Sandy victims still struggle with emotional recovery

A woman sifts through her mother's damaged home for items to save. Credit: Getty Images
A woman sifts through her mother’s damaged home for items to save.
Credit: Getty Images

Seven months after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the first floor of her Hamilton Beach home, Jean Ferrara-Rodriquez is still rebuilding her life.

The downstairs’ plumbing needs work, mold in the hallway has to be retreated and she’s still waiting some FEMA checks.

“You worry about one thing and another comes up,” said Ferrara-Rodriquez, 51.

Ferrara-Rodriquez is not alone. The health department said nearly one-third of adults living in the areas hardest-hit by Sandy reported experiencing psychological distress six weeks after the storm.

“When property is destroyed or lost and you cannot get back to your normal environment, it takes much longer to recover from trauma because people have to adjust,” said Paula Madrid, a psychologist with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

The city health department urges storm victims to call a helpline in a summer campaign advertising free crisis counseling services through Project Hope, a state initiative funded by FEMA.

Ferrara-Rodriquez has been attending Project Hope group sessions at the Howard Beach Senior Center since April. She draws comfort from meetings with other storm victims.

“You got to be in it to really know what it’s like,” she said.

New Yorkers exhibited psychological reactions to the storm in roughly half of Project Hope crisis counseling sessions since November, according to the health department. Most felt sad, tearful, anxious, fearful, irritable or angry.

Children are especially vulnerable to these symptoms, Madrid said.

“There are a lot of children who are fearful about the summer—these children haven’t had any of these fears before Sandy,” Madrid said, noting the increase in storms during hotter months.

Though Ferrara-Rodriquez’ daughter Jean Marie, 13, doesn’t appear to be afraid of future hurricanes, she was stranded with her mother for several hours at a flooded motel when the storm hit last October. Such traumatic experiences have a greater impact on children and the stress can manifest in different ways, Madrid said.

But recovery—for both adults and children—after a disaster like Sandy can take years.

“Recovery only begins when people feel they are safe,” she said.

Getting help

Health officials hope Sandy victims in emotional turmoil will take advantage of Project Hope’s services.

Since November, hundreds of counselors with Project Hope have already helped 108,000 New Yorkers, going door-to-door in storm-ravaged neighborhoods.

Counselors advise victims individually or in group sessions on how to deal with any stress and anxiety they might feel and, if necessary, give them referrals for professional help.

If you or someone you know feels overwhelmed after Hurricane Sandy, please call 1-800-LIFENET.


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