Credit: Gabriel Hongsdusit/Reveal

Last year saw the most destructive Atlantic hurricane season on record. As climate change pushes ocean temperatures ever higher, scientists predict storms will continue growing more severe.

How did we get here? And what steps are we taking to ensure that rising seas and catastrophic weather don’t swallow American communities whole? This week’s episode investigates.

First in the hour, Reveal and Texas Tribune reporter Neena Satija wades through the damage left by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. It turns out that developers built thousands of homes inside a reservoir – a 50-square-mile area that’s not just flood prone; it’s designed to flood. Many residents didn’t know this because there’s no law requiring anyone to tell them. So after Harvey, they were left with destroyed homes and little recourse.

After that, WWNO’s Tegan Wendland visits the dissolving edges of Louisiana’s coastline, where rising seas are threatening to create a wave of climate change refugees. Using an elaborate statistical model, scientists in the state have estimated that as many as 2,400 homes are likely to face permanent flooding. The solution? Buy residents out and help them find new housing elsewhere. But those who live in the affected area aren’t eager to move, and the cost of relocating them could run higher than $1 billion. That’s money Louisiana doesn’t have.

Finally, how many people have actually died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria? The official death toll remains at 64, but as our partners at Latino USA and Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism report, the real number may actually be more than 1,000 storm-related deaths.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: Louisiana Says Thousands Should Move From Vulnerable Coast, But Can’t Pay Them
  • Contribute: How has severe weather affected you?
  • Read: Nearly 1,000 More People Died in Puerto Rico After Hurricane María


Our show was edited by Brett Myers and Deb George. Produced by Neena Satija and Stan Alcorn. Special thanks to Dave Harmon from the Texas Tribune and Reveal’s senior data reporter, Eric Sagara.

Our lead sound designer and engineer is Jim Briggs who had help this week from Katherine Rae Mondo.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

 Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 – 00:10:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al:From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. So about a year ago we had a chance to look into the future, specially, this future.
Male Voice:Hurricane Harvey: State of Emergency.
Female Reporter:We’re not measuring inches of rain, we’re measuring in feet of rain.
Male Voice:Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to hit this state since John F. Kennedy was president, is now a massive tropical storm.
Al:The City of Houston suffered the worst flooding in its history from Hurricane Harvey. When people talk about it today, they use words like unprecedented, unimaginable, but we want to take you back in time nearly a year before the storm hit. When we talk to a guy who saw some of that flooding coming. Flooding that was entirely preventable.
Richard:You’re gonna have to buckle up, I’m afraid.
Al:Richard Long works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Neena Satija, our producer based at the Texas Tribune, drove around with him back in October of 2016.
Richard:Okay, we’re gonna take a ride up the slope.
Al:Richard drives his white Ford pickup truck 35 feet up a steep earthen dam. So steep, Neena’s a little nervous.
Richard:We’ll do it without any issues.


Al:A few seconds later.


Neena:Is this the top … this is the top of the dam?


Richard:We’re on top of the dam right now. You’re looking into the reservoir right now.


Al:Looking down from the dam into the Barker Reservoir, Neena doesn’t see water. Instead it looks like a giant park.


Richard:We have deer, bobcat, people recreating. We have soccer fields out here. Ball fields, shooting ranges.


Al:If you look at Houston on Google Maps there are two massive patches of green way west of downtown. One, is the Barker Reservoir, which Richard and Neena are looking into right now. There’s another one just like it nearby called Addicks. There what’s called dry reservoirs. They only fill up during really big rain storms and the idea is to collect the rain water here so it doesn’t flood downtown Houston.


Richard’s job is to make sure the 20 miles of earthen dam surrounding the reservoirs hold all that water in place.


Richard:I’ve had some people call me and say, hey my kid can’t play soccer. Get the water off my soccer field.


Neena:Do they realize their soccer field is actually a reservoir?


Richard:Well you explain it to them and some of them get it.


Al:There’s more than soccer fields inside those reservoirs. To make that point, Richard drives just a few minutes away to what looks like a typical Houston suburb. No sidewalks, two-story houses with big two car garages, and few scattered apartment buildings.


Richard:So we’re on the inside of the reservoir right now and here’s apartment complexes on the inside of the reservoir.


Neena:We’re inside-


Richard:We are inside a reservoir. Not on government property.






Al:Apartments inside the reservoir. How can that be? Well when these projects went up back in the 1940s, the Army Corp built them so that a total of 50 square miles of land would flood behind those earthen dams, but they only bought 38 square miles.


At the time it didn’t matter because hardly anyone lived out there. It was mostly rice farms and ranches. But, eventually, developers bought that extra land and they built houses and apartment buildings. Neena asks about the people who live there now. Do they know they live in a reservoir?


Richard:Most do not. Is it a secret? No, it is not.


Neena:They just don’t know.


Richard:But, they just don’t know.




Richard:So if we ever go to maximum flood-


Neena:These guys are out [crosstalk 00:03:36]-


Richard:They’re gonna have water in their first stories.


Al:Maximum flood is exactly what happened 10 months later.


Male Reporter:Tropical Storm Harvey now a history making disaster.


Al:And a few weeks after Harvey, Neena went back to see what happened to those apartments. She takes the story from here.


Neena:Hi. Is it okay to drive in?


Male :No. To be honest they shut it down.


Neena:They shut it down? Why is that?


Male :Because it was flooded.


Neena:I’m back in the same neighborhood and it looks completely different. The whole apartment complex is cordoned off. Windows are covered in plastic. Workers are walking around in white coveralls. Eventually, a supervisor drives up to the front gate to talk with me.


Hi there.


Supervisor:How’s it going?


Neena:Good. I’m a reporter. Was the flooding here really bad?


Supervisor:About four to six feet high.


Neena:Four to six feet?


Supervisor:Yes. Are you recording?


Neena:I am recording.


Supervisor:I have to be careful … well we have to be careful because we can’t release information from the property without authority.


Neena:That’s the end of it. He asked me to stop recording. Thanks a lot.




Neena:Have a good one.


I want to know if residents around here realize they’re living inside a reservoir. I end up on a street called Lochmoor Lane. Almost all the houses here flooded too. There are heaps of dry wall, furniture, and wet carpet on top of manicured green lawns. People are home cleaning up.


