Lessons

Documenting Disasters: Hurricanes Harvey and Maria in the News [15 minutes]

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Hurricane Harvey is expected to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Thousands of homes were flooded, many requiring major repairs. Here debris piles await removal from gutting two homes in Northwest Forest, a subdivisions of Beaumont. Image by Dan Grossman. United States, 2017.

Hurricane Harvey is expected to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Thousands of homes were flooded, many requiring major repairs. Here debris piles await removal from gutting two homes in Northwest Forest, a subdivisions of Beaumont. Image by Dan Grossman. United States, 2017.

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Storm water flowing south from Houston overflowed the banks of the Brazos River, sweeping away trees and earth, and flooding low-lying neighborhoods. Image by Alex MacLean. United States, 2017.

Storm water flowing south from Houston overflowed the banks of the Brazos River, sweeping away trees and earth, and flooding low-lying neighborhoods. Image by Alex MacLean. United States, 2017.

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When Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas, powerful tornadoes appeared, ripping apart and overturning mobile homes. Image by Alex MacLean. United States, 2017.

When Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas, powerful tornadoes appeared, ripping apart and overturning mobile homes. Image by Alex MacLean. United States, 2017.

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Carmen De Jesús Rodríguez, 92, of Fajardo, recounts all of the hurricanes she has lived through, including San Felipe Segundo, San Ciprian, Hugo, Georges and now Maria in her hillside home where she has lived for the past 70 years. “This was the worst hurricane I have witnessed. It came with a different intensity.” Rodríguez said. “The sound was horrific and the rain and wind remained violent for more than 12 hours.” Image by Ryan Michalesko. Puerto Rico, 2017.

Carmen De Jesús Rodríguez, 92, of Fajardo, recounts all of the hurricanes she has lived through, including San Felipe Segundo, San Ciprian, Hugo, Georges and now Maria in her hillside home where she has lived for the past 70 years. “This was the worst hurricane I have witnessed. It came with a different intensity.” Rodríguez said. “The sound was horrific and the rain and wind remained violent for more than 12 hours.” Image by Ryan Michalesko. Puerto Rico, 2017.

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Abdel Olma, 8, plays near the street while his mother, Rosalda Olma sorts through what remains of their home in Loiza. Rosalda had to seek psychiatric help for Abdel following the storm. Image by Ryan Michalesko. Puerto Rico, 2017.

Abdel Olma, 8, plays near the street while his mother, Rosalda Olma sorts through what remains of their home in Loiza. Rosalda had to seek psychiatric help for Abdel following the storm. Image by Ryan Michalesko. Puerto Rico, 2017.

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Rosalda Olma, a wife and mother to three kids, sorts through what remains of her home in Loiza. The entire home and contents were destroyed by the hurricane, and the family is living in a nearby school for the time being. “It’s hard getting used to these living conditions,” she said. “All five of us are trying to fit inside a single room.” Image by Ryan Michalesko. Puerto Rico, 2017.

Rosalda Olma, a wife and mother to three kids, sorts through what remains of her home in Loiza. The entire home and contents were destroyed by the hurricane, and the family is living in a nearby school for the time being. “It’s hard getting used to these living conditions,” she said. “All five of us are trying to fit inside a single room.” Image by Ryan Michalesko. Puerto Rico, 2017.

1. What is a natural disaster? What natural disasters have been in the news recently?

2. What do you usually see/hear in a news story about natural disasters? [Teacher: Write down student answers at the front of the class.]

3. View the two sets of photos (above) and read the captions. The first set (photos 1-3) is from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The second set (photos 4-6) is from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

4. Both of these photo sets show the aftermath of a hurricane that struck in 2017, but they tell different stories. Turn and talk with a classmate. In 2 minutes, be prepared to answer:

  • How are the photos from Hurricane Maria similar to the photos from Hurricane Harvey? How are they different?
  • How do the journalists use captions to tell different stories with their photos?

5. Discuss as a class:

  • Why do you think the journalists decided to tell the stories of these hurricanes so differently?
  • Do images of natural disasters help or exploit their victims? What can photographers and journalists do to ensure they tell stories about natural disasters in a useful, respectful way? What lessons can we learn from these photos?
  • What can you do to read stories about natural disasters in a useful, respectful way?
Educator Notes: 

This short lesson plan is designed to be facilitated in 15 minutes. As an extension activity, students can write an essay about the question, "What can photographers and journalists do to ensure they tell stories about natural disasters in a useful, respectful way?" using one or both of the attached resources as a case study.

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