This is the third of four posts on this subject. First Installment is here
Since my assignment to the hurricane shelters after Hurricane Camille in 1969 was part of the Tulane University School of Public Health academic program, I was required to evaluate the experience. To accomplish this, I devised a system to track all medical visits by shelter occupants during the first two months following the storm. Then these data were compiled and analyzed.
On April 3, 1970 I presented a paper on the epidemiology of Hurricane Camille at the Fifth Joint Meeting of the Clinical Society and Commissioned Officers Association in Washington, DC. A summary may be viewed at this link.
The paper follows two major subgroups of shelter residents, one white and the other black. The two groups provided opportunity for comparisons because they occupied separate shelters in Belle Chasse at the same time, both moved down to Buras on the same day, and both formed relatively stable populations into the 3rd and 4th weeks after the storm.
There was a progressive increase in the utilization of medical services in both shelter populations during the first two weeks after the storm. There were differences in their patterns of incidence of respiratory infections, open injuries, and “functional” conditions. Factors other than race alone may have accounted for these differences. Geographic mobility and access to damaged homes appeared to correlate positively with the incidence of open injuries.
My paper mentions some of the issues we encountered in the shelters. Of interest is the fact that the people of Plaquemines Parish were quite accustomed to evacuating in advance of hurricanes. When Camille threatened, people took the evacuation very seriously. Most expected that they would be back in their homes within a day or so. Therefore, many did not take their medication supplies. Birth control pills were left behind, causing a large number of women to begin withdrawal menstrual bleeding at once. Pads were quickly in short supply! Early on, an average of over 30 persons were crowded into each classroom. The white shelters had especially large numbers of pet dogs, tied up outside their owners’ windows.
I was one of the few, perhaps the only, US Public Health Service Commissioned Officer to have been extensively involved in immediate medical relief efforts following Hurricane Camille. Much has changed since then. According to a January 18, 2006 DHHS press release, more than 2,000 USPHS Commissioned Corps officers were deployed to the Gulf region before, during, and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “They set up and staffed field hospitals and emergency medical clinics, treated sick and injured evacuees, ensured hospital structures, food supplies, and water supplies were safe, conducted disease surveillance, and worked closely with local and state health authorities to address other immediate and long-term public health needs.”
As bad as Camille was, we were all thankful that it was not the “big one” that everyone talked about, the hurricane that would slosh water up into Lake Pontchartrain and force it over the levees into the East Bank of New Orleans. Of course, Hurricane Katrina was to do something very similar. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $125 billion in damage, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
Remarkably, these words were written in 1999: “For many, Camille is a distant memory, an historical footnote from a time long gone. But Camille is also a harbinger of disasters to come. Another storm of Camille’s intensity will strike the United States, the only question is when. When this future storm strikes, it will make landfall over conditions drastically different from those in 1969. The hurricane-prone regions of the United States have developed dramatically as people have moved to the coast and the nation’s wealth has grown. Estimates of potential losses from a single hurricane approach $100 billion.”