05 September 2019
After three storms hit the state in past years, officials want to be proactive, moving residents to less-vulnerable locations to prevent future destruction.
Editor's note: This story is part of a series examining the social and health injustices resulting from increasingly intense storms and is the result of a collaboration between EHN and Scalawag Magazine, an independent nonprofit magazine that covers the American South.
Read part 1 here.
The offices of the New Bern Housing Authority were among the buildings destroyed by Hurricane Florence. (Credit: Lewis Raven Wallace)<p>But people who move find their lives destabilized, and pay the cost of being further from work and family. And mental health experts say that anyone might experience a hurricane as a traumatic event; healing in the midst of ongoing stress is a tall order. Studies have found heightened prevalence of PTSD, anxiety, and depression in survivors of flooding and hurricanes, and mental health symptoms are even more <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324833352_Mental_health_challenges_and_experiences_in_displaced_populations_following_Hurricane_Sandy_and_Hurricane_Harvey_The_need_for_more_comprehensive_interventions_in_temporary_shelters" target="_blank">likely for people displaced to shelters</a>.</p><p>"Trauma is a very personal experience," said Dr. Emanuela Taioli, MD, PhD, Director of the Institute for Translational Epidemiology at Mt. Sinai. She's worked on studies of Hurricane Sandy and Harvey survivors, and she says the trauma associated with witnessing a flood, fearing for your or your family's life, or being displaced from your home can have long-term effects.</p><p>Being in a cramped shared space without support for a week or two compounds that, Taioli said. "A week is a lot of time to be in a situation where you share a bathroom with people you don't know."<br></p><p>Burney-Scott, whose nickname in New Bern is Billie, is seeing these effects with her own eyes: She takes her glasses off when she starts to cry. Her sister is the eldest sibling and matriarch of the family, and sleeping on someone's couch was an alarming development. She can't even talk about the stress.</p><p>"I'm scared this is the thing that's going to take her out," Burney-Scott said. She's worried about her sister's stress, anxiety, and tendency to be a caretaker even when she's the one who needs taking care of.</p><p>She's also worried about the cough her sister has had since the storm—like a lot of people in New Bern, she's been spending time in buildings that were water-logged, and are now moldy. "She's so tired. She's used to bouncing back from really hard situations. She has built up what I would call a high level of toxic resiliency."</p>
Inside of Tyechia Buck's apartment at Trent Court Housing Development, everything was gutted after the flooding of Hurricane Florence. She now lives there without electricity. (Credit: Lewis Raven Wallace)<p> Burney-Scott was in New Bern for an event co-organized with New Bern native Dr. Ed Bell and Dawn Baldwin Gibson, local community organizers who have been concerned about the lasting effects of Hurricane Florence on New Bern's Black community. </p><p> At Peletah Ministries, a small storefront church where Gibson is the co-founder and executive pastor, burgundy church chairs filled up with parents and children for an afternoon session on trauma, led by a psychologist. </p><p> After the session, there was a pop-up clinic where attendees could get resources for mental health and legal services, an idea hatched by Burney-Scott after organizers in Florida and Louisiana told her these resources should take top priority. </p><p> Dr. Brendan Hargett took the church podium in his slate gray suit, a salt and pepper beard and glasses. He said the first obstacle to treating trauma is recognizing it's there. </p><p> "Sometimes our children are exposed to things that we as parents want to brush under the rug," he said, to nods and murmurs from the audience. </p><p> "September was a rough month," he said. Yes indeed, yes it was, the crowd responded. He explained that trauma is a normal response to an abnormal event: When you experience a stressful event, the body releases stress hormones, which cause you to run, freeze, or fight. "All of these hormones are released into your body which signals you to do something in order to protect yourself." </p><p> The question is, what happens when that stressful event—or signs of it—come back every day?</p>
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