FPs Are There for Patients in Wake of Disaster
For those of us on the East Coast, there was much concern about Hurricane Matthew from the very beginning. The path of the storm was particularly troubling to those of us in the Carolinas because it was similar to the path of Hurricane Hazel, the 1954 storm that is the benchmark for hurricanes in my state.
Another October storm, Hazel hit North Carolina with 150 mph winds. That Category 4 hurricane coincided with the highest lunar tide of the year and inundated the state with a storm surge of more than 18 feet and rainfall of more than 11 inches in some areas. Hazel left a path of widespread destruction and loss of life. In my state alone, 19 people were killed and several hundred were injured. The storm and subsequent flooding destroyed 15,000 homes and damaged 39,000.
U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jonathan Shaw
North Carolina Army National Guardsmen assist with evacuation efforts in Fayetteville, N.C. On Oct. 8, heavy rains from Hurricane Matthew led to flooding as high as five feet in some areas.
Unfortunately, Matthew left a similar path of destruction. Although it was forecast to weaken and turn out to sea, Matthew made landfall Oct. 8 in South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. Its winds were less severe than Hazel's, but Matthew deluged North Carolina with incredible amounts of rain that totaled 18 inches in some areas.
Eastern North Carolina has a wide, flat coastal plain covered in pine trees and farmland interspersed with slow, lazy rivers that wind their way to the coast. With that much rain, rivers quickly overflowed their banks, leading to widespread flooding. This slow-motion disaster unfolded for several days.
Hurricane Matthew claimed the lives of at least 25 people in North Carolina alone. Total damage to homes and businesses (including more than 100,000 damaged structures), as well as to crops in the state, is estimated at $1.5 billion. Our roads and transportation infrastructure have been disrupted in some areas, and these losses have been tremendous hardships for those who live in eastern North Carolina.
Other communities in our nation have suffered even more cataclysmic events, including hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, as well as the recent flood in West Virginia.
At a recent family medicine conference in Louisiana, I had the opportunity to hear Louisiana Family Physician of the Year Bryan Bertucci, M.D., share his story of the events surrounding Katrina. That storm, which made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, and the flooding it caused destroyed Bertucci's entire community of St. Bernard Parish in 2005. All but three of the homes in his parish were damaged, and more than 130 people died.
It was inspiring to hear Bertucci's story of resilience and commitment to his community. It was a good lesson for me, too, to hear how he used humor under incredibly trying circumstances to cope with devastation and tragedy, including the loss of his own home and practice.
More than 1.5 million people evacuated Louisiana before Katrina struck, but thousands remained in the storm's path. Bertucci continued to treat and admit patients to his local hospital during the storm and its aftermath. As the floodwaters rose, he moved patients and staff to the second floor. With no electricity, staff did their best to care for their patients. Ultimately, Bertucci led the evacuation of patients to a nearby jail that was not affected by flooding. It was only after several days that he was able to check on his own flood-damaged home by boat.
As Bertucci exemplifies, family physicians are uniquely qualified to respond to the needs of our communities every day, and particularly during times of crisis. With our broad training, we are able to meet those needs in just about any circumstance.
Not surprisingly, I have been taking care of many people who have illnesses or injuries as a result of Hurricane Matthew. There have been injuries suffered during the storm and during cleanup, including burns and lacerations, as well as respiratory illnesses from exposure to the elements and mold. With time, we will undoubtedly see patients with anxiety and depressive illnesses as people cope with their losses.
Many thanks to those rescuers, firefighters, Red Cross volunteers and relief workers, among others, who have worked to get our community back on its feet. Although my home was spared, many of my patients and some of our office staff were directly affected by the flooding. I am particularly thankful to those staff members who, like Dr. Bertucci, have continued to selflessly serve while their homes are in disarray.
I am also thankful to my family physician colleagues across this state and nation who have served their communities during times of crisis. What you do is important each and every day.
Mott Blair, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.
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