Retraumatisation

A disturbing but beautifully crafted narrative from the Guardian about Katrina survivors:

Katrina’s winds died a year ago, but they left deep scars. You see them in wrecked streets. You see them in destroyed forests. You see them in tiny white mobile homes that now dot the Deep South. You see them most, perhaps, in people’s fearful expressions when a hard rain begins to fall from an angry summer sky.

Dr Becky Turner sees them in the play of children. Her big blue bus pulls up outside schools on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and pupils walk in to use toys and paints. It sounds like fun. But what Turner and her colleagues see each day, drawn in crayon, is far from harmless. Turner uses play to tease out the children’s storm stories, and help them talk about the horrors.

And the horrors do come. Many of the children of Hurricane Katrina lost relatives. Some saw them die. All of them are still living with the hurricane. And it is about to get worse. Turner’s mobile mental-health unit is preparing for a flood of new cases as the anniversary approaches. ‘It will be like a retraumatisation,’ Turner says in a weary voice. ‘The storm just goes on and on.’

So it does. Katrina hit on 29 August 2005 and, a year later, life on the coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is still a nightmare. Rebuilding scarcely seems to have begun. Gaunt ruins stretch for miles through a disaster area the size of Britain. All over America, from Houston to New York, hundreds of thousands of evacuees have been torn from their homes. Many expect never to return.

Bodies are still being found – this month a victim’s skeleton was unearthed in New Orleans – yet Katrina is now an ignored tragedy. The hurricane slammed one of the poorest areas of the country. It had no respect for colour, creed or wealth, but its victims tended to be black and poor. For a while it pointed a spotlight on issues of race and poverty, but America quickly returned to other matters. Katrina asked fundamental questions about American society. It prompted a nation and a White House to pledge itself to meet the challenge. But after a year, Katrina is a test that America is failing. The storm’s victims are still living in limbo as the rest of the country has moved on. They are the forgotten. This is their story.

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