Hurricane Season Heightens Anxieties For Victims of Past Storms

The Breezy Point section of New York City was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and a resulting fire.

The Breezy Point section of New York City was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and a resulting fire. David Friedman / NBC News

The about-average Atlantic hurricane season predicted by NOAA on Thursday could come as welcome news to people in areas battered by hurricanes in past years, who say it can take years to get over a monster storm.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs between June 1 and November 15, but storms can form both before and after those dates.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials cited the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy as they announced this year's hurricane forecast from New York City on Thursday.

For storm survivors like Dr. Laurie Nadel -- whose beach home in Long Beach, N.Y., filled with four feet of raw sewage when Hurricane Sandy knocked out the town’s sewer pump -- a new season means a new round of anxiety.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Nadel says of what she went through on Oct. 29, 2012. “Everything built over twenty years was destroyed in 45 minutes.”


Nadel, a psychotherapist, knew she and other survivors would need “a very long time to process” all that happened, so she formed a support group that still meets nearly two years later.

The anxiety rises this time of year, but Nadel says it helps to prepare residents psychologically ahead of any future storm.

“If you pretend it’s not going to happen and then it does, you’re going to be shattered,” she says.

Charles Figley, a disaster mental health expert at Tulane University in New Orleans who has worked with Hurricane Katrina survivors, emphasizes preparation as well, but says it comes with a caveat.

“The challenge is educating the public without freaking out those who have unresolved fears and are at risk of being re-traumatized,” he says.

Figley urges hurricane victims at risk of re-trauma “to avoid watching TV if it is upsetting,” and to instead rely on family or friends to keep them posted of storm preparations.

When a natural disaster does strike, it’s crucial to keep “social bonds” intact, says Howard Frumkin, who headed the National Center for Environmental Health during and immediately after Katrina in 2005.


“We know that when people are kept together in their community they do better,” says Frumkin, citing the disaster victims in Fukushima, Japan, who were moved as a group into temporary housing.

Katrina, on the other hand, “was a counter-example, people fled to wherever they could,” says Frumkin, currently dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.

Those community bonds include support groups like Nadel’s. The group is down to a core of about eight members, and Nadel is writing a book on how societies “without iPhones” often cope better after natural disasters.

“They’ve learned not to expect instant fixes,” she says.

Nadel also had her home repaired, sold it and is temporarily living in a relative’s 10th floor apartment a few blocks away.

The view is “beautiful and rather unnerving,” she says. “If a wave were to crash over the balcony during a storm, we would be facing bigger problems than water damage, no?”

Nadel still calls herself a “water person,” having lived her entire adult life near the ocean.

“If the water calls you, you have to live near the coast,” she says. “Just maybe not right on top of it.”