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Exiled by Natural Disasters?

Jenna Myers's picture

Since we’ve written our first papers about home, I have realized that there are more factors that go into a home and what defines a home. In my first paper Anne mentioned whether I would consider geologic and natural disasters as part of my home. After reading Exile & Pride by Eli Clare I saw natural disasters as being part of my definition of home. However, in my opinion, natural disasters try to exiles humans from their homes. 

In Exile & Pride Eli Clare talks about his physical disabilities but how he still embraces nature through hiking regardless of the fact that he has a “disability.” People don’t choose to be born with a disability, but if they do have one they learn how to work with it to live a “normal” life. Eli embraces his disability just like he embraces nature. He works with his disability to be able to do what he loves and wants to do. This ties into the idea of where we choose to have our homes and what events will try to “exile” us from them.

Natural disasters are a part of the planet. They affect various areas of Earth mainly along coasts or on plate boundaries where two plates (oceanic or continental) collide, separate, or slide past each other. Natural disasters include volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. In most cases, these events cause property damages, injuries, deaths, and in the long run economic issues due to the rebuilding of the area(s). In particular I wanted to focus on Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy first hit New Jersey on October 29th, 2012. Wind speed got up to 80 mph and there was a lot of damage due to the high wind speeds and of the seawater. Sandy hit the Jersey shore as well as areas throughout New York. New York’s elevation is slightly above sea level so as sea level starts to rise, New York will be in more danger. Sandy gave clarity to the sea-level/elevation situation by flooding highways, low-lying streets, subway stations, and tunnels. After Sandy there were reports of people without electricity, streets were flooded, depleted fuel supplies, and about 149 deaths overall. Overall, “Sandy will end up causing about $20 billion in property damage and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business, making it one of the costliest natural disasters on record in the United States…The New York City mayor’s office in late November estimated total loses to the city to be $19 billion and asked the federal government for $9.8 billion in aid for costs not covered by insurance or FEMA” (Sharp).

Overall these costs show that natural disasters are very effective when it comes to damaging property. This made me think of the idea of home and how we choose where we want to have our homes. Even though we know that New York isn’t high above sea level we still choose to build our homes and businesses there because it’s a populated city and originally it was a good location for trading.

If we treat natural disasters as something that is trying to exile you why do we continue to come back? This goes back to a point Eli Clare made. When you are born, you are born into a history and a culture, however he tries to revise his own history. Regardless, when you are born into a history and a culture in most cases you will continue to come back to those places. You grew up in them, you know the people that live around you, you know the history, and in most cases people feel it as their home. I know that for me Chicago is considered my home. I know the streets, the neighborhood, downtown, the people, and the different cultures of the city. It is a place that I always want to come back to. In a way people should accept natural disasters, but figure out ways to make them less damaging. 

New York is a place that people will come back to. The city is filled with history, culture, and people. The natural disasters and other events that take place there don’t seem to affect people returning to the city. But I wonder what will happen years from now when sea level rises to the point where New York is inhabitable? How much of the history and culture will be lost?


References Used:

Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride (2009)

Sharp, Tim. Superstorm Sandy: Facts About the Frankenstorm. (2012),


Anne Dalke's picture

On being exiled


This project steps off directly from my nudging you to acknowledge, in your last essay, the strangeness—and the threat—that lies @ home. You take on the suggestion straight up, with your claim that “natural disasters try to exile humans from their homes,” and you give data from the disaster that was Hurricane Sandy of the extent to which this has happened in very recent memory.  You end by arguing that “people should accept natural disasters, but figure out ways to make them less damaging.”

A lot of work was done in this arena, post-Sandy, as politicians, architects, and environmentalists took up the challenge of more long-> longer-> longest term thinking. For some examples, see a NYTimes article on Facing New Reality: "Hurricane Sandy is now a gauge of the region’s new fragility.... to simply mop up is a fool’s errand...."We just can’t rebuild it the way it was. The worst thing to do is to have this experience and not learn from it"....Hurricane Sandy...should lead to a “massive reordering of priorities.” And another on Protecting the City, Before Next Time, which describes three proposals: for marshy edges and absorptive streets; re-built oyster beds; and a dam w/ tidal gates.

I’d like to invite you to do more work in this area yourself. What does it mean to say that natural disasters “try to exile humans”? Do you think that there is an intent in the weather? Do you think that humans should push back? What might it mean to “work to live a ‘normal’ life,” in this era of climate change? “Why do we continue to come back” to homes that are increasingly under threat by extreme weather? Why can’t/don’t we change our destructive habits…?

I feel as though you’ve just begun to nibble @ some of these questions…how might you begin to find more substantial answers? You mention the “economic issues” raised by the need to rebuild areas devastated by Sandy; do you want to explore those dimensions more? You also start off your essay with an example of what it might mean to be born with a disability, and learn to work with it…do you see this as analogous to working with “natural” disasters? (How “natural” do you think they are?)

Next month we’ll be looking @ Ozeki’s novel of environmental activism, so that could also be a site for your analysis: how much change does it suggest is possible? And what are the venues for this?