Loss, Chaos, Survival, and Despair: The Storm after the Storms

  • Trevan G. Hatch
  • Katie E. CherryEmail author
  • Keri L. Kytola
  • Yaxin Lu
  • Loren D. Marks


The US Gulf Coast experienced catastrophic damage when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall in August and September of 2005. This chapter is based on narrative data obtained from directly affected coastal residents of south Louisiana in a mixed method study on post-disaster recovery conducted between 2010 and 2012. We focus here on the challenges participants faced in the aftermath of the storms, highlighting experiences they recounted after having lost property, homes, and communities in the 2005 hurricanes. Three themes emerged from qualitative analysis of the interview narratives, which present a somber and miserable experience in the aftermath of disaster. The themes include: (1) “I Don’t Want to Lose another Friend”: A Loss of More than Material Possessions, (2) “No Coping, Just Surviving”: Chaos and the Crushing Burden of Survival, and (3) “[Katrina] made me a Weaker Person”: Anguish and Despair after the Storms. These themes are presented with supportive excerpts and reflections from participants’ first-hand accounts. Implications for adjustment after disaster and future research on grief related to post-disaster losses are considered.


Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Natural disaster Disaster mental health Posttraumatic stress Complicated grief Long-term recovery Qualitative research 



We are grateful to Sr. Mary Keefe and Fr. John Arnone of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Violet, LA, and Gayle Buckley, Judy Chiappetta, and Catherine Serpas for their assistance with recruitment. We thank Susan McNeil of the St. Bernard Council on Aging and Sean Warner of the Gulf Coast Trust Bank in St. Bernard for providing space for interviews. We thank Kelli Broome, Susan Brigman, Ashley Cacamo, Pamela Nezat, and Mary Beth Tamor for their help with data collection and Robert Pressley, Penni Fontenot, Sarah Finney, Lauren Edwards, Allison Kennedy, Amy Goff, and Graham Belou for their assistance with transcriptions. We also thank Bethany Pinkston, Sarah Hebert, Savannah Ballard, Trevor Johnson, and Brandon Cohen for assistance with qualitative analyses.

This research was supported by grants from the Louisiana Board of Regents and the BP Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, Office of Research and Economic Development, Louisiana State University. This support is gratefully acknowledged.


