Natural disasters challenge our powers of comprehension. Eruptions, earthquakes, wildfires, and hurricanes aren’t just physically vast events—they’re epicenters of human complexity, where environmental, political, and individual stories collide. This week, we’re bringing you pieces about natural disasters and the ways we endure and respond to them. Andrew Boryga shares the experiences of his Puerto Rican family members during Hurricane Maria, and Amy Davidson Sorkin weighs in on the ongoing debate over how many people died in the storm. (Although the official death toll is sixty-four, some researchers believe the true number to be seventy times higher.) Ian Frazier walks the beaches of Staten Island, surveying the permanent changes created by Hurricane Sandy, and, writing from Japan, Evan Osnos explores the aftereffects of the 2011 tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Edwidge Danticat reflects on the cost of the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010; in a piece from 2005, Jon Lee Anderson reports from New Orleans during the days after Hurricane Katrina, riding with rescuers who must convince citizens to abandon their homes. These pieces capture the sadness and determination of people reckoning with the unimaginable.
“The New Estimate of Deaths in Puerto Rico Reflects a Broader and Shameful Neglect”
“One in ten of the deaths in Puerto Rico that the report tallied were directly attributable to Hurricane Maria; the greatest number, though, came because medical care was interrupted or denied.” Read more.
“ ‘Nothing Looks Like It Was Before’: Enduring Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico”
“I woke up on Wednesday morning to videos of flooded streets, missing roofs, broken windows, and news announcers flailing in the wind like the trees behind them. As of this afternoon, the entire island of over three million people is without electricity.” Read more.
“Hurricane Sandy killed twenty-three on Staten Island, the highest number of storm-related deaths in any borough. Twenty of them drowned.” Read more.
“The 9.0 quake last week off the coast of the northern city of Sendai was the strongest in Japanese history, and is thought to be, more or less, the fifth-strongest in human knowledge and measurement.” Read more.
“A Little While”
“The last time I heard from my cousin Maxo was three days before the earthquake. He left a message on my voice mail. He was trying to raise money to rebuild a small school in the mountains of Léogâne, where our family originated.” Read more.
“It was a clear, hot day, and the floodwater in the Ninth Ward smelled strongly of oil and raw sewage, and stung the eyes. There were other smells, from islands of rotting garbage, and, intermittently, as elsewhere in the city, the smell of death.” Read more.