Two years ago this week Superstorm Sandy pummeled the eastern seaboard, leaving more than 150 people dead and more than $65 billion in damage. The aftereffects of this massive weather event are far from resolved, with a recent survey of 12 communities hit by Sandy finding that nearly 30 percent of residents reported their neighborhood has recovered only halfway or less. The stress of this recovery is also enacting a toll, with a new poll finding that mental health issues remain serious among residents whose homes were significantly damaged during the storm.
Conducted by Monmouth University, the poll found that nearly half of those surveyed still report at least moderate distress — only slightly improved from the same survey a year ago. There was also only a slight improvement for those reporting serious distress levels, down to 20 percent from 26 percent last year.
“The longer that environmental conditions remain poor, such as continuing to be displaced, resiliency, mental health and coping skills can decline,” said Dr. Christine Hatchard, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director ofthe Clinical Psychology Research Center at Monmouth University, in a statement.
The survey interviewed 616 of the most impacted New Jersey residents suffering from significant damaged — meaning they had more than one foot of water in the first floor or at least $8,000 in property damage. According to the poll, just over one-fifth of those surveyed shows signs of a provisional diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
“Previous research suggests that post traumatic stress disorder is the most prevalent mental disorder following other natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina,” said Dr. Hatchard.
The poll also shows stress levels are higher among those who remain displaced than those who have been able to return home, which is undeniably a long slog. A recent report issued by the the City of New York Department of Investigation found that more than 90 percent of the applicants to the post-Sandy “Build It Back” reconstruction program have yet to receive any financial assistance. This amounts to some 14,000 homeowners, and that’s after 6,000 withdrew applications or become unresponsive. The program, launched to facilitate long-term rebuilding and rehabilitation following the storm, has instead led to “a confusing, multi-layered application process” that has “caused bottlenecks that delayed the application process and critical assistance from reaching homeowners,” according to the report.
According to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs there are about 11,000 eligible applicants for the RREM program (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation) which can provide up to $150,000 in grant money for homeowners. So far about 4,400 have signed grant awards while another 4,400 are yet to sign their offers and about 2,100 are on the waiting list.
“Just waiting two years trying to get back in your home is very stressful,” Vicki Phillips, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Atlantic County, New Jersey, told CBS Philly.
Phillips said she gets phone calls regularly from tearful survivors who feel exasperated with insurance companies, construction permits, or just waiting for grants like those with “Build It Back” or RREM to come through.
While no single hurricane can be attributed to climate change, climate models show how global warming can make storms like Sandy more destructive by means of bigger storm surges due to sea level rise, more precipitation due to atmospheric conditions, and even unusual storm trajectories.