Length: Approx. 15 Minutes
After the Storm is an interactive, non-fiction work that chronicles one man’s survival of a natural disaster. By blending personal narrative and documentary evidence, it tells the story of both a storm’s immediate aftermath and its lingering traumas.
As a survivor of two similar catastrophes, I found the piece to be a moving portrayal of a disaster’s various stages: the tense anticipation, the frightening event itself, and the long process of picking up the pieces that, in some tragic cases, may never end.
The story’s main narrative arc is presented as a voiceover addressed to a “future disaster survivor.” Narrated in the first person, it tells the story of a man living with his wife in Tuscaloosa, Alabama during a massive tornado outbreak in April 2011 and their efforts to rebuild and recover from the catastrophe.
The narration is presented independently of the viewer’s actions: it plays – as evidenced by a white progress bar at the bottom of the screen – no matter how quickly or slowly the user scrolls through the piece. Interactivity is limited: the user can scroll through photos and click to watch videos, but the narrative itself – like a force of nature – cannot be influenced or steered off its predetermined course.
The main narrative is interspersed with fragments of documentary evidence: footage of forecasts and newscasts, an interview with the city’s local weatherman, the narrator’s personal photos and videos, and before/after views of the landscape as seen through Google Maps. While the narration is compelling by itself, when presented alongside such documentation, a sense of the disaster’s reality becomes palpable, particularly for someone who has lived through a similar experience.
Like the narrator, I was glued to the television before, and during, Hurricane Sandy in 2012; the narrator and his wife hid in a hallway closet, and I similarly took shelter in the lobby of a nursing home; and the day after, just as they inspected the fields of debris that used to be their neighborhood, I trudged through the receding waters to survey what remained of my family’s home.
As the narrator says in the piece’s introduction, he is hardly the first person to go through this, and he will certainly not be the last. After the Storm uses his testimony – merged with outside documentation – to create a trajectory of a disaster, a kind of map to show future survivors how to move forward.