Super Typhoon Haiyan: Only 3 Dead? News Coverage of Death
Hundreds of Philippinos Seek Shelter from Massive Storm
How many people died? That’s the first thing on everyone’s minds as they hear of exotic natural disasters reported on the news. I wonder why this is the case? Why is there such an emphasis on the number of deaths, that make these things more scary/more of a tragedy? Isn’t the destruction of major infrastructure and homes enough? Do we expect people to die?
In the CNN Article posted at 8:48 this morning, The storm is reported as being one of the strongest ever, that has hit over the past night in the Phillipines. It is state that the level of damage has not been assessed, but that the . The article states that “90% of the infrastructure and establishments have already been heavily damaged,” but the scary part is that the heaviest part of the storm has not hit yet. Though the article has a suspenseful tone, it seems as though there is almost is a silent emphasis on the death toll. The three people who died are mentioned, but throughout out the article, there are subtle hints that allude to the idea that they expect more to die.
About 30 minutes later, another article was posted about this, titled: Philippines battered by monster Typhoon Haiyan; at least 4 killed. I suspect that many articles with these provocative titles will be posted throughout the next couple of days. This is more interesting, I suppose. This makes me think about death tolls and the impact that they have on the understandings of these disasters. As we discussed in class, the Tsunami about ten years ago was seen as so horrible because of the alarming amounts of people who were dead. Also the situation was so horrible because it took everyone by surprise and the town was not prepared.
This in not the case for Haiyan, as it has been established that the country is prepared, and was aware of the storm. Though there has been extensive damage, more than 700,000 people were able to be evacuated prior to the storm. Because of this preparedness, I suspect that the death toll won’t reach proportions as high as other disasters. It can’t be ignored that there are currently winds blowing at 147 miles per hour and there are millions of people in the Philippines that are currently endangered. I think we would say that we desire for the death toll to stay at 4, but I wonder if this is really the case? Would it be a better story if it was 5?
The older we get, the more we have to face the fact that death is creeping closer and closer. In general, a good death in the United States is one that involves old age, minimal suffering, and at least some expectation. We know that death is inevitable, and the longer a person lives, the more it seems they’ve had a “full” life. This makes the occurrence of death easier to swallow. When death suddenly pounces upon the unsuspecting victim, sinking its teeth into youth, our society is unprepared. We are taken aback, thrown off balance, and left in a state of shock. If this kind of death is mixed with injustice, it makes for a powerful combination of circumstances. My former classmate, 16 year old Christina Lembo, embodies this image of a very “bad death”.
Christina Lembo, a junior this year at Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, NJ, was tragically seized from life on Saturday, September 29th. Though I did not personally know her, I know several people who did. She is described as an athletic student who was “smart,” “talented,” and “so sweet and loving and kind.” She was young, healthy, and full of life with a promising future. According to our culture, this shocking end to her life was not supposed to happen yet, and not like this. It was too unexpected. What makes matters worse is that it was completely out of her control. A car suspected of drag racing abruptly crashed into the car in which she was a passenger. Someone else’s mindless decision cost a vibrant young woman everything.
In instances like this it is not enough to study grief and death rituals from a purely anthropological academic viewpoint. An anthropological viewpoint, however, helps one understand and recognize how the healing process can begin. Culturally accepted rituals that tell us how to handle a situation like this give us guidance in how to grieve. They tell us what is acceptable to do and/or say, and therefore give us the freedom to begin healing. The biggest example of this can be seen in the vigil held for Christina on Broughton Ave, the street where the accident occurred. The vigil is a ritualistic way for the community to come together and publicly mourn over this beautiful young student. It is a way in which support is created to all who are in need. This vigil is also a way of showing that, though Christina is physically dead, she is not socially dead. I have a feeling that, due to the nature of this tragedy, Christina will remain socially alive for a very long time.
More information about Christina Lembo can be found here.