Hurricane Laura, now a Category 4 storm sustaining winds of up to 140 miles per hour, is rapidly closing in on the Texas-Louisiana coastline. The storm is expected to make landfall on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, and more than 500,000 residents of low-lying areas in the storm’s expected path are under evacuation orders.
“Our state hasn’t seen a storm surge like this in many many decades,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.
The National Weather Service warned Wednesday of a potentially “unsurvivable storm surge” up to 15-20 feet in some areas. Surge could be recorded as far as 30 miles inland. Many places in Laura’s path, like Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas, suffered extensive damage when Hurricane Harvey ripped ashore in 2017. Even before that, Hurricane Rita in 2005 caused $25 billion in damage to the region.
This week also marks the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Gulf Coast, causing extensive damage to places like New Orleans.
Direct Relief has a long history of responding to hurricanes along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and most recently responded to Hurricanes Barry, Michael, Harvey and many others. The health impacts of life-threatening hurricanes go beyond rising floodwaters and high winds.
Public health concerns during events like Hurricane Laura are myriad, and disasters like the current storm can impact people very differently.
Access to transportation can hinder the ability to evacuate quickly, and elderly populations, as well as children, people with disabilities, and people who speak a primary language other than English, are also at disproportionate risk from disasters like hurricanes.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic creates an additional challenge during evacuations, as people who leave their homes may be exposed to, or unwittingly contribute to, the spread of the disease. Evacuation shelters have undergone modifications to ensure social distancing to keep evacuees safe, and many local emergency responders are working to connect evacuees with alternatives like hotel rooms for people to safely isolate out of harm’s way.
Evacuations can also cause increased health risks for people managing chronic conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, if they are without an adequate supply of medication.
Direct Relief has been in contact with more than 80 partner health facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The organization has also been coordinating with the Primary Care Associations of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, and the Free Clinic Association of Texas.
Each year, caches of essential medicines are staged in hurricane-prone communities across the U.S. Gulf Coast and the Caribbean. These hurricane preparedness packs are stored at partner health facilities and contain many of the essential medications commonly requested after a disaster. Some of these medications are relied upon to keep patients with chronic medical conditions out of local emergency rooms.
These packs are currently staged all along the Gulf Coast, including communities expected to be impacted by Laura, and can be opened immediately by health staff responding to patients.
Direct Relief is ready to respond to additional health requests as the storm advances.