3 Must-Reads to Better Understand Hurricane Harvey / by Yessenia Funes

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Hurricane Harvey continues to roar through the Southeast. So far, the destructive storm has dropped more than 20 inches of rain in some areas—with some waters covering houses, leaving only roofs visible. It's been a sad weekend with reports of stranded families pouring via social media. And the rain ain't stopping.

“This could go down as the worst flood disaster in U.S. history,” said J. Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, to The New York Times. That means worse than Katrina, and that was devastating

Harvey's already killed five people, and we can only hope that it won't kill anymore. I live in New York, so I can't get on the ground, but local and national journalists have been doing a great job shedding light on the crisis. Unfortunately, for those who've been paying attention, this wasn't a surprise: Experts knew it was only a matter of time before the city went under water.

I'm keeping everyone down there in my thoughts. After the rain comes another difficult phase because recovery is a bitch. The physical damage to one's home and loved ones is one thing; then comes the damage we can't see, the mental damage and PTSD that results from such extreme events.

Here are three stories that really shed light on what's going down in Houston and in general. Read them to get some deeper understanding of Hurricane Harvey—and the impacts it'll have on the city's most vulnerable.

Hell and High Water — ProPublica and The Texas Tribune 
This investigation shed light on what Houston would see when, not if, torrential rains fell upon it. The piece came out last year—before Hurricane Harvey. ProPublica and The Texas Tribune's amazing team of reporters knew that this day would come.

From the story:

Still, scientists say, Houston’s perfect storm is coming — and it’s not a matter of if but when. The city has dodged it for decades, but the likelihood it will happen in any given year is nothing to scoff at; it’s much higher than your chance of dying in a car crash or in a firearm assault, and 2,400 times as high as your chance of being struck by lightning.

The story touches on several realities. Some involve environmental disaster if the Gulf Coast's industrial sites break and spill into the Gulf and surrounding areas. The piece also reminds us of what Texas has already seen. Remember Hurricane Ike? Still, cities like Houston continue to ramp up development without planning for future climate catastrophes. Because Hurricane Harvey will surely not be the last disaster this region sees.

The Vulnerable Communities in Harvey's Path, Mapped — CityLab 
In this piece, readers can see maps that lay out the ways this storm is going to affect the state's most vulnerable communities. It lays out the hurricane's path and shows what communities are in its path, breaking them up by immigration status, poverty levels, etc. 

And as the city points out, not everyone was able to evacuate for the hurricane. If you're poor, you're less likely to have the means to flee. Where would you go? And with what money? And with what mode of transportation? Then, there are the incarcerated. Some were being forced to weather the storm, and that's scary. As for the homeless, some staked out under highways that are now completely submerged.

CityLab states:

Within cities, poor communities of color often live in segregated neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to flooding, or near petrochemical plants and Superfund sites that can overflow during the storm. This is especially true for Houston—a sprawling metropolis, where new development has long been spreading thinly across prairie lands that help absorb excess rainwater. And it’s long been understood that the city is unprepared to handle the effects of a storm as unprecedented as this one.

These maps tell a chilling tale, one that's all too common when it comes to natural disasters. But you gotta' ask yourself: Is Mother Nature inherently racist? No. So then what systems made this reality happen? Was it an accident that the poor and non-White communities were placed in low flood plains or near hazardous sites? No, it wasn't.

Hurricane season brings heightened threat to undocumented immigrants — The Guardian
The reports about Texas' undocumented community quickly came pouring in. This story by The Guardian doesn't get into Hurricane Harvey's impacts, in particular, but it sheds light on the greater issue about being undocumented during a natural disaster. In short, it's a nightmare.

Do you stay home to avoid deportation or risk deportation to save your life? The answer might seem obvious to some because why would anyone put their lives at risk? But sometimes deportation is another death sentence.

From The Guardian:

Interior Border Patrol checkpoints have long been stationed along highways in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Built to catch and deter smugglers, they form a sort of virtual border wall up to 100 miles from the actual frontier.
Normally, encounters are routine: an officer asks a vehicle’s occupants basic questions such as if they are US citizens, and may demand to see proof of legal immigration status.
But for undocumented people fearful of being apprehended, the checkpoints represent a barrier that could become life-threatening in the event of a hurricane severe enough to prompt an evacuation order. People would face agonising choices: stay home and try to ride out the storm, leave and take the chance that checkpoints are suspended or agents do not stop them, or attempt to circumvent security on foot – a potentially life-threatening decision in any weather.

We saw this happen with Harvey. Border checkpoints weren't paused. They remained open during the storm, putting undocumented residents in a tricky position. Still, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection did clarify in a joint statement that their highest priorities are "life-saving and life-sustaining activities."

They went on: "Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks. The laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm."

The hurricane continues to unfold and its greater impacts will be seen in the weeks to come. You can find out how to donate to relief efforts here. Stay safe, y'all.