  1. Belter, R., Dunn, S., & Jeney, P. (1991). The psychological impact of hurricane Hugo on children: A needs assessment. Advances in Behavior Research and Therapy, 13, 155–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Breslau, N., Davis, G. C., Andreski, P., & Peterson, E. (1991). Traumatic events and post-traumatic stress disorder in an urban population of young adults. Archives of General Psychiatry, 48, 216–222.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Buuck, M. M. (2007). Firestorm: Hurricane katrina and the St. Bernard fire department. Xlibris Corporation.Google Scholar
  4. Cherry, K. E., & Galea, S. (2015). Resilience after trauma. In D. Ajdukovic, S. Kimhi, & M. Lahad (Eds.), Resiliency: Enhancing coping with crisis and terrorism (pp. 35-40). NATO Science for Peace and Security Series. Netherlands: IOS Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cherry, K. E., Galea, S., & Silva, J. L. (2008). Successful aging and natural disasters: Role of adaptation and resiliency in late life. In M. Hersen & A. M. Gross (Eds.), Handbook of clinical psychology: Volume 1 (pp 810–833). NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Cherry, K. E., Silva, J., Galea, S. (2009). Natural disasters and the oldest-old: A psychological perspective on coping and health in late life. In K. E. Cherry (Ed.), Lifespan perspectives on natural disasters: Coping with Katrina, Rita and other storms (pp. 171–193). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cherry, K. E., Allen, P. D., & Galea, S. (2010). Older adults and natural disasters: Lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In P. Dass-Brailsford (Ed.), Crisis and disaster counseling: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and other disasters (pp. 115–130). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  8. Cherry, K. E., Silva Brown, J., Marks, L. D., Galea, S., Volaufova, J., Lefante, C., et al. (2011). Longitudinal assessment of cognitive and psychosocial functioning after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Exploring disaster impact on middle-aged, older, and oldest-old adults. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 16, 187–211.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cherry, K. E., Sampson, L., Nezat, P. F., Cacamo, A., Marks, L. D., & Galea, S. (2015). Long-term psychological outcomes in older adults after disaster: relationships to religiosity and social support. Aging & Mental Health, 19(5), 430–443.Google Scholar
  10. Covey, S. R. (2003). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  11. Earls, F., Smith, E., Reich, W., & Junk, K. (1988). Investigating psychopathological consequences of a disaster in children: A pilot study incorporating a structured diagnostic interview. Journal of American Academic Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 90–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eich, E., Reeves, J. L., Jaeger, B., & Graff-Radford, S. B. (1985). Memory for pain: relation between past and present pain intensity. Pain, 23, 375–380.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Frankl, V. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Washington Street Press.Google Scholar
  14. Galea, S., Tracy, M., Norris, F., & Coffey, S. E. (2008). Financial and social circumstances and the incidence and course of PTSD in Mississippi during the first two years after Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21, 357–368.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gilligan, C. (1992). In a different voice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Gleser, G. C., Green, B., & Winget, C. (1981). Prolonged psychosocial effects of disaster: A study of buffalo creek. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  17. Green, B. L., Korol, M., Grace, M., Vary, M., Leonard, A., Gleser, G., et al. (1991). Children and disaster: Age, gender, and parental effects on PTSD symptoms. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 30, 945–951.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Henry, J. (2013). Return or relocate? An inductive analysis of decision-making in a disaster. Disaster, 37, 293–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kamo, Y., Henderson, T. L., & Roberto, K. A. (2011). Displaced older adults’ reactions to and coping with the aftermath of hurricane katrina. Journal of Family Issues, 30, 1346–1370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kushner, H. S. (1981). When bad things happen to good people. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  21. Maguen, S., Neria, Y., Conoscenti, L. M., & Litz, B. T. (2009). Depression and prolonged grief in the wake of disasters. In Y. Neria, S. Galea, & F. H. Norris (Eds). Mental health and disasters (pp. 116–130). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Massey, B. A. (1997). Victims or survivors? A three-part approach to working with older adults in disaster. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 30, 193–202.Google Scholar
  23. McFarlane, A. C., Polincansky, S. K., & Irwin, C. (1987). A longitudinal study of the psychological morbidity in children due to a natural disaster. Psychological Medicine, 17, 727–738.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Neria, Y., Galea, S., & Norris, F. H. (Eds.). (2009). Mental health and disasters. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Norris, F. H., & Elrod, C. L. (2006). Psychosocial consequences of disaster: A review of past research. In F. H. Norris, S. Galea, M. J. Friedman, & P. J. Watson (Eds.), Methods for disaster mental health research (pp. 20–42). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  26. Norris, F. H., Friedman, M. J., & Watson, P. J., Byrne, C. M., Diaz, E., & Kaniasty, K. (2002). 60,000 disaster victims speak: Part I. An empirical review of the empirical literature, 1981–2001. Psychiatry, 65, 207–239.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Schaefer, M. (2007). Lost in Katrina. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  28. Sharan, P., Chaudhary, G., Kavathekar, S. A., & Saxena, S. (1996). Preliminary report of psychiatric disorders in survivors of a severe earthquake. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 556–558.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Shear, M. K., McLaughlin, K. A., Ghesquiere, A., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., & Kessler, R. C. (2011). Complicated grief associated with Hurricane Katrina. Depression and Anxiety, 28, 648–657.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Trevan G. Hatch
    • 1
  • Katie E. Cherry
    • 2
    Email author
  • Keri L. Kytola
    • 3
  • Yaxin Lu
    • 4
  • Loren D. Marks
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Social WorkLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  4. 4.Louisiana Department of EducationBaton RougeUSA
  5. 5.School of Family LifeBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

Personalised recommendations