Recovery Begins

Stories about disaster aftermath and rebuilding by Pico Iyer, Josh Dean, Guy Martin and others.
6 stories

Sandy's floodwaters are receding and services and transport are slowly returning. Despite this, the death toll continues to climb and new threats, like contaminated water, emerge. As the East Coast begins this next phase, we look at the aftermath of other recent disasters.

In the wake of catastrophes, communities come together to help one another in unexpected ways. In Conde Nast Traveler magazine, Guy Martin told the story of a New Orleans Sheraton manager Dan King who turned his hotel into a makeshift shelter during Hurricane Katrina. Martin wrote that, "the civic collapse had been so complete that King was forced to step back in time and exercise the original definition of hospitality as codified by the Greeks, who extended to deserving allies armed protection from a hostile world. " Even after the storm had passed, "The hospitality industry will be the decisive element in New Orleans's recovery—just as it was in the city's pre-hurricane prosperity."

"These days, we can quickly mobilize vast numbers of people to crisis areas, but once on the ground, those same people can actually make the disaster worse," William Wheeler explained in a Boston Magazine story. He discussed a Harvard entrepreneur hoping to prevent situations like that which occurred in Haiti, where a huge influx of workers and money arguably hampered the earthquake recovery. Such efforts lacked clear jurisdictions, were disorganized and inexpert. "So in the end, lack of sanitation caused the deaths of 6,500 people and sickened half a million more."

Some risk their own lives during a recovery for far different reasons. In Vanity Fair, Pico Iyer wrote about the 18,000 workers who helped to stabilize the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. "The worries about the spread of radiation have hardly abated, but the workers remain all but nameless and faceless; they rarely speak to the press—for fear of being fired—and all that most of us see of them are pictures of virtually extraterrestrial figures in HAZMAT suits and masks clomping around a wasteland eerily emptied of 100,000 people." Iyer explored what motivated them to complete such a dangerous—albeit necessary—task. "'They are ready to die,' said Prime Minister Naoto Kan one week after the catastrophe."

From the Web

Extreme Hospitality

In Katrina-stricken New Orleans, before there was the Red Cross there were the Crescent City hoteliers who heroically extended themselves on behalf of their storm-stranded guests. On the eve of Mardi Gras, Guy Martin chronicles their extraordinary acts of courage—and pivotal role in the region’s recovery.

Please God Stop the Rain

The day, one year ago, that Hurricane Irene nearly drowned Prattsville, New York, population 700.

Aug 2012
From the Web

Welcome to Haiti’s Reconstruction Hell

Dispatches from the tent cities, where rape gangs and disaster profiteers roam.

Jan 2011
From the Web

The Saving Game

How do you make a natural disaster in a developing nation even worse? Send in the relief workers. Global aid is a $160 billion industry employing hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned souls—who often do more harm than good thanks to poor training and coordination. Now Harvard’s Michael VanRooyen wants to change all that with an innovative program that uses satellite technology and tactics borrowed from the military to turn out a new breed of super-humanitarians.

Jan 2012
From the Web

Heroes of the Hot Zone

Ever since the tsunami triggered a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last March, Japanese workers—some 18,000 to date—have been heading into the radioactive exclusion zone to work on the cleanup. Pico Iyer trails radiation expert Dr. Robert Gale, a veteran of Chernobyl and nearly every major nuclear disaster since, to learn who these anonymous heroes in HAZMAT suits are, what motivates them, and the danger they calmly accept. In addition, photographer James Nachtwey gets rare portraits of some of these brave workers.

Jan 2012
From the Web

There Can’t Be a Word for This

The catastrophic Christmas tsunami hit Thailand’s climbing meccas hard. The writer, a Railae Beach resident, reports on the nightmares and miracles of the aftermath—and on the Thais and expats rebuilding their slice of paradise.

Mar 2005