Publication Date August 16, 2017

Lessons from the storm: Effects of extreme weather linger more among children and older adults

United States
Debbie Kropog, Federal Programs Coordinator for Livingston Parish Public Schools talks about the books Livingston Parish schools used to help young students cope with the Louisiana flood of 2016, including "The Ant Hill Disaster," and "Louisiana's Louise and Anna", during an interview, Monday, August 7, 2017. Photo by Ted Jackson,, The Times-Picayune

Ruth Bennett woke up at 1 a.m. and looked through the doorway of her independent living apartment in Walker, about 20 miles west of Baton Rouge. It was Aug. 13, 2016, and rain had been pouring down for two days. Bennett was worried about her car flooding.

She saw water creeping up to the parking lot, but her car looked safe. She crawled back into bed. 

Two hours later, one of the employees of Southern Pines Retirement Community was pounding on Bennett's door. Not only had Bennett's car flooded, the facility was surrounded by water. The employee told Bennet to grab what she needed, including her medicine.

"In two hours it had come from nothing," Bennett recalled recently. "It was very frightening, especially when you're old."

The elderly and children are among the most vulnerable populations to extreme weather events. That's in part because they often do not have the ability to mobilize quickly or on their own, and they're at a greater risk physiologically and psychologically. These trends were noticeable in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Consider these key findings from several studies:

  • Seventy-four percent of the deaths related to Hurricane Katrina were among those age 60 and older, and 50 percent of these were among people over age 75, according to a 2006 study.
  • In the year after Hurricane Katrina, displaced students in Louisiana public schools, on average, performed worse in all subjects and grades compared with other students. In addition, displaced students experienced a variety of problems related to attendance, academic performance, behavior and mental health, according to a 2010 report.