The Great Blind Spot in Hurricane Preparedness

In Miami, city planners and real estate agents have responded to the issue of rising sea levels by consistently reassuring the city’s residents that Miami-Dade County has the resources and wherewithal to weather the projected two-foot hike. In a recently released plan, county officials acknowledged in the executive summary that “the more we invest in the short-term, the much smaller the costs will be in the long-term.”

But, as The New York Times noted in its coverage of the plan, the authors appeared to understate the potential breadth of the issue, which, by 2070, is expected to cost the community some $23.5 billion in lost property due to daily tidal flooding. The county’s solution centers mostly on densely populating the inland areas, putting new homes on stilts, and trucking in dirt and rocks to complete a process known as “fill,” wherein one manually raises existing buildings and roads. Even more pressing than what happens to the multimillion-dollar homes and condos along the shoreline is the fact that the areas most vulnerable to increased flooding and rougher storms are overwhelmingly home to marginalized, low-income communities. Still, the head of Miami-Dade’s climate adaption policy, pointing at the high cost of relocation, relayed to the Times that the more sensible solution is to “try to keep those areas livable.”

A similar situation is playing out in eastern North Carolina, an area that is home to the Lumbee Tribe—the largest Native community in the South—as well as a number of Black and Latinx communities. In the past few years, storms like Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 have led to massive floods across the region. During Dorian, over 400,000 people were evacuated from eastern North Carolina, with another 830,000 evacuated in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Matthew left large swaths of Lumberton, one of the Lumbee-majority towns, underwater, with calls from the tribe and neighboring communities for emergency funding lingering for years largely unanswered.

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