Even now, as Tropical Storm Harvey has passed over Houston, the chaos is far from over for the 30,000+ displaced citizens of Texas. Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm late Friday night, wreaking havoc on coastal regions before traveling inland and overwhelming the Houston area with 70 mph winds and as much as 50 inches of rain in some areas that led to heavy flooding with strong currents. It is estimated that as many as ten people are dead, with countless others still awaiting rescue; another 200,000 are without electricity; and the damage is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars, which will affect the economic climate in Texas and the country at large for months to come.
Eager to avoid the mistakes made by former president George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the President arrived early Tuesday morning in Corpus Christi, which is about 30 miles from the most heavily affected area. He has met with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, as well as local and state officials, to hear the concerns about overcrowded shelters.
The term “disaster capitalism” refers to an administration in power’s ability and willingness to use a tragedy, like a natural disaster, to promote an economic agenda that would otherwise be dismissed by the population under any other circumstances. Particularly when the affected demographic is a vulnerable population, protecting their property, possessions and lives seems to take a backseat to the singular goal of turning tragic circumstances into economic opportunities for corporations and the government. Photos have begun to circulate on social media showing gas stations charging up to $8.76 a gallon for gas and convenience stores selling packs of bottled water for almost $50, looking to generate a profit off people’s desperation for necessary items. Being that East Texas is a hotspot for crude oil and gasoline production, many of the refineries have been evacuated and production halted. Still, disaster capitalism may ultimately work out in Texas’ favor: with the damage still yet to be assessed, 22% of Gulf Shore production remains offline until further notice, which will take money out of the pockets of major corporations like ExxonMobil.
With this in mind, we may be able to anticipate a more proactive and timely response to the damages, since the area is a financially crucial one for these large conglomerates.
In terms of natural disasters, the parallels between Harvey and Kartina are evident. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, killing over 1,800 people, displacing over a million others and racking up over $100 billion in damage—predominantly in the most economically disadvantaged areas in the region, including the Lower Ninth Ward, which is still leveled to this day. Because New Orleans is below sea level, a disproportionate amount of the damage caused by Katrina resulted from the breaking of the levees, which unleashed a significant amount of water from Lake Pontchartrain that swallowed the impoverished areas. It is widely speculated that New Orleans officials, the federal government, and U.S. Army engineers knew the levee was weakened and could not withstand the tempestuous weather conditions of the Gulf Coast sustainably. Citing environmental racism, critics have also speculated that, due to the economic disadvantage of the area surrounding the levee, it was not a priority to those in power. Then-president George W. Bush was widely criticized for being on vacation during the 2005 disaster, and he failed to meet the nation’s expectations for a presidential response.
Similarly, Donald Trump wished everyone good luck as he boarded a plane for Camp David, where he tweeted that he was “closely monitoring” the storm. Two factors that directly contributed to the severity of these storms are rising sea levels and a warmer ocean temperature, both widely attributed to climate change—a phenomenon the president has previously denied despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. In the wake of the storm’s destruction, the scientific community has warned that Harvey represents the preliminary effects of our unwillingness to cooperate with the rest of the world to mitigate the human impact on global climate change.
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