Alberto is Weaker, Katrina Kids Still Hurt

AccuWeather reports tropical storm Alberto has weakened as it approaches landfall in Florida. Although water temperature and wind shear factors may briefly raise it to hurricane level again, the concern has now shifted to coastal flooding from the heavy rain.

Storm surge flooding of at least 3 to 5 feet is expected in this area and possibly up to 10 feet near and the east of where the center makes landfall. The full moon may also help to enhance the surge effects as it causes tides to run above normal. Rough surf, rip currents and above-normal tides will continue from the Tampa Bay area southward along Florida’s west coast.

State College, PA) – Radar continues to show Tropical Storm Alberto making slow pregress northeast into Taylor, Co Fl. Alberto has weakened slightly as of early Tuesday morning with maximum sustained winds now at 65 mph. Most of the rain associated with Alberto has shifted northward into South Georgia while trailing bands of showers and thunderstorms were still affecting the Florida Peninsula. Bands of rain to the northwest of the center of Alberto continue to affect the eastern part of the Florida Panhandle as well. A Hurricane Warning remains in effect from Longboat Key, Fla., to the Ochlocknee River, Florida. Tropical Storm Warnings remain in effect for the Florida west coast from south of Longboat Key to Englewood and from west of the Ochlocknee River to Indian Pass. A Tropical Storm Warning is also in effect from South Santee River, South Carolina to Flagler Beach, Florida. AccuWeather.com is forecasting Alberto to make landfall Tuesday morning by 10 EDT.

Florida Govenor Jeb Bush had issued evacuation orders Monday, lamenting that the hurricane season is starting so early. Send him a ticket to An Inconvenient Truth, maybe the title will strike him as an understatement.

The new season and the first storm are exacerbating the problems the children of Katrina are still coping with. WaPo has a follow up in For Many of Katrina’s Young Victims, The Scars Are More Than Skin Deep

Ten months after Katrina, its emotional effect on children is proving to be long and lasting. Two studies of children affected by the hurricane have found high rates of depression, anxiety, behavioral problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A Louisiana State University mental health screening of nearly 5,000 children in schools and temporary housing in the state found that 96 percent saw hurricane damage to their homes or neighborhoods, 22 percent had relatives or friends who were injured, 14 percent had relatives or friends who died, and 35 percent lost pets. Thirty-four percent were separated from their primary caregivers at some point; 9 percent still are.

The concern for the Katrina children is not just the immediate trauma from the storm, but that so much of their lives remains disrupted.

A report prepared for Congress last November estimated that 189,000 children were dislocated by Katrina; about 110,000 still do not live where they did nine months ago. Some children have attended as many as nine schools since August.

The statistics are bad enough, the stories are heartbreaking.

Children at a day-care center in Gautier, Miss., ask their caregivers every day: “Did you watch the Weather Channel? What does the Weather Channel say?” In a New Orleans trailer park, a 12-year-old boy who spent five days outside the convention center after Hurricane Katrina and saw a woman in a wheelchair slowly die pleads with his mother to buy a car so they can escape the next big one. An 8-year-old girl is convinced that another hurricane will hit New Orleans — she is even sure it will be on June 15 and a Category 8 (a rating that doesn’t exist).

Justyn Green, 12, and his brother Jaleel, 8, spent six days at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans with their mother and father — hot, hungry, thirsty, dirty and frightened. They heard gunfire and saw dead people. They got out at one point, only to be forced to return when police in a nearby town turned away thousands of evacuees at gunpoint. When they finally boarded a bus to leave — after enduring a line so long they could barely stand — they thought the horror was over, but it wasn’t. The bus flipped over near Opelousas, and their father was killed.

Elmore Rigamer, a psychiatrist who is medical director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, described a 6-year-old boy from hurricane-devastated St. Bernard Parish. “He’s a meticulous boy who’d started to collect stamps and toy soldiers. Now, they’re all gone,” she said. “His mother brought him to me because he’s punching kids at school, he quit learning to read and he’s hoarding food.”

Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and president of the Children’s Health Fund, an advocacy group and care provider for medically underserved children, explains the Katrina Kids problem:

“Disasters like Oklahoma City and 9/11 were time-limited. …The children who were affected psychologically could go to a place of normalcy. The difference here is not only the scope of devastation but the prolonged dislocation with an uncertain timeline. The trauma has not yet ended.”

Amid the numbers and the reports are signs of hope and healing.

The [Green] boys still don’t talk much. In their ranch-style brick home in Algiers, which in the end suffered no storm damage, they sit at the kitchen table and draw pictures. They have been drawing for months, encouraged by a psychiatrist as a way to express themselves and describe their experiences.

“At first, they drew a lot of coffins,” said the psychiatrist, Barbara Hamm. “Now they draw the Dome and men with guns.” She and their mother attribute their obsession with guns and what they call “Army men” to having guns pointed at them and to their perception of the military men in the Superdome as menacing rather than protective.

The older children, while suffering, often show strength, said Howard Osofsky, chairman of LSU’s psychiatry department, who with his wife is leading the university’s screening of Katrina children.

“One reason our clinicians work around the clock and are so dedicated is how inspiring these kids can be. They really do have symptoms of mental distress,” he said. “Yet when you ask their first concerns, so many say they want to help their parents or help in the rebuilding.”

Younger children can be especially resilient, Joy Osofsky said. “If their parents are able to give them support and stability, most will bounce back and do what children do — play,” she said.

The Children’s Health Fund and others are collecting funds and called for the federal government to allocate funding increased health and mental health services for these families. It would be wise to begin this soon and continue it for as long as necessary if we do not want to see many of these children resorting to drugs and violence to cope with the psychological pain.

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