Beverly Peck, whose mom has been asked to evacuate her home in Bokeelia, Fla., said that Hurricane Charley “was overwhelming” for her mother, and (Hurricane) Frances is a shock to her system as well. “My mom was in a daze for four days after (Charley) and now is in denial about having to leave her home. It needs major repairs. She has known for a week and a half that she has to move but all she can do is cry. Now with Frances bearing down she still does not want to leave her home,” Peck said.
She added, “She says that packing all her personal belongings is like saying goodbye to them because she feels that she will never unpack them again. She is in her 60s and just doesn’t want to leave her home she has been in for 35 years.
Peck said that evacuating a home is a very trying experience. “You grab things that you know cannot be replaced but you are so torn about which of those things are the most important. You can only grab so much when it is coming quickly. The first thoughts are for our pets and items such as pictures that can never be replaced. It just breaks your heart to have to leave (things) behind and not to know if it will be there when you get back. It is a thing that makes you sad and angry all at one time.”
About 2.5 million residents in Florida have been told to leave their homes with the approach of Hurricane Frances, which had 115 mph winds early this afternoon as it approached the coast of Florida. The hurricane warning applied to much of Florida’s eastern coast and as far north as the Georgia state line. The approach of Frances comes just a few weeks after Hurricane Charley ravaged areas on the other side of the state, killing 27 and causing billions of dollars in damages.
The Red Cross and other relief organizations maintain comprehensive checklists and other information about preparing for disasters. There are steps you can take to protect your home prior to an evacuation, supplies you can buy, and plans you can make.
But the trauma associated with these events is sometimes not fully addressed in disaster preparation and response, said Dr. Mark Lerner, a clinical psychologist who serves as president of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Evacuations, and the uncertainty that follows, can be a source of great anxiety for those who are forced to leave behind their homes and belongings. Anxiety, an inability to sleep, hyper-vigilance, loss of concentration, feelings of panic, and headaches can all be manifestations of the trauma that people experience in disasters, Lerner said.
Lerner said that a key in addressing trauma associated with disasters is to address the sufferers’ problems as quickly as possible. “People are experiencing a very normal reaction to a very abnormal event,” he said. “They should know that it’s OK not to be OK right now.” It’s typical for people to exhibit emotional, cognitive, behavioral and physiological reactions to trauma, he said. It’s important to recognize “that we have to go beyond the physical and safety needs of people at the scene of traumatic events and also address emotional trauma – it’s never too soon.”
The uncertainty in the aftermath of evacuating a home can be worse than knowing what has happened to the home, he said. “We have a great deal of control that’s taken away from us,” he said. And tuning in to media coverage can overload trauma sufferers, he said. “Taking in too much media exposure can actually become damaging to people.” Children are particularly vulnerable and suggestible in traumatic times, he said.
On the Internet, storm-chaser Ryan Towell has been keeping people posted about weather conditions in Florida. While evacuees are driving away from the approach of Hurricane Frances, Towell has been driving toward the storm. Evacuees and people who have family members in the area are communicating by e-mail with Towell, expressing their worries and asking about specific areas that are potentially in harm’s way.
While much attention has been given to traumatic stress disorders associated with stressful events, such as disasters, Lerner said he would like to see more focus on preventing these disorders by helping people in the early stages of disaster-related trauma.
The American Red Cross Web site offers emergency preparedness information for a range of disasters, from fire to earthquakes to hurricanes.
If there is only a short time to evacuate a home, the Red Cross recommends grabbing medical supplies such as prescription medications and dentures; disaster supplies such as a flashlight, batteries, radio, first-aid kit, and bottled water; clothing and bedding including a change of clothes and sleeping bag or bedroll and pillow for each household member; and car keys and keys to the location you may be traveling to, such as a friend’s home or a relative’s home.
In protecting your home from a pending storm, the site advises that you gather lawn furniture, trash cans, children’s toys, garden equipment, clotheslines, hanging plants and any other objects that could become airborne in high winds, and place them indoors. Dead and diseased branches should be cut from trees, and any large fruit or unripe fruit that could become airborne should be cut off and transported indoors. Electricity and water should be shut down at main source, and natural gas should be left on unless local authorities advise otherwise.
The exterior of windows should be covered, and sandbags should be placed around the home if flooding is expected. Residents can also make a visual and/or written record of all household possessions and record model and serial numbers of items. If there is time and the home is likely to be substantially damaged, residents are advised to store household furnishings in a temporary location away from the storm.
The site also advises that residents should take important documents with them as they evacuate their residences, including: driver’s license or personal identification, social security card, proof of residence (deed or lease), insurance policies, birth and marriage certificates, stocks, bonds and other negotiable certificates, and wills, deeds, and copies of recent tax returns.
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