Sometimes disasters can be so overwhelming, even the caregivers are overcome.
Julie Scadden of Schaller, a member of the Board of Directors for the Iowa EMS Association, told Storm Lake Hy-Noon Kiwanians recently about her experiences working with victims of hurricanes in Florida in 2004 and last year following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La.
Ironically, Scadden was almost a victim herself. She was already in New Orleans and her flight left just six hours before Katrina hit.
Scadden's experience in working with hurricane victims started before that, though. In September 2004, Florida was struck by four back-to-back hurricanes. When she went there to help the victims, she found that 82 percent were below the poverty level. Whether it was its prior experience in dealing with hurricanes or some other reason, Florida was ready to deal with the problem.
"Florida is the first one that did a widescale EMAC (Emergency Management Assistance Compact), Scadden said.
In conducting a Community Health Assessment, those responding went door to door to make sure people had food and water and helped residents evacuate.
It was a different story in New Orleans where actually a series of disasters occurred, Scadden said.
There was the initial blow of Hurricane Katrina and storm surges. Later, the levies broke, flooding the city with toxic waste. Shooting and looting followed.
Unfortunately, New Orleans' mayor and the governor of Louisiana did not request help right away, making the problem worse.
Scadden said once a state makes a request to EMAC, the message is distributed to member states.
Before emergency personnel arrived in Louisiana, Scadden said they had to be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. In addition to the sheer physical toll, those going to assist also faced unnecessary feelings of guilt.
Following Katrina, victims faced emotional needs, in addition to having to go to temporary shelters. Scadden showed a slide of one residence that had mold on the walls and raw sewage covering the floor, conditions Buena Vista University students found in Louisiana when they helped with Hurricane Katrina cleanup in January.
Despite the fact that there were problems in the response to Hurricane Katrina, Scadden said there were lessons that could be learned.
"They had a lot of things go wrong down there," Scadden said. "What we have to do is learn from that initially."