Friday

Aftermath of Disasters: Infant mortality increases?


In Volusia County in 2005, we were hit by a series of hurricanes--back to back. By the third hurricane, we all knew the drill. Run out to the grocery store get supplies, gas up, board up (I never took my boards down off my windows that year--my family lived like moles at an indoor campground). Charlie hit us first and it came in through the backdoor. Coming across the state from west to east and exiting out of Volusia County. It was suppose to go to New Orleans. New Orleans dodged that one but was later hit with Katrina. Charlie was a surprise, no time to do the panic-shuffle of going to the stores packed with people trying to buy the last few batteries or canned goods. I had lived in Florida since 1978 and Charlie has been the only hurricane in which I got scared enough to make the family sleep in the hallway. Frankly I slept through all the other hurricanes but Charlie had remarkable winds. When dawn hit I went outside, as did all my neighbors. There was silence--no humming of air conditions, no cars tearing down the street, just silence. Roads were impassable, trees down everywhere, trees in houses, roofs half off. I felt amazement and thankfullness, no trees in my house although they did go down around my house and took my fence at the same time. I got in my car and drove around town because I thought I would be able to find a gas station open or a store open. Never dawned on me that it took electricity to run the pumps at a gas station. And gee no traffic lights worked--so what do you do at a major intersection in town? Hm gun it? Russian roulette with your car--eventually I learned that you treat it like a 4-way stop. But most of us, didn't know that, so intersections were fun. Fun as in dangerous and not so funny. I learned later that day when I finally found my D sized batteries to run my radio that the local government wanted everyone to stay home and not drive around. Yeah I knew why, without power driving is a hazard. But when all power is off, you don't know what is going on. I lived 40 minutes away from my parents. I couldn't call them to see if they were all right and I couldn't drive that far with the amount of gas I had in my car. As time went on, an edge of panic sets in, when you realize that the whole county was without power. A day after Charlie hit, a few grocery stores opened. You couldn't buy anything frozen or refrigerated--still no power, just canned goods and canned goods that obviously were everyone's last choice of food to eat, no bread, no crackers--people had already grabbed those. No ice...yikes. The silence was now punctuated with the loud buzz of chain saws. Then the loud deafening sound of the lucky neighbors who had generators and power. Hm...how did they have the gas for those generators? I kept saying to myself this is good--my electric bill will be low this month. Of course, my job at a local bed and breakfast was curtailed, no tourists wanting to come to a town without electricity. We did do alot of yard work, in very steamy conditions. But one room had air conditioning because of a generator. The air conditioning was nice but the shock of going back and forth from air to hot and humid was difficult. I began to prefer to stay outside despite the heat. I was without power for nine days. I found out my parents were fine and they had power within 3 days time. Some neighbors got their power before me, some after. Blue tarps were up on the roofs of so many homes. I was so thankful my roof held and nothing fell into it. Some shopping centers were demolished. Beachside was another story--flooding and huge air conditioners that use to reside on top of some condos, smashed to the ground in parking lots. Clean up would go on for some time. We would all feel the burden of waiting for insurance to cover the damages. What I observed at that time was who got help first and it seemed to me that the wealthy neighborhoods must have had a special line to their insurance companies. I was still seeing blue tarps on roofs in poorer neighborhoods a year and half after the hurricanes. Gradually roads, services came back. But then we got slammed again and again with minor hurricanes that year. So we ended up with more blue tarped roofs and more damage. In a hot climate when roofs fail or leak, and electricy is off, the mold and mildew situation becomes pretty darn bad. We survived these storms. We were not hit like New Orleans, so we cannot complain. Economically we took a huge hit. And then last year the national economy burst its bubble with the banking and stock market crisis.
We are now witnessing sky-rocketing black infant mortality rates-- our white infant mortality rate is high too. Is this the result of being in a disaster that creates enormous economic stress on families, particularly poor families? How does living through a disaster effect living conditions? My roof started leaking after hurricane number 3 of that year. It was patched up but how much mold and mildew has families in this area breathed in since the hurricanes? We assume that once the initial clean-up is done, the area no longer needs assistance. Yet this is not true. On the surface, this county looks like it is back to normal. Yet infant mortality is increasing. Infant mortality is an indicator, an indicator of the health of a nation, the health of the community. In the aftermath of Katrina, did infant mortality increase? I have read various articles which suggest this has happened. In the aftermath of the Haiti's earthquakes, will we see the same pattern of increasing infant mortality? It seems highly likely. I think there is little understanding of the huge impact of a disaster to a community. Our community is not New Orleans or Haiti. But we are still struggling. My thoughts and prayers for all who are struggling in the midst of disasters/wars and for all who must keep struggling in the aftermath...
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

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