Hi there.




Neena:My name’s Neena. I’m a reporter with the Texas Tribune.




Neena:And we’re kind of driving around these neighborhoods to talk to people about what they’ve been doing with-


Anita:The trash.


Neena:The flood.


This isn’t how Anita Bunning usually receives visitors. She’s holding a bag of trash. Behind her, the walls of her first floor are totally ripped out and fans are drying what used to be her living room. I’m standing on this piece of cardboard on her front step.


Anita:Do you love my lovely welcome mat? My original welcome mat is long gone.


Neena:Anita tells me more than a foot of water sat in the house for weeks. It’s unlivable right now and for the moment they’re doing a lot of the repairs themselves.


You pulled all of that out yourself?


Anita:I pulled it all out myself.


Neena:All that wood from the bottom shelf, wow.


Anita:Yeah. We’re getting quotes, but I don’t know what we can afford.


Neena:All the damage is going to cost at least 100,000. The Bunning’s don’t have it. Like many people here they never bought flood insurance. They’re county government doesn’t consider them to be in a floodplain because they’re far from any rivers or creeks. Anita’s husband, Tom, says that was a big selling point when they moved here.


Tom:I never wanted to live anywhere near or purchase a home that would be in a floodplain.


Neena:It’s been weeks since Harvey and the Bunning’s still don’t know their house is actually inside a reservoir. I pull out a 25 year old document I got from the local property records office in Fort Bend County. It’s called a plat. A big map that developers have to draw up when they build a new neighborhood. Local officials have to sign off on each plat before development is allowed to go through, but most home buyers never see it.


These are general notes on this document and do you see that one it’s number 14.


Anita:Says something about the something is designed to-


Neena:The font is too small for Anita to read, so her daughter Meredith reads it instead.


Meredith:Oh my. I feel like I’m at the eye doctor. This subdivision is adjacent to Barker Reservoir and is subject to extended controlled inundation.


Neena:Extended controlled inundation under the management of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is what the rest of the sentence says. In other words, your property could be flooded for an extended period of time, but that’s not the whole story.


When the plat says this subdivision is adjacent to Barker Reservoir that just means it’s next to the government owned portion. Remember there’s a lot of land designed to flood that the Army Corps didn’t buy in the 1940s. Back then it was rice fields. Today, it’s their neighborhood.


The Army Corps told us that it’s accurate to say that your homes are inside Barker Reservoir.




Neena:Yeah, not just adjacent, but inside.


Meredith:That position is key.




Neena:According to our analysis, their home is one of 14,000 inside the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs. More than 5,000 of them flooded during Harvey. How is it that people like the Bunning’s could buy a home and never be warned that hey, by the way, this house was built inside a reservoir and one day it might flood.


We found a realtor, Sam Chaudhry, who sold more than 50 homes out here. A lot of them in a neighborhood called Grand Lakes.


Sam:On Marble Hollow, on South Cut, Columbus Falls-


Neena:These are all names of streets where you sold homes in Grand Lakes?


Sam:Absolutely, absolutely.


Neena:Do you ever give your clients the plat? Do you ever see the plat?


Sam:We actually give them something better. We actually have the survey done.


Neena:A survey is a newer map and it’s supposed to have more information about a particular property. Sam says plats are old, used mostly when developers are building a neighborhood, not when someone’s buying a home. But, when Sam shows me the survey, there’s nothing on there about Barker Reservoir.


Sam:Flood note according to Farm da, da, da, this property is in zone X and does not lie within the 100 year floodplain.


Neena:Is what you’re required to … are you required to give the buyer the survey?


Sam:Buyer actually buys it. They pay 500 dollar for this thing. 400 to 500 dollars for this thing actually.


Neena:I have the plat for Grand Lake here.


I show Sam where the tiny font is.


Sam:And is subject to extended controlled inundation under the management of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


What exactly does that mean?


Neena:It basically means Grand Lakes is actually designed to flood in a situation like Harvey.




Neena:It’s behind these dams. In essence, Grand Lakes is inside the reservoir.


Sam:So if it is inside the reservoir, how would they approve these plans?


Neena:I wanted to know the same thing. To try and get an answer, I went to see this guy.


Steve:Come on in. Have a seat.


Neena:Here we are again.


Steve:Here we are again. I don’t know why you guys want to talk to me. You should be tired by now.


Neena:I’ve been to Steve Costello’s office a lot over the past couple of years. People call him the flood czar and he works up on the fourth floor.


 Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 – 00:10:04]
 Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 – 00:20:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Neena Satija:… Last couple years. People call him the Flood Czar, and he works up on the fourth floor of Houston City Hall. He helps direct policy to protect the city from flooding. I asked Steve if he knew that homes in the Houston area sit on land designed to flood by the Army Corps.


Steve Costello:No, I wasn’t paying much attention though, to be candid. I’m not quite sure if I really knew that much about it.


Neena Satija:The guy in charge of flooding policy in Houston is telling me didn’t know there were thousands of homes in these reservoirs. He says all those homes were built before his time.


Steve Costello:I don’t know when the developments occurred. It’s not like they occurred yesterday. They’ve been there for quite a long time.


Neena Satija:I pull out a plat to show Steve. It’s the same one is showed realtor Sam Chaudhry. This plat was approved in 2004, and it actually has Costello, Inc. there …


Steve Costello:Right, it’s our firm.


Neena Satija:… on the corner. That’s your engineering or development firm?


Steve Costello:Right, that was the engineering firm I formerly was employed with.


Neena Satija:He’s being modest. Steve Costello founded Costello, Inc. and was president of the firm until 2015. Even as I’m showing him this plat, he still doesn’t seem to understand that it’s in the reservoir.


Steve Costello:It’s outside the government-owned land.


Neena Satija:Even though it’s outside the government-owned land, it’s still inside the reservoir. It’s still in a part of the land that’s designed to flood.


Steve Costello:If that information was available at the time these developments had occurred, they probably wouldn’t have happened. The developer wouldn’t have developed those lots.


Neena Satija:Except I point out to Steve the information was available at the time. It’s written on the very plat that his engineering firm worked on. They were within the flood pool of Barker Reservoir.


