How COVID-19 compounds economic damage from Hurricane Laura

William Arsn

Hurricane Laura hit land near the border between Texas and Louisiana overnight with wind speeds of 150 miles an hour, more ferocious than those of Hurricane Katrina, then weakened to Category 2 storm. Sustained winds are still over 100 miles an hour.

The National Hurricane Center predicted up to 20-foot waves, up to 18 inches of rainfall and up to 15 feet of flooding. Jane Harrison, a coastal economics specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant, spoke with “Marketplace Morning Report” host Sabri Ben-Achour and the following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Louisiana is a second in the nation in terms of the proportion of properties with substantial flood risk. It’s about 1 out of 5 properties. Then again, the area where this made landfall is not super densely populated. What do you expect in terms of economic damage?

Jane Harrison: It’s going to take a few weeks to assess the damages or more, and in terms of economic implications, but what we do know is that certain populations are chronically underserved during these types of events. We also see language barriers adding an additional layer of vulnerability. And then with the pandemic COVID-19 situation, you know, did everyone heed the evacuation orders? Did folks want to sleep in shelters with strangers? You know, they were really trading one risk for another.

Ben-Achour: How are state, local, federal governments going to manage this when we’re in the middle of this disruptive pandemic?

Harrison: Port Arthur, Texas, is a community that was hard hit just a few years ago, and survivors of that event are still in recovery. They were also in the line for Laura. Most of their housing stock was damaged, 80{5667a53774e7bc9e4190cccc01624aae270829869c681dac1da167613dca7d05} or so. People are really struggling to recover from the last flood before the next one comes. And so in terms of government response, unfortunately, it does often fall short in meeting the needs of those that are hit by these storms, and they are often reliant on their own personal resources. And, for a lot of this area, there are a good number of people that are in a poverty situation with limited financial means. And what we’ve seen with disaster dollars, you know, how they’re used, typically they go to homeowners and property owners over, say, for example, renters. So I think that’s one policy issue that needs to be looked at, is to make sure that those who don’t own property are getting the same kind of support as those who do.

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