Psychological toll of Hurricane Gustav

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - While the costs of Hurricane Gustav will be measured largely by dollars and cents, the human toll will likely be far harder to calculate.  We went inside a local shelter to learn more about the psychological impact of the hurricane.

In a sea of cots and blankets, it's easy as a journalist to look at the big picture; talk about numbers, how many people in the shelter?  How many meals a day?  How much food it takes to feed all these folks?  But the real stories come from the people and the troubles they've endured.

"Yea, I'm sad.  I feel like I'm having a nervous breakdown or something," confided Norma Lockley.  She's far from alone.  This Hurricane Gustav evacuee from New Orleans struggles to keep her emotions in check, but sees plenty of others who can't hide the psychological toll they're facing.  "A lot of them just go off.  Most of them cry, breakdown," described Lockley.

As she and hundreds of other evacuees ride out the storm in this Red Cross shelter at LSU-Shreveport, a sign points them to an on-duty counselor.  It points down a long, dark hallway before reaching the light, an appropriate metaphor for what they're going through.

Hurricane evacuee Vandel Johnson spoke to us while holding her sleeping daughter saying, "my head is hurting.  I don't know what to do.  I have two children out here."

The emotional toll is not limited to evacuees.  While speaking with Red Cross volunteer Christe Archer she began to cry, feeling torn between wanting to help but away from her son for the last four days.  Holding back tears Archer offered, "these people need help.  If I was in their shoes I would want help."

Even as many of the folks experience a light at the end of a tunnel, if you will, because there's a chance they're going home soon, then comes the anticipation and anxiety of what awaits them when they get there.

An on-going, long-term study by Harvard researcher Ronald Kessler, PhD,  is focused on Hurricane Katrina.  So far, it shows that levels of serious mental illness have doubled among Katrina survivors and evacuees.