LA Times, September 14, 2018
Melissa Healy

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For all the political chatter about the human toll of hurricanes, one lesson of past monster storms is clear and increasingly urgent: Hurricanes claim lives and erode health before, during and after the water, wind and rain hit.

To reduce the short-term and long-term health consequences of these ever more frequent storms, emergency planners need to anticipate how the threats unfold — and get ahead of them.

They may even use such disasters as opportunities to boost communities’ health after a storm has passed.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set up a roughly 50-person Emergency Operations Center at its headquarters in Atlanta to trace the arc of dangers to affected populations.

Working through medical communities and with state and federal disaster relief agencies, the CDC says it is executing a campaign to prevent injuries, detect and respond to the emergence of disease, and foster the physical and mental health of those affected by Hurricane Florence.

“There are definitely behavioral patterns we recognize,” said Donna Knutson, the CDC’s incident manager for the Hurricane Florence response.

People evacuate without all their prescription medicines, she said. They cut themselves trudging through floodwaters tainted by industrial and household debris and pollutants. They take their chances on dicey stored food, inviting gastrointestinal misery, and use generators too close to their homes, risking asphyxiation. They stay too long in residences contaminated by mold and, in their urgency to regain their sense of normality, may overlook a family member’s gnawing despair.

These threats to life and health are preventable, Knutson said. But it takes more than drills and exercises to prepare first responders and medical personnel to prevent them. Where frequent firsthand experience may be missing, the CDC can provide expertise in what to expect, she said. [...]

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