Evacuation, displacement, lack of utilities and communication, destruction of personal property and losses of other kinds – stress naturally follows disasters such as Hurricane Ike.
It is only normal to be stressed after such an interruption in one’s life, said Dr. Rick Peterson, Texas AgriLife Extension Service family life specialist.
Important to the process of recovery is recognition of the different disaster stages as well as their accompanying stressors and responses that go with each stage, Peterson said. The four stages are heroic, honeymoon, disillusionment and reconstruction.
The heroic stage involves disaster survival and evacuation, accompanied by raised anxiety and stress, he said. This stage covers much of the period when there is rescue and recovery immediately after the event.
The honeymoon phase occurs weeks to months following a disaster when formal governmental and volunteer assistance may be readily available, Peterson said. The community bonds together as a result of sharing the catastrophic experience and the giving and receiving of community support.
“Disaster survivors may experience a short-lived sense of optimism that the help they will receive will make them whole again,” he said. “Families are looking at what they need to do to get their homes livable again and their lives back on track.”
The disillusionment phase can come in the next several weeks and lasts up to two years or more, he said. The emotions in this phase could include a strong sense of disappointment, anger and resentment toward how things are moving or not moving.
“The last phase is reconstruction, in which physical property and recovery of emotional well-being occur and may continue for years following the disaster,” Peterson said. “Survivors for the most part have assumed responsibility for their own recovery and reaffirm belief in themselves and their community.”
However, if recovery efforts are delayed, emotional problems can occur or linger, he said.
“When you talk about a disaster, you want to talk about vulnerable populations, which are the elderly and children, as well as people who have a wide range of disabilities,” Peterson said.
Children have little past experience to draw upon related to dealing with evacuation or a hurricane, he said. They have little understanding of the cause and effect of the event.
Peterson’s suggestion for those feeling stressed due to Hurricane Ike or other disasters is to start alleviating the feeling by talking to family and friends about what happened and what is going on in their lives.
“As helpers, we need to be able to normalize what is going on for them - the fear, anxiety, stress, grief and sadness, as well as frustration and angry feelings they have,” he said. “But if those reactions don’t get better over a period of time, we need to help them out.”
The next step will be to find someone who can effectively work with them and their feelings, such as a clergyman or counselor.