By Monday morning friends from across the country were checking in with me on Facebook. "We saw the news about Ellicott City - that's near you, right? We just wanted to make sure you were okay." I assured them we were - our buildings got wet, yes, but we were relatively lucky. What struck me was how fast the news had traveled of the devastation in Howard County. Everyone had seen footage of the floodwaters washing cars down Main Street, pounding through store fronts, and pummeling a city just recovered from flooding two years ago. I had seen the footage too - surfing the news online, reading the Sun, and checking out Instagram - both of Ellicott City and Catonsville/Oella.
But it was flipping through Instagram that brought me up to speed on another hard-hit part of our region: Irvington/Beechfield, within city limits. I was shocked by the post, which read, "A picture of Beechfield and Irvington since the news isn't covering it," with a picture of a stop sign nearly covered by water.
As a church, we work closely with several neighborhood leaders in the Irvington and Beechfield neighborhoods. I had no clue that they had been hit. Stunned, I searched the news again, and came up with nothing - no footage, no pictures, nothing. Asking around, I found out that many of the other pastors in the presbytery hadn't heard of this destruction either - and neither had some of the neighbors we work with at our local elementary school. It wasn't getting press. It wasn't making national news. Why?
I hoped it was because it wasn't as bad as the rest of the area, though I had few illusions that that would wind up being the case. Finally, the Baltimore Sun printed this story. My heart sunk. The flooding in these neighborhoods was terrible - a white-capped river flooded several of the streets, lifting cars onto lawns and necessitating the rescue of six residents. Chunks of pavement were carried away in the deluge, and debris raced down the street. Perhaps fortunately, the area is not as steeply hilled as Ellicott City, otherwise the footage would have likely looked eerily similar. Still, the video was horrifying. So why the lack of news coverage?
I don't know the answer for certain, but I wonder if it has to do with the politics of race and class. Irvington and Beechfield are predominantly African American neighborhoods that fall lower on the socio economic scale than many other parts of the city. And while the people who own businesses and work in Ellicott City tend to be middle class, it's certainly a destination for those who are well-off. The devastation in Ellicott City will be felt by more people who have the capacity and means to do more about it than the devastation in Beechfield and Irvington. And so the former becomes more newsworthy than the latter. It's just a hunch, but it doesn't seem far-fetched.
The heartbreaking outcome of this, though, is that with less awareness about this area's flooding, there may be less assistance for them as they seek to rebuild. And residents here may need more assistance than most. For some, the prospect of replacing a car or repairing damage might be beyond the realm of possibility. For some, losing transportation might mean the loss of a significant amount of pay if not the loss of a job altogether. For some, the result might very well be homelessness.
Of course, this is not to say that the same is not true for some in Ellicott City or Catonsville or Oella - it certainly is. We already know that countless business owners have lost everything. My point is simply that these county neighborhoods have the benefit of wider-spread news coverage, which can help generate the assistance that these people so deeply need. Irvington and Beechfield are at a distinct disadvantage.
So what can we do? Well, over the next couple of days there will be opportunities to volunteer. We're currently reaching out through our City Councilman to figure out where we would be most useful. If you're interested, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the church ASAP! If you want to give, the Red Cross is currently on site, and the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief is helping out too. Finally, get the word out! Let people know about the flood they didn't hear about!