ByDean Russell and Jamie Smith Hopkins / Columbia Journalism Investigations and Center for Public Integrity |
In 2019, flooding hit the small Mills County, Iowa, town of Pacific Junction. Recovery is slow, Mayor Andy Young said in August 2020, a year after the waters rose 7 to 11 feet in nearly all homes. Three generations of his family live in “PJ.” The town will not be the same — and neither will the people. Young expects 125 to 135 families who were flooded will go for buyouts that are being offered.
About this project: Hidden EpidemicsIowaWatch reported this story as part of a project on disasters and mental health with the Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations, California Health Report, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, City Limits, InvestigateWest, The Island Packet, The Lens, The Mendocino Voice, Side Effects and The State. PARKERSBURG, Iowa – For 25 years, disasters beckoned Chris Luhring to help. On Aug. 10, he was called again — to respond to the same kind of devastation he’d endured 12 years earlier – and to provide hope and courage amid the darkness and despair delivered by a savage derecho. Luhring, the city administrator of Parkersburg, prepared for an afternoonmeeting at City Hall Aug.
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.
Hurricane survivors say deciding to leave when a storm hits is easy compared to the aftermath — dealing with wind and flood damage, and psychological trauma that lasts for weeks, months, even lifetimes. Episode one of News21’s four-part documentary series “State of Emergency.”
In the last decade, natural disasters have displaced nearly 7.3 million Americans leaving them in hotels, trailers, strangers homes, and some — on the streets. This News21 story includes reporting from Iowa.
A News21 analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency data shows those smaller disasters accounted for more than 60 percent of all federally declared disasters between 2003 and 2018 but received at least $57.3 billion less in public assistance from FEMA.