Hurricane Zeta, now a Category 2 storm, is barreling towards the Louisiana coastline, where it’s expected to make landfall Wednesday evening. The system is on track to become the 11th named storm to hit the U.S. this year –the highest number ever recorded in one season.
As Zeta intensifies over warm waters, the U.S. Gulf Coast is preparing to be inundated by life-threatening storm surge, heavy rainfall, and damaging winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane warnings blanket a stretch of the coast from southeast Louisiana to the Mississippi-Alabama border. The Florida panhandle is bracing for tropical storm conditions.
If the forecast holds, Hurricane Zeta would be the fifth named storm to strike Louisiana this year. The state’s southwestern coast is still reeling from Hurricane Delta, which slammed into the state as a Category 2 hurricane earlier this month – a mere six weeks after Hurricane Laura ravaged the same area in August. Laura, a Category 4 hurricane, destroyed or damaged nearly 50,000 homes and killed at least 28 people in Louisiana and Texas. 3,500 residents remain in shelters, according to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
Mental Health Impacts
“There’s a lot of trauma around storms and hurricanes,” said Jeremy Simmons, the Chief Operating Officer at Baptist Health Services in New Orleans, Louisiana. For those in New Orleans, many of whom lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005, storm season “brings back memories of loss,” he explained. Some patients lost family members swept away by flooding. Others lost homes they’ve been unable to rebuild. “If you drive through the community today, you still see empty foundations.”
As Hurricane Zeta takes aim at New Orleans, the trauma experienced during Hurricane Katrina is quick to resurface. “There’s a lot of tension, anxiety, and nervousness,” Simmons said.
All five of the health centers’ locations are currently under a hurricane warning.
In anticipation, the health center is equipping providers with cellular hotspots to ensure they can reach patients in the aftermath of the storm. Through telehealth, providers will be able to write prescriptions and refill medications over the phone, circumventing the need for power should there be an outage. Simmons says these virtual visits will also give providers an opportunity to check in with patients’ emotional well-being. There’s the “physical preparation, the vaccines and things like that, as well as just the emotional prep–knowing that this causes a lot of stress and a lot of emotion for our community,” he said.
Responding in Advance
As part of Direct Relief’s Hurricane Preparedness Program, caches of emergency medical supplies have been pre-positioned with health centers and free clinics across the U.S. Gulf Coast, including Baptist Health Services. Simmons explains these supplies are used to pack “go-bags” that providers can use to set up temporary clinics if patients become cut off from care.
As Hurricane Zeta approaches, Direct Relief staff continue to be in communication with the Louisiana Primary Care Association, State Department of Health, Louisiana chapter of VOAD, or Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, among others.
Direct Relief is monitoring the situation and prepared to respond to requests for medical aid as they arise.