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Journalists travel to Montecito to document 2017 extreme weather devastation

Media coverage of hurricanes, fires, floods and other natural disasters last for days, sometimes weeks. But as we all know, the impacts last far longer.

Two journalists from the Bay Area are on a mission to raise awareness, by looking back at 2017.

Reporter, Beth Farnsworth, and videographer, Joyce Roberson, met up with photographers David Beyer, and Neal Menschel during their two-day visit to our area, documenting storm devastation in Montecito from January 9.

“I was surprised by how long it affects the community,” Beyer said.

The two spent months interviewing scores of people impacted by extreme weather in a half-dozen states and Puerto Rico, including Montecito residents Marco Farrel and his dad, Jeff. The journalists have titled their project, Portrait of America at the Crossroads, and shared some of their images with our news organization.

“People have stories and I think they feel it’s important to be told,” Menschel said.

“Every community we’ve been to, even though this all occurred in 2017, is still very much in recovery,” Beyer said.

They say they’re picking up where the media often leaves off.

“You hear a story like Houston or tornadoes in Missouri or the drought in Montana for a couple of days and then it goes on to the next thing,” Beyer said.

They’re also looking at the financial impact these disasters have on our country as a whole.

“And you can imagine what that does to a farmer or rancher,” Beyer said.

Ranchers had to buy feed out of state so a lot of them ended up selling off half their herd,” Menschel added.

“They’re still repairing the damage,” Beyer said. “The tornado went through Perryville, Missouri, 187 mph winds, half a mile wide, traveled 60 mph, for an hour,’ Menshel interjected. “Took out all sorts of homes,” Beyer said.

Beyer gave some perspective.

“These storms and extreme weather costs the country over $300 billion dollars, which is more than we spend on Veteran’s Affairs, education and Department of Transportation and environmental protection.”

And they refuse to use hot-button labels like “climate change” and “global warming.”

“Climate change evokes these images in some people’s minds of scientists with crystal balls, trying to predict future,” Beyer said. “We don’t have to worry about the future; we’re seeing things right now.”

Of all the places they’ve traveled they believe Puerto Rico fared the worst.

“A place like Puerto Rico, which is sort of off of everybody’s radar, they had tornado-speed winds 155 mph that lasted for six hours,” Menschel said.

“I asked this one mother and daughter, ‘What did you do for six hours?'” Beyer shared. “She didn’t really understand the question. I asked her again, ‘Did you play games at all? Did you try to kill the time?’ And (she) said, ‘Play games?! No! We prayed to God!'”

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