Steve Costello:I’m not familiar with that. I didn’t personally work on the project, but it was my firm that worked on it. You’d probably have to ask other engineers and the developers.


Neena Satija:Even for your own firm?


Steve Costello:You could ask the firm, the people that actually worked on the project.


Neena Satija:We go back and forth about this for a while. Eventually Steve just says he doesn’t want to look backward. He also says the city of Houston can’t fix this alone. The reservoirs extend into the outskirts of Houston, which means county governments are also responsible.


Bob Hebert:My name is Bob Hebert, and I’ve been county judge in Fort Bend County since 2003. I’m in my 15th year in office.


Neena Satija:The title is kind of a weird Texas thing. Bob Hebert doesn’t have judicial powers. He’s just the top elected official in the county.


Bob Hebert:Maybe as everything worked out, they wouldn’t have built back there. They would’ve taken more steps. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I’m not a career politician. I just stepped into this job when my predecessor had a heart attack.


Neena Satija:In fact, our reporting shows that thousands of home went up inside the reservoirs after he took office. There were plats for those new neighborhoods, plats that he had to sign. There’s a plat here that I found from your time as county judge. It was approved in 2004. Your signature is here.


Bob Hebert:Right.


Neena Satija:Why sign these documents when they had the disclosure but then say, “Actually, I didn’t realize that we had all these homes in the reservoirs?”


Bob Hebert:I don’t read the plats. We sign dozens of plats every week.


Neena Satija:Could the engineer have done a better review since it has the disclosure on there so that you all knew?


Bob Hebert:No, ma’am. No, ma’am. You’re playing Perry Mason now. Screw your head around and go back to July of this year. Platting in Fort Bend County wasn’t important to you, wasn’t important to the Texas Tribune, all right? Why didn’t you come in here and talk to me? Didn’t you know Harvey was going to happen?


Neena Satija:Actually, we’ve known for more than a year that these homes would one day flood, and we’ve been reporting on it. Allow me to screw my head around all the way to October 2016. Remember, that’s when Richard Long from the Army Corps gave me the tour we heard earlier.


Richard Long:We’re on the inside of the reservoir right now, and here’s apartment complexes on the inside of the reservoir.


Neena Satija:Richard Long isn’t allowed to talk to me anymore because the Army Corps is facing lawsuits from flooded residents, not just from people inside the reservoir but also ones who flooded downstream when Addicks and Barker got too full.


Speaker 5:The record rain in this region has put reservoirs and dams under tremendous strain.


Neena Satija:During Harvey, the dams surrounding the reservoirs had to hold so much water, the Army Corps worried they might fail. If that happened, downtown Houston could’ve literally been swept away by a massive wall of water. The Army Corps made a hard choice, opening floodgates to relieve the pressure.


Speaker 6:The Army Corps of Engineers says it had to let the water out of those reservoirs essentially to save downtown because they were filling up too fast, but that water-


Neena Satija:When the engineers opened those floodgates, they sent water rushing towards neighborhoods downstream. Thousands of homes flooded including Cynthia Neely’s. It’s like the wall is curved.


Cynthia Neely:Yeah, it is. It’s bubbled way out. If you get down, you can see really …


Neena Satija:Oh my god.


Cynthia Neely:… how much it’s bubbled in the-


Neena Satija:Cynthia’s showing me a brick wall on her house that looks like it’s about to collapse. During Harvey, she thought her home was safe, but then just as the storm was petering out, water started pouring in because the Army Corps opened those floodgates.


Cynthia Neely:Then it got to a point that it started coming in faster and faster, and we just had to go upstairs.


Neena Satija:Nearly two feet of water sat on Cynthia’s first floor for weeks. Now she’s suing the Army Corps. Do you think this is salvageable, the house?


Cynthia Neely:I don’t know, but I don’t really care. I don’t want to salvage it. Nothing’s going to change in the next probably 10 years that will keep us from this happening again. We’re in harm’s way.


Neena Satija:Addicks and Barker were supposed to protect Cynthia, but all those houses upstream inside the reservoirs put her at risk. Back when the area was just grasslands, water absorbed naturally into the ground. As it’s been developed and paved over, now more and more water collects behind those earthen dams during every storm. For years, the Army Corps has warned Congress and local officials that the aging dams can’t handle it. They’re now at the top of a list of most dangerous dams in the country. Cynthia says the Army Corps should never have let things get this bad.


Cynthia Neely:Their excuses are so lame, they make me sick. They’ve had almost 80 years to make those dams safe. They saw danger, they did nothing.


Neena Satija:Will you stay in Houston?


Cynthia Neely:No.


Neena Satija:You’ll leave Houston?


Cynthia Neely:I love this city. I have loved this city from the moment I stepped foot on the ground, but I’m 68 years old, my husband’s 71. I want to be able to sleep at night.


Neena Satija:Since Harvey, local officials have requested $6 billion from Congress to buy out and demolish homes in the reservoirs. There’s no telling if it’ll ever be approved. Meanwhile, people keep buying homes in these same neighborhoods. Remember the Bunting family? Their entire neighborhood is in Barker Reservoir. More than a dozen homes have sold there since Harvey hit, and I haven’t found any real estate listings disclosing the reservoirs. Not a single one says, “This home is sitting on top of land that’s designed to flood.”


Al Letson:That story was produced by Reveal’s Neena Satija, who’s based at the Texas Tribune. She had reporting help from the Tribune’s Kiah Collier and Al Shaw at ProPublica. To find a lot more houses in danger of catastrophic flooding, you don’t have to look inside a reservoir. You can just go to the Louisiana coast where the next storm could change thousands of lives.


Speaker 9:People will migrate one after another, and towns will fall apart as a result.


Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal.


Christina Kim:Christina Kim here from Reveal’s Engagement team. This hour you’re hearing a lot about severe weather and its impact on communities across the US. Climate change is a topic we’re keeping a close eye on, and we want to hear from you. Has a storm or rising seas changed your life, forced you to leave home or borrow money? Did you rescue someone or need rescuing yourself? Text STORM to 63735 and follow the prompts to share your story. You can even include photos. With your permission, we’ll feature some of these stories in our weekly newsletter and in our social media channels. Again, that’s STORM to 63735.


Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. In the last few years, there’s a phrase that people started throwing around.


Speaker 11:… the world’s first climate change refugees.


Speaker 12:We should expect to see more climate migrants.


Speaker 13:In some ways, they are also environmental refugees.


Speaker 14:… climate change migrants and climate change refugees and evacuees.


Al Letson:Whatever you want to call them, people are forced to leave their homes because of things like rising seas, rising temperatures, and extreme weather. The UN says there could be up to a billion in the coming decades, including millions right here in the US, people like Malcolm Lacoste, or as his friends call him, Lil Mackey.


Malcolm LaCoste:Can you close that door, babe, so she ain’t got quite so much noise?


Al Letson:He’s a shrimper about a 100 miles southwest of New Orleans. He’s on his boat just getting back from four days catching shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico.


Malcolm LaCoste:It’s nice to be getting home.


Al Letson:On board with him is WWNO reporter, Tegan Wendland.


Tegan Wendland :It’s real pretty up here.


Malcolm LaCoste:I think that’s why I like it so much. My scenery all the time is what people take picture of.


Al Letson:The early morning sun sparkles on the water of Bayou Dularge, a channel that runs from the ocean all the way to Mackey’s house.


Malcolm LaCoste:Ron.


Speaker 17:[inaudible 00:19:55].


Malcolm LaCoste:This is my deckhand, dude, my deckhand [inaudible 00:19:58].


Al Letson:Here on the Louisiana coast, the bayou is like the main street of a small town.


Malcolm LaCoste:Every house we passed so far …


 Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 – 00:20:04]
 Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 – 00:30:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Speaker 1:… is like the Main Street of a small town.


Will Mackey:Every house you’ve passed so far, it’s first, second cousins.


Tiegan Wendlen:Oh, wow.


Will Mackey:Just you go from the Lacoste, to the Lavos, to the Dehearts … it’s all family.


Speaker 1:But, the water that connects these families also makes their neighborhood increasingly dangerous. The land here is disappearing, making it one of the most vulnerable places in the state to flooding from hurricanes and tropical storms. Some of the houses are raised up high on stilts. Some are empty, because owners have moved away. Those who remain, like Mackey, have to plan their lives around hurricane season.


Will Mackey:The first thing I do is watch the weather, especially once you get into June and July, when your storms start really brewing up around. I have to get in, lift everything up that I can, get it out of harm’s way, secure my boat, and then get out of dodge.


Speaker 1:As storms continue to get worse, Louisiana’s Republican legislature has been reluctant to place the blame on climate change, but they can’t ignore the effects. The state’s been planning for the next big storm ever since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina more than a decade ago. Thousands of people, like Mackey, are waiting to see if those plans will help them. Tiegan Wendlen takes it from here.


Tiegan Wendlen:You can’t really see what’s happening to the Louisiana coast when you’re on a boat, because first off, the coast is all around you. It isn’t a straight line of beach or cliffs. On a map, it looks more like the bottom of the state’s boot shape is unraveling into marshy fingers that reach out into the Gulf. The best way to really picture it-


Alex Kulker:Are you ready?


Tiegan Wendlen:Is to see it from above.


Alex Kulker:Ready?


Tiegan Wendlen:Woo-hoo. I take a tour on a tiny propeller plane. On board with me is a coastal scientist, Alex Kulker, and an environmental law professor, Rob Verchick.


Alex Kulker:Oh, look. There’s the birds over there.


Rob Verchick:Oh, got it.


Alex Kulker:They’re white pelicans, it looks like.


Rob Verchick:Yeah, they get up pretty high.


Tiegan Wendlen:We dodge the pelicans and look down on what’s making Louisiana’s coast such a dangerous place to live. Alex points out how the land is becoming marsh, and the marshes are dissolving into water.


Alex Kulker:That intact marsh that we flew over at the start of the flight, is probably what these areas used to look like 100-150 years ago. Now, we’ve just … if you eyeball it, it’s 60/40, 70/30, water to land.


Tiegan Wendlen:Land is washing away into the Gulf. 2,000 square miles have disappeared since the 1930’s. It’s caused by sea level rise, long-term erosion, and oil companies.


Alex Kulker:You can see how this area was drilled for oil, right? You see all these little canals?


Tiegan Wendlen:They’ve dug canals so their boats can reach oil rigs they built out in the marshes. Those canals have eroded and turned to open water. To preserve the land that remains, the state’s pumping in dirt to create marshes and barrier islands, and building levies, basically walls, to hold back the ocean. As the plane turns, Alex tells me to look down.


Alex Kulker:That unnatural feature is the shape of the levy.


Tiegan Wendlen:It’s a straight line made of tons of dirt, dividing the open water from land, where you can see houses. But, not all of the houses are safely behind the levies. That was Will Mackey’s house right back there.


Alex Kulker:Nice.


Tiegan Wendlen:Yeah, we flew right over it.


Alex Kulker:Nice.


Tiegan Wendlen:The water seems to be very, very close.


Alex Kulker:You know, in the air, you can really see how close the water is.


Tiegan Wendlen:Mackey’s house is on an unprotected little spit of land, surrounded by water. How do you think it feels to be some of the families that are watching this big levy go up, if they know that they’re outside of it?


Alex Kulker:That’s got to be devastating, I would think, right? Because, they know exactly what that means. That’s like the life boat sailing away without you on it.


Tiegan Wendlen:After we land, I ask him a follow up. What happens to the people who are left behind?


Alex Kulker:Well, people will migrate one after another. Towns will fall apart as a result, and economies will tank. It will all be very chaotic. It will happen. The only question is, are we going to get ahead of the curve?


Tiegan Wendlen:Louisiana has tried to get ahead of the curve. After Hurricane Katrina, the state unified its planning powers under a single agency, The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Brynn Haas is the lead planner.


Brynn Haas:You look more prepared than I.


Tiegan Wendlen:He’s a little self-deprecating, which must come in handy when you’re trying to pull off such an ambitious mission.


Brynn Haas:We are charged with restoring our coast line and reducing risks, protecting our citizens from hurricane storm surges.


