In a Hurricane, Who’s at Risk and Why?

As Laura Made Landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane, Direct Relief was Tracking the Storm and Identifying Who Would be Most Vulnerable to its Effects


Hurricane Laura

Overall social vulnerability scores for areas impacted by TS Laura. (Direct Relief)
Overall social vulnerability scores for areas impacted by TS Laura. (Direct Relief)

Disasters impact people very differently, according to risk factors like age, disability, and access to a vehicle.

Research by Dr. Susan Cutter of the University of South Carolina regarding past hurricanes and other emergencies has identified over 30 factors that affect communities’ vulnerability in such events, including an area’s natural and built environment, its rural or urban character, and the demographic composition and income levels of the population.

As Tropical Storm Laura continues to make its way through Louisiana and the southern U.S., Direct Relief’s Research and Analysis team has been assessing which areas are most at-risk, on account of the vulnerability of their populations.

Using the American Community Survey from the United States Census Bureau, Direct Relief has been able to plot where the storm might have the most adverse impacts, based on key factors such as age, income, co-morbidities, and Covid-19 case rates.

In general, vulnerability is greater among people at age extremes (young and old), with low incomes, members of minority populations, and those with special health or medical needs.

These data have been used by state-level decision-makers and community health centers to help inform the most optimized deployment of resources during acute crises.

In Tropical Storm Laura’s areas of impact since it made landfall yesterday, the estimated percentage of persons older than 65 is 16.7%, just slightly above the U.S. national average estimates, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The estimated number of persons below poverty in the census tracts is 290,673 and the estimated percentage of persons below poverty is 20.2%, whereas the U.S. national poverty rate is 11.8%.

The map below details areas in Laura’s path with a higher concentration of people over 65.


Why It Matters

People over 65 are more likely to be adversely impacted by storms like Laura. The elderly have disproportionate risk for chronic illness and other medical conditions that make it difficult for them to manage health care when they’re displaced. They’re also more likely to have challenges with mobility, both physically and by having access to a car and able to drive. They also face an increased risk of complications for Covid-19.

Direct Relief has responded to the storm, which has left at least four people dead so far, by providing partners with relevant detailed information, such as the latest weather alerts, vulnerable population demographics, and Covid-19 resources.

Direct Relief is also in touch with partners in the storm’s path and pre-positioned Hurricane Prep Packs at clinics in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas.

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