The Message Behind the Pictures: The Human Tragedy of Floods

Photograph of a sign asking for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday, November 2, 2012 in the Broad Channel section of Queens, New York. Credit: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, The New York Times.

Whole communities of New England and the Eastern Coast are burn and swept to sea.  Endless gasoline and power outages abound.  The arteries and capillaries that carried the lifeblood of these cities—its myriad people and their trains—are choked off.  It’s getting better, but it’s not there yet.

In New York’s “outer boroughs”, accusations of neglect seemed colored by a growing belief that the recovery from Hurricane Sandy has split along predictable class lines.  Most of the recovery has been concentrated in Manhattan, where the elite population lives.

Buildings along the waterfront in Lower Manhattan remain weeks or months away from being able to reopen and invite their tenants back.  To makes matter worse, another storm has hit the disaster area.  nor’easter brings snow accumulation to East Coast states. New storm threatens to inflict more misery on ten of thousands of people still reeling from superstorm Sandy.

For more pictures of the vast devastation of superstorm Sandy, please click here.  It’s ironic that as millions of people were suffering without power, fuel, heat, or food; two presidential candidates were roaming the country asking for votes.

Photograph of the dire situation during the Great Ohio River Flood of 1937. Credit: Margaret Bourke-White-Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

During the Great Ohio River Flood of 1937, men and women in Louisville, Kentucky, line up seeking food and clothes from a relief station, in front of a billboard proclaiming, “World’s Highest Standard of Living.”

“Case in point: For countless people who lived through the Great Depression, and millions more who know of the pre-war years only through movies, photos, and history books, one image has long seemed to not only capture, but to encapsulate, the period.

Margaret Bourke-White’s 1937 picture of African-American men, women and children huddled in line before a billboard — on which a car bearing a beaming white family (and their dog!) appears to drive confidently into the future beneath the absurdly ironic slogan, ‘World’s Highest Standard of Living’ — that picture has, for generations, been the Great Depression photo, somehow distilling in one frame the anguish that defined the economic cataclysm of the Twenties and Thirties.”

These two powerful photographs confirm the millenarian Chinese proverb, “A Picture’s Meaning Can Express Ten Thousand Words.”  Good Day.

Source:  Behind the Picture:  ‘The American Way’ And The Flood of ’37 – Life-Time Magazine Online.


3 thoughts on “The Message Behind the Pictures: The Human Tragedy of Floods”

  1. An even bigger reason for the lack of preparation and lack of recovery can be laid at the feet of elected leadership. Before the storm, Mayor Bloomberg declared, publicly, that “it won’t be that bad”. After the storm, he refused, among other things, to allow the National Guard to come in. As he put it, “we don’t need people with guns in here”. National Guard helicopters could have delivered food, water and blankets immediately – and heavy-lift copters could have brought in generators where trucks still were prohibited from going.

    Elections have consequences, and while New Yorkers need every bit of assistance we can give them, they might want to think about who they elect to lead their city next time. Someone who thinks more about banning 16 ounce sodas than about preparing the city’s infrastructure in the face of a devastating storm – well…..

    As for that Depression photo, it seems to suggest that blacks suffered more than whites during the period. Everyone suffered, white and black alike, and the scars from the period endured for lifetimes. My mother never quite fully believed that she was one of those happy people, secure in the car. She had too many memories burned into her mind.

  2. Morning Linda:

    As I looked at the picture gallery of the destruction of Superstorm Sandy, I recalled the similar destruction that happened in New Orleans after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. We just don’t seem to learn the lesson.

    What are we waiting for, to plan ahead for the worse before a huge hurricane slams our shores?

    Thank you for your thoughts regarding this blog post. I appreciate it.



    1. You know, I think a good part of it is a sense of invincibility. Teenagers have it in spades – that sense that “it can’t happen to me”. All of us know intellectually that we can be in a car wreck, or be hit by a storm, or lose a job – but when it happens, we’re as shocked as a kid whose ice-cream cone lands upside down on the pavement.

      Remember the old joke? De-nial isn’t just a river in Egypt! 😉

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