Tiegan Wendlen:For the last decade, that’s meant trying to save the land by building all of those marshes, barrier islands and levies. In the 2017 version of the agency’s coastal master plan, that’s changed.


Brynn Haas:We know that the future of our coast will be a much different coast than it is today.


Tiegan Wendlen:By different, you mean that there would be less of it.


Brynn Haas:Yes. We can’t restore our coast to the level that it was at 10 years ago, 100 years ago, certainly.


Tiegan Wendlen:The state is now admitting it’s a losing battle. Some land will be lost forever. Flooding from storms will get worse, and there are some people on the coast the state will not be able to protect. The Coastal Agency used an elaborate statistical model to forecast how bad flooding might get. If a strong storm would cause at least five feet of flooding, they say you should raise your home a little higher than that. If the flood waters are projected to hit 12 feet, you should just move. They estimate there are 2,400 houses like this. The plan is to pay the homeowners to leave, and knock those houses down. Just putting that down on paper, Brynn says, “That’s kind of a big deal.”


Brynn Haas:I think it’s important to note that this is really the first time we’ve had this level of discussion about the [inaudible 00:26:07] topic.


Tiegan Wendlen:People don’t want to be told they have to move, especially coastal Louisianans. They’re fiercely independent. Many of their ancestors moved to the coast in the first place, because they didn’t want the government telling them what to do. Native Americans, driven into the marshes by the Indian Removal Act, and scrappy French settlers, like the grandparents of Mackey, the shrimper. A big storm could cause 14 feet of flooding for his house. That would make him eligible for a buy-out. I wonder if he would take an offer to buy and demolish his house.


Will Mackey:I would have to think about it a lot. That’s my whole livelihood. It’s not just where I live at. Probably now that I’ve been doing it a while, and I’m getting towards the end of my … I would probably consider it. I’d seriously consider it. It’s not going to get any better. The marsh isn’t coming back.


Tiegan Wendlen:Now, remember, Mackey’s house is just one of 2,400. I wonder what the rest of them would think. Would money change their thinking? I decide to do an informal survey of Mackey’s neighbors, starting with a group of older men fixing the engine on a shrimp boat. Reveal’s Stan Alcorn came with.


Stan Alcorn:How big would a government check have to be to convince any of you guys to move somewhere else?


Speaker 8:About 10 million dollars a piece.


Speaker 9:100 million dollars.


Speaker 10:Most of us down here, we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.


Tiegan Wendlen:So, I think that little interaction gives you a sense of what you encounter down here a lot. As we talked to people, we find that it doesn’t take much to change their minds. For instance, we’d come up to one house, windows covered in plastic and plywood. Hi.


Diana Liner:Hi, there.


Stan Alcorn:Hi.


Tiegan Wendlen:We’re reporters.


Diana Liner:Okay.


Tiegan Wendlen:Diana Liner answers the door. Is that something that you would be interested in, if they were money to help you move, would you move?


Diana Liner:I mean, I’m 57 years old. My husband is 61. We’re too old to start over on a new house and new payments.


Tiegan Wendlen:She said she’s flooded and rebuilt so many times she can’t remember. After Katrina, she applied for help to elevate her house, but she couldn’t get the money. The bureaucracy involved was just too complicated.


Diana Liner:The laws are so stupid, that my house didn’t get raised.


Tiegan Wendlen:Somebody’s moving in [crosstalk 00:28:29].


Diana Liner:That’s my daughter.


Tiegan Wendlen:Her daughter, Consuela Punch, peeks through the window shades to see who her mom is talking to. Hi. Then, comes out the front door, wearing a cheetah print robe. We were asking your mom about buyouts, if there were any kind of buyout program. The ocean’s coming up, more storms are coming, people here will have to move. It’s one of the most vulnerable parts of the state. So, we were talking-


Consuela Punch:We don’t want to move.


Tiegan Wendlen:But, if there were money, would you?


Consuela Punch:Yeah.


Tiegan Wendlen:They didn’t have a lot of faith that a new government program will help them. But, if it was easy, if it paid enough money, that’s a different story. Again and again, it doesn’t take long to get from, “No, we don’t want to move,” to, “Name a price.” All it really takes is a conversation about flood risk, but also about dollars and cents, which Brynn Haas, the planner at the Coastal Authority, understands.


Brynn Haas:Our first step needs to be to go to that local entity, a community, or whatever it may be and say, “Here’s what we’re seeing. Here’s what our data is telling us about land loss, and storm surges, and vulnerabilities. Here’s some options to address those bad situations.”


Tiegan Wendlen:And, that’s happening? You are going to-


Brynn Haas:That’s not happening, yet. No, it’s not happening yet.


Tiegan Wendlen:It’s not happening yet. The state hasn’t told any of those 2,400 households they should move. In fact, despite their elaborate computer modeling … do you know where these specific properties are?


Brynn Haas:I do not. I don’t have a list of structure in my pocket, or anything like that.


Tiegan Wendlen:The agency couldn’t tell us where the houses were, so we requested their data about where the worst flooding will happen, and-


 Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 – 00:30:04]
 Section 4 of 5          [00:30:00 – 00:40:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Tegan Wendland:… so we requested their data about where the worst flooding will happen, and we made our own map. That’s how we found [Mackie 00:30:05] and his neighbors.


Do you wanna see the map we made?


Bren Haas:Sure.


Tegan Wendland:Reveal’s data team used red to mark the areas where the state wants people to leave, and large swaths of the coast were red. Bren takes a long, hard look at the map.


Bren Haas:I think it’s very interesting.


Tegan Wendland:He didn’t have much of a reaction, but he did email us later asking if he could get a copy. It seems like they could have made the map themselves if they really wanted to, but Bren says the state is purposefully not going out and looking for these people for a very simple reason. The buy-out program would cost $1.2 billion and so far Bren says they don’t have that money.


Bren Haas:There’s been almost none. There really has been not much that would have been available for this kind of thing.


Tegan Wendland:And without money, the buy-out plan is really just a fancy blueprint. But if the coast is such a big priority for the state, why don’t they have the money? Why can’t they just appropriate it from the state budget?


We asked State Representative Jerome Zeringue.


Jerome Zeringue:Why not appropriate it? ‘Cause we don’t have it. Why aren’t you driving in a Lamborghini right now? ‘Cause you can’t afford it. The reality is the state doesn’t have the money.


