Americans head for hurricanes
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Vann R. Newkirk II, our editor and flood lines podcast host, told me, “Some of the fastest growing areas in the country have really intense flood and hurricane risk.” He explains why and what it means for the future.
But first, here are three new stories from Atlantic.
“We are stuck in a cycle”
Kelli Maria Korducki: You know a lot about hurricanes. What came out of Hurricane Ian last week?
Vann R. Newkirk II: It’s quite hard. We are looking at well over 100 deaths; there is always a loss of power, and the total damage is going to be very expensive. When you think of Florida, you often think of the really developed parts around Miami and the Atlantic coast of South Florida. But when storms erupt across the state, on the Gulf side, you face many unique risks, and many rural counties suffer the consequences.
But on the other hand, it was originally predicted that Ian would go straight up Tampa Bay and bring a catastrophic storm surge to the city, which obviously would have caused damage and trouble – and probably loss of life – which exceeded what we have seen.
Kelly: How does politics play a role in responding immediately to storms and preparing for future disasters?
Van: There is already a lot of political maneuvering after Ian. Earlier this week, Marco Rubio threatened to reject any future disaster relief bills that contain too much “pork” for other projects. He is seeking help as he was critical of aid given to other states before. Of course, he is able to take this position because the storm did not have the most catastrophic effects possible.
The thing that strikes me is that [this jockeying is] all pretty rote at this point, especially in the southern states where hurricanes and the worst of the weather-related disasters are going to happen. It’s also where the bulk of the Conservatives who broadly oppose robust safety net spending and long-term aid are in power. Something bad happens and obviously they’re going to ask for what they need, but they’re going to say they don’t want to get addicted or that the relief provisions last too long. And then when disaster strikes somewhere else or someone else, they’ll say the relief expenses are too high. I think we’re stuck in a cycle about this.
Kelly: What does the future of this cycle look like? Is there any indication that known risks are affecting migration patterns?
Van: If you look at some of the fastest growing areas of the country, many of them have very intense flood and hurricane risk. You saw it with Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which hit Houston and its growing metropolitan area. The areas that suffered the most from this storm were those that had recently become somewhat of a suburb; these were places that had recently laid a lot of sidewalks to accommodate all these new neighborhoods, which were marked on FEMA maps as having a high flood risk. I think there’s also a bit of individual denial of flood risk in these housing booms, but also people are being guided to these places by property developers and given a false sense of security.
Then, on the other hand, many poor communities are somehow pushed back to places with high risk of flooding. Take the Tampa Bay area, which [is] one of the fastest growing metros in the country. And so you can imagine that if the storm had come up Tampa Bay and hit that metro directly, new developments – places where workers are being evicted, places that have been newly paved – would be vulnerable. And that’s where people move. Obviously, the poster child for this is Miami. Miami is sinking and will be noticeably underwater at some point, probably in some readers lifetime. But also Houston, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, they are all growing.
On the other side, you have the Jacksonville and Orlando areas; further north are Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. All of these places were built on water and are now growing on wetlands. And cities make development choices that do not take into account the risks involved.
Kelly: Is there any indication that there will be some sort of global political response to the encroaching threat of climate catastrophe on coastal regions?
Van: I hope there will be! [Laughs.] There is some light: there are funds in the new inflation reduction act that should go to sustainable infrastructure, which is not specifically earmarked by the EPA, for what they call “environmental justice communities”. I imagine that improving the infrastructure will make it possible to manage the risk of flooding a little better.
But for the larger question, I’m not sure. I think one of the main reasons many of these towns are so attractive to new residents is that there is a dual geography: the legacy of housing segregation and cheap land, plus the history development in floodplains. You have all of these things put together and you end up with the only markets in America where there is an abundance of cheaper land that can be developed to build new construction. I think history, in many ways, makes southern areas more vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding.
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- Russian missile attacks in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia left at least three people dead. Yesterday Vladimir Putin announced the illegal annexation of the city by Russia.
You have to respect the sweet corn
By Ian Bogost
I am alive and autumnal. In this state, I read about sweet corn, the seasonal candy that looks like kernels of corn. And everything I read about sweet corn insists that I have a strong opinion on the matter. Love it or hate it! But should I? The truth is simpler: sweet corn is neither bad nor good, just present.
I’m not going to repeat the whole story. Sweet corn is a late 19th century confection, invented in an agrarian era that found horticultural treats endearing. Its tricolor composition in three parts was laborious to construct and unprecedented to see. Once a perennial, it was later associated with autumn and then Halloween.
Read the article completely.
Lily. “String”, a new poem by Daniel Halpern.
“I read of a falconer trying to trap a falcon. / She fashions a noose of twine / around the feathered body of a living blackbird.
Look. The trailer for season 2 of The White Lotus was released today. Catch up on the first season of HBO’s acerbic satire on wealthy vacationers.
Play our daily crosswords.
“As you can see, I love talking about hurricanes,” Vann told me. It is an enthusiasm informed by a deep understanding of the history and politics, land use policies and migration patterns that shape the course of natural disasters in American communities. These dynamics underlie flood linesVann’s eight-part podcast series about the before and after of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, a storm whose devastation was laid long before it landed in 2005 and whose aftermath is unfolding still feel.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.