The Trauma of Hurricanes

Hurricane and twister in the storm on a city street with palm trees.

All of us have watched the absolute horror of the impact of Hurricanes Fiona and Ian in the past month. For Puerto Rico, almost 5 years to the day the amount of property damage, the electric grid failures, the displacement of families, and the destruction of homes from its second hurricane devastated the island. In Florida among the devastation and tragedy included over 100 deaths, millions of dollars’ worth of damage, schools destroyed, with many families that lost their homes and communities.

Our hearts go out to the families and communities who have lost so much. The rebuilding process will be extensive. I was pleased to see President Biden visiting both areas and providing Emergency FEMA assistance to those who had lost so much. Both individuals and organizations have donated resources, provided tangible help, and are working to help those in need find some sense of recovery. However, the road back is long, hard, and expensive. We need to keep them in our thoughts, prayers, and offer any help we can.

It’s essential we provide all of this tangible help, but often we forget the emotional impact of such a tragedy. Trauma is often referred to as a sense of powerlessness. When I hear the stories of what happened, it’s palpable that these individuals had no control over what happened to them and no idea how bad it would be. To have to evacuate your home, not be able to return, and then to find that it was totally destroyed is more than devastating.

I also think of the sense of chronic and pervasive loss. Many lost loved ones, their homes, their pets, their school, their church, and their community. For those who have been living in their home for a long period of time, that home has become a significant part of their identity and daily routines. Being suddenly displaced is such a surreal experience and it is predictable that they are now experiencing extensive grief and loss.

While these individuals are attending to the property and physical issues of a hurricane, there are emotional factors that co-exist that can be just as traumatizing as the practical realities they are facing. They not only have to rebuild their home life, but they will be recovering from the traumas that have occurred emotionally as they struggle to cope with such challenging emotions, feelings, thoughts, and re-enactments.

As we support these individuals, we must recognize that the consequences of these hurricanes can be life-dominating. They not only need all the supplies, funding, insurance settlements, food, clothing, etc., but also the support of their families, therapists, and a new sense of community care.

With compassion, we need to be aware and understand that they have experienced severe trauma and will need a significant recovery and healing period from the tragedy of these hurricane events.

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