Stranded in a Catastrophe: Thoughts on Hurricane Harvey

by Michael J, Nyenhuis, Americares President & CEO

Photo: REUTERS/Brian Thevenot

Stranded. We are reminded this week how frightening that is.

In video, photographs and reports from Texas, we see people stranded in their homes by floodwaters and in shelters with no home to return to. One compelling photo showed elderly people sitting waist-deep in their flooded nursing home — stranded while they awaited rescue.

We remember similar scenes after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana 12 years ago this week. People waiting on rooftops, in lines at the Superdome, stuck in water and muck-filled neighborhoods.

It is frightening to watch and, without question, much more frightening to face.

As our nation ramps up its response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, it is important to recognize that being stranded is more than an issue of geography, which can be solved by simply moving from a place of danger to one of safety.

First, the condition of being stranded is not just a physical matter, it is a mental and emotional one as well. Stranded means being left in a helpless position. Because we do better when we have control and options, without them we feel vulnerable and powerless. Those feelings can persist throughout and long after a disaster like one we are watching unfold in Texas. This is why it is critical to include mental health and psychosocial support services for those affected by disaster. Many people will need more than boats, trucks and helicopters to know they are no longer stranded.

Second, people facing a major disaster are stranded in other ways: separated from services they count on, homes that shelter them, jobs that sustain them, medicines they must have, pets they love, communities they count on, family members they need and more. It takes comprehensive and long-term relief efforts from governments, professional relief organizations, faith-based and community agencies, neighbors and others of good will working together to restore those critical connections. At Americares, we are doing our part by supporting a variety of health services in affected communities. We will stay as long as we are needed.

Stranded people need rescue, then recovery and then return to normalcy in order to gain control over their lives again. Having learned the lessons of Katrina, let’s make sure no one in Texas is left stranded.