Hurricane Harvey created a flood in internal climate refugees
Homelessness is not just a social disease, it’s become an internal refugee crisis, thanks to the extreme weather such as Hurricane Harvey this past August 25-29th, 2017.
Climate change has created long droughts, and along with that land-devouring wildfires, evicting residents in the Sierras and Coastal mountains of California. Climate change sourced hurricanes has also brought a devastating hurricane season for residents in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and far-away 51st state Puerto Rico.
Translated into numbers, we are already seeing tens of thousands of displaced residents alone in Texas having to rebuild their homes and dreams, and possibly also their livelihoods. Why isn’t this worthy of more national focus by the mainstream media?
The dearth of information in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria which visited the Caribbean and Puerto Rico is partially related to the limited satellite access because so many power lines and micro-towers suffered local damage from winds.
However citizen-journalists also blame the lack of coverage on an apathetic American public. News coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma which caused extensive damage in the Gulf region of Texas and southeastern Florida extending down to the Florida Keys bodes ill for the stock market. The key to recovery appears to be cranking up the volume on quickly regaining utilities and transportation to and from major tourist attractions.
Surprisingly good coverage about Hurricane Harvey has come from alternative news sites including international sources such as the Daily Mail and the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) which runs World Socialist Web Site.
Of course there is difficulty gathering information after devastating floods. In the 1990s, AGN worked briefly with the American Red Cross for a week to report on who needed help after severe flooding in northwest Washington state. We learned firsthand the challenges (and this was the pre-smartphone era) of navigating flooded roads while trying to conduct an affected population count.
Like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey will have long-term impacts estimated so far as totaling in the hundreds of billion of dollars.
Here are some of the facts about the Category 4 Hurricane from the National Weather Service:
- The hurricane was difficult to track due to its unpredictable path and redevelopment after it had presumably weakened in strength
- Winds varied from 135 along the coast to 75 mph inland
- Between August 25th and August 29th at least 30 inches of rain fell in the Houston area.
- Intense rain, such as nearly 10 inches in two hours, led to flash-floods in Houston and Beaumont (East along the coast)
- Cities such as Corpus Christi and nearby coastal towns where the hurricane made landfall were hardest hit by wind damage.
- Heavy rains over the duration of the storm resulted in up to 51 inches of rain along with flooding at Baytown (mouth of San Jacinto River)
The federal Hurricane website for Harvey is pared down from late August. More comprehensive information on the destruction wrought is reported at Wikipedia. The Daily Mail has a long photojournalists’ story. According to these sources:
- At least 76 people confirmed dead directly from the storm.
- There are 36 confirmed storm-related deaths in Harris County
- Governor Abbott ordered an evacuation from areas of storm surge along the Gulf coast
- Nearly 49,000 homes impacted by the floods
- Approximately 500,000 ruined cars
- Hurricane Harvey brought the heaviest rainfall recorded in U.S. history
- Life-threatening flooding occurred in and around Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and southwest Louisiana
- 30,000 people were housed in shelters across the state with another 10,000 displaced expected
- Cost of economic losses estimated at approximately $140 billion average from homes, cars, damaged infrastructure and lost business
WSWS.org provided important news not found elsewhere including:
- Expert opinion that Houston has repeatedly downplayed over development and inadequate flood protections
- Interviews with evacuees who claim that emergency shelters were overcrowded and they were treated arbitrarily
- Chaotic planning with regard to provision of food, water, medicine, and sleeping arrangements for sheltering in place
- The incalculable health consequences from flooded Superfund sites, toxic spills, and air pollution
- The heroic efforts of the community’s working class in rescue of neighbors
The creation of democratic and social public dialogue is essential for people who are now wholly reliant on the extent to which the government is willing to help. Yet the unspoken message being conveyed by the rapid attenuation of national news coverage is that the burden of the costs will be disproportionately borne by the residents themselves.
However the City of Houston is beginning to step up to the challenge in providing people necessary evaluative information at their fingertips. The City has launched a new “Harvey by the Numbers” website. The website is essentially a helpful geographic information system tool that displays by heat-color coding the neighborhoods with damaged buildings and ongoing debris removal efforts. More important the Houston Recovers website offers emergency information and assistance for all affected populations including in multiple languages.
For instance, in Oates-Prairie in East Houston, the data count is currently 179 building with sustained damage. As far as ongoing debris removal, it amounts to 28,182 cubic yards so far. This warns visitors on potential traffic jams and rebuilding opportunities. It also depicts how huge the ongoing clean up is as the amount removed in Oates-Prairie neighborhood is comparable in volume to the size of one standard soccer field filled 5 feet deep with debris.
In the meantime, environmentalists and social workers are decrying the mounting costs of climate change even as the Trump Administration prepares budget cutbacks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Among the other incalculable personal costs besides the physical losses of homes and businesses are the factors of instability caused by uprooted families and loss of income(s). Exposure to dangerous chemicals and public health hazards from toxic levels of air pollution and from flooded Superfund sites increase the risk of disease. The long-term exposure to potential molds from sheltering in place is something planners must consider.
This is why in contrast with austerity measures and deep tax cuts, government watch-dog Inside Climate News defends the need for the government planning to include more detailed accurate fiscal preparedness predicated on an increasing number of extreme weather events.
Rather than increasing 2018 military preparedness overseas, increasing the domestic spending budget better addresses the likelihood of new weather and other catastrophes in the 21st century. Planning and investing in stronger more resilient coastal infrastructure, alternative transportation, as well as community planning along a continuum of needs can help stem the tide and flow of what is likely to be a whole generation of climate refugees.
Photo from Hurricane Harvey at National Weather Service.
1. “In the Keys, Irma ‘knocked out’ the tourism industry. Now, the race to recovery is on.” Miami Herald, October 19, 2017
2. “Major Hurricane Harvey – August 25-29, 2017.” National Weather Service, NOAA, October 15, 2017
3. “Hurricane Harvey.” Wikipedia, October 15, 2017
4. “‘The worst is not over’: Texas governor says Harvey is ‘far larger than Katrina’.” Daily Mail, August 31, 2017
5. “The working class responds to Hurricane Harvey.” World Socialist Web Site, August 31, 2017
6. “Houston residents speak out on historic flooding from Hurricane Harvey.” World Socialist Web Site, August 29, 2017
7. “Hurricane Harvey to be costliest US natural disaster.” World Socialist Web Site, September 4, 2017
8. “Mayor Announces Interactive Harvey By the Numbers Web Site.” City of Houston, September 29, 2017
9. “Harvey By the Numbers.” Houston Recovers, 2017.
10. “Houston Recovers.” Houston Recovers, 2017.
11. “The incalculable human health consequences of Hurricane Harvey.” WSWS.org, September 2, 2017.
12. “Damage from Hurricane Irma, Harvey Add to Growing U.S. Costs of Climate Change.” Inside Climate News, September 11, 2017