Tuesday June 25, 2019

Natural Disasters Take Psychological Toll on Survivors

Across the U.S. and elsewhere, tornados, flooding and fires have destroyed homes, sometimes entire communities

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natural disasters
Janelle Crosby stands in a donated recreational vehicle where she has lived with her husband since Hurricane Michael in Springfield, Fla., May 1, 2019. Crosby fears the beginning of hurricane season. VOA

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season is officially underway, yet many people haven’t recovered from some of last year’s storms. Meantime, tornados have torn up swaths of several U.S. states in the past few weeks, and floodwaters have wreaked even more damage.

Across the U.S. and elsewhere, tornados, flooding and fires have destroyed homes, sometimes entire communities. Victim after victim describes the trauma.

Preston Black in Oklahoma says a tornado threw his trailer home several meters into the air. His parents, wife and children were all inside. Then, he saw his wife in the debris.

“To see her like that. … It was awful,” he said. “The worst thing I could ever see.”

She survived. But they lost everything they had.

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Police stand at the ruins of a hotel in El Reno, Okla., May 26, 2019, following a likely tornado touchdown late Saturday night. VOA

Hurricane Michael

Last October, Hurricane Michael destroyed entire towns in Florida. Some people are still living in tents. Janelle Crosby lives in a trailer home full of health hazards.

“Rats. Critters. It’s disgusting. Mold. This they put up to try to contain the mold. It was pink, it’s now black.”

Natural disasters affect everyone differently. In California, Gwen Oesch found that the immediate impact of loss can’t always be anticipated.

“I didn’t realize how much my home means to me,” she said, with a sigh.

Solace in numbers

When a community is hit by a disaster, it can be less traumatic than an individual disaster like an accident, according to Dr. John Lauriello, a psychiatrist at the University of Missouri Health Care.

“I think there’s a shared understanding of the trauma, which I think can be very, very helpful because people feel like it wasn’t just them. It occurred to their community and, therefore, the community is going to work together, and the rebuilding will happen together.”

In Missouri, universities are housing people whose homes were destroyed by massive flooding and a tornado. Darrell Bonner says he’s grateful for a place to stay.

“It’s a blessing living here. A lot of financial burden has been let loose a little bit. There’s hope. There are people out there willing to help,” he said.

Crosby says in her Florida community, people share whatever they have.

“We just all take care of each other. It’s hard, but like I said earlier, if one of us has generator gas, or if we have propane, we all get to cook that night. If not, we get out here and make fires on the grill and cook.”

For children, routine key

Psychiatrist Laine Young-Walker at the University of Missouri Health Care says the sooner parents can get their children back into a normal routine, the better off they will be.

“They thrive in and survive on structure and routine,” Young-Walker said. “So when a natural disaster like this happens and they get displaced, they’re not in their home anymore, their school is closed, they’re not able to go to the school. They don’t have that structure. They don’t have that routine and that consistency. And it can cause a lot of stress for them.”

If schools are destroyed, Young-Walker suggests finding ways to do class work.

natural disasters
FILE – Wildfire survivors Marolyn Romero-Sim, left, with Hugo Romero-Rodriguez, middle, and their 9-year-old daughter, Milagros, sit inside the evacuation center at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, Calif. Their RV burned up with all their possessions. VOA

Last year, a teacher turned her California home into a classroom when her students’ school was destroyed by fire. Eight-year-old Eleanor Weddig thought it was better than school.

“I love it. It’s like more comfortable than our classroom, the chairs are cushy, that’s one thing that I like. And anyway it’s a house so it’s, like, more fancy and stuff and she cooks us great lunches. Like every lunch I love,” Eleanor said.

Californian Gwen Oesch credits community support with helping people who had lost their homes during the wildfires.

ALSO READ: Tornadoes, Floods Break Weather Records in US Midwest

“It’s almost like a therapy thing, you know?” she said. “We’re all in the same place, and dealing with the same thing. We’re talking about the people who lost their homes and how sad it is. But, you know what? We’re resilient.” (VOA)

 

Next Story

Average Twitter Users Become More Active During Natural Disasters

This suggests people are communicating about their preparation or recovery in real-time and sharing resources that could assist those seeking help

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Twitter CEO
This April 26, 2017, photo shows the Twitter app icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. According to a study released Jan. 24, 2019, a tiny fraction of Twitter users spread the vast majority of fake news in 2016, with conservatives and older people sharing misinformation more. VOA

Despite the importance placed on celebrity social media influencers with millions of followers, during natural disasters average Twitter users become more active disseminators of information, finds a study.

The study, led by University of Vermont researchers, is the first to look at social media patterns across different disaster types (hurricanes, floods and tornadoes).

According to the study, Twitter users with small local networks (100-200 followers) increase their activity more than those with larger networks in these situations.

Instead of relying on high-profile social media influencers to help spread important information, the study suggests efforts should be concentrated on targeting average users with meaningful networks, with compelling, accurate messages that average people will feel compelled to share in the “social wild online.”

“We found ‘average Twitter users’ tweeted more frequently about disasters, and focused on communicating key information,” said Benjamin Emery from the varsity’s Complex Systems Center and Computational Story Lab.

“While these users have fewer followers than the so-called influencers, their followers tend to have a higher proportion of friends and family, close networks that are more likely to seek and exchange useful information in emergency situations,” he added.

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Average Twitter users more active during disasters: Study. Pixabay

The results, published in the journal PLOS ONE, have important implications for organisations responsible for communicating vital information around emergencies, particularly as natural hazards increase in incidence and cost, a trend expected to continue with climate change.

“In planning for natural hazards and disasters, thinking about when and what to tweet really does matter,” said Meredith Niles from the varsity.

Researchers found key differences in tweet timing and volume, depending on type of disaster. For hurricanes, people tweeted more frequently about emergency topics before the event, while for tornadoes and floods, which occur with less warning, Twitter was used for real-time or recovery information.

Also Read- Facebook Negotiating Multi-billion Dollar Fine With US Agency: Report

They also found terms like “groceries,” “supermarket,” and “prepare” were most frequently used before hurricanes whereas terms like “shelter,” “emergency,” “wind” or “food security” were used during and after tornadoes.

This suggests people are communicating about their preparation or recovery in real-time and sharing resources that could assist those seeking help. (IANS)