Tegan Wendland:States usually don’t have the money to deal with major disasters like hurricanes and floods. They turn to the federal government and disaster-related grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Some of those grants pay for things that sound like Louisiana’s buy-out program, but they’re different. I get a first-hand look at a program paid for with one of these federal grants in Roberta Grove. It’s a subdivision a half-hour drive from where Mackie the shrimper lives.


I’m going up this bridge, right?


Jennifer G.:Yes, going up and over the bridge.


Tegan Wendland:I go there with Jennifer Gerbasi. She’s a local planner whose whole job is managing federal disaster money.


So these little plots here are where buy-outs occurred?


Jennifer G.:Yes, these are where buy-outs have occurred.


Tegan Wendland:Okay, so we’re just looking at just a mowed lot here and there’s houses on either side.


Jennifer G.:Mm-hmm (affirmative), which is how most of our buy-outs are. They’re next to other houses.


Tegan Wendland:I point to one of the empty lots.


This one says it’s for sale.


Jennifer G.:Yes, it is for sale.


Tegan Wendland:So someone can build here again?


Jennifer G.:Yes.


Tegan Wendland:People can build here again as long as they raise the new houses a few feet off the ground. The federal money being spent here isn’t getting people to abandon dangerous areas before a storm. It’s helping people who’ve already been hit. Republican Congressman Garret Graves wants to change this. He represents much of southern Louisiana, where people are still cleaning up after more than 100,000 homes flooded in 2016. When I met him, he’d just come back from Washington where he spends a lot of his time trying to get federal disaster money.


Garret Graves:It’s an unpredictable funding stream.


Tegan Wendland:And now he’s competing for relief funds in the aftermath of hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico. He says this whole approach, where we come in with money after the disaster, is just not very effective. Studies show a dollar spent before a disaster saves four dollars later.


Garret Graves:And I think instead of throwing a nickel at every $10 problem across the country, which is what we’re doing right now, we instead come in and corral or focus those investments on things that are true priorities, like, for example, investing in buy-outs in instances where that unfortunately is the best investment to where we’re spending money before these disasters strike and saving the billions that we come in and spend after disasters happen.


Tegan Wendland:But these days, he says, that’s beginning to feel like more and more of an uphill battle. In 2013, then-President Obama ordered federal agencies to work together to prepare for climate change, but President Trump has rescinded that order.


Since the state doesn’t have the money and the federal government isn’t coming to the rescue, coastal planner Bren Haas says there’s only one place left to look for money, a 2006 law that gives Louisiana a cut of off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a kind of justice to using this money since oil companies are already implicated both in climate change and in eroding the coast. Next year Louisiana’s cut is supposed to be $70 million. That’s a lot of money until you compare it to the price tag of the buy-out program.


I mean, that’s not anywhere near $1.2 billion.


Bren Haas:No, no. You can’t ignore the fact that the dollars aren’t there to do it, obviously. That’s a huge roadblock to implementation.


Tegan Wendland:And as long as he doesn’t have the dollars to actually help people, Bren doesn’t see a lot of upside in telling people they should move.


Bren Haas:To go to an individual homeowner and say, “This is what needs to happen, you know, in this particular location,” might actually be irresponsible at this point.


Scott Eustis:That’s ridiculous.


Tegan Wendland:Scott Eustis works for the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group advocating for people on the coast.


Scott Eustis:I mean, it is the responsibility of the state to inform its residents that there are threats to their public safety, and they need to be talking to people about that now.


Tegan Wendland:He says people don’t even understand the danger they’re in, let alone their options, and if they did they’d be fighting to get help.


If the state did have the money and helped all of those 2,400 households move, there would still be a lot of people left behind, like the Williams family.


Hello? How are you guys doing?


Daniel Williams:Pretty good, yourself?


Tegan Wendland:Ollie and Daniel Williams live just northeast of New Orleans in a little rural subdivision called Avery Estates. They grew up out here.


Ollie Williams:This is where we wanted to be forever. We wanted to build our home with our family, have memories. Everything-


Daniel Williams:Our families have been living out here since the ’70s-


Ollie Williams:Yeah.


Daniel Williams:So, I mean, my grandpa used to farm pigs out here. He never got water this bad.


Tegan Wendland:It floods all the time now, and, when it does, the water quickly rises in their yard. They’ve raised their home 13 feet in the air, so the house stays dry but the cars get stuck, the kids miss school, and life is tough enough already without the flooding. Daniel’s disabled, and they live off of his disability check, only about $1,000 a month for them, their two kids, and five dogs.


Ollie Williams:Personally, I only give myself another year on this property if that, and I’m fed up with it. I’m disgusted. I hate coming home. It’s just, we can’t be the family we wanna be back here, so it’s cutting out a lot of our lives.


Daniel Williams:But once again is the government gonna give you enough money to do anything, you know? I mean …


Tegan Wendland:At least when it comes to Louisiana’s proposed buy-out plan, probably not. On our map, the area where the Williams live is just outside of the red zone eligible for buy-outs. The projected flooding where they are just isn’t quite bad enough.


So how does it make you feel to see that, you know, the red zone’s coming up-


Ollie Williams:That’s sickening. It’s sad. It’s sad that we’re like the only little square that’s left out.


Tegan Wendland:It isn’t just that little square that’s left out. There are a lot of people across Louisiana who are getting flooded and want out, but for now they’re all waiting for the next big storm to hit and the federal money that comes with it.


Al Ledson:That’s Tegan Wendland, coastal reporter at WWNO. That story was produced by Stan Alcorn.


As tragic as it is to lose a home when disaster hits, the fact is that some people also lose loved ones. Coming up, how the government of Puerto Rico is vastly undercounting the number of people killed during Hurricane Maria and causing outrage among those who survived.


You’re listening to Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Byard Duncan:Hey, folks, Byard Duncan here from Reveal’s Engagement Team. I wanted to remind you about our newsletter. It’s called The Weekly Reveal, and each Monday I put it together with a bunch of stuff you can’t get anywhere else. We’re talking interviews with reporters, comments from listeners like you, a breakdown of our best reporting, and much more. If you’ve resolved to stay better informed in 2018, The Weekly Reveal is a great place to start, and signing up is easy. Just text newsletter to 63735. Again, that’s newsletter to 63735.


