Tens of thousands of people in Texas are in shelters facing an uncertain future As Storm Harvey moves into Louisiana.
Ordinary people have played an active role in the rescue and relief efforts—including many activist groups. Ashton P Woods, founder and organiser of Houston Black Lives Matter, has been collecting supplies and distributing them in shelters.
He told Socialist Worker, “For a lot of people who’ve been evacuated to the shelters it’s been a total loss—their homes, their cars and everything they owned.
“They are coming in cold, wet and visibly shaken. About 60-70 percent of the city is flooded, there are about 50,000 people in shelters and more still being rescued.”
Police and mainstream media have hyped up occurrences of “looting” since the storm. There have been more than 40 arrests and a citywide curfew from midnight to 5am.
But Lief Hayman, an activist involved in Occupy Houston, told Socialist Worker, “People have been arrested for going into a grocery store and trying to get food. That’s not looting, it’s trying to stay alive.
“The chief of police has been very vocal, saying ‘we’re going to get you’. People are dying, and instead of rescuing them they are worrying about property.”
So far 19 people have been confirmed killed by the storm, a number expected to rise further.
Ashton—who moved to Houston from New Orleans after surviving Hurricane Katrina in 2005—said the official response had been far better this time. But questions remain.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that Houston is a majority black and brown city,” he said. “The disproportion in the way the storm has affected different people is more socioeconomic than racial like it was in New Orleans.
“At the moment everyone is affected. But you’re going to see a division between the people who are better off or middle class and can afford insurance, and poorer people who have lost their homes.
“And a lot of people work for businesses that have closed, they’ve lost their jobs or are not getting any pay. The Red Cross is filling the gap right now, but how long is it going to be able to do that?
“We’re talking tens of thousands of people. How will they get back into housing and back into work?”
A recent clampdown on undocumented immigrants has made them more vulnerable than anyone.
There’s currently a standoff over a new state law set to come into force next week, allowing all police officers to act as immigration officials. Protests are planned across Texas this weekend.
It’s the state’s way of overruling city authorities who’ve passed local “sanctuary” laws, and judges have warned that it could be overruled in turn by federal courts.
There has already been a sharp drop in the number of undocumented migrants reporting crimes such as domestic violence Victims fear that going to the cops could get them deported.
That fear has shaped the response to the crisis too. Lief said, “There’s all kinds of rumours been flying. The city has had to deny that it will check people’s papers before letting them into shelters.
“The immigration checkpoints on the road outside the city are staying in operation. The city has told people not to worry if they are fleeing the storm, that the checkpoints are only interested in people trying to come in.
“But anyone who leaves will have to come back, so the checkpoints mean no-one wants to leave. There’s a lot of fear, and that’s been a real issue in stopping people seeking help.”