Hurricanes. They’re called many different things throughout different parts of the world: cyclones, tropical storms, typhoon. But the lasting and generational impact, especially on low-income people, is the same. People see how devastating a hurricane can be on a community, but with so many current events every day, news outlets don’t focus on a disaster for very long. But after the news stations leave a city, it still isn’t rebuilt. People still don’t have homes, cars, or belongings. Hurricanes effect everybody, but for low-income families, the impacts can feel like a death sentence.
Class privilege seeps into everyday life in every way it can, especially before a disaster. This “disaster privilege” can be set in motion before a hurricane even hits land. Maybe without a car, or money for a hotel/gas, poor people don’t have the ability to ride out a storm somewhere safe in the same way that rich people would. A middle to upper class person may have a property out of state, or can drive their cars to safety. When safety is bought, the price is often too high for many people.
Forced to stay at home, many people who are affected by hurricanes live in at-risk neighborhoods. In disaster-prone areas, hurricane-proof infrastructure is a necessity too often treated as a luxury. Subsidized buildings for the poor often aren’t flood-proof or architecturally sound and leave lower income people far more at risk than people who were able to go the extra mile and purchase a home that has the best infrastructure. On top of that, when it comes to hurricanes, location is everything. Low income people are often in areas prone to flooding because they can be cheaper. It is proven that poor people are also more likely to live with toxic waste near by, leaving them susceptible to chemical leaks. For someone without the money to live in a better protected area, it is them who feels the effects in more serious ways.
In the aftermath of a disaster, you may think all people and all houses are affected equally. After all, weather doesn’t discriminate, right? And people with these opinions aren’t wrong. A hurricane goes where it’s going to go, and will wreck everything in it’s path no matter who lived there. However after a hurricane hits, rebuilding is vital. If your house is demolished, your car is washed out of town, and your belongings are floating somewhere in the river that was once a town or city, you need to start all over again.You need new shelter, a new car, and you have to replace everything that was washed away, and making a life is expensive. Imagine everything in your house, and how long that took to accumulate. Now imagine having to buy it all at once, with whatever savings you happened to have.
For some people, they don’t necessarily have to do it alone. Separate from life, house, or car insurance, you can also get hurricane insurance. This will cover some or all of the costs for hurricane damages. For example, US News says only 17% of people living in Houston in the time before and after Hurricane Harvey had that special kind of coverage. The other issue is that depending on where one lives, they may have to buy separate storm surge and wind insurance, making it sometimes double the cost. For many Americans, it’s more important to focus on “now” costs, instead of “maybe in the future” costs. So for those who don’t have this insurance or insurances, rebuilding can cost around $150,000, according to the National Flood Insurance Program.
When your home is potentially destroyed, you have a few options. You could stay and rebuild, or relocate. Studies by The Brookings Institute show that after a disaster, the rich leave to new city or state, but the poor can’t afford that. After a hurricane, poverty level rises and housing prices and value drop. This shows that the poor are staying and may not be able to rebuild, leaving the poverty rate to rise. When the housing value decreases, this shows a sort of rich flight. When the rich leave, they may take bases for big companies that create lower level jobs. This can destroy a cities economy just as much as a hurricane can wipe out a landscape.
Not only do the poor get affected more and more harshly than the rich, but a hurricane can alter the racial and economic makeup of a city, leaving those people in a possible recession. Hurricanes cause lasting, generational damage and the poor feel it the most.