Al Ledson:From the Center from Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Ledson.


This hour, we’re talking about how we can be better prepared for rising seas and worsening hurricanes. More than three months since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, the island is still grappling with all kinds of challenges, including tallying the number of people who died.


Donald Trump:Well, thank you very much. It was a great trip and a beautiful place. Been to Puerto Rico many times-


Al Ledson:When President Trump first visited Puerto Rico back in October, about two weeks after Maria made landfall, he talked about the official death count, which was then just 16 people.


Donald Trump:If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this, and what is your death count as of this moment? 17?


Speaker 12:16, 17.


Donald Trump:16 people, certified. 16 people versus in the thousands.


Al Ledson:Trump used the low number of certified deaths to say that the hurricane wasn’t a real catastrophe. That’s significant because, at the time, the Administration was facing criticism for not doing enough to help Puerto Rico recover fr-


 Section 4 of 5          [00:30:00 – 00:40:04]
 Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 – 00:52:31]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Al Letson:… Was facing criticism for not doing enough to help Puerto Rico recover from the crisis. Today, the official death count has risen to 64. Public health experts say the actual number of hurricane dead is likely much, much higher; potentially more than a thousand people.


You may have heard that in just the last few weeks, the Puerto Rican government announced it will investigate how many people actually died. That’s something one news organization has been pushing for since the earliest days of the storm. Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism or CPI has been covering this story from the beginning.


Producer Marlon Bishop from the NPR Program Latino USA teamed up with them to bring us this story.


Marlon Bishop:Omaya Sosa Pascual is a reporter at CPI. She’s been working overtime since the hurricane, and that’s not a figure of speech. She’s been putting in so many extra hours that her husband threatened to get a divorce.


Omaya Sosa P.:I had an important interview here and usually for me to get home at 8 o’clock at night, 8:30 is not a big deal. Him dealing with the generator that broke down, with the kid crying, everything dark, the mosquitoes; he was going crazy. He got okay afterwords and we didn’t get that divorce, but he was very close to saying, “You know what?”


Marlon Bishop:Omaya first started looking into the death counts in Puerto Rico beginning just days after the hurricane hit, when she began getting these tips.


Omaya Sosa P.:Doctors were saying, “Listen, we have a lot of people in the morgues. That’s not normal.”


Marlon Bishop:It wasn’t just the morgues, hospitals without electricity were transferring patients who were in really bad shape to other facilities. Doctors told her many were dying.


Omaya Sosa P.:I was getting numbers from him. I got this week five transfers, they all died.


Marlon Bishop:Omaya said to herself, “Something’s not right with the government death count of just 16 people.”


Omaya Sosa P.:I think there’s something big happening here, so I started doing my own accounting.


Marlon Bishop:Omaya began reaching out to hospitals, funeral homes, and mayors asking if they knew of cases that weren’t counted. She didn’t just want a number, she wanted to find specific cases with names and documentation that she could bring to the government as proof that their death count was wrong.


Today we’re in Carolina, a middle class suburb of San Juan to follow up on a tip from a woman named Miriam Rosa Vargas. We pull up to a small modern home in a gated community, Miriam is waiting for us.


Miriam Rosa V.:[foreign language 00:42:31]


Marlon Bishop:We sit down in a living room and Miriam begins to tell us her story. Her father, formally a successful journalist and musician had Parkinson’s disease and he was showing signs of dementia.


When hurricane Maria struck and the electricity went out, his health suddenly worsened. The heat, the humidity, it was suffocating. The family would try to fan him to cool him down, but he was looking really bad. Five days after the hurricane, they decided to call an ambulance. When they arrived at the hospital, doctors told them he was having a heart attack.


On top of that, the condition of the hospital was unlike anything Miriam had ever seen. It was completely full, there were people everywhere, lining every hallway, packed in every possible space. At one point, she says a patient’s blood just started pooling on the floor and nobody came to clean it up. Miriam says it was horrific, like something she’d seen in a movie.


Doctors told Miriam that because of the condition of the hospital, which was being powered by generators, they were unable to treat her father’s heart attack. Phones were down and there were no available ambulances. By the time they found one hours later, he was in critical condition and it was too risky to move him.


Miriam says they put her dad in an exam room, pulled the curtain, and told her they’d do their best to treat him there. When she returned to the hospital the next morning, she went over to the area where her father was, she opened the curtain, and her father wasn’t there. At that moment, she says her world fell apart.


A doctor came and told her that her dad died in the middle of the night. The hospital would have called but remember, there were no phones. Miriam had wanted a chance to say goodbye, and now she wouldn’t get that.


Miriam’s dad isn’t included on the official list of hurricane related deaths. Omaya asked her one last question; do you believe your father died because of the hurricane? “Without a doubt”, Miriam says.


The government agrees, these kinds of indirect deaths should be counted. However, Omaya and her team have documented more than 50 cases like Miriam’s father, cases not included on the official list. There’s one woman who was unable to get the dialysis she needed after the storm, a man whose oxygen supply was cut off when the electricity went out.


These are just the dead Omaya has confirmed so far, the actual number of hurricane dead is likely many times greater. While the official death count is still just in the double digits, a separate government agency that tracks demographic information shows there were 472 more deaths this September when the hurricane hit than in the previous September.


I wanted to hear from officials in Puerto Rico about why there’s such a huge disparity between these estimates and the official count.


I requested an interview with the man in charge, Hector Pesquera is probably the second most powerful person in Puerto Rico after the governor right now. He was born here, then moved to the mainland where he worked for the FBI for almost three decades. Now he’s head of Puerto Rico’s newly created Department of Public Security, coordinating with FEMA and helping to run recovery efforts.


Pesquera wears glasses, has a short white beard, and shakes your hand like he’s trying to break it. I asked Pesquera about those 472 extra deaths in September. Does he agree that the increase is related to Hurricane Maria?


Hector Pesquera:I don’t agree with that at all. I cannot explain it, I can’t go be inferences, I can’t go by rumors. We have to go by what we can prove.


