The Invisible Dead in the World Trade Center Attack: Another Case Study of How Social Factors Affect and Distort Disaster Statistics

Aguirre, Benigno E.
Quarantelli, E. L.
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Disaster Research Center
This essay uses information from Latino immigrants who were victims in the World Trade Center (WTC) to illustrate the operation of counting as a central, theoretical issue. It examines the present day emphases on the operation of organizations, their lack of coordination, and fraud, which are used to explain the lack of validity of disaster mortality statistics. It complements these explanations with Alfred Schutz's phenomenological perspective, examining the social categories and understandings that were used to create the official list of the dead by the City of New York, the link of the official list with receipt of money from charities, and the work of Asociación Tepeyac de New York in developing an unofficial list of Latino victims some of whom were excluded from the official list. Results show that the Mexican mass media exaggerated the numbers of Mexican dead by a ratio of 15 to 1. Contrary to mass media reports, the Asociación also assisted people who were included in the official count of the dead. The list of the Asociación is overwhelmingly a list of male names, but neither gender has a greater proportion of exclusion from the official list. Exclusion from the official list occurs more often to Mexican men recently arrived in the country and earning a living in the underground economy of Lower Manhattan. A significantly greater proportion of Mexican victims are excluded from the official list if compared to Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. The social invisibility of some of the Latino victims is not caused solely by structural factors such as the operation of bureaucracies and systemic discrimination, nor is solely the effect of the categories used to organize the count of the dead; it is also a function of the social behavior of Latino immigrants and of their surviving kin during the course of their immigration and incorporation into the United States. The paper concludes with some suggestions about how statistics on disaster deaths can be improved.
Fatalities , Statistics , Ethnic and Minority Aspects , Social Factors