Hurricane Ida Deaths in New York City: A Microcosm of Who Climate Change Affects the Most

Flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on the Major Deegan Expressway in New York City (The Bronx, to be exact)

A few weeks ago, the remnants of Hurricane Ida ravaged New York City with historic flooding. As I’ve told my friends about Ida, 2-4 inches of snow an hour paralyzes New York City, let alone 2-4 inches of rain an hour, which was what we received. The result was numerous deaths in New York City—deaths in communities that represent a microcosm of who climate change affects the most.

While it is impossible to chalk up the impacts of any one storm entirely to climate change, there is no doubt that warmer air and water temperatures create a recipe ideal for bigger and stronger storms what we got with Ida.[1] And Ida was a storm stronger (in terms of rainfall) than what one is typically expected to get with the sort of climate that exists in New York City.

Due to Ida’s floods, there were numerous deaths. Not only that, but most of the people who died from Hurricane Ida in my hometown of New York City died in illegal basement apartments.[2] It may be easy to wag one’s finger at the existence of basement apartments or those who live in them because they are illegal, but the unfortunate reality is that these basement apartments exist because many people in a city as expensive as New York cannot afford to live anywhere else.[3] In other words, most of the people who died from Ida were likely too much in poverty to afford living anywhere else.

And the fact that this storm, which was likely made stronger by climate change, killed so many who were so poor they could only afford an illegal basement apartment, should serve as a cautionary example of who climate change affects the most.

The situations with people in basement apartments during Ida is one example of this. But there are so many other examples of the poor being particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events fueled by climate change. There was Hurricane Katrina, where those who were in the lowest-lying areas most prone to flooding from the storm were predominantly poor (and Black).[4] It wasn’t just Katrina, though—with storms in general, those in lower-income neighborhoods are most likely to be the most severely affected by these storms,[5] even though they are the least able to handle such storms.[6] With wildfires, as well, the poor are often the most vulnerable—the University of California at Irvine found in a study earlier this year that those impacted the most by wildfires in that state (which have become more frequent as a result of climate change) have disproportionately been poor.[7]

This is not to say that those who are wealthier cannot be impacted by these storms. After all, the Hamptons in New York suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy, while wildfires threatened Hollywood a couple of years ago. However, those who are wealthier have more financial resources than those who are poorer to recover from the extreme weather events made worse by climate change, if those who are wealthier even live in areas vulnerable to extreme weather to begin with (and in many cases, it’s the poor who live in the areas most vulnerable to extreme weather).[8] Furthermore, those who are wealthier are more likely to have a place to go in the event of a disaster threatening their residences. For those who think or hope that weather disasters made worse by climate change can be equalizers between the wealthy and everyone else, think again.

What this all means is that reducing poverty is more than an economic justice issue. It is a climate justice issue, too. And failing to address poverty and all its adjacent issues, such as housing affordability, other cost-of-living expenses, and job wages, contributes to more people being more vulnerable to extreme weather events made worse by climate change. As long as we fail to address this, I fear that we should prepare ourselves for higher death tolls caused by a combination of more extreme weather and a high number of people in poverty. That being said, this is a case where I hope I am wrong, and I would be extremely glad if I found that I were wrong.


[1] https://today.tamu.edu/2021/09/02/climate-change-helped-intensify-hurricane-ida-a-potential-preview-of-whats-to-come/

[2] https://abcnews.go.com/US/calls-change-11-people-nyc-basement-apartments-died/story?id=79818549

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4829446

[5] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2017/09/18/hurricanes-hit-the-poor-the-hardest/

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://news.uci.edu/2021/05/30/california-wildfires-disproportionately-affect-elderly-and-poor-residents-uci-study-finds/

[8] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2017/09/18/hurricanes-hit-the-poor-the-hardest/

Addressing Racial Inequity in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

People who have been following the news in the United States would have heard about the challenges this country is experiencing in distributing the COVID-19 vaccines. However, early data seems to be indicating that racial inequity has also affected who gets the vaccines (as if it doesn’t already affect enough things).