Marlon Bishop:After my interview with Pesquera, Omaya and her team of investigative reporters analyzed new demographic data. It turns out if you combine September and October, there were over 1,000 more deaths this year than in the same period the year before.


Pesquera says he’ll happily investigate cases brought by family members to determine if they should be added to the list. That doesn’t totally make sense to me. I ask him, what about cases where the bodies are already buried or cremated, like Miriam’s father? At that point, is there any way you can do your investigation?


Hector Pesquera:No, there’s no way.


Marlon Bishop:Do you acknowledge that there was a healthcare crisis that happened in the wake of this emergency?


Hector Pesquera:Fortunately not.


Marlon Bishop:If you didn’t catch that, when I asked Pesquera if there was a healthcare crisis after the storm, he says, “Fortunately not.” It’s a difficult case to make, for more than a month hospitals were without power or running on generators. Funeral home directors say bodies piled up.


I asked a frustrated Pesquera if he believes the real death count could be higher than what they’ve been able to certify.


Hector Pesquera:It could happen. Yeah, it could happen. Of course, it could happen. It doesn’t mean that it happened, it doesn’t mean that it’s not the accurate count. It doesn’t mean, “Why didn’t you do it?” Why didn’t we do what?


Marlon Bishop:Certifying deaths after a natural disaster is complicated. To streamline that process the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they created a tool kit earlier this year which the CDC recommends that local and regional governments distribute to hospitals and funeral homes ahead of a storm.


The territorial government confirmed that it did email the tool kits, but after the storm, not before. Reporter Omaya Sosa Pascual has spoken with dozens of doctors at various hospitals throughout Puerto Rico, who all say they never received anything like it or any other guidance.


Pesquera maintains that if deaths are missing from the official tally, Puerto Rico’s government isn’t to blame. He says responsibility lies with doctors, and even family members of the dead.


Hector Pesquera:If the family had concerns at any given point during this process, then they should raise their hands and say, “Excuse me.” We depend now on the moral and ethical behavior of the attending physician and on the family members who bring up the issue.


Marlon Bishop:In the end, limited communication between the government and hospitals led to widespread confusion over what counts as a hurricane related death and who should be certifying them. In the muddle, says Omaya, there was also the practical matter of bodies decomposing because of inadequate refrigeration.


Omaya Sosa P.:I think there’s a combination between the inexperience of this administration. I think that they don’t want to alarm people with what was going on and they wanted to look good.


Marlon Bishop:Bottom line Omaya says, the Puerto Rican government is grossly undercounting the dead.


Why do you think this matters? When you think about why, why does it matter that we get the death count right?


Omaya Sosa P.:It matters for several reasons. The most important one is to actually try and avoid more deaths, because people are still dying because of these situations that have not been identified and prioritized, and for families.


Marlon Bishop:People like Miriam, who want the deaths of their loved ones to be acknowledged for what they really were. Omaya also brings up President Trump’s visit and how he used the death count as a kind of shorthand for how not so bad the disaster was.


Omaya Sosa P.:He actually said literally, “This is not a real catastrophe like Katrina.” So you know, we don’t need so much help because we only had 16 victims or deaths here. That’s just not true.


Marlon Bishop:What is true is that with pressure steadily mounting, the Puerto Rican government is finally admitting that the official count may in fact be wrong. Governor Ricardo Rossello pointed to news reports like those from Omaya and The Center for Investigative Journalism analyzing the increase in deaths after the storm. Just after the new year, he ordered a full review of deaths related to Hurricane Maria.


Al Letson:Thanks to reporter Marlon Bishop, this story was a co-production with NPR’s Latino USA and The Center for Investigative Journalism based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Be sure to listen to this week’s Latino USA, where Marlon travels to a rural town in Puerto Rico and meets a funeral home director who admits that many people in his town were cremated and buried after the hurricane, people who were not part of the official death count. Look out for Latino USA on your local public radio station or on your podcast app.


Our show was edited by Brett Myers and Deb George. Neena Satija and Stan Alcorn were our lead producers. Special thanks to Dave Harmon from the Texas Tribune, Reveal’s Senior Data Reporter Eric Sagara, and the Ford Foundation for supporting our reporting in Puerto Rico. Our lead sound designer and engineer is Jim Briggs.


We had help this week from [inaudible 00:51:53], Katherine Raymundo and [inaudible 00:51:55]. Amy Pyle’s our Editor in Chief, our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado-Lightning.


Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.


Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.


 Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 – 00:52:31]

Brett Myers is an interim executive producer for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Deborah George is the senior radio editor for Reveal. She's also a contributing editor with the ""Radio Diaries"" series on NPR's ""All Things Considered."" George has worked in the U.S., Asia, Africa and Latin America, covering stories ranging from the Los Angeles riots to the Rwandan genocide. She's a two-time recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award and a six-time recipient of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award (five silver batons and one gold baton).

Stan Alcorn is a former senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His radio work at Reveal has won awards including a Peabody Award, several Online Journalism Awards, an NABJ Salute to Excellence Award, and a Best of the West Award, as well as making him a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He previously was a reporter for Marketplace, covering business and economic news – from debit card fees levied on the formerly incarcerated to the economic impact of Beyoncé's hair. He has helped launch new shows at Marketplace, Slate, and WNYC; contributed research to books by journalists at Time and CNBC; and reported for outlets including NPR, PRI's The World, 99% Invisible, WNYC, FiveThirtyEight, Fast Company, High Country News, Narratively, and Digg.

Neena Satija is a radio reporter and producer for Reveal. She is based in The Texas Tribune newsroom in Austin, Texas. Previously, she was an environment reporter for The Texas Tribune, and before that, worked for Connecticut Public Radio. Her reporting on the vulnerability of the Connecticut shoreline won a national award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Neena grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and graduated from Yale University in 2011.

Eric Sagara is a senior data reporter for Reveal. He joined Reveal following a news applications fellowship at ProPublica, where he worked on projects about pharmaceutical payments to doctors, deadly force in police agencies and the trail of guns in the United States. Prior to that, he was a reporter on The Newark Star-Ledger's data team. Sagara is originally from Arizona, where he reported on business, education, crime, wildfires and government. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Kevin Sullivan is a former executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.