although infectious-disease specialists warn that rural communities could eventually prove to be the most vulnerable to the pandemic, in part due to difficulties in accessing healthcare.

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