The Ugly Truth about the Discrimination in Disaster Coverage and Relief

Lest there be any confusion or misunderstanding, let me set the record straight regarding the dark secret of disasters in this country. Not all disasters are treated equal. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The way a disaster (or potential disaster) is covered in one area bears no resemblance to how it would be treated in another. The ultimate criteria for media coverage and immediate help are political impact and ratings.

Two weeks ago at this time the country of Jamaica was being beaten by Hurricane Gustov. In the days which followed, Gustov managed to usurp the Sen. Obama’s acceptance speech and Sen. McCain’s choice of Gov. Palin as his running mate as the major news story. Instead of seeing images of the opening day of the Republican National Convention on September 1st, all eyes were glued to the storm that was supposed to kill New Orleans once and for all.

The country, politicians and media of all types waited for the story of the decade to unfold. For many, the fact that Gustov missed causing the destruction of New Orleans was a source of bitter disappointment. As quickly as all the television satellite trucks came, they left and headed for Minnesota and convention they never wanted to attend to begin with. FEMA picked up and moved to the East Coast in anticipation of hurricane Hanna striking there.

The end result was that no one in the United States of America knew that Gustov DID cause incredible damage and untold human suffering in areas just to the west and northwest of New Orleans. Why does no one know? Because there was no “big story” coming out of Baton Rouge, or Lafayette; let alone New Iberia or Grand Isle. Who wants to hear about the suffering Cajuns or see images of heavily damaged poor WHITE people’s homes and businesses?

So now we sit on the precipice of the greatest natural disaster to hit the United States in its history—Hurricane Ike; and where is the non-stop media coverage? Where are the trucks lined up and fighting each other for position to get the best images of poor black people’s homes flooded and destroyed by hurricane winds? Where are the news stories of all the FEMA people and resources standing by ready to swoop in and save the day? There are none because the destruction of Galveston or Houston is not as compelling as the destruction of New Orleans would have been.

The sick and perverted way disasters are handled in this country drives those who try to help in these disasters crazy. While one area receives tons of help and media coverage which promotes more help, another area receives no coverage and thus very little help. Hurricane Rita bore this truth out three years ago. The amount of aid sent to areas destroyed by Rita was a trickle compared to what went to Katrina areas, especially New Orleans.

I went to Cameron, Louisiana seven months after Rita hit. There was no one single relief agency anywhere to be found. Every single group had left the area. There was NO ONE helping these people survive, let alone rebuild their lives. Many groups had to quit because they could not find resources or volunteers to help. All available aid was going to the 5 star volunteer camps erected in and around New Orleans. No one cared about where Rita did its most damage.

When a tornado ripped Greensburg, Kansas off the face of the map, for some reason the media jumped on the story and every relief agency in existence flooded the area before even FEMA could lock down the place. Greensburg became a national icon of disaster relief and recovery. Meanwhile, a tornado ripped areas of Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Mexico off the map also. I tried contacting every one of the same agencies which gladly descended on Greensburg to help. Not one of them was willing to lift a finger to aid the area due to the Mexican influence.

Other towns have suffered the same fate as Greensburg since that disaster. Far too many to list in fact. North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee are just a few of the states which have seen either F-5 tornadoes demolish a town or a rash of tornadoes destroy many towns. Not one of these areas or towns has ever received a tenth of the attention or help Greensburg received. Why? I don’t have an answer for that one, I only know the facts.

A month or so before Greensburg was flattened, a tornado tore though Enterprise, Alabama and hit a high school killing a number of students. The story made national news for a day or so. Weeks after the tornado, there was nigh unto no assistance coming in to the area. I toured the area and found out why. The lion’s share of the damage was to the black part of town except for the high school where the students died. All available resources were diverted to “white” towns in Georgia which had been devastated by the same storms which hit Enterprise.

Disaster relief is not color blind and is many times determined by where the potential for most media coverage and political benefit is found. The discrimination found in providing help to victims of disasters, large and small, is staggering. Soon, I will post excerpts from an account written less than a week after Gustov hit the central Louisiana coast telling of the incredible damage and human suffering. No one knows this story for no one is there covering it. Now after Ike hits, this poor area will receive no media coverage, no outside help and very little government help.

There are many things in the United States which are good and wonderful and reflect the honest desire on the part of many of its citizens and agencies to help others in time of need. There are also many dark and ugly elephants in the closets of many groups whose claim is to equally share resources and volunteers with those in need. The sad reality is that for every disaster, every town and every family who receives the loving support and help of strangers, there are ten who never see anyone but a stray government official or scam artist. This is a sad testimony to our heart of giving .

1 Response to “The Ugly Truth about the Discrimination in Disaster Coverage and Relief”

  1. 1 Anita
    September 13, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Honestly, I think it’s the “green” initiative in Greensburg, Kansas, that’s drawing the attention… not just the tornado.

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