Real Chaos Of Hurricanes: Discriminatory Media Coverage Along Wealth Divide

A look into unfair media coverage of hurricanes recently and what you can do to help.

Hurricane Ian
Photo by The Tampa Bay Estuary Program on Unsplash

Hurricane season is upon us as a large majority of the world grapples with these storms of fury. What many don’t realize, though, is just how significant the cope of hurricane damage actually is. Due to the media’s recent coverage of hurricanes, the public eye primarily only sees the damage in more wealthy, American, white-based communities.

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1st to November 30th, has seen 11 total storms, five of which were hurricanes and two of them were major hurricanes. The two major storms, Fiona and Ian, both reached category 4 level winds of 130-156 mph. The problem lies in where all of these storms hit. When you think of the 2022 hurricane season, one’s mind probably immediately goes to the wreckage photos from Fort Myers, Florida, that have dominated the internet for the last two weeks. But do you know what most people haven’t seen? The immense loss of life and infrastructure in Cuba, Bermuda, and the Dominican Republic that was brought about by these same storms.

As a native Floridian, I can say that I was somber hearing about the complete destruction of the west Florida cities my parents used to take me to as a child. Because I have experienced many of the towns that no longer exist now, I felt that I could feel the effects of loss of life even more than any other hurricanes I had heard about in the past. It was then that I made a powerful realization: Why haven’t I heard any news about our Cuban neighbors just 449 miles south of Florida, who were also devastatingly hit by the storm?

The lack of media coverage in less-wealthy and non-American countries.

The news of Hurricane Ian hitting Florida reached media coverage worldwide. I even had my international friends ask me if my family was okay because they had heard of the demolition of parts of Florida — America’s vacation home. Little do many know that in addition to hitting the sunshine state, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Cayman Islands. As a Cuban-American, I was shocked when the Washington Post had finally reported that Cuba was still out of power ten days after the storm had hit. The storm, which devastatingly hit the country’s La Coloma, threw out the entire nation’s power grid, leading to protests across the country. A politically-tension-filled country, Cuba, is unfortunately in a location perfect for hurricanes to attack it; the problem is that no one ever knows when they get hit. How is it that I know that the Florida hurricane death toll surpassed 100 people, but the media is only telling us that about three people died in Cuba?

It is no surprise that Cuba, which has a Gross-Domestic Product (GDP) of 103.1 billion USD, and Jamaica — a country also hit by Ian — which has a GDP of 13.81 billion USD, both have combined hurricane news coverage less than that of the United States which has a GDP of 20.94 trillion USD. This is because media coverage of hurricanes and many other natural disasters is very much discriminated against on the wealth divide, where poorer countries that tend to get more natural disasters are not covered in the news as much as more affluent countries.

I would be surprised if most Americans even knew that Hurricane Fiona was a storm this season. The deadly Category 4 hurricane hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Bermuda, Greenland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the Lesser Antilles, and Eastern Canada. There was an average amount of news coverage of the storm as it hit a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico, but not nearly as much as the coverage of Hurricane Ian in Florida. Once again, the number of exact deaths in Puerto Rico from this storm is still unknown because there is less incentive to care about the lives of non-white people. The storm left about 345,000 without power in Puerto Rico as of September 21st. Still, barely any news coverage can be found on the loss of life and power in any of the other non-American countries listed above.

Real Chaos Of Hurricanes: Discriminatory Media Coverage along the Wealth Divide
Hurricane from above. Picture: NASA on Unsplash

The fact of the matter is that non-American, less wealthy countries and territories simply do not get nearly enough coverage of the storms that they endure. Besides the lack of humanity and complete indecency that this shows of American news outlets, it also shows how desensitized the Western world is to climate change disasters. According to a Media Matters study, during the 2021 Hurricane Ida, merely 4% of news coverage mentioned anything about climate change. These natural disasters are somehow being normalized and only talked about when they hit major developed countries such as the U.S. If we let these catastrophic events continue going uncovered by the media, then the rest of the world will eventually suffer.

Real Chaos Of Hurricanes: Discriminatory Media Coverage along the Wealth Divide
Hurricane flooding. Picture: Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

The lack of media coverage of these recent storms presents two significant issues: the discriminatory, ignorant view the U.S. has of its less-affluent Caribbean neighbors and the dangerously growing impassive view towards climate change. So, what can we do to help?

First, direct aid to these countries in need can be done by donating to one of the many hurricane relief funds. Some are listed below:

The above groups are by no means the only valid groups accepting donations. Although it is important to contribute to funds that aid American disasters, such as in Florida, it is crucial to keep in mind that many of the other hurricane relief funds that operate in Puerto Rico or Cuba do not receive nearly as many donations as the American funds. Therefore, it would be wise to take time and do your own research to figure out where your donation would do the most good. In addition, local hurricane relief funds may seem to have a smaller scope but can go an incredibly long way. One last way to help is by encouraging yourself, your family and friends to take the time to conduct proper research when hearing about a hurricane or natural disaster. As seen from the current hurricane season and many in the past, American news coverage does not always have equal representation of all the countries affected by natural disasters. Putting in the effort to see what countries and communities have been affected and educate those around you is one big step in a larger battle for more representative U.S. news coverage.

Hurricane season may be in full swing now, but these natural disasters will continue to be more of a prevalent problem as global warming negatively affects climate change. The time for change and education is now.

Paloma lives in Florida, U.S.

Paloma Vigil

A Miami native, Paloma is an avid traveler eager to put pen to paper and describe all of her adventures. Her favorite way to experience new places is with a fork in hand. Whether it is a tapas snack in Spanish bars or freshly caught raw fish delicacies in Japan, she is always ready for the next bite. Her dual Cuban-American identity drives her to explore how cultural differences can bring people across the world together in unexpected ways. She is always seeking to find innovative ways on approaching global interconnectedness through travel.

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