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When disasters come for the dead

My World's on Fire
When disasters come for the dead
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #63 • View online
Thanks for reading my World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, I hope you’ll subscribe!

“If you consider the vulnerable populations that are greatly impacted by [climate] disasters, you can safely assume that their cultural resources are [also at] risk of being destroyed, displaced, damaged.”
For my latest feature, I spoke with Jennifer Blanks, a PhD candidate studying preservation planning and disaster management at Texas A&M. Her work centers on historic African American cemeteries, which she has found are disproportionately threatened by development and natural hazard-triggered disasters. Adding to the challenge of preparing these spaces for climate change is the fact that many are not recognized in any government registries, which means that officials might not be aware of these gravesites until they are damaged or destroyed.
On September 10, the same day my article was published, PBS News Hour reported that Hurricane Ida had damaged “almost all of the 27 cemeteries” in its path as it swept through Louisiana. Tombs piled up; caskets washed up on lawns. One resident quoted in the article described losing both of her parent’s graves in separate storms—her father’s, lost in Hurricane Laura last year, is still missing.
This week, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate dug deeper into the Ironton, LA community’s ongoing efforts to identify and return displaced caskets to their proper resting place. Residents reported feeling forgotten as they tried to navigate this delicate situation on their own.
“I really don’t think we’re a priority,” Rev. Haywood Johnson told the paper. “Sometimes God got to use the dead to make the living see what’s going on.”
Blanks spoke on Instagram about the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, reflecting on the systemic forces that left these particular cemeteries so vulnerable to the storm and the inequities that continue to shape our lives, even when they have come to an end.
You can hear more from Blanks in my article below, which also quotes officials tasked with trying to make improvements in this space:
As always...
thank you for reading and subscribing to My World’s on Fire. A quick programming note: I’m currently in the process of moving, so I’ll be taking next week off. Patreons will still get their MWOF Monday post, so it’s a perfect time to make that $3 monthly pledge! I’m so grateful to those who provide that support and keep this newsletter coming—thanks to you all, I have some more original content coming in October.
It also means the world to me when you post about it on social media like Kathryn Shea Duncan did:
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
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