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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/1/18

How Hurricane Florence Hit the Poor, the Oppressed, and Immigrants Hardest

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Part II of:

Hurricane Florence Hits the Carolinas: A Natural Occurrence -- An Unnatural and UNNECESSARY Disaster

Category 4 Hurricane Michael battered the coast of the Florida Panhandle October 10, before moving through Georgia, the Carolinas, and on to Virginia. Michael, which came less than a month after Hurricane Florence, was reportedly the most powerful storm ever to hit the Panhandle. It left death and massive destruction in its wake, including nearly obliterating the entire town of Mexico Beach where it made landfall.

Meanwhile, on October 8, two days before Michael hit Florida, a news report by the United Nations' leading body on climate science, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that the climate crisis is not a far-off problem--it's happening right now, and it's accelerating more quickly and having more devastating impacts much sooner than previously understood. The report called for radical, "unprecedented" transformations starting immediately to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels to prevent a global catastrophe. A co-chair of the group of 91 scientists from 40 different countries who wrote the report calls the next few years "probably the most important in our history."

This series on Hurricane Florence examines how the capitalist-imperialist system of today fuels such hurricanes and worsens the death and destruction, and we start to grapple with why and how it would be radically different in a genuinely socialist society. Part 1 discussed how this "monster storm" was fueled by a monstrous system.

* * * *

Many middle-class people--of all nationalities--have been impacted even devastated by Hurricane Florence. The geographic terrain shapes where floodwaters rush the fastest and deepest. At the same time, the economic and social terrain has a tremendous impact on where those floodwaters and storms, and their aftermath, wreak their greatest havoc: they often have the most devastating consequences for poor, black and other oppressed people, and immigrants.

Over 15 percent of North Carolina's 10 million people live below the federal poverty line of $24,340 for a family of four. That percentage is double for African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. People trapped below the poverty line, along with many just above it, are often too poor to have a car, or buy gas, or afford a place to stay outside the danger zone. Or they may feel compelled to stay to protect what little they have. So, many remained trapped, often fending for themselves, when they should be evacuating to avoid injury, even death.

Recovery is also skewed by this chasm of exploitation and racism. Over 80,000 people in North Carolina have already applied for federal disaster aid. That's twice the number that applied for aid after the last major storm to hit North Carolina, Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Yet many poor and black people are still waiting for federal aid they were entitled to after Matthew. And now some of them have been hammered again by Florence!

Surrounded by water flowing out of the Cape Fear River in the eastern part of North Carolina, Sept. 17.
Surrounded by water flowing out of the Cape Fear River in the eastern part of North Carolina, Sept. 17.
(Image by North Carolina National Guard)
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The town of Lumberton, which has a sizable black population, is an example. It was flooded by Matthew and now by Florence. Yet there are 106 homeowners there who still haven't gotten federal funds specifically allocated for "low- and moderate-income" homeowners (represented disproportionately by black people) to rebuild or relocate after Matthew. Why? Because North Carolina has only spent $2 million of the $236.5 million it received specifically in 2016 for this purpose!

Cuts in the number of state government staff dealing most directly with oppressed areas is one factor that has contributed to this outrageous situation.1 Another big obstacle for the masses in getting relief is the difficulty many who are swamped with job or family responsibilities have in taking on the bureaucracy and its mountains of red tape. This can be very time-consuming, frustrating, and difficult--especially for those who may have just lost everything, including their personal records. ("North Carolina, a 'Slow Spender' State, Struggles to Hand Out Storm Aid," New York Times, September 24.)

This is one example of how poverty, white supremacy, and the workings of capitalism-imperialism shape the overall amount of disaster relief provided, who receives it, and who doesn't, in this country. A 2017 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation of the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on Texans in the Gulf Coast region found that 34 percent of white residents had their applications for federal aid approved, compared to only 13 percent of black residents.

In South Carolina, 62 percent of the prison population is black. During Hurricane Florence, inmates at some of the state's prisons were forced to remain locked behind prison walls--even as mandatory evacuation orders were being issued. Instead of being rushed to safety, they were put to work filling sandbags to protect property and people outside the walls!

Immigration officials said they would stop detaining immigrants during the hurricane, but many undocumented people were afraid to leave their homes--even when they were given mandatory evacuation orders. Many feared they'd be questioned, detained, and possibly separated from their children by immigration police. One woman in the flood-ravaged city of Wilmington told NBC News she was afraid to go to a shelter: "My smallest daughter, the little one, asked me, 'Mom, I'm very afraid that our home is going to be destroyed, and I don't want to go to a shelter because I don't want to be separated from you. I would rather die first than be separated from you.'"

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