Irma Triggers Traumatizing Memories for U.S. South / by Yessenia Funes

It seems that one hurricane wasn't enough for the Atlantic. Hurricane Irma is growing in intensity, and the National Weather Service is calling it a "potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane." 

The Caribbean appears to be most directly in the storm's path, but Irma could potentially hit Florida. Gov. Rick Scott already declared a state of emergency yesterday (Sept. 4). And Harvey's fallout continues. The Southeast has seen one hell of a week—but, really, it's seen lots in the past too. And residents are still reeling from some of those catastrophes. It's traumatizing.

Take Houston, for example. Hurricane Harvey left record-breaking flooding throughout the city, but the city has seen extreme flooding before. Flash floods inundated parts of the city last year after rains and killed five soldiers. That was in June. In April, another five people died. 

Then, there's Florida, which is now bracing for Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Matthew isn't that far off. It happened just last year—and it was responsible for four deaths in the state. I don't even want to get into Louisiana. All I gotta' say is two words: Hurricane Katrina. In short, people in the South must be dealing with a ridiculous amount of trauma—particularly its people of color.

Climate change is traumatic AF. Like on the real, real. The American Psychological Association published a report in March all about it. Climate change can contribute to PTSD, stress and anxiety. Science says so! The study also confirmed that communities of color exhibit these symptoms more than others. I wrote about the study previously for Colorlines. The report discusses natural disasters, in particular. It says:

Climate change-induced severe weather and other natural disasters have the most immediate effects on mental health in the form of the trauma and shock due to personal injuries, loss of a loved one, damage to or loss of personal property or even the loss of livelihood, according to the report. Terror, anger, shock and other intense negative emotions that can dominate people’s initial response may eventually subside, only to be replaced by post-traumatic stress disorder.

And the South is going to get it the worse as climate change progresses. This 2017 study found that the South will see more deaths as a result of the Earth's increasing temperatures. The region will also see its GDP go down, as I previously wrote about for Colorlines.

What the survivors of these tragedies need is a reminder that they're survivors. Yes, they're victims, too, but they're survivors first. They made it, and they're resilient. But they need help. They need money, but they also need healthcare so that they can afford to improve their mental health. They also need to see that another world is impossible, and, as the great Arundhati Roy says, "that she's on her way." 

That means implementing sustainable policies in their communities—without gentrifying it and kicking them out. Easier said than done though, huh?