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Trauma of Katrina may last a lifetime

Hurricane Katrina caused psychological scars that may well last a lifetime, reports NBC's Chief Science Correspondent Robert Bazell.

Edward Moses, a minister at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Biloxi, Miss., was out Tuesday looking for members of his congregation. He found Lionel Burbridge at home.

Burbridge and his sister rode out the hurricane in their house, trying to help a sick neighbor.

"Water come in up to my neck," remembers Burbridge. "And then I had to fight to save both of them. I could not do it. It was too much for me to handle."

His sister drowned.

In such a massive tragedy there is no way of knowing who will suffer long-term mental effects. But studies of previous disasters show that 20 percent of victims end up with post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the FEMA emergency medical centers, mental health counselors are well aware of the danger. Lisa Farber-King says that for now almost everyone feels stress. 

"If things don’t return to normal or as close to normal as they can in four to six weeks," says Farber-King, "then you tend to see (PTSD)."

In this disaster, the trauma for many will last much longer.

Bernard Owens, a former U.S. Marine, shows the boat where his friends and family — including his 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son — rode out the storm. The children are with friends now. He can't bring them back to his wrecked home.

"I don't cry, but this has got me torn up, you know?" explains Owens. "It's finally hit me today and for the first time I’ve cried since any of this and it's hard because I miss them so much."

Many are crying now and experts predict many will suffer for years.