Running head: hurricanes

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Running head: HURRICANES


Sherry Brabon, Angela Farris, Sharon Herring,

William McKinley, Jessica Riley

Ferris State University


There are several types of natural and environmental disasters. Natural disasters worldwide are at an all-time high. A group of professional nurses from Ferris State University examined data related specifically to hurricanes as one kind of natural disaster that can leave damage in its path with long term implications in many areas. Hurricanes with their devastating storm surge, strong winds and heavy rains can leave wide spread destruction. This paper looks at the increase in hurricane activity over the past several decades and the risks presented with hurricanes. It further describes the impact that hurricanes can cause both individually with loss of employment, food and shelter and the long term economic consequences. What are the overwhelming effects on health care and the health implications following a hurricane? Finally where can one go for help, and what are the multiple resources and necessary steps to initiate in an effort to prepare for this type of natural disaster?

Keywords: disaster, hurricane, health implications, Hurricane Katrina


Hurricanes are devastating to nature and the environment. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ranked number one in top ten natural disasters (Veenema, p. 69). There has been extensive investigation and studies done relating to specific hurricanes in certain geographical areas. The effects of specific hurricanes and their impact are documented. This study examines how hurricanes relate to other natural and environmental disasters. This particular document attempts to provide critical information related to this specific natural disaster and how it impacts individuals and environments. Hurricane winds that reach 74 miles per hour (mph) or higher can be devastating and crippling to affected areas. The research strategy included collection of information and data on hurricanes from various published sources. Through analyzing the collected data, it was further broken down into specific categories of 1) The increasing frequency and risk of hurricane activity 2) The severity of impact 3) Health implications and 4) Mitigation and preparedness. Each category was further evaluated as to the overall effect of hurricanes as a category of natural disasters.

The areas affected by hurricanes suffer various problems. Flood damage is almost always a source of destruction. Loss of power and the need for electricity is another issue. The devastation to homes and environments causes long term implications to the environment, and leave many homeless or without work.

This research proves that hurricanes are one of nature’s largest disasters. There are widespread health implications from hurricanes that include; unsanitary water, carbon monoxide poisoning. Being prepared in case of a natural disaster like a hurricane is the most effective way to reduce the impact on the population and environment. This paper looks at ways to be proactive in case a hurricane was to happen in your area.

Severity of Impact

A typical hurricane season is from June through November. In August of 2005, a category 5 level hurricane devastated many areas along the Gulf Coast including Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. They named this Hurricane Katrina. Katrina stretched over many miles and was one of the powerful hurricanes in 100 years (Discovery Channel, 2013).

Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, weather alerts and broadcasts strongly suggested evacuation of the population in the targeted area. Approximately 1,800 people ignored the warnings were killed and roughly 700 others were unaccounted for. In addition, 600,000 pets were killed or left without shelter (Hurricane Katrina Relief, 2013).

Hurricane Katrina affected roughly 130,000 homes and buildings were damaged or demolished (, 2010). Precautionary levees were in place but the effect of storm surges were beyond what levees could hold. Without these levees, extensive flood damage occurred. It was approximated that 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded with 20 feet of water (Discovery Channel, 2013). Mold from flooding remains a potential threat to those homes not properly treated. In addition to the flood damage, high winds exceeding 140 miles per hour (Hurricane Katrina Relief, 2013) knocked out power to about 1.7 million people (NCDC, 2005). According to the Discovery Channel (2013), an estimate loss of $75 billion dollars occurred in structural and property damages.

To those who returned to the area, loss of employment, food and shelter created a large stress on the economy. Over 50 percent of the population did not return to the area of New Orleans; in a study gathered one year after the storm and 50,000 homes remain abandoned (ABC News, 2010). In addition to loss of residents, tourism has significantly been impacted. Prior to the storm, New Orleans had an estimate of 10 million tourists visit the area. One year after Hurricane Katrina, there was a dramatic decrease to 3.7 million tourists (ABC News, 2010).

Today, the emotional influences of Hurricane Katrina still remain. Fear and emotional disturbances are haunting many that experienced the traumatic disaster. McLaughlin et al. (2013) states that during a telephone survey:

14.9%, and 9.3% of the youths were estimated to have serious emotional disturbance (SED) that is directly attributable to Hurricane Katrina. Stress exposure was associated strongly with SED, and 20.3% of the youths with high stress exposure had hurricane-attributable SED. Death of a loved one had the strongest association with SED among prehurricane residents of New Orleans, whereas exposure to physical adversity had the strongest association in the remainder of the sample.

