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What is a disaster? According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies a disaster is a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceed the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources. A disaster causes a major disruption in day to day life. Along with disasters unfortunately comes looting. So what exactly is looting?
Looting is the action of stealing items usually in a time of mass hysteria or panic. After a disaster has occurred there is great fear and panic that occurs and for some people they are not ready and prepared for the disaster. In this paper we will look at why people loot during disasters, famous disasters where looting was running ramped, and what can be done to resolve the issue. Looting is also something that is not limited to one type of disaster. Looting occurs during hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and earthquakes just to name a few.
So the big question is why do people loot after a disaster has occurred? There are many different reasons why people feel they need to loot when a disaster has occurred. One of the main reasons we see this occurring is because we have a breakdown of society and our laws. When a disaster hits society, as we knew it breaks down and peoples morals and fear of getting in trouble go away. People are also less likely to care what is going on because they are worried about themselves and their families.
There are also the people who feel like they are entitled to these things and deserve these things after the disaster has occurred. Another major reason is survival. When a disaster occurs people are in need and are in distress and therefore are more willing to loot and steal in order for them and their family to survive. There is also a theory called phycology of looting which is part of the phenomenon of “group dynamics”. People will do things as part of a group that they would never deem appropriate on their own, for example stealing and breaking into stores and private homes.
What are some major disasters that have occurred where major looting occurred? One of the biggest storms that everyone knows about where looting occurred very heavily was Katrina. Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 storm on August 29th 2005 with 127 mph winds. There was severe flooding damage to Gulfport, Mississippi, New Orleans, Louisiana, and areas in between. Hurricane Katrina was one of the most catastrophic disasters in history due to the death count and cost. The total damage for Katrina is estimated at $108 billion. When the storm hit it killed over two thousand people cause severe damage to the city and crime skyrocketed to an all-time high. It would take the National Guard several days to arrive and the police were over whelmed and could not handle all the crime and turmoil occurring.
The next storm I will mention is hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 storm that hit Texas on August 25, 2017. It caused $125 billion in damage. Harvey made landfall three times in six days. At its peak on September 1, 2017, one-third of Houston was underwater. Two feet of rain fell in the first 24 hours. Flooding forced 39,000 people out of their homes and into shelters. Like in most disasters there was looting that occurred. There was a news article published that discussed where a lady watched in shock as two boys walked out of a big box store carrying TV’s. This is just one example of the type of looting that will occur after a disaster hits an area. After this storm Houston mayor tried to combat this issue some though. The mayor implemented a curfew mostly because of the looting and the fact the city did not want this occurring. Almost 200 people were charged with crimes after hurricane Harvey hit the area.
The final storm I will discuss is hurricane Sandy was a massive storm that brought significant wind and flooding damage. Flash flooding generated by the storm’s relentless rainfall, high winds, and coastal storm surges killed 147 people and produced heavy damage. At its greatest extent, the storm measured more than 900 miles in diameter. The storm caused more than $70 billion in damage in the United States. Just as in any other disaster there was heavy looting after hurricane Sandy hit the area.
There were many news articles that discussed the looting. One homeowner said they returned home and found that their barn had the lock cut off and gas cans and ladders had been stolen. In Somerset County there was shattered glass littered outside of more than a dozen businesses along a strip of Route 22 that had been left without power for nearly two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit.
The next major hurricane I will discuss is Hurricane Hugo. During Hurricane Hugo in 1989, looting was ramped. Only ten percent of the businesses in the three largest malls had reported not being completely looted. It was also reported that there were mainly three types of looting; delinquents who took consumer goods, non-criminals who stole mainly from hardware stores, and people who took from grocery stores for survival needs. These three were hurricanes that hit and looting occurred.
Another disaster that goes along with hurricanes is tornados. Tornados can be just as devastating as hurricanes and cause great damage and destruction. When the tornado hit Oklahoma in 2013 it killed 24 people and caused great damage. It was reported that people were coming from all over to steal and loot through the damage. Some of the main things that were being looted was copper wire, scrap metal, and other items from homes. This is just one tornado that could be used as an example but there have been numerous tornados where looting was occurring after the storm hit. One disaster that is not often thought of is wildfires. We often see on the news the major wildfires that threaten homes and cause neighborhoods to be evacuated. Even though the evacuation period may be short there still have been reports of looting occurring in homes that are evacuated because of the fire.
Another disaster where looting is very heavy as well is earthquakes. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was just as bad with looting such as other disasters. Looters would not only steal from
stores but from the dead as well. The mayor actually ordered police to shoot anyone caught looting and they did just that. During the Tangshan Earthquake of 1976, the most common crime was mass looting. Because of death and destruction of communities, goods were exposed and easily stolen by looters. During the Bam Earthquake of 2003, looting was the highest the 72 hours following the disasters. Looters, who were mainly outsiders from nearby towns, would exploit the vulnerable by targeting valuable goods, they would steal from homes damaged during the earthquake, and even cut off the
hands of the dead for their jewelry. During the Haiti Earthquake in 2010, looting happened to mainly orphanages that already possessed food and water. Armed men would rob them multiple times.
What can be done to prevent looting from occurring so strongly during a disaster? There are many options that can be done to try and keep looting from occurring so heavily. One of the best options that New Orleans used after learning from Katrina is the National Guard. In New Orleans three years later after Katrina they had another disaster but this time deployed the National Guard before the storm hit the area. This idea worked much better than Katrina and prevented much of the looting.
Another option that is available is more police officers. This can be a tough task for cities because they are stretched so thin with the disaster and it can be tough to try and have more police officers but this goes with the national guard having more of a presence helps deter the looting. Another thing that ties everything together better is preparedness. I think that is crucial not only with looting but in disasters in general. When a town prepares they allow themselves to have the resources and materials that are needed when the disaster does occur. This helps with looting because there is a plan with how they will deal with the disaster before and after it occurs. Since poor social economic conditions generally increase the likelihood of looting after disasters, policies that improve people’s economic wellbeing can make poorer communities less vulnerable when disasters hit. This is something that is usually not considered when discussing looting and disasters but is something that is very important and can make a difference.
Disasters are events that disrupt our way of life and cause great fear and turmoil. We also know that looting happens even more when a disaster occurs due to the breakdown of society. Looting is the major crime that we see being committed after a disaster has hit an area. As you can see from this paper looting happens in all types of disasters and is not limited to one type of disaster. Unfortunately in our society crime is just a part of that and as long as we have disasters we will have looting.
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