As Hurricane Laura looms, Texas Flood Registry details physical, mental toll of storms

Tropical Storm Imelda Houston
Results from a one-of-a-kind survey launched in the wake of Hurricane Harvey measured the health effects that big storms and flooding events, including 2019's Tropical Storm Imelda, have had on the region. (Community Impact Newspaper file photo)

Results from a one-of-a-kind survey launched in the wake of Hurricane Harvey measured the health effects that big storms and flooding events, including 2019's Tropical Storm Imelda, have had on the region. (Community Impact Newspaper file photo)

Beyond damaging structures and homes, flooding wreaks havoc on physical and mental health, according to the latest findings from the Texas Flood Registry released to the public on Aug. 26, the eve of Hurricane Laura's Gulf Coast landfall.

Over 20,000 unique respondents participated in the survey, which looked at the physical and mental tolls from recent storms. The project, first launched in 2018, was specifically aimed at measuring the effects of Hurricane Harvey, and comes through collaboration between a dozen Greater Houston partners, including Rice University’s Kinder Institute of Urban Research.

Nearly 10,000 of the respondents were from those affected by Hurricane Harvey alone, almost 3,600 were from the May 2019 flooding and storms and over 1,400 were from Tropical Storm Imelda, according to the 2020 report.

Key to the survey was asking respondents how their physical and mental health were affected by past storm events.

“Where else would we measure those impacts?” said Katherine Ensor, the Rice University professor who oversees development of the Kinder Institute Urban Data Platform, which hosts the survey data. “We don't have other mechanisms to measure mental health.”

Of the 10,000 respondents affected by Harvey, 44% had flooded homes, 60% contacted floodwater, 35% had vehicles damaged and 46% suffered income loss.

The survey also reveals that 63% of registrants reported at least one health symptom due to Hurricane Harvey as compared to 9% who reported symptoms due to Imelda.

Mentally and emotionally, 25% of respondents indicated Hurricane Harvey was a severe enough event capable of altering one’s ability to function.

Emergency operations managers will be able to use the data to shape current and future disaster planning, Ensor said. One example given during the webinar was the opportunity to leverage relationships with community health partners to connect residents to the mental health resources they need.

“The impacts to their health, especially with their mental health, can sometimes not be given the attention it needs,” said Moriam Ojelade, the public health emergency preparedness manager for the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District. “One important insight provided to us by the Texas Flood Registry is the mental health impact by Harvey three years later.”

The Kinder Institute has been able to repurpose the technology used for the Texas Flood Registry for a COVID-19 registry. Meanwhile, the project team is looking to build the flood registry for all storm experiences, Ensor said. And that includes Hurricane Laura.

“The technology and team is ready and prepared to roll out a new survey for each new storm, like Laura, so be prepared for that in the next couple of weeks,” Ensor said.
By Hunter Marrow
Hunter Marrow came to Community Impact Newspaper in January 2020. Before that, Hunter covered local news in Ontario, OR for three years, covering municipal issues, crime, and education across Malheur County and across the border into Idaho.


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