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Report: Kids who survived Katrina need help

The Children's Defense Fund called on the government to take concrete steps to help children traumatized by Hurricane Katrina. NBC's Mark Mullen reports.

On Tuesday, Jayneil Perry was glad to hear a dry forecast for New Orleans, since rain is enough to trigger serious panic attacks in her 8-year-old daughter, Geonte.

"Not looking at much rain over the next seven to 10 days," said the weather report on the radio as she drove Geonte to school.

"She stops breathing, she thinks she's going to die," says Jayneil.

Experts say this kind of stress is common among the estimated 300,000 children affected by Katrina.

Tuesday, at a press conference in Baton Rouge, La., the Children's Defense Fund called on the government to create:

  • A mental health team to specifically address the trauma of young hurricane survivors.
  • School-based health clinics to deal with student stress.
  • Mobile health vans for rural communities.

Schools able to reopen are doing the best they can helping kids cope with the pain of their loss.

"All of us have had some rough experiences," says one teacher.

"The water went into my attic," remembers one little girl. "My bed flipped."

Some pediatricians, like Cory Hebert at the Children's Medical Clinic in New Orleans, are spending more time treating anxiety and depression than coughs.

"These children don't like to take baths because of the water," he says. "They don't like to swim because of the water."

But perhaps the biggest challenge to helping young people may be finding them first. Even if more mental health services are made available here in Greater New Orleans, there are now tens of thousands of young hurricane evacuees living in other parts of the country.

While Geonte Perry is getting help, mental health experts say there could be long-term consequences for those who don't. Another reminder that the damage from Katrina may be measured not only by damaged buildings, but also by broken young spirits.