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Sending Aid – And Monitoring Movement – In Hurricane Delta’s Wake

Direct Relief provided medical support to health centers and clinics, including those providing medical aid to shelter residents, before and after the storm.

A map showing population movement between October 9 and October 13, 2020, in the storm's path. (Andrew Schroeder/Direct Relief)
A map showing population movement between October 9 and October 13, 2020, in the storm's path. (Andrew Schroeder/Direct Relief)

Hurricane Delta tore across the Gulf Coast late last week, killing at least four people and leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

The storm affected stretches of the region that were already reeling from Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in late August. Many residents were still displaced, and thousands had lost homes.

Hurricanes Laura and Sally had already made 2020 a busy hurricane season. For those storms alone, Direct Relief had made 41 shipments, worth more than $780,000, to 15 partners in the affected regions. Many of the supplies distributed in the aftermath of those storms were being used by health centers and clinics preparing to respond to Hurricane Delta.

Direct Relief began its response to Hurricane Delta in Mexico, after the hurricane made a violent landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The organization delivered 50 medical backpacks to first responders in the area.

As Delta bore down on the Gulf Coast, Direct Relief reached out to partners in the region, supplying insulin, over-the-counter medications, and other supplies to the Eunice Community Health Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, which assisted at local shelters during the storm. An Emergency Health Kit was dispatched to Alabama’s Mobile County Health Department.

Ubi Caritas Health Ministries, a health clinic in Beaumont, Texas, received a Hurricane Preparedness Pack, containing a wide range of the medicines and supplies most frequently requested in the wake of a tropical storm. So did the City of New Orleans’s Health Care for the Homeless, which was also provided with insulin, Tdap vaccines, PPE, and a range of over-the-counter medicines, said Leighton Jones, Direct Relief’s Director of U.S. Emergency Response.

EXCELth Family Health Center in New Orleans, which was assisting at a shelter located at a New Orleans convention center, received an Emergency Health Kit and opened a Hurricane Preparedness Pack already staged at one of their facilities, Jones said.

Storms and Mobility

The supplies met a population showing very different behavior patterns from those displayed during Hurricane Laura, said Andrew Schroeder, Direct Relief’s vice president of emergency response.

As the storm drew near and then made landfall, population density area sharply declined – by approximately 23% inside the storm zone, and by approximately 6.5% across the region, from Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana to the east, and Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, to the west.

After a typical storm, people generally return slowly to an area they’ve evacuated. After Hurricane Delta, however, “people have come back to that area really fast,” Schroeder said. The evacuations “lasted really just the weekend.”

For people affected by both Laura and Delta, “their ability to be away from their home area for a significant amount of time is probably reaching its limits” as finances tighten and people spend long periods away from their communities, Schroeder said.

In addition, Schroeder’s data indicated a significant amount of population activity in areas where shelters were located – suggesting that shelters may have been more widely utilized during Hurricane Delta than they had been during Laura.

At least in part because of Covid-19, shelter utilization during Hurricane Laura seems to have been comparatively low.

Schroeder explained that financial well-being is the “only statistically significant factor” in determining whether or not people will choose to enter a shelter, rather than choosing another option, such as a hotel.

“If you connect a couple of dots, it does seem like the most likely explanation is that there’s been an increasing need or willingness to use the shelter system, probably because of the double disaster,” Schroeder said.

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