In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, more than 10,000 rescue missions were conducted, $125 billion worth of damage was reported, and more 700,000 residents registered for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance. The storm caused so much property damage, that the damage to people’s health has largely been overlooked. Documenting that damage has been the goal of the Hurricane Harvey Registry and Rice University in collaboration with many local government, environmental and health care leaders.
Key Findings of Hurricane Harvey Registry
Their first report issued in February, 2019, reflects the input of almost 10,000 respondents. Among this self-selected sample:
- 44% experienced flooded homes
- 55% had damaged homes
- 34% had vehicle damage
- 43% lost electricity
- 41% lost income
Almost half lost the use of their homes for 20 weeks. Sixty-five percent had to live among piles of trash for seven weeks; that’s the average time it took to clear piles.
People who experienced flooding were at risk for exposure to sewage, toxic chemicals, and other hazardous substances. Lack of knowledge, proper cleaning materials, and protective gear increased health risk. Exposure to mold, bacteria and toxins have been linked to new and worsening respiratory conditions.
Most Common Physical Maladies
Among the physical symptoms people showed:
- 50% complained of runny noses
- 26% experienced headaches or migraines
- 23% had problems concentrating
- 20% had shortness of breath
- 10% experienced skin rash.
People who lived in homes during cleanup reported much higher incidences of these problems than those who lived with relatives or somewhere else.
Psychological Aspects Revealed by Hurricane Harvey Registry
Property loss and damage correlate highly with poor mental health among hurricane survivors. Unemployment, physical illness or injury, and housing insecurity related to hurricanes have also been linked to mental health problems.
- 37% of respondents reported difficulty sleeping “sometimes or always”
- 33% reported feeling “numb” sometimes or always
- 30% reported dreaming about the flood sometimes or always
The report explores many other psychological dimensions of the aftermath.
Interestingly, psychological reactions to natural disasters occur in waves of emotional highs and lows. They take place well beyond the event’s anniversary and reveal an inability to put the storm behind them.
Difficulty of Putting Past Behind
Compared to those who didn’t flood, people who DID flood were almost THREE times more likely to say they OFTEN:
- “..tried not to think about it.”
- …”had waves of strong feelings about it.”
- “…thought about it when I didn’t mean to.” Or…
- “Other things kept making me think about it.”
They were FIVE times more likely to say that they were aware that “I still had a lot of feelings about it, but I didn’t deal with them.”
Unmet Needs Revealed by Study
Researchers hope their work will help the region better understand and identify gaps in air quality regulations and help devise better intervention efforts aimed at addressing asthma within the state.
They also note that mental health services remain a significant need for the entire region. “Oftentimes, in the aftermath of traumatic stress,” they say, “it can take months for mental health conditions to manifest.”
Long-term displacement, financial challenges, and adverse health effects all contribute to anxiety, stress, persistent headaches, and other mental health related symptoms.
The researchers request that if you have not registered already, please make sure to visit HarveyRegistry.rice.edu. If you have friends, family, or neighbors in the region who have not registered, please make sure to share the link with them.
To view the full list of more than 50 researchers and sponsors who contributed to the Hurricane Harvey Registry project, download the full report.
Posted by Bob Rehak on April 2, 2019
581 Days since Hurricane Harvey