Over the course of the last week, Hurricane Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to reach Texas in fifty years, left Houston and several other communities devastated with some of the worst flooding in our country since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. At least eleven people are known to have died during this storm, with far more having been injured and/or made homeless.
There are several important questions we should ask ourselves after such a catastrophe occurs; mainly, how to provide relief to those affected (it should never be “if”), and how to prevent such suffering in the future. The mayor and government of Houston have been criticized for being unprepared for this type of calamity, and also for advising people to stay put through the flooding, rather than evacuate. This advice was based on the outcome of Hurricane Rita, in which people got stranded in traffic trying to leave the state, even some deaths related to the evacuation rather than the storm itself. Car flooding was also concern for the mayor when he made this call.
However, the city was unequipped to house, feed, clothe and otherwise provide for its residents that were stranded or made homeless via Hurricane Harvey. The emergency shelter plan designed for the fourth largest U.S. city only accommodated for about 5,000 people. Several people who arrived at shelters were not able to get beds. Again, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as terrible as they were, should have allowed vulnerable cities to better prepare for these types of situations, especially a city as large as Houston. The overall plan for citizens to stay put is also meant for much smaller storms; it was not appropriate for a storm the magnitude of Harvey, which was rated a class 4 hurricane at its strongest.
Houston City Limits
Second, with the technological capacities of the human race and our ability to significantly affect the environment with our activities, is it fully accurate or ethical to refer to these types of calamities as “natural disasters” anymore? Human contribution to pollution and rising global temperatures have concrete, observable effects on regional and global climates. These effects are able to translate into the higher probability of these types of storms. This is not to deny the existence of divine power or natural events, simply to realize that we cannot arbitrarily place blame on these things because it’s more convenient or comfortable to do so.
Understandably, it’s a terrifying and sobering thought that we, human beings, could somehow cause hurricanes, tsunamis and the like. We are called to be stewards of the Earth, and the responsibilities of that duty grow exponentially with the amount of power we acquire. Taking care of the Earth directly correlates with taking care of your fellow human beings, because we all live here!
As a closing thought, I came across a really pertinent Twitter feed a few days ago, whether about Hurricane Harvey or any terrible event affecting our global family: “…Americans are really good at acute compassion, but pretty bad at chronic empathy. We without question, haul strangers out of a raging flood, give blood, give food, give shelter. But we are lousy at legislating safe, sustainable communities, at eldercare, at accessible streets and buildings. It is the long-term work that makes the disasters less damaging. But we don’t want to give to the needy; we want to save the endangered. We don’t like being care workers, we want to be the heroes. The world does not need more heroes. We need more care.”
If you would like to help fund relief efforts in Houston and the surrounding areas affected by flooding, you can find the ND Student Government Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund on Facebook. You can also go to Catholic Relief Services or check out this article to find other organizations dedicated to providing relief. But importantly, participate in local and national government to make sure the necessary legislation and regulations are put in place to prevent similar or worse tragedies in the future!