The Intersection

It’s about time. It’s past time. Bay of Bengal cyclones have previously killed tens or even hundreds of thousands from storm surges and flooding. While those of us watching Sidr develop have been sounding alarm, the U.S. media has all but ignored an impending tragedy.

Today the storm made landfall and they’ve finally noticed. While Chris and I don’t understand why it took so long to make top headlines, we’re thankful that collective American attention is now focused intently on this catastrophic storm hitting the most vulnerable place on earth.

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Now that here in the U.S. we’re being informed of the situation, let’s prepare to provide our full support in the coming days, months, and foreseeable future to help those in need of clean water, shelter, food, medical attention, and on. Let’s also hope–which is still possible–that the on the ground evacuation measures, and the particulars of the storm track, etc, help to avert the worst case scenarios.

Events like these remind us we’re a global population and what happens in one part of the world resonates out. Those man-made boundary lines declaring who belongs where seem rather arbitrary as we’re forced to recognize that we are, quite literally, in this together.

Thank you U.S. media, for picking up the story.

Comments

  1. #1 Jon
    November 15, 2007

    Sheril and Chris,

    You are doing a tremendous job covering Sidr. I’ve been following this situation closely over past days. Surprising and ironic that I’m finding the best journalism and news coverage on a Science Blog. Thank you.

  2. #2 jen_m
    November 15, 2007

    I think the reason that US media outlets completely ignored this story was summed up nicely by the AP stringer: “Bangladesh, a South Asian nation crisscrossed by river deltas, [b]routinely suffers large-scale loss of life and property from cyclones and floods[/b].” (Emphasis mine.) That sentence has been changed in the current version of the story, and is no longer quite so callous, but it was picked up everywhere the story ran list night, including CNN.

    So if a million people evacuate because of fires in California, that’s news because the evacuations don’t happen every year. But even if millions of Bangladeshis die, that’s not news, because it happens all the time.

    Disgusting.

  3. #3 jon
    November 15, 2007

    It’s a little after 1 AM in Dhaka, the capital city, about 200 km from the Sundarbans where Sidr made landfall. The impact of the hurricane can now be felt here too. The night sky, which is pitch black in the absence of electricity (I’m running a generator) lights up briefly with flashes of lightening, revealing a landscape littered with tree branches, blown-off tin roofs, leaves, and all manners trash. News from the south is scarce. Land lines are simply not available along the coastal belt. Mobile services, the primary mode of communication in the rural areas, have gone off air.

    Earlier in the evening, around midnight, I did manage to get in touch with someone I know, living in a village about 5 km from the northern edge of the mangrove. As I spoke to him, I could hear the tearing sound of the storm in the background. “What was that?” I asked, started by a loud groan. “That was part of the roof blowing off,” he said calmly. Then, as if to reassure me- or, perhaps himself- he said: “It’s slowing down.” I asked him if the water had begun to rise. No, he said. It was low-tide. The river was receding. In the end, it may be divine humor, more than anything else that saves them, and many others like them. “Why didn’t you take your family and move to Khulna (the nearest big city)”, I asked. “I got home from work only this morning,” he said, “there was no time to leave.” I found the answer unconvincing, but not surprising. There is a melancholic sense providence that runs thorough the people who live on this disaster-prone land.

    A hundred kilometer to the east from my friend’s village, in Barisal, things were reportedly whirling into a nightmare. At least by one account, though there is no way for me to confirm this, a high wall of water was moving through the countryside. The younger sister of a friend of mine runs a health clinic nearby, barely 30 kilometers from the bay. Yesterday, reading about Sidr, and becoming increasingly alarmed, I called my friend. “Tell Tina to find higher ground,” I pleaded with her. “Where would she go?” my friend retorted. “They’re going around all over town with loudspeakers, telling people to move inland, but they have shut off ferry service. And without the ferry to cross the river, there no way for them to go anywhere.” Millions of people stranded on tiny little islands dotting the coastline, with no place to go. No higher ground.

    In a few hours, the sun will rise, on a mangled landscape. Hopefully, the damage will be minimal. There is hope in the knowledge that a it was a weakened Sidr that came ashore, and in the less populated part of the coast.

  4. #4 Emily
    November 15, 2007

    Sheril,
    Your earlier post – about experiencing with both Sidr and Katrina the eerie feeling of knowing that the storm was coming and just waiting for the hurricane to hit – resonated with my own feelings of horror. The main difference for me is that, with Katrina, there was no paucity of information – weatherpeople, reporters, and others stared into the coming storm and reported on its speed, direction, potential consequences, etc. With Sidr, there were only the voices of Chris, Sheril, and Dr. Jeff Masters to update us what might be happening as the storm neared Bangladesh and India. A colleague sent me a message a few hours ago, when he first saw the story on CNN – and was amazed that I’d heard about and had been following the storm for several days via Intersection and Wunderground. Thanks for bringing this story to the attention of your readers.

  5. #5 Manobii
    November 15, 2007

    As a Bangladeshi, I thank this wonderful post! We appreciate your effort and humanity.

  6. #6 Emily
    November 15, 2007

    jen_m – We’re not out of the woods yet on the media’s minimizing the story. This is in the current CNN story: “Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation, is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property.” Contrast that to the very next sentence in the paragraph, which tugs at the heartstrings of those who like charasmatic megafauna: “The coastal area bordering eastern India is famous for the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, a world heritage site that is home to rare Royal Bengal Tigers.”

  7. #7 Iftekhar
    November 15, 2007

    Thanks for covering it. I’m from Chittagong, living here in USA. I have visited CNN ten times this morning to see their reaction, their feelings. I’m not surprised, I feel sorry for those people who depends on this kind of media.

  8. #8 Kevin
    November 15, 2007

    I first heard about Cyclone Sidr here on ScienceBlogs. It is a sad commentary on the state of news in America, that we have dozens of reporters juggling to cover every irrelevant aspect of the petty bickering that is 21st century politics, while entire News staffs manage to ignore so many real stories of consequence.

  9. #9 greg laden
    November 15, 2007

    Notice how little effect mangrove swamps have on a hurricane’s strength.

    Still a Cat-3 storm quite a bit of time after land fall.

  10. #10 John Mashey
    November 15, 2007

    It’s sad to see this, especially knowing there will be more, but this reminds of the following related-to-climate item that I recently encountered about Bangladesh:

    According to WHO, 31% of the deforestration in Bangladesh is caused by growing tobacco:

    http://www.who.int/tobacco/en/atlas16.pdf

  11. #11 T. "Chimpy" Greer
    November 15, 2007

    By my count, CNN has had this as thier main “cover story” for a time period just short of 20 minutes the entire night. At the moment, I cannot find this story ANYWHERE on their front page. (And to the chagrin of environmentalists everywhere, it turns out that the story IS on the foxnews front page. Oh how sad times are!)

    I also find the stories that dislodged Sidr from its place were lawsuits against Barry Bonds and the fall back from the Democract debate. Gee, I also ways considered the displacement of millions and the deaths of thousands as a trivial matter compared to the amazing sound of Hillary’s voice going up several decibals to try and drown out Obama!

    The whole thing just makes me sick.

  12. #12 ChrisC
    November 16, 2007

    At present, 243 people have been reported killed (the Australian media have finally picked this up: http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/cyclone-toll-rises-in-bangladesh/2007/11/16/1194766958717.html?page=2). I’m afraid (although hoping against hope that I’m wrong) that
    this will rise.

    At present JTWC is still paying the storm maintaining a circulation centre until 12UTC on the 17th of November. This storm still has a fair bit of strength, and I would say that heavy rainfall in more inland locations would be the greatest threat from here on in.