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Storm Events Forgotten

Last week Hurricane Sandy smashed into the United States of America, a country nearing its presidential election. The storm has left at least 110 dead on US shores and will be responsible for a reconstruction bill in the order of tens of billions. The eyes of the world were fixed on the US as the storm came ashore, the coverage in-depth and intense. Television coverage brought Hurricane Sandy into the living room’s of people across the world in a frame-by-frame blanket of images.

The human suffering brought on by natural disasters like Sandy is sad, shocking and devastating. Loss of life through natural disasters is an unfortunate reality for countries and people across the globe. But sometimes that devastation is heard but not seen. Sometimes the cameras are not there to capture the destruction and death. Sometimes storms and the people they impact are invisible to the world. Sometimes too there are storms we easily forget.

The USA was lucky in a sense. The world power had plenty of warning of the impending threat that Sandy posed. The storm had bashed and battered the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, still recovering and rebuilding after a massive earthquake, before continuing onto America. The Caribbean was largely forgotten, the damage and death wrought by the tropical storm largely ignored by the world’s media.

It was almost as if Hurricane Sandy was the United States’ storm. That’s not to say that the loss of life and widespread damage to infrastructure on US soil should be forgotten, that it is any less than death and damage elsewhere. The point is that there should be little or no distinction between loss of life and property in the United States of America and people losing their lives and property in the third world.

The coverage of Hurricane Sandy on the television, the radio and the web was also notable for another large storm that most of the coverage seemed to ignore or had forgotten occurred.

Generally, the one and only storm used for comparative purposes was Hurricane Irene. Irene was more powerful in wind speed, a Category 3, than Sandy, a Category 1. Sandy though was much larger in size, her impact felt across approximately 2 million square miles, much of the eastern seaboard of the USA. Which event caused more death is of course irrelevant. All loss should be mourned.

In comparing and contrasting Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, there was one storm event which was conspicuously absent from media coverage and social media comments. Many had seemingly forgotten a storm which is still, seven years on, causing problems for some of the areas it hit, including exacerbating social disintegration and the breakdown of social cohesion.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit Florida as a Category 1 hurricane where some casualties were incurred and damage experienced. The system then moved into the Gulf of Mexico where it again gathered strength. By the time Katrina reached landfall it was a Category 3.

There were 1833 confirmed deaths and $185 billion damage was levelled on storm-hit areas. The city of New Orleans, a largely African-American populace, was the hardest hit area and continues to suffer the consequences of a storm that time, the American people and the world seem to have largely forgotten.

How could the American media as well as social media have skipped over such a large, dramatic and violent event responsible for so many casualties and so much temporary and also ongoing damage? How could people on social media also not think of Hurricane Katrina when making links or comparisons between major natural events?

Admittedly some of the lack of attention toward Hurricane Katrina may have been down to the size of the wind field as compared with Irene and more recently Sandy. However, surely a mass casualty event where close to 2000 people died is worthy of a mention?

The memory loss surrounding Katrina could be one of three things. Either Katrina, with the loss of life and infrastructure and the woefully inadequate response from FEMA and the Bush administration is because of a genuine forgetfulness, a source of shame and deep embarrassment or a sign of something more sinister.

It is much better, a more pleasant thought to contemplate, that the amnesia suffered about Hurricane Katrina is down to genuine forgetfulness. Unfortunately, this is the most naive and unrealistic assumption. It is not within the realms of reality to believe that such a significant event could simply be forgotten.

Could it be the next best option? Could it be that the response to Hurricane Katrina caused deep shame?

This is the eventuality that seems most reasonable to widely apply to the case of Katrina. It is also, thankfully, not the most uncomfortable. The slow response and the divisions it exposed and further fomented should have been and should continue to be a cause of shame and consternation.

Unfortunately, just because embarrassment would appear to be the major response in the wake of Katrina, it does not mean that there are no sinister undertones in the ignorance displayed about Katrina and her impact.

One need only look to the swiftness of action in response to Hurricane Sandy and Irene and then compare it with the slow move to help those who suffered because of Hurricane Katrina. The link is somewhat tenuous and does not reveal a widespread ethnic and racial divide, but the disparate responses should provide pause for thought.

