Posted August 30th 2011 at 5:52 pm by
in Perspectives on Current Events

Disaster Tourism, Learning or a Menace?

When Hurricane Irene struck the east coast of the United States on Friday, there were stories about surfers chasing the hurricane for the thrill of it or to experience what it is like to be out in the sea during a hurricane. As expected, there were follow-up stories in the media about some of these storm chasers having fatal accidents or the police and life guards at the beaches trying hard to rescue them or keep them out of water.

I am sure there are many such cases that we have heard of before and some of them compel us to think if they are a menace while there is also a perspective that we learn out of witnessing such incidents and can prepare better for the future. These reports however, remind me of a couple of incidents that a friend of mine in India told me about recently in one of her e-mails that I am going to reproduce here with her consent.

E-mail 1: July 13, 2011: Bomb blasts in Mumbai, India

It was a day after the bomb blasts had occurred in Dadar, Mumbai. It was one of the three serial blasts that had sent waves of fear throughout the city the previous night. As I made my way to the blast site, I noticed that it was already crowded. Instead of dedicating their energies to the investigation at hand, the policemen stationed at the site were busy pushing away people who had thronged the site. I would call them ‘disaster tourists’ for a reason.

These people were armed with cameras and continued to crowd behind the barricades at the blast site waiting for an opportunity to take pictures. When the police pushed them away, they cursed them or argued with them.

I had an opportunity to speak with one of the policemen on site. He said, “We are here since last night. Instead of dealing with the blasts case at hand, we are busy controlling the crowd here. They abuse us, push us and we are yet expected to behave politely with them and request them to go away. It’s not just the men but women too have been coming here in groups with their kids. Some of the people standing here have been here for hours.”

As I stood there and watched, I noticed that people were requesting the policemen to allow them to go ahead and see the site once. Some of these people even lied about being residents or workers in the shops in the neighborhood so that the police would allow them to go to the blast site. I heard one of such tourists interacting with the police- “Please let me go in there and see the site. I have traveled quite a distance to come here and see the place where the blasts had taken place,” said the man. When the police asked this man to go away, he muttered angrily “none of you are any use to us anyway. You reach the spot only after the blast has taken place.”

The local residents too suffered in the process. Residents living in the neighborhood where the blasts had occurred claimed that the police had requested them to not leave the building premises unless absolutely required. If a resident was trying to get into the building premises, he was thoroughly checked for his identity before being let in.

Crowd gathering at the beach to see the ship MV Wisdom

E-mail 2: June 11: MV Wisdom, a Sri Lankan cargo ship that was stranded at a beach in Mumbai

A 145-meter long cargo vessel, MV Wisdom from Sri Lanka made news in India on June 11 after it drifted to Juhu beach in Mumbai. The ship was on its way to Gujarat, India when it broke away from the ship that was tugging it to Gujarat’s Alang ship breaking yard.

It did not take long before Juhu beach was flooded with people from all over armed with their cameras to catch a glimpse of the stranded ship and take its pictures. The ship remained stranded on the beach for 20 days during which two attempts to get the ship to set sail failed. During this period, it is estimated that thousands of visitors made it to the beach daily to see the ship.

MV Wisdom

Some people even swam towards to vessel to touch it. Three people died in an attempt to touch the ship and at least 15 cases of onlookers being rescued by lifeguards were reported in the media.

Post by Alpita Masurkar and Dipti Sonawala. Dipti Sonawala is a journalist working with a renowned media organization in India

One response to “Disaster Tourism, Learning or a Menace?”

  1. Stefanie says:

    Wow, this is a fascinating post, Alpita! It makes me think of the way that people turn their heads when they hear car tires screeching or how “rubber necking” (people slowing on the highway to look at accidents) causes traffic backups for miles. It makes me wonder about the strange human fascination with tragedy, death and crisis. It’s almost a tragedy in itself, suspending people in a state of paralysis and preventing them from taking action.