Hurricanes and Health

Although our President seems to be focused on criticizing NFL players right now, most of the rest of the world is concerned about the state of our global climate and even more importantly, surviving. There have been three major hurricanes as of late. In late August Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southern Texas and Louisiana as a category four hurricane with over one hundred thirty mile per hour winds and dropping forty-sixty inches of rain causing terrible flooding and damage and catastrophic impact. Then there was Irma which hit many of the Caribbean islands and was named a category five hurricane, the strongest possible with the highest wind speeds. The damaged travelled up the Florida Keys as a category four storm and battered much of Florida and then moved up to Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. The storm started late August and worked its way up through mid-September. Florida evacuated more than five million people and more than three million lost power. Finally, Maria hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico decimating the island. One man in Puerto Rico said, “Irma gave us a break but Maria destroyed us.” The entire island lost power, there was also horrific flooding and many deaths. As with the other storms, there are significant challenges to rebuilding homes and communities. While all of these storms have their own stories, they should leave us with a common conclusion: the world is in turmoil right now and if we want to see a sustainable future, we can’t just sit around anymore.

Hurricane Harvey hit a thriving city, Houston and yet relief seems far from reach. Houston is on a low-altitude part of the Gulf Coastal Plain and has poor drainage; so, in terms of environment this city is susceptible to floods. Some see this as reason to dismiss the issue of global warming as the cause for the most recent natural disaster; however, in recent years Houston has achieved rapid development on the front of drainage capacity. Harvey completely erased these efforts. Due to Global Warming, the ocean waters are above average temperature as well as above average level. Warm water is the catalyst for energy for major storms and can prolong storms and their intensity. The floodwaters contained numerous hazards to the environment and general health.  Bacteria such as E. Coli, coliform and Vibrio vulnificus, a “flesh-eating disease” that lives in the Gulf Coast has affected many hurricane victims in this area. Additionally, many cancer-causing toxins and carcinogens were found in the water and sewer systems.

Hurricane Irma’s impact was so far-reaching and catastrophic with confirmed landfalls in Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Martin, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas, Cuba and the United States. Yet, the storm deeply affected areas far removed from the landfall phenomenons as well. Irma shut off electricity in many areas, which cut off their wastewater lift stations, leading to overflows and spills—twenty-eight million gallons of sewage was dumped across Florida. With this sewage, came perilous bacteria, viruses and parasites including E. Coli, salmonella, and hepatitis A. Another health risk that arose in the aftermath of Irma was that because of the humid temperatures mold and mildew built up in houses which causes allergies, asthma and various respiratory conditions. Additionally, build up of still water can be breeding ground for mosquitoes and all the health risks that come with them such as West Nile and Zika. Another health risk that is often overlooked is the UV exposure that comes from damage on tree canopies.

Hurricane Maria, while slightly smaller than Irma may be the worst one yet in terms of its long-term affects. There is still no power on the island, meaning there is still no clean drinking water, places to bathe or flush toilets. Food, fuel and cell service is also extremely limited. Transportation, including roads and even the airports are severely damaged. Perhaps even worse, very few hospitals are operating because so few actually have power. Additionally, although agriculture was a relatively small part of the Puerto Rican economy, it is now completely destroyed after wiping out eighty percent of the crop value which will likely increase prices and intensify the probability of food shortages.

Besides these very tangible health consequences in the aftermath of these three devastating disasters, so much comes from these effects. Not only are homes themselves destroyed but the families inside are as well. The death toll is high, and additionally mental health in the aftermath of events like these are in turmoil as well. And with these mental and physical ailments comes extreme financial unrest. The cycle is never-ending. Luckily with our access to news comes our access to solutions. There are charities to give to such as American Red Cross, Global Giving, the Salvation Army and Americares. However, simply giving to these organizations seems like a reactionary solution. This is a problem that needs to be addressed at the root: people need to acknowledge their actions in adding to the effects of global warming on our country; additionally, great works needs to be done to acknowledge the disparities of who is affected most in the aftermath of these natural disasters. We shouldn’t just address these issues when we are bombarded with news on three new disasters, this should be an ongoing fight for justice and equality. If only Mr. Trump would acknowledge this instead of just tweeting, “…Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble.” We know.

References:

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/9/26/16365994/hurricane-maria-2017-puerto-rico-san-juan-humanitarian-disaster-electricty-fuel-flights-facts

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/9/19/16325044/hurricane-2017-health-risks-irma-harvey-pollution-mold-mosquitoes-depression

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/26/552063244/long-after-the-hurricanes-have-passed-hard-work-and-hazards-remain

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