It’s impossible to turn on the news without hearing reports of category four Hurricane Harvey’s recent path of destruction through the south or, even more recently, the landfall of Hurricane Irma through Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Now, people are preparing for yet another–Hurricane Jose–to make landfall.
The devastation caused by these storms is evident to all, but it’s often not considered how differently they affect those of lower socioeconomic status. Dr. Reedy-Strother explains how Hurricane Harvey, as well as any other natural disaster, disproportionately affects the less fortunate in its path.
According to Reedy-Strother, those of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to lose their lives when faced with natural disaster. This is often due to the fact that they simply don’t have the resources to evacuate. Residents of areas that are likely to be hit with damaging wind and rain are urged to move out of the path of destruction, but those without transportation cannot do so.
From Harvey alone, more than 30,000 people have been displaced thus far and 17,000 have needed rescue. Damages are estimated to cost up to $180 billion, making Hurricane Harvey the costliest hurricane in American history thus far, surpassing both Sandy and Katrina. It is unclear currently the cost that Irma and Jose will present.
Communities that weren’t ravaged by the initial downpour and windstorm of Harvey were destroyed by subsequent flooding due to river overflow. Home and business owners have lost everything, but are counting themselves lucky to be alive. More than 70 lives have been taken by the storm.
Floodwater sweeping through homes and winds carrying away cars are some commonly known effects of tropical storms.
“Those in the upper class can replace a house almost immediately afterwards,” explains Reedy-Strother. “This means they’re immediately able to begin restoring their lives.” Meanwhile, lower class individuals are concerned with basic survival needs such as locating clean water and food. “They’re wondering how they’re going to feed their children or safely get out of the area.”
Lack of access to insurance means that physical and material recovery is much harder and oftentimes impossible. When those without home insurance are without a home due to the storm, they are left with very few options.
Natural disasters bring with them a host of damages beyond loss of homes that most are unaware of.
Sharp metal and glass shards are often lurking under floodwater that victims wade through. In addition, sewage systems are destroyed and their contents flow with the water that fills streets and homes. Enormous swarms of fire ants have been floating through Houston and harmful bacteria are prevalent, often ending up in food and drinking water.
Countless organizations are involved in relief efforts, including The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, The Humane Society of American and AmeriCares, among many others. Operation BBQ Relief is providing meals for both volunteers and victims in Houston. Millions of dollars in donations are pouring in from individuals and organizations around the world.
President Trump has donated $1 million towards relief efforts, and Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt has raised over $30 million over the past few weeks to provide food and supplies to displaced victims.
Displacement is particularly difficult for people with blue-collar type jobs, as they often have a hard time finding work if they are able to relocate. Additionally, the myriad of added costs that come with natural disaster recovery simply aren’t feasible for those of lower socioeconomic statuses.
“Of course survival is possible,” says Reedy-Strother, “but people in financially difficult situations are completely reliant on help from others.” This extends past the immediate wake of disaster, as some less fortunate communities hit by Hurricane Katrina twelve years ago are still struggling to regain their footing. “Those in more stable financial situations still experience all of the hardship, but their circumstances are likely more temporary.”
With circumstances like these, along with physical and financial adversity, inevitably comes psychological damage for some. “There is definitely a mental health toll,” explains Reedy-Strother. “People will definitely experience PTSD, anxiety and depression as a result.”
Access to medical and mental health resources vary greatly between social class, as does the stigma that comes with experiencing mental trauma. Reedy-Strother asserts that “there is greater social acceptance and support within the upper classes,” and that individuals of low socioeconomic status are often left to fend for themselves when facing mental hardship of any sort.
“We all need to remember when we see these big news stories that there is definitely an urgent need, but the need doesn’t stop when the media leaves,” Reedy-Strother says. “People will be recovering for years and years.” She believes we too easily begin to feel overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the need for aid and recovery, but “there are things that we can do wherever we are,” and that “we all have the ability to make a difference” in the months and years to come.