Originally published on Odyssey on August 23, 2016.
Do you remember Superstorm Sandy?
I’m sure you do. If you don’t, it’s not hard to find piles and piles of digital information on just about every major news source available to residents of the World Wide Web. In late 2012, a tremendous hurricane slid up from the south Atlantic to wreak havoc on the northeastern United States, killing 117 people and damaging 200,000 homes. It was a tragedy. It was a disaster. Agencies from all over the nation came together to provide aid to those who had lost their homes and to families who had lost loved ones. And throughout the process—before, during, and after—national headlines were laden with talk about the storm and its impact.
Do you remember the Louisiana Floods?
You should. They’re happening right now. But chances are you haven’t heard about them because news coverage has been tardy, sporadic, and brief. “The state says the death toll from the recent storms and flooding in south Louisiana has risen to 13,” says ABC News, noting that the most recent victim was an “elderly woman.” And that’s about it. In gathering information for this article, in fact, it was difficult to find reliable information because the majority of coverage is four or five days old, and there is next to nothing from the start of the flood period nearly a week and a half ago. For reference, during Hurricane Sandy there were 10 photos uploaded online per second.
With more rain on the way, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards estimates that at least 40,000 homes have already suffered “at least some damage,” while more liberal estimates put the number of homes potentially damaged at 110,000 already. The Red Cross is calling the flooding in the south the worst natural disaster since Sandy—so why aren’t we hearing about it?
Looking at the pictures, there’s no question that this is a newsworthy disaster. Tens of thousands of people have already had to be rescued, and that number will only grow as record-breaking floods continue to inundate the southern part of the state. People are dying. People are losing everything. The economy is suffering. State climatologist Barry Keim said, “This is one of the events where no matter how much coverage you give it… it’s not fully capturing just how devastated the region actually is. It’s worse than it appears on television.”
So why aren’t we talking about it?
There have been theories flying around. More coverage is going toward other things, some have speculated—the Rio Olympics, controversy over police violence, the ongoing presidential campaign. But there’s a saying in the news business, suggests the Houston Chronicle: “Rain’s not a story until water falls on the editor’s house.”
They go on to point out that a lot of major news outlets are based in New York and the surrounding areas, the region that took the brunt of Hurricane Sandy’s power. But I think that maybe it goes deeper than that. Maybe rain’s not a story until it falls on a shiny, expensive house.
Guess which is worth more: A house in southern Louisiana or a house in New York City? You guessed it—property values in New York County average around $628,000, nearly 400 percent higher than the median value of a home in the United States. By contrast, the median value of a Louisana home is about $140,000. Yeah, there’s a bit of a difference. As you might have guessed, there was also a corresponding difference in income– $72,000 per household in New Jersey, the other major area hit by Sandy, to $44,000 in Louisiana.
But wait, there’s more!
In Louisiana, 37 percent of the population is composed of people of color, as compared to 30 percent in New York and 28 percent in New Jersey. “But what does that have to do with a natural disaster?” you may be asking. “Floods can’t discriminate.” You’re right, but people can. Firstly, the media has a notoriously bad habit of under- or misrepresenting people of color in the media, meaning that coverage of an event that influences people of color is statistically less likely to receive adequate coverage than one that impacts whites. Perhaps more significant, however, is the issue of poverty. In Louisiana, as in the rest of the United States, poverty affects people of color, particularly African Americans, at a disproportionately high rate. This means that while the area affected by the flooding is smaller than the area impacted by Sandy, it is also a poorer area, and a Blacker area. And the way the media is treating the issue shows it.
Of course, all of this is simply speculation. I took high school statistics: a correlation doesn’t prove a causation, and the numbers from the recent flooding have yet to solidify in the way that Sandy’s have. But at this point, two things are glaringly, objectively clear. First of all, in the flood-affected areas, the proportion of people covered by flood insurance ranges from 12 percent to a shocking one percent. Secondly, the media coverage of this event has been absolutely insufficient thus far. Therefore, people who may need our help the most, to save their livelihood, to save their lives, are going unheard and unspoken of.
There are plenty of organizations prepared to take steps to reach out and help victims of the floods—all they need now is a little more public support. You can donate now to the Red Cross to support disaster relief in the flooded areas, or you can simply do your part to spread the word and make sure that the voices of those impacted by this tragedy do not remain silenced.