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Ongoing Shipments of Medical Aid Depart for Storm-Impacted U.S. Communities

Many communities still have intermittent power after the past week's storms, and recovery is just beginning.

Medical aid is staged for shipment at Direct Relief headquarters on March 30, 2021. Included in the day's shipments were several in response to storms across multiple states over the weekend. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)
Medical aid is staged for shipment at Direct Relief headquarters on March 30, 2021. Included in the day's shipments were several in response to storms across multiple states over the weekend. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)

Recovery is just beginning for many communities across multiple states still reeling from a multi-day storm event that brought tornadoes and flooding.

In Alabama, at least 11 tornadoes touched down across 17 counties, according to the National Weather Service. Five deaths were reported as a result of these storms, and more severe weather is expected this weekend. In Georgia, an EF4 tornado with windspeeds of up to 170 miles per hour ripped through the town of Newnan, killing one person and damaging homes and buildings. And in Tennessee, at least three deadly tornadoes in the state and serious flooding in the city of Nashville occurred over the weekend, with that city experiencing historic levels of rainfall.

Immediate Response

Direct Relief issued an emergency offer of medical assistance to over 300 partner health facilities in the region, and has been coordinating multiple medical shipments since. The most requested items from Direct Relief’s inventory included Emergency Medical Backpacks, personal hygiene kits, over-the-counter products and personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Several health facilities in Georgia, including the Coweta Samaritan Clinic, reported phones and power were down. Last week, that medical facility received three medical aid shipments containing a variety of chronic disease medications and medical supplies.

Emergency response shipments continue to be requested and prepped for shipment.

On Tuesday, medical aid departed for Hardeman County Community Health Center, a federally qualified health center in Bolivar, Tennessee. More shipments will continue this week as requests come in from impacted communities. Several emergency medical shipments have been sent to Charis Health Center in Nashville, which included Covid-19 supplies such as pulse oximeters, inhalers, nutritionals, personal hygiene items, personal protective equipment, and over-the-counter products.

Over the past two weeks, more than 60 shipments with more than $316,000 worth of medications and medical supplies have departed to Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, with support from FedEx, as part of Direct Relief’s ongoing and continuous support of U.S. health centers and free clinics.

Not Every Community Weathers Disaster the Same Way

Based on decades of emergency response and preparedness, Direct Relief has learned that different communities experience, and recover from, disasters in vastly divergent ways.

“The degree to which a community exhibits certain social conditions, including high poverty, low percentage of vehicle access, or crowded households, may affect that community’s ability to prevent human suffering and financial loss in the event of disaster,” states a report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention outlining its rubric for social vulnerability.

One way to evaluate this is through the CDC’s social vulnerability index, which measures 15 social factors, including unemployment, minority status, and disability. Other factors that make a community more socially vulnerable would include higher percentages of households including elderly adults, young children, and those who speak a first language other than English or who live in crowded housing.

Areas of the Southern United States rank higher according to the CDC's social vulnerability index, which measures dozens of factors that may impact a community's ability to survive, and bounce back from, natural disasters. Dark blue areas measure higher for social vulnerability. (Direct Relief map)
Areas of the Southern United States rank higher according to the CDC’s social vulnerability index, which measures dozens of factors that may impact a community’s ability to survive, and bounce back from, natural disasters. Dark blue areas measure higher for social vulnerability. (Direct Relief map)

With higher areas of social vulnerability concentrated in many places in the U.S. South, a region that also experiences significant weather-related disasters each year, social vulnerability can be a powerful indicator for emergency responders and health officials about where needs might be greatest.

This storm season is complicated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which could see increased spread as people are displaced from their homes. Health officials have also expressed concern about lower rates of vaccination against Covid-19 in states like Alabama and Georgia, which may also add additional health considerations for those already experiencing medical needs.

Storms recorded over the past seven days are recorded in orange on this map across multiple states. (Direct Relief map)
Storms recorded over the past seven days are recorded in orange on this map across multiple states. (Direct Relief map)

For example, Jefferson County, Alabama, which did sustain storm damage in the past week, also has a moderate to high level of social vulnerability. The county has a higher percentage of racial and ethic minority-status residents than Alabama at large, and also a higher percentage of households that speak a language other than English. These factors are among several included in the index that can indicate how a community may experience a disaster’s effects, and how quickly they are able to recover.

Places like Jefferson County, Alabama, which incudes Birmingham, have a moderate to high level of social vulnerability. Direct Relief preparing medical shipments to health partners in the area. (Direct Relief map)
Places like Jefferson County, Alabama, which includes Birmingham, have a moderate to high level of social vulnerability. Direct Relief is preparing medical shipments to health partners in the area. (Direct Relief map)

Direct Relief remains in communication with health officials and emergency responders in these states, and will continue to respond to requests for assistance.

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