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When Hurricanes Lead to Industrial Fires, Minority Neighborhoods Can Take a Hit

Daniel Hoadley, a spokesman for Biolab’s parent company, KIK Custom Products, said the chemical plant had been evacuated when the hurricane hit and damaged the site, starting a fire. All employees were safe, he said, and the company was working with emergency responders to minimize chemical releases.

Getting through storms and recovery is more difficult for vulnerable communities, Dr. Bullard said, noting that it’s tougher for poorer people, who may lack money or transportation, to relocate out of harm’s way. They must rely on FEMA buses and disaster shelters that, during the pandemic, could become incubators for the coronavirus.

“Covid has provided another level of complexity to the whole thing,” Dr. Bullard said.

One of the problems, Ms. Harden said, is that the law gives government officials broad discretion about who gets help and how much. She cited the sparring over aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. “The potential for a community to be neglected, or to be put in a worse situation, is always present under the law,” she said.

Federal aid can also have the effect of widening the gap between rich and poor, as more aid flows to higher-income areas.

Meanwhile, Mossville, a historically Black community founded by an ex-slave, is disappearing, largely displaced by Lake Charles’ industrial expansion.

Delma Bennett, president of the Concerned Citizens of Mossville, noted that much of his community has been bought out by the encroaching Sasol plant. He still has a home there, he said, but he and his wife moved to Lake Charles to gain a little distance from the pollution. “She felt she was getting sick,” he said, “because of Mossville.”

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