Natural Disasters: An Assessment of Family Resiliency Following Hurricane Katrina

Article excerpt

This study explored the role of family characteristics in the coping process of a family after having experienced Hurricane Katrina to gain an understanding of the relationship between family resiliency, hope, family hardiness, and spirituality for survivors of this natural disaster. It was hypothesized that families who demonstrate higher levels of hope, family hardiness, and spirituality would be more likely to effectively cope after the storm. Further, great resource loss was hypothesized to diminish a family's ability to cope. Four hundred fifty-two participants completed the survey. Results indicate a relationship between hope, family hardiness and spirituality, and the criterion variable, family coping. The importance of these findings in terms of exploring family resiliency following a natural disaster is discussed.

Natural disasters affect many families in the United States each year. Between the years of 1975 and 1994, natural disasters alone killed over 24,000 people in the United States and injured an additional 96,000 people (Mileti, 1999). The recent natural disaster Hurricane Katrina has been deemed one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever touch U.S. soil (Kessler, Galea, Jones, & Parker, 2006). Sadly, about 1,500 deaths are believed to be a direct result of the hurricane (Beven et al., 2008). Further, Hurricane Katrina displaced over one million people and has been estimated to have cost $100-200 billion in damage (Gard & Ruzek, 2006).

While some research on individual characteristics that may predispose a person to distress following a natural disaster has been explored, the purpose of this study is to gain a more complete understanding of what relationship exists between family resiliency and hope, family hardiness, and spirituality following a natural disaster. The case will be made that a family who possesses hope and family hardiness and displays high levels of spirituality or religiosity will be more likely to exhibit healthy coping behaviors after experiencing the natural disaster.

LOSS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS FOLLOWING NATURAL DISASTERS

Natural disasters are defined as "some rapid, instantaneous or profound impact of the natural environment upon the socio-economic system" (Alexander, 1993, p. 4). Major disasters can lead to severe disruption, trauma, and loss for individuals, families, and communities (Catherall, 1992; Moos, 1986; Walsh, 2006) and may leave victims in a state of shock and disbelief (Hoff, 1989). Surviving a natural disaster can come at a cost when faced with multiple losses and the task of putting one's life and home back together (Hoff, 1989; Walsh, 2006).

Resources both lost and accessible affect an individual's ability to cope in reaction to extreme stress (Hobfoll, Freedy, Green, & Solomon, 1996). Factors include the following: loss of physical resources, loss of roles, loss of loved ones, loss of hopes and dreams for the future, community resources and response, and one's ability to work through the grief process. Hobfoll et al. (1996) stressed that following a disaster, the availability and preservation of resources are crucial to one's ability to adapt to the traumatic event.

Many families who experienced Hurricane Katrina lost a great number of physical resources. These physical resources are necessary to live a normal life (Hobfoll et al., 1996). Studies have demonstrated that substantial property loss is associated with greater negative psychological affects (Freedy, Saladin, Kilpatrick, Resnick, & Saunders, 1994; Phifer & Norris, 1989) and that the elderly are particularly at psychological risk upon experiencing such loss (Phifer & Norris, 1989). Losing a home and relocation are major factors in dealing with the stress of a natural disaster (Gerrity & Steinglass, 2003). Research has observed increased risk of depression and other forms of psychological distress among individuals who experienced both loss of property and home and families who relocated (Sattler et al. …