The Deadly Season
The historic 2017 Atlantic hurricane season produced 17 named storms, most notably Harvey, Irma, and Maria that left hundreds dead, destroyed communities across the southern U.S. and Caribbean and caused an estimated $265 billion in damage – the most expensive hurricane season on record. Hurricane Harvey set a new mark for the most rainfall from a U.S. tropical storm. Hurricane Irma became one of the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricanes ever recorded. Hurricane Maria was the most powerful hurricane to make landfall on the main island of Puerto Rico in 85 years.
August 17, 2017 – September 2, 2017
- 51+ inches of U.S. record rainfall from a tropical storm– flooded an area in Texas the size of NJ
- More than 200,000 homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged.
- The strongest hurricane to strike Texas since 1961's Hurricane Carla.
- Heavy impact areas: Corpus Christi, Houston, Port Arthur/Beaumont, Rockport
August 30, 2017 – September 16, 2017
- 185 mph winds - one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record – 780,000 people evacuated in Florida.
- Killed at least 69 people, destroyed homes and businesses and left millions without power.
- Heavy impact areas: St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Martin, Florida (esp. Florida Keys)
- Severe damage to local health facilities on Caribbean Islands.
September 16, 2017 – October 3, 2017
- First Category 4 hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years.
- Left 3.3 million without power or water.
- Heavy impact areas: Dominica, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Death toll could be as high as 1,000 - estimated $94 billion in damage.
- Major infrastructure damage seriously limited health care access.
Americares Hurricane Response
Americares simultaneously responded to all three storms, deploying 75 Americares relief workers who spent more than 2,500 days in the field. The teams focused on meeting survivors’ health needs, increasing access to care and preparing safety net health facilities to better prepare for future storms. Our extensive U.S. Program partnerships with a network of local safety net clinics and health centers provides the foundation for the speed of our response and the magnitude and quality of our recovery efforts.
Our Recovery Priorities
- Restoration of health services
- Mental health and psychosocial support
- Emergency preparedness
The barrage of storms and the generous outpouring of donations allowed Americares to launch its largest disaster relief program since the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami. We plan to continue working in Texas and Puerto Rico through 2019, helping to restore health care access, expand mental health services and improve preparedness for future storms. We will work with health facilities directly impacted by the hurricanes to assess the effectiveness of their level of emergency preparedness prior to and after the storms and then assist them to strengthen and expand their capabilities going forward. Our Hurricane Irma relief program will focus particularly on helping health centers serving the most vulnerable populations to better prepare for future storms.
Our long-term recovery programming will focus on mental health and psychosocial needs. In the months to come, we plan to support 9,000 health workers in disaster-affected communities in Texas and Puerto Rico with mental health programming, support groups and educational resources. Both the physical and psychological recovery after a disaster require sustained support over the long term, and Americares has made that commitment.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday, August 25 in Rockport, Texas with winds of 130 miles per hour, bringing massive destruction to communities in its path. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas expanded a disaster declaration to include 60 counties, and 30 of those counties were declared federal disaster areas. At least 70 deaths were reported along with many injuries and tens of thousands driven from their homes as more than 51 inches of rain caused catastrophic flooding.
Americares is restoring health services and meeting survivors’ health needs in storm-damaged communities across southeast Texas. The response focuses on restoring services disrupted by the storm, expanding mental health and psychosocial services and helping safety net health care providers prepare for future storms.
To date, Americares has provided $12 million in aid for Harvey survivors, including medicine and supplies, health programs and programmatic support, in partnership with 55 nonprofit organizations. The Hurricane Harvey Response Team has established a base of operations in Houston to oversee its relief and recovery programs.
An Americares emergency response team arrived in Texas in late August as the storm was approaching and began working with our network of partner clinics throughout the region to meet survivors’ most immediate needs. Relief workers rushed relief supplies to emergency shelters and clinics serving as aid distribution shelters, ensuring survivors had essential items and could replace essential medications lost in the storm. Americares supported mobile clinics and vaccination campaigns in hard-hit communities from Brazoria to Port Arthur. With dozens of dialysis centers closed throughout the region, Americares also provided transportation to ensure critically ill patients received lifesaving treatments. For health centers damaged in the storm, Americares supported rapid repairs so survivors could access the care they needed, in a familiar place.
Helping Survivors Cope
As the response shifted to meeting survivors’ longer-term needs, Americares began working with partners in the region to expand mental health and psychosocial services. Health workers treating patients traumatized by their storm experience—including many who survived harrowing rescues from rooftops or by boats—were invited to participate in Americares Resilience and Coping for the Healthcare Community and Psychological First Aid workshops. The resilience sessions focus on stress awareness and coping strategies for health workers; the first aid workshops train health workers to identify, understand and respond to patients’ mental health and psychosocial needs. Over the next 18 months, Americares plans to reach 4,000 health workers in storm-affected communities with training, support groups, crisis counseling and educational materials that will better equip them to care for patients experiencing trauma, anxiety and depression. In communities where the need exceeds the available counseling resources, Americares is providing additional resources to expand services.
“We are focusing on health workers providing care in the most heavily impacted communities and giving them the tools to care for themselves as well as patients. In many hard-hit communities, health workers are not only caring for survivors—they are survivors themselves.”
