Natural or man-made, disasters can be frightening, chaotic, and tragic events.  In these events, nurses play a fundamental role in response and patient care.  In our series, “Nursing and Disasters”, prominent voices in the field give voice to ensure that all nurses are personally and professionally prepared for a disaster.

During late October 2012, the eighteenth named storm and the tenth hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season was a Category 2 with winds reaching 96 to 110 mph at peak intensity. Named Hurricane Sandy, the storm curved north-northwest and moved ashore near Atlantic City, New Jersey early on October 29. It was identified as a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds.

Hurricane Sandy would become the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles. Preliminary estimates of losses due to damage and business interruption were an estimated $65.6 billion, making it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane, behind only Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York City. The storm surge that hit New York City on October 29th flooded streets, tunnels and subways. Of the city’s 62 hospitals, three hospitals evacuated before the storm’s landfall; another five evacuated during the storm (The Observer).

Those of you who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy have a singular and collective experience. You join those who also have experienced a disaster first-hand. You are a survivor. Now you are now on the journey toward recovery.

We, too, are survivors. On Monday, August 29, 2005 at 6:10 a.m. CDT, Hurricane Katrina made its second landfall in southeastern Louisiana, near the town of Buras, as a strong Category 3 storm with whipping winds between 111 and130 mph. The eye of the hurricane passed slightly to the east of New Orleans and brought with it strong winds and vast storm surges. The city’s levee system had over 50 failures, which led to the floodwaters drowning almost 80% of New Orleans, and transforming hospitals into islands, where resources and communications gradually deteriorated.

By the second day of its two-day path of destruction, the eye of Katrina began travelling up the entire state, only slowing from hurricane-force winds at Meridian and entering Tennessee as a tropical storm in the early evening. Hurricane-force winds lasted over 17 hours. Tornadoes were spawned and a 28-foot storm surge flooded 6 to12 miles inland. In a single night, many coastal towns of Mississippi and Louisiana had been obliterated.

We left our flooded New Orleans hospital by helicopter. Our return to New Orleans was delayed by flood waters that took three weeks to drain from the city, with additional delays as a result of Hurricane Rita in late September. In the months following Hurricane Katrina, we tried to process what we had experienced at one of the city’s hospitals, incapacitated by the disaster and suddenly faced with the ramifications of Katrina’s impact on the nursing profession in our city.  Half of the 16 New Orleans-area hospitals were closed.

Nursing in the Storm: Voices from Hurricane Katrina was written because we wanted to share the stories of nurses who worked at the front lines during this hurricane. We knew their experiences would help define the lessons learned. Katrina became a defining moment for the way they and others perceive nursing and emergency response during a disaster. For us, it is important to have a forum on this subject.

The journey to recovery is packed with many challenges – returning to work, rebuilding your home, your community. You are in the company of those who survived this storm and the survivors of previous storms. You are not alone.