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the study of health issues in the United States, has been able to collect data on the percentage of vaccines distributed to different races/ethnicities in a number of states. The results are not very promising: in states where this data has been collected, it appears that the percentage of vaccines distributed to Hispanics and Blacks does not compare to the percentage of COVID deaths or the total populations of those two races/ethnicities.[1] It does not whether we’re talking about a Democratic-run state like Pennsylvania or a Republican-run one like Texas—this is an issue across the board at this stage.

So what might some of the issues be? Some of the news stories I’ve read and other issues that have been mentioned in other sources might give us some hints:

For centuries, there has been abuse of people of color in the medical field.

The instances of the abuse of people of color in the medical field are numerous. From the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”[2] in the mid-20th century to the exploitation of Blacks for medical experiment purposes during the era of American slavery,[3] the history of people of color being medically exploited is about as long as, well, the history of people of color existing in what is now the United States of America.[4]

Because of the centuries-long abuse of people of color in the medical field in the United States, the concern is that this has led to deep mistrust in the advice of public health officials by some people of color. This may result in a deep mistrust when it comes to getting the vaccines—a concern that is held by America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.[5]

In some cases, it is clear that minority communities are not being prioritized as locations for vaccination sites or as locations for vaccine shipments.

I don’t have any hard studies to back this up but instead stories from across the country. The stories are equally compelling and disturbing, though.

In Austin, Texas, there is a severe lack of vaccination sites in the city’s poorest and most ethnically diverse areas.[6]

As of January 27th, 2021, some Black communities in Florida reported having zero vaccine access.[7]

In Dallas, Texas, Southern Dallas clearly did not get priority from the state government in receiving COVID vaccines, even though that part of Dallas got hit by COVID extremely hard.[8]

Stories such as these show that perhaps one of the issues we’re dealing with is that communities of color, and particularly communities of color that have experienced the hardest impacts from COVID, are not getting the priority they should receive.

Language barriers exist, and those responsible for distributing information on vaccines at times put embarrassingly little effort into addressing them.

In Florida, information for Spanish-speaking people who want to take the vaccine is nowhere near what it should be.[9]

In Arizona, there are concerns that there are not adequate Spanish-language interpreters at vaccination sites.[10]

In the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, a neighborhood with a large Spanish-speaking population, there were no Spanish language interpreters at the vaccine site.[11]


How can we possibly expect people to know the information they need to get the vaccines they need when people have to confront a language barrier? This is a rhetorical question, of course. The concern is that if we don’t make the effort to deal with the language barrier, many people will be left too frustrated to continue in their attempts to receive the vaccinations they need.

The three issues mentioned above are three of the issues that are making it a challenge for people of color to get the vaccinations needed, even though many of the communities hit hardest by this have been communities of color.


[1] https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/early-state-vaccination-data-raise-warning-flags-racial-equity/. I should note here, by the way, that this study includes data on Blacks and Hispanics, but data on Native Americans is still apparently quite limited. Because of the limited data on Native Americans and vaccine usage and distribution, this post will not focus on Native Americans. A second post on the topic of racial inequity and COVID vaccine distribution may be required, if such inequities also exist with Native Americans.  

[2] The short version was that this was a highly unethical study looking to record the natural history of syphilis in Blacks. As for a longer version, it’s on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm

[3] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

[4] The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, has a longer piece on the issue of medical racism in the United States: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

[5] https://www.baltimoresun.com/coronavirus/bs-md-vaccine-rollout-disparity-20210125-d2mwyfe7evfthgeoswe54tsb54-story.html

[6] https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2020/12/30/covid-19-vaccination-sites-lacing-east-austin/4091913001/

[7] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2021-01-27/some-black-communities-in-florida-have-no-vaccine-access

[8] https://www.nbcdfw.com/investigations/texas-has-sent-no-covid-19-vaccine-to-southern-dallas-neighborhoods-where-many-have-died/2522753/

[9] https://www.orlandosentinel.com/espanol/el-sentinel-in-english/os-prem-ex-english-covid-vaccine-information-spanish-20210122-hcmmd24hbrfhbcptho4f3tnqkm-story.html

[10] https://www.abc15.com/news/region-west-valley/glendale/do-arizona-covid-19-vaccination-sites-have-enough-bilingual-assistance

[11] https://www.thecity.nyc/coronavirus/2021/1/26/22251524/vaccines-washington-heights-armory