This type of category 5 hurricane is rare and is not expected to be seen for hundreds of years. Hurricane Katrina brought much devastation. Those states affected by the storm are still recovering, although, additional obstacles such as oil spills and other hurricanes have made it difficult during this time.

Hurricane Frequency

Natural disasters are at an all time high worldwide. One example of this is the exponential increase in the number of hurricanes. Over the past few decades hurricane activity has increased in both the Atlantic and Pacific climates (Wang & Lee, 2008 pg. 1). The two main factors that are associated with this are the increase in the sea surface temperatures and amplified atmospheric weather conditions related to global warming. Another factor that may be contributing to the rising numbers and severity of hurricanes is the technological advances that allow for more accurate identification and categorization of these storms.

Over the past century global warming is the main factor that is associated with the increase in ocean temperatures. Studies done by Geophysical research suggest that the increase in global ocean temperatures has caused sea levels to rise. This has increased the quantity and altered the regional patterns of precipitation which has led to severe tropical weather (Wang & Lee, 2008 pg. 1). According to Mosher (2012), climate change is warming the oceans around the earth. This leads to more water evaporating into the atmosphere which is associated with feeding storms that can then escalate into hurricanes. The Hurricane Research Division reports, since 1951 the Atlantic basin averages 6.2 hurricanes per year. In 1995 that average has increased to 8.3 hurricanes per year (Landsea, 2012). It is predicted that the incidence of hurricanes will continue to increase with rising ocean temperatures.

Improved technology has enhanced our ability to document hurricanes. Hunter planes, satellites and Doppler radar have all contributed to better tracking and grading or these storms (Watts, 2009). According to the Landsea, in 1966 satellite imagery became available to the National Hurricane Center (2012). Improved hurricane technology has allowed weather services to locate emerging storms and provided opportunities to research and track these hurricanes.

Health Implications

The majority of deaths related to hurricanes are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning. When the power fails, people turn to alternative ways to heat and cool their homes. Also, many attempt alternative cooking methods such as grills, gas ovens. Some people may even run a vehicle for heat or air conditioning.

Drowning is another major cause of death when a hurricane occurs. When flood waters hit, people in cars or on foot are particularly at risk. The incredible strength of these floodwaters is able to pull a vehicle into a river or stream and just six inches of rapidly moving water is capable of pulling a person down (Fox, 2013).

Typically during a hurricane temperatures are warm and this added with flooding leads to the possibility of contaminated water. People wading in contaminated waters are exposed to bacteria and if there is open skin, bacteria is able to enter the blood stream. This causes an increase in infectious skin diseases and also bacterial infections in the blood. During Hurricane Katrina there were numerous cases of impetigo, folliculitis, Candida intertrigo, and “abscesses that were clinically compatible with community acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus” (Hilton, 2011). As people evacuate and seek shelter they encounter overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. The availability of clean water to wash or drink is limited. People may have to wear wet and dirty clothing for a period of time. All of these factors increase the risk for the spread of these infections. Treatment of these diseases may not be optimal during a disaster situation. Broad-spectrum antibiotics were used as culturing the organism was not possible. Cleaning wounds and affected skin was not always possible either, due to lack of clean water and necessary medical supplies.

Individuals who suffer from chronic health conditions are at an increased risk when a disaster occurs. In the case of a hurricane medications may become wet, lost or damaged. Medications requiring refrigeration may be destroyed due to a power outage. People with disabilities or who are recovering from a recent surgery or acute illness are also at increased risk during a hurricane situation as are the elderly or people with a previous heart condition. Evacuation may be difficult or impossible for these individuals and thus they are not able to reach safety. Individuals may also not have access to necessary medical equipment or be unable to use it due to power outages.

People suffering from mental illnesses are also at increased risk during disaster situations as are low-income individuals. These groups typically lack social support and have limited resources available to them “making them more vulnerable to the negative consequences of a hurricane” (Rhodes, 2010). These individuals were also less likely to evacuate in a hurricane situation either due to lack of transportation, resources, or having not received warnings to do so. Unfortunately, in the case of Hurricane Katrina specifically, these groups were at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and increased stress in general. Rates were even higher if individuals were single, African-American and low income. These individuals were more likely to suffer from mental illness immediately after the disaster and still be at increased risk one year after Katrina (Rhodes, 2010).

With any disaster where injuries, death, and/or the spread of disease are increased there is an impact on the health care system. Facilities that provide health services may be destroyed or suffer a loss of power forcing them to provide care with back-up services or utilizing alternative methods. In the case of a hurricane where there is flooding patients may need to be evacuated and this man not simply be moving them out the nearest entrance. During Hurricane Katrina hospitals and care facilities suffered flooding which left access to the main floor unavailable. Patients needed to be evacuated by helicopter and this occurred over a period of days. Caregivers were forced to decide who would be evacuated first (Okie, 2008).

