Blog Archives

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.

A Day For Remembrance and Unity, Not Division

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since what people have called our 9/11. This was our great loss of ordinary, everyday Australians enjoying holidays and end of season sporting team excursions. It is the worst terrorist attack that our nation has had to cope with, 88 Australians dead out of a total death toll of 202 with more than 200 injured.

Last year the United States of America had the 10 year anniversary of their own mass tragedy, 2752 killed in a different place, but for the same unjustifiable lack of reason.

What must be said too, is that it is not just our loss today. While a great number of those murdered were Australians, families around the world, whose loved ones ventured to Bali are also going to be grieving today. It is as much their loss as it is ours. Their grief is no less than ours.

What could have easily split our region, but also our world along rigid religious and cultural lines has actually brought us together in a common bond, a shared belief in decency and respect for all human beings based not on religion, but humanity. The small number of terrorists that have tried to tear our region and world asunder because of hateful and warped ideology are losing and will continue to lose.

Two nations that had experienced a long and troubled relationship, including the split over East Timor just a matter of years before, could quite easily have further parted ways. Instead the leaders of both our nations managed, from the ashes, to piece together arguably a stronger relationship than we have ever had with Indonesia.

Survivors, families and friends have had to endure the full gamut of emotions over the last 10 years. From the initial anger and sadness felt by them, by all Australians back in late 2002, we have shifted to a point in time where, for many, all but the deepest of psychological wounds, the awful memories of devastating scenes, of people dying and dead, people injured remain. Many of the victims, their families and friends have truly reached a level of acceptance, that nothing can bring those they lost back. But the thoughts, the memories will remain forever.

Most of us would not be able to begin to imagine the loss incurred on a human, a familial, a personal relationship level. This is not because many people haven’t experienced death, many of us have. But what the vast majority of us have not experienced is the untimely loss of a loved one, a family member, a friend, a teammate. Nothing could prepare us for such an abrupt and unexpected loss. Nothing could have prepared anyone with any direct involvement for the mode of loss either.

Today is a day that has to be about remembrance, one that we can share with each other. It is a day for quiet reflection, for empathy. Supporting others is something that we as Australians do remarkably well, whether that be through charity, or just providing a shoulder to cry on, calming words and thoughts.

Today is also a day to remember what, because of September 11 in the first place, we are actually fighting for. For some we are fighting a whole religion and that is a misplaced thought, we simply are not. We are not because of the attacks on the western world, fighting mainstream Islam. In the main, what we are fighting is a warped, a truly ugly interpretation of the religion. Yes, we may be hoping to change some of the practices through our efforts in Afghanistan, such as those that see women as second-class citizens, but the primary objective of our mission is to tackle terrorism.

Despite what some people may think, Islam taken as a whole is not dominated by people wishing to do us harm. If it was, we would have been defeated and subjugated across the world by Islam a long time ago. Nothing is to be gained by ascribing the same label to all Islam because of a small sect that hold a particularly obscene belief based on a misinterpretation of the Qur’an which fans hatred and intolerance and leads to gratuitous violence.

Let today be a day of further healing within the families of victims, of their friends and of Australians. Let it also be another day of maintaining and further repairing ties between faiths and cultures and also the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. What today must not be is one of hatred and intolerance toward Islam as a homogeneous group. If we were to do that then we would be surrendering not just to reason, but also to those who perpetrated the horrific acts and those that still want to inflict death upon us.

%d bloggers like this: