Monday, January 30, 2012

Disaster Tourism?

Yesterday, I saw a segment on The Weather Channel that discussed a controversy concerning the Joplin tornado of last year.

The Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) was offering, to quote the Weather Channel account, maps
"... which combine facts on the tornado, points of twister-related interest and images of destruction."  The maps were "being made available at welcome centers and hotel front desks."

People are quite torn about this, needless to say.

I went to the Joplin CVB website and if they are still doing this, it isn't readily apparent from the website.  There are some pretty neat stories about Joplin, however, including one featuring Bonnie and Clyde.

As someone who lives in a neighborhood of upstate NY that suffered damage (for some homes, so extensive the houses are being condemned) from a flood back in September, I totally oppose it.  Why?

There's a difference between people going out to disasters (and trust me, there are a lot of these people out there) to gawk and an entity actually promoting it.  Even the unofficial gawkers are not truly welcome.  But to make it into an official industry?

I can speak from experience on this.  It is no fun watching people flock to your neighborhood (as happened during a lessor flood in 2006 that the 2011 flood eclipsed), park, stare, take pictures, look at you like you are a specimen in the zoo, and even get in the way of people genuinely trying to help.  I guess the only thing that saved us this time from the zoo treatment while the flood was at its peak was the fact that our neighborhood was unreachable this time unless you came by boat.  Or helicopter.  One major road was under 8 feet of water.  People who evacuated couldn't get in.  People who stayed were left to their own devices.

Slowly the recovery started,  But when, in October, the local paper announced a "commemorative book" with a front cover picture of what looked like an aerial shot of my neighborhood under water, the trauma came right back.

Thank heavens our town and county haven't decided to make us and other stricken neighborhoods such as Castle Gardens, the Southside of Binghamton, Twin Orchards, and the Town of Owego, into tourist attractions.

And our trauma is not at all like the trauma of the people of Joplin who were in the path of the tornado. Their homes, their lives, gone in an instant of terror.  No chance to escape.  Survival or death, in some cases, was totally random.  That does not do wonders for you emotionally.

And now these people are an official tourist attraction?  When many of them haven't even rebuilt their lives yet?  Now people can come and officially stare at what should be privately shared with others who shared their experience?

I know there is another side to it - I suppose the hope that disaster tourists will bring in money that Joplin can use for the rebuilding.

But I'm sorry.  To me, it just doesn't seem right.

Don't exploit those whose lives that tornado touched.

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