As Texas braces itself for Hurricane Harvey, the Trump administration remains woefully ignorant and unprepared. The current FEMA director is working to rewrite the Federal Flood Insurance Program so that the federal government bears less of the cost when disasters strike and flooding occurs. On the surface, that might sound like a fiscally responsible move. But it’s loaded with inconsistencies and will most certainly not work out well for local cities, states or residents. Additionally, since Trump seems to be firing people weekly but taking his sweet time in hiring them, no one has been appointed to lead both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS oversees FEMA and the Coast Guard so it’s almost guaranteed that the response to this storm will be chaos. This is shaping up to be another Hurricane Katrina—complete with a devastating impact on black and brown communities.
Southeast Texas and the coastal bend regions of the state are expected to be the hardest hit. While Hispanics make up about 40 percent of the state’s population, Texas has one of the largest black populations in the country. And they live concentrated in the areas that are predicted to be hardest hit. For example, several counties have already been declared a state of disaster by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
In a statement released at 4:30 Wednesday, Abbott announced that he had preemptively declared a state of disaster for Aransas, Austin, Bee, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Brazoria, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Harris, Jackson, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Liberty, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Waller, Wharton and Wilson counties.
Jefferson County is 34 percent black. Other counties, like Harris, Galveston, Jasper, Colorado have black populations between 13-20 percent. Collectively, black people are the most populous minority in Southeast Texas though they are scattered around. This demographic data is important because it tells the story of who is likely to be impacted. In short, this hurricane is going to do incredible damage to the areas where black people live and many aren’t in positions to evacuate or financially withstand the impact.
For example, much of the black female population in Texas age 55 and over resides in Harris and Dallas counties, but many are also living in rural areas. Seniors are disproportionately impacted by hurricanes. They often live in areas vulnerable to storms and flooding, have difficulty with transportation and can be socially isolated. As an example, over half the people who died during Hurricane Katrina were 65 or older—they drowned or had other medical conditions that caused their deaths after becoming trapped in their homes.
Noteworthy also is the high percentage of people in poverty [in Texas] who are African American women, especially single parents. Of the 24% of African Americans below poverty level, single mothers make up 65%.
Black women are a particularly marginalized group in Texas. Not only are many of them living in poverty, Texas has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world and black women in the state are more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white or Hispanic women. While the state does have a group of lawmakers who have formed a maternal mortality task force to look into the issue, Republicans are much more interested in passing bills to limit access to abortion and cutting family planning funding. That means they aren’t at all worried about saving the lives of black women and this hurricane is unlikely to be any different. The damage from this event will be severe. And it will have a lingering impact on jobs, health and transportation long after landfall.
Unfortunately, the duration of this event will create significant stress on food supply, gasoline, energy, and day-to-day functionality. The affected area is also home to one-third of the nation's refining capacity.
Roughly 1,400 died because of Katrina. Most of them were poor, elderly and black. Almost ten years later, the city had nearly 100,000 less black residents and their incomes were substantially less than before the hurricane. Meanwhile, the white population had decreased slightly but was wealthier. Child poverty was at 40 percent and violent crime remained persistent. The city may be considered “recovered” but it continues to have deep inequality along race and class lines. Texas and Hurricane Harvey aren’t likely to be exceptions. And since no one is even talking about the potential racial and socio-economic impact of this storm, it’s doubtful that local and government officials will be thinking about it during the clean up, either.