>MARCIE ROTH: Benilda Caixeta did not need to die in that disaster, hers was a preventable death. I’ve come to learn that people with disabilities are, the UN says two to four times more likely to be injured or to die in a disaster than people who don’t have disabilities, and it’s not because of their disability.
>>[AUDIO DESCRIPTION]: 20 years of Disability Rights and Inclusion in Disaster Management: From Katrina To Ida.
>MARCIE ROTH: August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. A dear friend, Susan Daniels called me on the day that Katrina was making landfall and she said Benilda Caixeta had been trying to evacuate from her apartment for three days. She was an active community advocate, worked in disability rights and knew how to navigate systems. She had tried for three days to get a paratransit ride to evacuate from her home, she was someone who took the evacuation very seriously. She tried and tried and paratransit you know she kept being scheduled but nobody showed up – the night before Katrina made landfall, she called 9-1-1 and told them that she was having chest pains. Susan asked me to help Benilda, also known as Benny, I was on the phone with Benny as were other people in her life on and off throughout the day. And try as we might, we were unable to get any help to her because by this point all of the first responders were locked down, sheltering in place. And that was absolutely the right thing to do, but she needed help. We were on the phone throughout that day and I saw that the hurricane, as bad as it was, starting to pass and I said to her, it looks like things are going to start to calm down and you know people know you’re there, and you know somebody will surely be there soon to assist you. All of a sudden Benny said to me, the water is rushing in. At that point we lost phone contact. Benny did not survive Hurricane Katrina, she drowned, and she was found five days later. Her death really rocked me, I kept wondering if there was you know something else I could have done. Benilda Caixeta did not need to die in that disaster, hers was a preventable death. I’ve come to learn that people with disabilities are far more likely, I think you know the UN says two to four times more likely to be injured or to die in a disaster than people who don’t have disabilities, and it’s not because of their disability. It’s because of all of the systemic bias, the assumptions, all of the beliefs about people with disabilities, and most certainly multiply marginalized people with disabilities. Hurricane Ida came ashore and was devastating to first Louisiana and then the gulf states. I had made some very dear friends immediately following Hurricane Katrina – a day before Ida was coming ashore, they contacted me and said, our lift-equipped van broke down, and we rented a van but before we could go and pick it up, we were told that FEMA has taken all of the rental vehicles, and we have no way to evacuate. And that began a 24-hour period in which a bunch of people frantically tried to figure out how to help them to get to safety. We worked through the night and into the morning that Hurricane Ida was about to make landfall. Miraculously they evacuated to the other side of town to a hotel 10 minutes before this category 4 hurricane made landfall – 10 minutes. I was so…scared, devastated that they wouldn’t make it out and that you know once again, exactly 16 years after Benilda drowned, that they were going to have the same horrible death. I was hugely relieved and very grateful.
We learned that a number of nursing homes in Louisiana evacuated, but rather than evacuating folks to another congregate facility, they evacuated almost 900 people from a bunch of nursing homes to a warehouse, without adequate staffing, and four people died. So you know, what have I learned? What sort of progress have we made? I mean we’ve learned that rather than thinking of people with disabilities as being a liability in disasters, that we not only need to be at the table, but we need to serve in leadership roles because we really are very knowledgeable about anticipating and solving problems in disasters. But I think we’ve also very sadly learned that we are expendable, we are no more valued now than you know in all the years that I’ve been doing this work – as I look back on 20 years of trying to change outcomes for people with disabilities in disasters, 20 years ago people with disabilities were disregarded, this week people with disabilities – things are no better for disabled people in disasters.
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