Past Disasters Worsen Post-Hurricane Trauma

November 2, 2012—“We can’t help but compare this to 9/11.” Even as many New Yorkers are telling each other Hurricane Sandy is nothing like the September 11 terrorist attacks, their minds are constantly making the connection, said the Rev. Joseph Ewoodzie, disaster response coordinator for the New York Conference.

The great physical needs in the wake of the storm are coupled with emotional distress that feels as intense as that after 9/11, he said. “It’s all we think about,” he said. “That’s New York.”

As communities draw together to help each other in the wake of the storm, they are showing a sense of love and hospitality that belies the stereotypical “New Yorker” attitude, said Ewoodzie.

“Most New Yorkers—the hard-core New Yorkers—will not tell you much of what they’re feeling on the inside,” he said. “But they will just be there, doing something: cleaning up, digging out, and listening.”

Months from now, as hurricane survivors walk their path to long-term recovery, emotional and spiritual care will remain an important part of their healing, he added. UMCOR is well-known in the ecumenical disaster response world for its expertise in case management, a holistic approach that helps disaster survivors address their physical as well as emotional needs.

In New Jersey, Hurricane Irene, which struck in August 2011, is the shadow riding on the shoulders of those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, reported Claire Chichester.

Chichester was trained as a case manager through UMCOR, and has been checking on her clients who suffered damage from both Irene and Sandy.

“I spoke with a client yesterday who was just back in her home from Irene last week,” she said. “This storm downed a tree and it went through her roof. Right now she’s not even comparing the storms because she’s just trying to get through the day.”

But weeks from now, when people begin coming to terms with their emotions, Chichester believes they will have a great need for emotional and spiritual care. “They’re in the shock stage right now,” she said. “But when they realize how much they have to do to recover, the mental health issues will rise to the surface.”

Volunteers who are helping others need to be sure to care for themselves as well, she added. “Already, there are people out there who are trying to do too much. They end up not delivering what they’ve promised because they’re worn out themselves.”

Those worn-out volunteers can end up distressing storm survivors even more, she pointed out. “If you promised to have hot coffee at a church at 9 a.m., and it’s not there, and people have been waiting in the cold for half an hour, it’s so hard on them. They already feel betrayed in some sense by their misfortune. A simple mistake on a coffee schedule is really hard on them.”

Help UMCOR offer emotional and spiritual care, now and during long-term recovery. Please donate to UMCOR US Disaster Response, Hurricanes 2012, Advance #3021787. You can also text the word RESPONSE to 80888 to give an immediate $10 donation.

Please also visit UMCOR’s Relief Supplies page of our website to learn how you can provide much-needed cleaning buckets.

*Susan Kim is a journalist and regular contributor to www.umcor.org.

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