It is entirely possible that some of the lack of tolerance and understanding of different races and ethnicities does pervade parts of the media. No parts of society are without ignorance of difference and a lack of tolerance, but this must not be overstated. Any role intolerance plays in the media is likely very small.

Whatever the cause of the storm amnesia, no large and tragic events should be forgotten. The good thing is that lessons can be learned from the way the media have covered Sandy and the social media response which so closely mirrored that of the broadcast media.

This Is the Political Story of a Hurricane

Post Tropical Storm Sandy has now vanished from the skies above the United States of America. In its wake it has left at least 90 dead with the final death toll likely to be higher than that. The hurricane has also resulted in billions of dollars damage to cities along the east coast of the USA. Now that the storm has passed, attention first and foremost has turned to the recovery with FEMA and the US President hitting the ground running. The US President has toured areas hit by the natural disaster and FEMA have commenced their post-disaster efforts.

Despite the fact that a tragedy has just transpired, the US election, which has seen an intriguing campaign so far, is still going ahead. Polling day is now less than a week away and after a brief ceasefire, electoral hostilities have resumed in key swing states across the country.

Inevitably, thought has turned to the effects that the hurricane has had on the campaign and might have on the outcome on election day. Would the storm help or hinder Barack Obama and end Mitt Romney’s chances or would it end Barack Obama’s hopes for re-election? Or would the storm have left the electoral equation relatively unchanged?

It would appear that there are two main scenarios which could play out as a result of Hurricane Sandy. But there is also the possibility of a third effect brought on by the tropical storm.

The first is the really obvious one. This is the one that seems to be in the mind’s and on the lip’s of many political commentators. That is that the devastation gives President Obama a chance to appear presidential, an interesting conclusion given that President is exactly what Barack Obama currently is.

This theory holds that the President, through responding to the crisis, will gain electoral momentum thanks to the horrific events which have killed so many, not just in the USA, but also throughout parts of the Caribbean.

Whether or not this theory holds any credibility is largely down to the states involved in the hurricane, with the broader populace probably not as concerned about Barack Obama appearing presidential as a result of something that does not affect them. Most of the directly hit states are well and truly in the bag for either side, save for Virginia and North Carolina.

The theory of looking presidential with strong and swift actions after a tragic event could also be applied to Mitt Romney. It is somewhat arguable that appearing presidential as the challenger could have more of a benefit than the incumbent coming across to voters in the same way.

Governor Romney quickly hit the bellwether state of Ohio for what was termed a ‘ hurricane relief event’. At this outing, Obama’s adversary organised for donations of food and other goods to be sent to storm-hit areas of the country.

This event and others like it as well as Romney’s responses regarding the awful events of earlier this week mean that he could also appear presidential to voters. Again, whether this matters is debatable, though with Governor Romney enjoying most of the electoral momentum, small gains could make a difference.

The other theory is that Sandy might be responsible for halting the momentum of the campaign.

This theory offers more negative consequences for the President than it does for Mitt Romney. Effectively, if this was the case it would mean that two days were removed from Barack Obama’s last week and a bit of the campaign. This means two less days campaigning for votes.

The final effect is mostly a positive for the sitting President, at least for the period of time it was in play.

It is within the realms of reason, even self-evident, that the hurricane provided a distraction for up to almost a week from the real issue that Americans will be voting on when Tuesday next week rolls around. For that time, news of the economy and debate about it would have played second fiddle to the approaching winds and rain.

Whether or not two days of almost zero talk about the has resulted in a change of the complexion of the campaign seems unlikely. The storm is over now too and the focus of the campaign has largely returned to domestic issues.

It would appear that any benefit for either Republicans or Democrats, President Obama or Mitt Romney, derived from the storm that hit the east coast, is small or even negligible. Stranger things have happened though. Who would have thought that a debate would result in quite a dramatic shift in voter intentions?

With less than a week to go in a tough contest, the result is still anyone’s, even with a hurricane thrown into the equation.

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