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Hurricane Harvey’s Public Health Impact Extends Beyond Flooding

HUFFPOST speaks with Professor Richard Jackson of FSPH's Department of Environmental Health Sciences about public health impacts of Hurricane Harvey.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

“Disasters magnify fragilities that are already present in society.”

Since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas on Friday, 10 people have died and many others have been injured and trapped in their flooded houses. But beyond the immediate dangers posed by the flooding, experts are worried about the broader threats to public health.

Health secretary Tom Price on Saturday declared a public health emergency in Texas. “We recognize the gravity of the situation in Texas, and the declaration of a public health emergency will provide additional flexibility and authority to help those who have been impacted by the storm,” he said in a statement.

Price’s concerns were widely shared by public health officials, who pointed to both immediate threats from the storm and more long-term dangers. “In the immediate emergency there’s concern around drowning, and especially for folks who are in motor vehicles where there is severe flooding, blunt trauma, fire-related injuries,” said Marisa Raphael, deputy commissioner of the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the New York City Health Department.

Vulnerable populations, like the homeless, the elderly and the chronically ill, are especially at risk during and in the aftermath of a disaster.

“Disasters magnify fragilities that are already present in society,” said Dr. Richard Jackson, a professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health.

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