ByJamie Smith Hopkins / Center for Public Integrity |
We heard from more than 200 disaster survivors and people helping them. Here’s what we learned. The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations and our partners in newsrooms around the country, including IowaWatch, have been reporting on this for months. We’ve learned a lot by asking experts: people who’ve lived through disasters and the professionals who study this or provide hands-on help. More than 230 shared their experiences in our detailed survey, and we interviewed dozens of additional people.
The Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations collaborated on this project with newsrooms around the country: IowaWatch, California Health Report, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, City Limits, InvestigateWest, The Island Packet, The Lens, The Mendocino Voice, Side Effects and The State. We created our survey for disaster survivors and mental-health professionals with guidance and vetting from Sarah Lowe, clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health; Elana Newman, professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa and research director for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University; Gilbert Reyes, clinical psychologist and chair of the American Psychological Association’s trauma psychology division disaster relief committee; and Jonathan Sury, project director for communications and field operations for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. HIDDEN EPIDEMICS: Weather disasters drive a mental health crisis RELATED: Iowa’s Parkersburg tornado survivors offer support, hope after derecho turmoil RELATED: How to heal emotional wounds after disaster
No government agency in the United States regularly tracks the psychological outcomes of disasters. And while academic studies may shed light on specific events, the questionnaire was meant to understand experiences from multiple disasters across the country, furthering on-the-ground reporting. It is not a formal, randomized survey.
In 2008, residents of Iowa waited a day for a major disaster declaration when an EF-5 tornado struck Parkersburg. That twister cut through Black Hawk and Butler counties, killed nine people and injured dozens. It destroyed nearly 200 homes, totaling several millions of dollars in damages.
President George W. Bush granted then-Gov. Chet Culver’s disaster declaration request within 24 hours. Culver used a provision in the federal code available to all governors: if a catastrophic event is so severe the state can ask for a waiver to begin the flow of federal help immediately. It’s been a week since the massive derecho storm hit.
The body of 10-year-old Minnie Bowers was found lodged in a pile of mud and debris. She was one of over 40 people who died in the flood of 1876 that swept through northeast Iowa wiping out the tiny hamlet of Rockdale near Dubuque.