Photo Credit: Anupam Ray/Twitter
As catastrophic disasters Harvey and Irma battered America, in quick succession, the authorities are left assessing and taking stock of the devastation the storms left behind for days to come.
Harvey, which made a landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane with winds of 130 mph in Texas, is now estimated to be one of the costliest weather disasters ever in the US history. The estimated cost of disaster from Hurricane Harvey is around $190 billion or the 1 percentage point of GDP, according to AccuWeather President Joel Myers.
The Indian-American community in Houston is now busy in rehabilitation and fund-raising activities. The Indian diaspora in the US is planning to raise $1 million for relief efforts after they met at the Indian consulate.
Little India talked to Anupam Ray, the consul general of India in Houston , to take stock of the recovery and relief work.
The Indian diaspora has been remarkable in showing their support during the catastrophe, with the latest being that they have pledged to raise $1 million to help in the relief work in response to your urgings, as per reports. What are your thoughts about the alacrity with which Indian-Americans have been reacting in the situation?
While it is truly commendable that the diaspora thought of doing their bit to raise funds but I would clarify that I cannot take the credit of inspiring them. It was something that they decided on their own when they met at the consulate. It’s an excellent endeavor but they did it without my urging them to do so.
You have been very vocal about Indian participation in the rehab process and how a large number of them were the first responders. What made them so attentive and attuned to the needs of people in the hour?
The diaspora has been very supportive always but perhaps it was the first time that a calamity of such a large magnitude occurred at a place with such a high concentration of Indians in America. So, we got to see a unique brotherhood where everyone was ready to help each other. Disasters like these don’t happen everyday and the way community came forward was exceptional and truly enlightening.
A lot has been written about the Indian American participation in ethnic media outlets but do you feel that the mainstream could have covered it more?
The ethnic media is part of the community and they do not miss any effort or great work done by our people here. As for the mainstream media, I do not think they have reported on any community specifically. Anyway these works are not done for publicity and we were not expecting any press coverage out of it. The fact that our Prime Minister said that the Indian American community is sort of integrated into America and there have been exceptional success stories says enough about the contribution of Indian community here. We do not necessarily want mileage about doing any good for the society.
Do you think that we have a sense of the number of displaced Indians or any other assessment about the loss? Are there any reports of any casualties from the community besides the two college students who succumbed?
The unfortunate death of the two students was not really related to the hurricane. They succumbed to death during the same time but not necessarily due to Harvey. As for the other losses our estimate is that the number of Indians displaced from their homes is in high hundreds. We do not have the exact numbers yet but we do know that there are 150,000 Indians in the Houston area, which makes about 50k families. We are assessing the number in high hundreds and our estimate is that 2 percent of the Indian population is displaced.
What is the current situation of Indian in Houston? Are they still in shelters or in temples, mosques and gurudwaras?
I am happy to say that none of the Indians are now in shelters. Those who have suffered damage to their houses have now moved out of shelters and have been offered to live with their friends or relatives in the area. The community bond between the Indians is so strong that we noticed that Indians began moving out of shelters within 36-48 hours after the tragedy. I myself visited many shelters and found no Indians any longer there. My staff has visited almost all the shelters and friends or families have picked all Indians. As for the religious places they are community-based organizations and did a wonderful job of providing hot food to shelter. It is alleviating to see how these places that derive sustenance from the communities steadfastly were there to help when the need arose.
A lot of Indians in the region were without flood insurance. Does the authority have any plan to tackle that situation? Are there any without medical insurance too that may need attention in the days to come?
Not just the Indians but also many Americans were also without flood insurance. I would say that their needs are not exclusive and are same as that of everybody who suffered a loss in the area right now. The state would decide its course however a lot of Indian companies have contributed to the Mayor’s fund for Harvey Relief also in the Rebuild Texas Fund by Governor. The major Indian oil companies in Houston – GAIL, Oil India and ONGC have also committed $10,000 each besides other organizations.