Building on nearly 40 years of disaster response expertise, Americares will be working with safety net health care facilities throughout Texas and Louisiana in the coming months to use the lessons learned from Harvey to improve responses to future storms. Beginning in April 2018, Americares emergency planning specialists will be working with health care providers in Texas serving vulnerable populations to complete detailed after-action reports on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on their clinical operations and make recommendations for future performance. Health centers, free clinics and other nonprofit organizations will also be invited to participate in a series of disaster preparedness workshops that will train staff in creating customized emergency plans.
“Enhancing preparedness is a critical component of our recovery programs,” said Americares Vice President of Emergency Programs Kate Dischino. “We will work with safety net providers and guide them through creating customized action plans so they are ready the next time disaster strikes.”
Preventing a Health Crisis After Harvey
David and his wife, Renee, on a walk near their Houston home.
David’s teenage sons had to help him upstairs as the first floor of their Houston home filled with a foot of water during Hurricane Harvey. The 58-year-old has diabetes, high-blood pressure and walks with a cane due to a debilitating back injury six years ago.
He went without medication for a week after the storm. His insulin, which needs to be refrigerated, spoiled after several days without power. Unable to afford to replace it, David didn’t know where to turn. Then his phone rang. It was his doctor’s office—San Jose Clinic, one of the 1,000 clinics Americares supports in the US—offering to refill his insulin for free. Americares had just made a large delivery to the clinic to help Harvey survivors.
“We lost everything, all my medicine. Everything was gone,” David said. “Without that clinic I’d be dead! I thank God. When I pray, I pray for San Jose Clinic.”
Irma made landfall Sept. 6 on the island of Barbuda as a Category 5 storm packing winds of up to 185 mph, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record and ultimately forcing the evacuation of the entire population of the island. The storm then struck the U.S. Virgin Islands before hitting the Florida Keys, where it led to a massive evacuation throughout the state, followed by major power outages, with thousands of homes damaged and destroyed.
Americares prepositioned teams and relief supplies in Puerto Rico and Florida in advance of the storm. As soon as the storm passed, Americares relief teams fanned out across St. Thomas, St. Croix and South Florida to assess needs of health care providers treating survivors. Americares responded by replacing damaged medicine and supplies for dozens of health facilities across Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and provided mental health and psychosocial programs. In Florida, Americares provided critical support to help repair damaged health centers and partnered with the Redlands Christian Migrant Association in Plant City and Palmetto to offer Americares Resilience and Coping for the Healthcare Community workshop, training health workers to handle the stress caused by sustained power outages and the continued uncertainty of recovery.
Help for Homeless Youth Displaced by Irma
As Hurricane Irma barreled toward Florida, homeless and abandoned youth living at Covenant House Florida in Fort Lauderdale hurried to seek shelter inland.
When they returned four days later, the roof was peeled open, the air-conditioning units were damaged beyond repair and water had seeped in throughout. The staff hurried to patch the roof, mop up the flooding and restore a sense of normalcy as a second storm—Maria—approached. They got to work quickly with emergency funding from Americares.
“Many of the young adults we serve have already been through trauma before they come through our doors,” said Executive Director Jim Gress. “Covenant House is a safe place. The last thing we want is to add to the trauma and uncertainty in their lives.”
Had it not been for Americares, the center would have had to slash its operating budget and serve fewer youth to cover the cost of the repairs, Gress said. The support allowed it to continue operating at full capacity at a critical time; the storm displaced many Florida residents and the numbers of at-risk youth in need of housing increased 15 percent.
“Americares was a lifesaver in those early weeks,” he said.
Hurricane Maria slammed into Dominica as a Category 4 hurricane on September 18, making it the first Category 4 hurricane on record to strike Dominica. It made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20 with drenching rain and winds up to 155 mph severely damaging an already fragile infrastructure and thrusting the island into crisis. Months of power outages and safe water shortages followed.
Americares immediate response included emergency airlifts to restock damaged health facilities, followed by the opening of a warehouse in Puerto Rico to oversee the distribution of medicine and supplies to hospitals and community health centers throughout the island. In October, Americares dispatched a mobile medical team to provide care in remote and underserved communities. In November, the team began dialysis patient transport for patients in Vieques where the only dialysis center on the island has been shuttered since the storm. In December, we introduced Mental Health and Psychosocial Services programing including Americares Resilience and Coping for the Healthcare Community workshop. In addition, the team is supporting the rebuilding of health facilities in Dominica and providing relief aid to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Three health facilities have already been repaired and one temporary medical facility has been put in place.
With Doctors’ Offices Closed, Medical Teams Deployed to Treat Survivors
Elia getting the care she needs from an Americares mobile medical team.
Forty days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Elia had empty prescription bottles and no way to refill them. Without power, pharmacies could not access patient records or insurance plans.
“I can’t get medicine because there’s no data system,” explained Elia, who was still living without electricity or water when she received treatment from an Americares medical team in November. The lack of medicine was adding to her worries. She needs medicine daily to control her blood pressure and diabetes.
Beginning immediately after the hurricane, Americares delivered medicine and medical supplies to more than 60 health centers on the island and brought medical teams to communities including Moca, in western Puerto Rico, where Elia lives. Americares medical teams provided 1,600 consultations in the aftermath of the storm, providing exams and dispensing free medication. The consults included more than 200 home visits for patients too ill to travel.