First Person

Another hurricane exposes the most vulnerable to the most harm

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People are trapped in this trailer park unless they want to walk in high water or have a canoe. They wait on a canoe to come by so that they can go to the store. Photo: Telley Madina / Oxfam America.

Telley Madina is a Coastal Communities Program Officer as part of Oxfam America’s US program. This is the second of two blogs.


Previously, I wrote about how Hurricane Isaac brought new levels of flooding to my state and my city, and how the loss of wetlands has exposed us to risk in new ways.

Bad news, for sure; but even worse is who’s getting hurt the most when extreme weather hits. Turns out it’s the most vulnerable – people who may be poor, elderly, disabled, unemployed. While I traveled through Louisiana in the wake of Isaac, I saw how people were able to cope with the impact of even a mild hurricane, which knocked out power for days.

The day after Isaac, not much was open around New Orleans. I stopped at the Burger King in Gretna, one of the few places open that was selling hot food and jam-packed with people. One guy, aware he would soon lose power, had pulled all the steak and shrimp out of his freezer the night before and hosted  a barbecue. The guy next to him barely had enough money for a sandwich. I had no worries about the guy who might have lost some frozen supplies — but I wondered what would happen to the guy who was likely to head home to a place that may have been under water, but certainly would be hotter than heck.

Oxfam and our partners work in the Gulf Coast to defend the rights of the most vulnerable, and to help them build resilience. I’m lucky enough to have the resources to prepare for this type of event, and to cope with the aftermath. All around me, though, I see what it means not to have the money to invest in simple tools.

Think about when a hurricane strikes. It’s going to be hot. Over the Labor Day weekend, the temp climbed to the 90s every day, and the humidity was off the charts. When about 90 percent of New Orleans is without power, it’s also without air conditioning, ice, and refrigeration. People are going to be hot, thirsty, hungry, and, possibly, without their medications.
The most useful tool is a backup gas generator; it provides enough power to keep your refrigerator going, and to run a window air conditioner unit (another bonus). But it costs money to buy, power, and maintain; folks who can’t afford this are hurting. And if you don’t have a car, and transportation systems are down, you can’t get out — to ice, or perishable food that keeps you going.

As the water goes down, poor people will find it that much harder to clear out their homes, buy new things, rebuild their homes and businesses. Isaac hit especially hard in poorer coastal communities, where the federal government had not invested in flood protection the way it had in New Orleans, so it will be a long road to recovery. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+