Hurricane Laura slammed into the Gulf Coast Wednesday night with winds making it nearly a Category 5 storm upon making landfall. With the storm came more than 9 feet of storm surge in parts of Louisiana. This level of water is incomprehensible. Hurricane Laura tied the strongest storm to hit Louisiana on record, making landfall eerily close to the 15-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And as with Katrina, it starkly shows the different ways rich and poor have weathered the storm.
Footage shared on Twitter by ABC News shows several homes in the Lake Charles area of the state with barriers around their homes. These devices are filled up with water and can surround a person’s home to protect it against flooding or rising waters. The homes these devices are protecting are not a traditional mom and pop shack. No, these homes are mansions.
According to Louisiana State University, someone could pay $7,000 for 100 feet of tubing that’ll create a 4-foot-tall barrier. That can only protect them from about 2 to 3 feet of water, though. For what the Gulf is seeing, a barrier that’s at least 8 feet tall feels more appropriate, which would cost even more. Dam-It Dams, a Michigan-based company, sells these barriers that can reach up to 16 feet tall, but the barrier is only as helpful as the situation allows. The company received some calls from Gulf Coast residents over the last week inquiring about their products, but an employee said the prices left people shocked.
It’s a stark contrast to Port Arthur, Texas, a low-income largely community of color, where a number of residents had to rely on buses provided by the government to evacuate because they lacked other means. They can only hope they’ll be safe from the deadly coronavirus while evacuating through these services. And in that same community of Lake Charles where enormous barriers were inflated to protect mansions, a government building began receiving calls early Thursday morning from individuals who could not leave. The city did offer bus services, but whether to stay or go is a much more complicated decision than simply having transportation to get out. Those who stayed had brave out the stormwaters without inflatable barriers until the situation is safe enough for rescue teams to arrive. Even then, history has shown who our government prioritizes in its rescues. The Black poor aren’t high on that list.
The contrasting situation exposes the unequal ways people experience a disaster, including now as we wait to learn more about the aftermath of Laura. Those with the means can protect their homes, though how well the inflatable barriers work against a surge of Laura’s magnitude remains to be seen. Meanwhile, those without the ability to afford barriers must wait to see what damage occurs and hope the government or their insurance company will foot the bill.
This is what climate injustice looks like, and it will only get worse if we do nothing to address both the climate crisis and inequality. In a world where our leaders allow have-nots to exist, they will inevitably suffer more. Meanwhile, others with the means spend thousands of dollars to protect their bougie homes. The rest of us are barely afforded the bare minimum: our lives.