Tag Archives: gulf coast

Covering tropical storms: Resources, related stories to help your reporting

As Tropical Storm Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast, we have gathered tip sheets about covering natural disasters and the ensuing public health risks, along with articles written by journalists about covering the public health angle of disasters.

The compilation includes award-winning stories about covering health and health care systems in the aftermath of hurricanes – along with questionnaires about how those stories were reported. Links to resources and academic research should help you find story ideas and expert sources to help you evaluate and cover the public health response before, during and after the storm.

Among the collection:

  • Presentations from a panel about evaluating how prepared your city is for a disaster
  • A presentation about following the money in public health crisis preparation
  • Two articles about how journalists might cover and survive disasters as well as understand the medical systems in place to handle them.
  • Extensive reporting on health care in southern Mississippi and New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina
  • Sheri Fink’s Pulitzer-winning article, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” about what happened at one isolated New Orleans hospital in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, as well as her  article for AHCJ, “Covering a complex story for the long haul,” in which she explains the reporting and writing process for that work.

Anecdotes suggest post-Gulf spill health issues

With the help of Spot.us, Glynn Wilson gathered anecdotes that point to a set of symptoms he’s calling the “BP crud,” affecting residents of the Gulf Coast who were exposed to chemicals in the wake of the BP oil spill. It’s too early for research to clearly demonstrate the health consequences of the spill, and Wilson’s story is as much a tale of locals fighting for recognition as it is one of medical malfeasance. [Update: The full story is here.]

He carefully captures the growing outrage of a local group, as well as the efforts of a small number of pharmacists, physicians and labs, and how it’s all leading to a grassroots effort to bring attention, research and treatment to the post-spill ill.

Report looks at oil-spill fallout for children, families

As the gulf oil spill dragged on, coverage of its psychological and economic aftermath gained momentum. Now, Poynter’s Al Tompkins has spotlighted coverage of what is sure to be a flood of follow-up reports and post-mortems. Based on research conducted from July 19 through 25 (the well has been effectively capped since July 15), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University has released its “Impact on Children and Families of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” subtitled “Preliminary Findings of the Coastal Population Impact Study.”


Photo by kk+ via Flickr

As Tompkins points out, the study has already pulled in significant media coverage. Shaila Dewan’s story in The New York Times, for example, covered both specifics and context:

“There’s been a very overt effort by BP and the Coast Guard to project a sense that the crisis is over, but this is far from the case,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the center and president of the Children’s Health Fund, a sponsor of the survey. “Our survey shows a persistent and overwhelming level of anxiety among families living near the coast, driven by both medical symptoms in their children as well as a substantial level of psychological stress.”

The survey included 1,200 coastal residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, most of whom live within 10 miles of the ocean.

One in five reported that their household income had dropped since the spill. Forty-three percent said they had been directly exposed to oil, either at beaches, on their property or in helping with the cleanup. Those who had been exposed were more than twice as likely to report that their children had developed physical or mental health problems since the spill. Also, families that had more concerns about their children’s mental health were more likely to report that they are considering moving.


For psyches, Gulf is Valdez on ‘fast forward’

CNN’s Jessica Ravitz reports that the damage to Gulf communities in the wake of the spill has played out like a faster version of the disintegration of Cordova, Alaska, in the wake of Exxon Valdez. Unfortunately, she writes, that doesn’t mean a quicker route to recovery. It just means a deeper dive into discombobulation and destruction. Ravitz profiles the local victims and those reaching out to help them. In the process, she paints a bleak long-term picture.

Concern about communities sends [environmental sociologist Steven] Picou on an 80-mile drive west to Bayou La Batre, a small fishing town on the opposite side of Mobile Bay. He’s traveling around the Gulf Coast to where people are hurting – to start conversations, impart what he’s learned and teach people how to listen to each other. It’s a response modeled after programs devised in Alaska.

“Unlike a natural disaster where you have a therapeutic community emerging to help you rebuild, we know that in Alaska a corrosive community emerged,” he says. “All of a sudden you have this incredible collapse of community capital.”

He describes how people may self-isolate to cope and how their distrust of others will grow and likely spread. Cynicism about BP, he says, will move on to the federal government, the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, local governments, neighbors. Even family.

Ravitz looks at the strong sense of community now present in these places and whether the changes wrought by an influx of new people and money from BP will be permanent. She also reports that domestic violence shelters and hotlines are busier than ever as stress builds and and oil workers, who used to be away from home for weeks at a time, are now stuck on land.

For its part, BP has so far declined a request from Louisiana for $10 million for mental health aid for its residents. Catholic Charities is waiting to hear from BP about another grant that includes about $1.2 million for counseling. Peer-to-peer counseling programs, in which local residents are trained to reach out to other community members, have been launched. One mental health worker says people who were affected by Katrina have been “re-traumatized” by the oil spill.