THE GREAT FLOOD YOU HAVEN’T HEARD ABOUT
In the past four days, severe flooding has killed 11* people and has displaced more than 30,000* others in Louisiana – have you heard? Born and raised in the heart of Baton Rouge, my firsthand accounts of the flooding the past few days have exceeded my worst Cajun nightmares. I spent a few sweaty hours this week throwing away trash cans worth of waterlogged possessions that were destroyed as five feet of water entered my boyfriend’s house Saturday morning. A woman drowned a few hours north of my hometown as she drove through high water, her toddler narrowly surviving by clinging to a tree and crying for help. Alligators and caskets have been spotted in the streets, and thousands of spiders and other insects cover the tops of standing water. Louisiana’s own Gov. John Bel Edwards evacuated the state due to flooding in his home. This disaster has had a severe impact on everyone within a 50-mile radius of the flooding, and yet much of the country is not aware of the tragedy at hand. Why is this the case? Sure, national news outlets have highlighted the news (shout out to NPR, BBC, and a few other outlets for giving the flooding more than a nod), but why are the 4 trillion gallons of rainfall in Louisiana not a primary focus of national media attention? I polled my friends on Facebook and we outlined a few reasons.
- Flooding isn’t sexy
- I suppose I should apologize now for my click-bait blog post title; I was genuinely curious to see how many people would be interested in reading and engaging with a headline that contained this bold, but vague, of a statement. As my fellow INKer Shelley commented on Facebook, “Headlines sell papers and there are a slew of flashier headlines [than the flood] that will make them more money.” If you’re feeling skeptical, take a look at the headlines from this week’s newspapers. Check out national media outlets’ social media channels; pay attention to the stories they’re putting ad dollars behind. “The Great Flood of 2016” or “Louisiana’s 1,000-Year Rainstorm” didn’t make it to front pages of national newspapers, if they made it into the paper at all. These headlines were instead replaced with news that was of higher interest to a wider audience – news about the election, The Olympics, and protests in Milwaukee. As one friend of mine noted in my Facebook thread, we saw a similar response with the flooding in West Virginia a few months ago, and “[This] tragedy isn’t tragic enough to warrant media attention. It’s rainfall, not a hurricane or tornado…The media requires conflict and a villain.”
- The news cycle is overloaded with more widespread, current, global events
- The press has a duty to report on news that impacts or is of interest to the majority of their readers. For weeks, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the upcoming presidential election have consumed headlines globally, because these events are of significance to millions of people. Sure, 10,000 people have been evacuated to shelters in Louisiana, but Trump just gave a “fiery ISIS speech,” and as INKer Nicole said, “You can’t really politicize the weather.” Don’t get me wrong, these topics certainly deserve national attention from the media. But when the flooding videos I see being shared virally on national news’ social media channels only include 10 dachshund puppies being evacuated by air mattress, I’ve got to roll my eyes. My friends have water that reaches their rooftops, people’s vehicles are stranded and flooded all over the city, and the shelves at the local Walmart have been pillaged to the point of store closure. It is shocking to me that a natural disaster that tens of thousands of people did not prepare for hasn’t been a focus the past few days.
- Flooding in Louisiana? That’s old news.
- During Hurricane Katrina, a few of my family members and their friends who lived in New Orleans were photographed escaping the city, armed with shotguns, in the bed of a beat up pick-up truck filled with the few personal belongings they could grab, and their terrified cat. My Aunt Madeline was sitting in the litter box. Looters surrounded the area, people were at risk for being car-jacked when stopping at traffic lights, and those who stayed behind faced an imminent but almost certain fate. Photos like this (I unfortunately have not been able to locate the one of my family online), and their accompanying headlines, are what made front pages across the nation. People read about Hurricane Katrina, people read about Hurricane Rita, people even stuck around to read about Hurricane Gustav. But as my friend said on Facebook, “Who wants to hear about more flooding in south Louisiana?” To be candid, the phrase “Same sh*t, different day,” comes to my mind.
Gov. Edwards said in a press conference Sunday, “This is a major disaster…It is ongoing. It is not over.” I worry that my home state will not get the media attention this disaster warrants – the media attention that leads to volunteers running to Louisiana to provide the labor and resources we desperately need to recover and rebuild. But we have shown this nation time and time again that we will do whatever it takes to recover, together. This city has experienced controversial tensions the past few months, but I can tell you today that I have never seen our city more united, more hopeful. If you’re looking for a way to help, donate online. If you’re looking for words of hope for my hometown, go check out WhyILoveBR.com.