Gov. Edwards is visiting the storm ravaged parishes this week after Hurricane Ida made landfall at Port Fourchon, clocking in at a strong category four with wind gusts up to 172 mph sustained at 150 plus.
Port Fourchon is Louisiana’s southernmost port, located on the southern tip of Lafourche Parish. Hit particularly hard were Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. John the Baptist parishes and parts of Jefferson Parish. Views of the coast show the brunt of the destruction with downed trees and poles, roofs torn off, and many buildings completely obliterated. Ida took out power for over 1 million people, most who have been suffering in sweltering heat.
The storm was the third strongest in Louisiana history, coming in after the Last Island Hurricane of 1856, and Hurricane Laura, in second, a storm that made landfall last year in Cameron parish and all but leveled most of Lake Charles.
Many noted the irony of Hurricane Ida coming on shore the same day as Katrina. Sixteen years ago the highest storm surge ever recorded swept away the lives of 1,833 people, 1,577 of them in Louisiana. Upon the human losses was piled $150 billion in property damage, the burden falling primarily on individuals and communities.
Those in psychology have given their efforts and voices to recoveries, and continue to do so, helping Louisianians cope with and adjust to the new environmental conditions that affect our planet and our state.
In 2016, Dr. Mark Crosby rolled up his sleeves to help those in his Watson community, one of the areas with the most damage from the bizarre weather now being called the Flood of 2016. At the peak of the disaster, the Red Cross reported that there were 10,000 people in 50 shelters.
“Watson was at ground zero,” he said at that time. “Ninety percent of everything went under water – houses, schools, businesses. People are still in shock. We are just trying to find places where the children can attend school, school’s started, and there’s no space that wasn’t affected.”
Dr. Crosby has a doctorate in Family Psychology and has a background in Pastoral Counseling, and is Senior Pastor at Live Oak United Methodist Church in Watson (LOUMC).
He worked at the center of the crisis. “The volunteers––many who were evacuees––quickly went into crisis mode, he explained, “helping those who were wet and scared––some in shock––to get settled with a warm blanket and cup of coffee.”
After Katrina, Dr. Darlyne Nemeth and colleagues developed a set of interventions called Wellness Workshops, aimed at supporting the emotional recovery of those dealing with loss and trauma. Nemeth also co-authored a book, Living in an Environmentally Traumatized World: Healing Ourselves and Our Planet.
Dr. Nemeth said, after the 2016 Flood, “What is especially unfortunate is that many people, who moved here post Katrina, are now being re-traumatized. They are having anniversary reactions.”
In Nemeth’s work she and co-authors point to six stages in recovery, which begin with Shock. The next is Survival Mode, followed by Assessment of Basic Needs, when people need food, clean water, shelter, and safety.
In Awareness of Loss people survey their losses and begin to gain perspective. Then, Susceptibility to Spin and Fraud, is the stage where others can take advantage of them.
The last stage is Resolution. “Resolution can take a long time,” she said, “from many months to many years. The beginning of the resolution phase is marked by an anniversary reaction.”
For those who lost loved ones, or major possessions, traumatic grief can result. Dr. Marilyn Mendosa is an expert in grief, and Hurricane Ida Aftermath Psychologists familiar with hurricane recovery continued writes a blog for Psychology Today on the topic.
“This type of loss can generate intense feelings of shock, anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, despair and hopelessness,” Mendosa said. “People are overwhelmed. They are stunned and disoriented and have difficulty processing information. They have lost their sense of safety and order to their lives. In addition to the emotional turmoil, many will also develop physical illnesses.”
Dr. Mendosa is the author of We Do Not Die Alone and Clinical Instructor at Tulane Medical School Dept. of Psychiatry, an expert in trauma, bereavement, spiritual and women’s issues.
Dr. Katie Cherry has studied how different people are impacted by disasters and who may be the hardest hit, is a Louisiana State University psychology professor, and executive director of the LSU Life Course and Aging Center.
She has authored Traumatic Stress and Long-Term Recovery: Coping with Disasters and Other Negative Life Events, and also Lifespan perspectives on natural disasters: Coping with Katrina, Rita and other storms, both published by Springer. Her most recent book is The Other Side of Suffering: Finding a Path to Peace after Tragedy, published by Oxford University Press.
In one of her studies, “Survivors from the Coastal Parishes,” Cherry and co-authors discovered patterns in how different groups cope with disaster. Her team looked at coastal residents with severe property damage from the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and those with exposure to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
She found that those who experienced recent and severe trauma related to natural and technological disasters were found to be at risk for adverse psychological outcomes in the years after these events. Individuals with low income, low social support, and high levels of non-organizational religiosity are also at greater risk. She and her team found a 51% rate of reported symptoms of depression in fishers along the coast.
Executive Coach and organizational consultant, Dr. Laura Wolfe responded to one crisis by offering free coaching sessions to those affected.
“For business,” she explained, “the main issues right now are welfare of employees and business continuity. Uncertainty about the future is stressful both at the organizational level and the individual level,” she said. “Self-care is especially important as recent research finds that taking care, recharging, and recovering are related to sustaining and building resilience.”