A year ago, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and the surrounding Gulf coast. Immediately afterward, cultural anthropologists at UT moved to study the situation and recovery process as they unfolded, a key opportunity to make a difference for future disaster survivors. Caela O’Connell and Raja Swamy applied for “RAPID” grants from the National Science Foundation.
Swamy is researching the aftermath of Harvey in Houston itself, interviewing families across the range of socioeconomic status, from wealthy homeowners in Western Houston whose homes were flooded by nearby bayous to poorer families in the Third Ward, who lack most of the economic safety nets, but may need to rely more on their neighbors through closer community relationships and organizations.
O’Connell is comparing the experiences of rural, urban, and suburban communities’ recovery and studying how their recovery is shaped by the choices people make. With an emphasis on the experience of rural populations, such as ranchers and farmers, her research stretches from Aransas County on the coast where Harvey first made landfall, up through Houston and east to Chambers County spanning 300 miles and six counties. O’Connell looks at the breadth of interrelated challenges after a hurricane, from the toxic chemicals deposited around flooded homes to the recovery of agricultural crops and livestock, delays in insurance payments, and disruptions to wildlife and the tourism economy. Her goal is a better roadmap for resilience and disaster recovery to feed into future FEMA training workshops, local and state government training packages, and informational materials.