In advance of Hurricane Harvey, I drove from Houston to Dallas. The past week was something of a blur. As the storm made landfall, I could not turn away from the pictures and videos of devastation back home. I would call and text friends back home, but could do little to help them. Soon enough, however, a disconnect formed. While the footage on TV focused on widespread destruction and dramatic rescues, virtually all of the people I was in touch with were fine. Sure, there was some standing water on the street, and they lost power for a few hours, but there was no damage to their homes.
The damage inflicted by a natural disasters, especially in Houston, is not distributed evenly. The flooding varies wildly on a block-by-block basis. On one street, there may be five feet of standing water, and two blocks away the lawn will be damp. Houstonians know that in general, whenever it rains, certain neighborhoods will flood, and others do not. Indeed, the local news channels know exactly where to send cameras in advance of rain storms to film people whose cars get stuck in the rushing tides. “Don’t drown, turn around,” the reporters say, over and over again.
Yet, as I drove home from Dallas, I barely noticed the remnants of Harvey. All of the interstates are already open. Several underpasses, and low-lying roads still have detours, but that is somewhat common following big storms. There are still certain neighborhoods–especially those near reservoirs–that are still at risk of flooding. But otherwise, the evacuations and rescue missions have more-or-less drawn to a close.
Soon enough, the national media will pack up and go home. But make no mistake, the true cost–ripping out carpet and knocking down dry-wall–will not be televised. For lack of better words, “disaster porn” gets ratings. Television networks are all too willing to broadcast videos of people being rescued from a home on a jet ski, but are much less interested in filming the removal of mold from that same home.