Hurricane Harvey: Who’s Most at Risk?


Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey is moving towards the Texas Coast, and some communities may be more at risk than others. Click on the map to explore social vulnerability in each county in the storm’s path. (Map by Andrew Schroeder/Direct Relief)

Hurricane Harvey, the Category 4 hurricane moving at high speeds towards the Texas Coast, won’t affect all communities in the same way.

The impact of flooding may be felt much more intensely in areas with large numbers of elderly or disabled people, who may have mobility impairments or special medical issues. Areas with higher rates of poverty often experience significant challenges with access to basic necessities under normal circumstances, which may be exacerbated in times of emergency.

The deeper the shade of orange, the higher the proportion of households with a member who has a disability, putting them at a higher risk of vulnerability to a storm or natural disaster. Click on the map to expand. (Map by Andrew Schroeder/Direct Relief)

For example, the City of Corpus Christi, which lies in the immediate path of Hurricane Harvey, is home to five clinics that Direct Relief supports. One clinic, the Amistad Community Health Center, lies on the upper edge of the city towards the water and serves an area with significant vulnerabilities related to language, minority communities, and lower socioeconomic status. They have some concerns over elderly and disabled populations but in general, don’t find themselves at the top end of that spectrum.

This map shows the concentration of poverty in the storm’s path. Click on the map to expand. (Map by Andrew Schroeder/Direct Relief)

Two partners more towards the southern end of the city are in an area of much higher socioeconomic status, but still experience key challenges related to their elderly and disabled population, and may, therefore, have subtly different disaster response and health needs.  Over time their recovery challenges may also be strikingly different.

Communities with large numbers of recent immigrants or persons for whom English is not their first language may be less well integrated into existing resilience structures, or in some cases experience social isolation and discrimination. Many other factors, such as housing and transportation, also exist. When looked at collectively, they indicate a community’s “social vulnerability” to disasters.

One other way in which socially vulnerable communities in Corpus Christi faced additional risks from Hurricane Harvey lies in their potentially elevated exposure to industrial pollutants which may be released by unusually high flood waters. The Texas Coast is pockmarked with Superfund sites, a large number of which are located near communities with large numbers of poor and minority residents. One such site containing barium, cadmium, mercury and other toxic substances, for instance, lies just to the north of downtown Corpus Christi in an area where the population is over 70 percent minority residents.

This map shows higher concentrations of households that speak a language other than English. Click on the map to expand. (Map by Andrew Schroeder/Direct Relief)

As Direct Relief and partner clinics in Texas prepare to respond to the imminent landfall of Hurricane Harvey, predicted to strike at Category 3 force and produce a dangerous combination of high winds, heavy rains and coastal storm surge, we are paying particular attention to places which may be socially vulnerable for one reason or another. Using this mapping application, Direct Relief can identify areas of social vulnerability proximate to the storm path and to community clinics, as well as variations in the reasons for their vulnerabilities.

The data which drives Direct Relief’s social vulnerability application is based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index model, updated as of the end of 2014. The model uses census data at the census block level to understand relationships between different ways that disaster-affected communities may experience significant challenges in response and recovery in order to tailor resources, communications and planning to their needs.

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