During the period after a hurricane there is a surge in the number of patients seeking treatment for injuries, skin conditions, respiratory illnesses, medication refills, and chronic health issues. Facilities must increase staff, work longer hours and patients experience longer wait times for care. Because of structural damage and power outages medical records may also be destroyed and patients may not have access to their typical care provider. Emergency agencies such as the American Red Cross may set up aid stations to help alleviate the burden on the health care system.

Hurricane Mitigation

Natural disasters such as hurricanes occur with some amount of warning. One cannot prevent a hurricane from transpiring, however, being prepared may prevent additional problems.  The first step in preparedness is having knowledge of the likelihood for a hurricane. Once it has been identified as a potential disaster one can prepare for its effects multiple ways.

First, it is vital to be prepared for an emergency by having a personal disaster kit ready in advance.  Multiple resources are available to assist individuals with preparing such kits the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are a few agencies devoted to disaster training and mitigation. These kits should be assembled prior to an emergency and ready for quick access when needed. Multiple kits should be prepared for home, car, work and school as one never knows when disaster can strike and a simple pre-made kit may be of great advantage.  Kits should include specialty items for the elderly, children and pets. Finally, a family disaster plan should be devised with a common meeting place and an out of state contact person (FEMA, 2013).

Planning for a hurricane can reduce the impact of the disaster. Knowing whether one is at risk for this disaster can aide in planning efforts. Preparing for this disaster may include purchasing flood insurance, knowing the landscape of your surroundings, understanding flood plains and having an evacuation route established; all of which will aide in prevention of additional complications during a hurricane. Evacuation orders during a hurricane should always be followed (The American Red Cross, 2013).

Just preceding severe weather, there are additional activities that can prevent secondary difficulties. FEMA (2013), The American Red Cross (2013) and the CDC (2012) recommend securing items in yard, turning off gas sources, turning up freezer and refrigerator temperatures, shutting windows and storm shutters, filling the bathtub with water as well as filling the car gas tank are measures one can take when a hurricane is imminent. At this point one should listen closely to radio announcements regarding evacuation or sheltering in place. If ordered to evacuate, in addition to the above steps, it t is imperative to turn off power, unplug appliances and close interior doors. If sheltering in place is recommended, one should seek shelter in a room without windows on the lowest level of the structure. Being aware of what to do in an emergency will prevent stress and encourage a quicker response thus preventing further complications.

Finally, after the storm is over and individuals have been instructed to return home or to emerge from sheltered areas, additional safety concerns should be followed. Avoid flooded areas. Be aware of down electrical wires, especially in areas containing water. Do not light candles. The American Red Cross (2013) also cautions against using tap water until there is certainty that it is not contaminated. Assess damage; if the area is safe, individuals should take pictures for insurance purposes. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur if one heats with ovens, uses generators or gas grills inside homes; individuals should avoid these activities at all times. Lastly, never eat questionable food items.

Though there may not be a way to prevent a hurricane, there are many preventive measures one can perform that will mitigate the damage of this natural disaster. Be prepared and ready to act. Have a family disaster plan in place. Communicating and exercising the plan will prevent many secondary complications. Simple measures taken prior to a disaster threat, immediately before the incident and following a disaster can all mitigate the effects of the disaster.  Be prepared.


Hurricanes are on the rise and it is important to be knowledgeable. This type of natural disaster is overwhelming to the economy and to individuals. One of the best ways to be prepared is to be informed and to utilize the available resources. This paper has offered information that is unique to hurricanes, in an effort to better educate the public and so individuals can be prepared. The many areas addressed offer critical information for that purpose. Hurricanes cannot be avoided but knowing what resources are available and being prepared is an important step.


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Fox, M. (2013). How hurricanes kill -- it's not always what you think. In Retrieved March 6, 2013.

Hilton, L. (2011). Wreaking havoc: Hurricanes, other natural disasters take toll on skin health. (Infectious diseases). Dermatology Times, 41(2). Retrieved February 16, 2013, from Nursing Resource Center (A273530662).

Hurricane Katrina Relief. (2013). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from

Landsea, C. (2012). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hurricane Research Division. Atlantic Oceanographic and Metrological Laboratory.

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Watts, A. (2009). WUWT. Hurricane frequency is up but not in their strength, say Clemson researchers.

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