Sunday, October 23, 2011
Did you know that Hurricane Irene had a devastating impact on Vermont? Have you been reading daily news updates about the damage, floods, FEMA efforts, people who lost their homes, and years of clean-up work ahead? Most of us have not been hearing about this at all.
An ABC news report noted that homes, bridges, roads, and the state's emergency operations center were washed away. That's a fine mess to be in. I also read that a dozen or more towns in Vermont and New York were cut off. Like, there you were in your town, with no immediate way to the outside world (short of some far-reaching medieval catapult-like device, maybe?), which is something that I think we all take for granted all the time: that we can just somehow, whether on public transportation or in a car or even on a bicycle or on foot, hit the road and go somewhere else. Oh, and? People died. The governor of Vermont called for "all the help we can get." But within a few days, the media and, as importantly, the public had moved on to other things.
I was here in Korea when Irene did her thing. I was aware of Irene. I read internet updates, scrolled through a gazillion Facebook updates about it on my news feed, and watched tons of live coverage on CNN International -- of the build-up, and of the raging waters. The watching. The waiting. The Anderson Cooper live at the water's edge in New York City. The obligatory reporter clutching a pole to not be blown away. All the breathless excitement with dramatic pictures of crashing waves, with journalists a-plenty dispatched to the scene, for the anticipation and thrill of the event. But reporting the after-effects? Well, that's just maybe too depressing. Naaah, we need to move on and find some nasty, bleeding, volatile coverage of something else to get people riled up, as opposed to a calm, methodical, deep digging report about what people in Vermont and other northeast states are going through after the fact.
The question is not "why don't we see the next several months of devastation and disaster recovery on our TV newscasts?" You know perfectly well why we don't: because the viewing public would change the channel. The real question you should be asking is why you would change that channel.
Also, I daresay it has become trendy in the years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans to be scornful of FEMA and The Government, in a general, dissatisfied, heckuva-job way. But lambasting any and all public officials is probably not the solution either, because a friend of mine in northern New England reports that it has actually become a political football kind of topic there now. Political candidates are very aware of how they come across on the issue, so the danger is that it becomes all about the stance instead of about the real impact on people, their lands, their homes, their mortgages, and their lives.
My Napikoski family hometown of tiny Millers Falls, Massachusetts is in Western Mass, close enough to the Vermont border that sometimes it was closer to drive to Vermont for dinner or a particular store or event than to the next bigger town in Massachusetts. I am very familiar with the area and have spent quality time in Vermont, both as a child visiting with family, and also on my own when I lived in Boston. Since my grandma died and my dad's generation of siblings sold off the house, I haven't been back to Millers Falls. I'm not sure how the river close by my grandparents' old home fared in the storm. I try to imagine it. I am trying to imagine all of the towns in Vermont and other areas Irene hit. I am wondering if some of the cute covered bridges I remember washed away. I am wondering who the people are that were swept away in the raging waters.
The excitement died after landfall, but the flooding continued for days after that. The story wasn't over. How can we get people to pay attention to the end of these stories?
My thanks to Kamron for inspiring this blog post. You, too, can choose a topic for Linda Without Borders this month when you make a donation to my upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Interestingly, Cambodia has also recently been hit by devastating floods, with a death toll in the hundreds.
And the world keeps turning and turning...