The immediate impacts of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas have been well documented over the past week, but risks will remain after the waters subside. The water damage to homes will be irreversible, and the cleanup required by the community to restore large cities like Houston will be daunting. It is easy to overlook the possible long-term effects of sewage and waterborne germs for the time being, as emergency responders’ main concern is to prevent drownings or rescue stranded people from their homes. Eventually, the focus must shift to the mental effects a disaster such as this can have on its victims.
Those who have sought relief at shelters also face the risks of being around large groups of people in limited space. Simple illnesses can spread quickly, and they can have a devastating effect if not addressed. “This is rapidly evolving. I always worry in these large congregations of people about viral outbreaks that cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. And we are just getting started,” stated Dr. David Persse, the director of Houston’s Emergency Medical Services.
Maintaining a sanitary environment for survivors is a key priority for volunteers working in these shelters.
Surveys of victims from Hurricane Katrina show that around 10% of victims suffered some form of post-traumatic stress disorder after the hurricane that devastated New Orleans. It will be important for the people of Houston to evaluate their mental health as well as their physical health once this disaster has been dealt with.
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