Parenting after castastrophe |

Parenting after castastrophe

Jean Ruley Kearns

During a crises such as a hurricane, parents focus on safety and keeping their children healthy. However, for a large number of parents in Cameron Parish, a county in the southwest part of Louisiana bordered by Texas to the west and the Gulf to the south, the period after the hurricane is most challenging. In fact, to many, life could be described as one of desperation. As of the third week of October the situation in Cameron is as follows:– All of the utility poles have been broken and washed away. People are without electricity and telephones. — The vast majority of homes were either destroyed or severely damaged so that no one can live in them.– The schools are not closed, as there was no need to make that announcement. All of the school buildings are no longer standing.– Residents have been allowed into the parish for relatively short periods of time to salvage what they can from the ruins of their homes and businesses. The amount of items saved is very small. A cousin of mine salvaged one ginger jar from a four-bedroom home.– The level of the water during the hurricane was approximately 25 feet, and that together with the wind tore barns apart and scattered livestock. Some helicopters routinely fly over and drop feed for cows and horses.– The town of Cameron was damaged to such an extent that the parish has decided to bulldoze the town and push everything into the marsh. The only exception to the bulldozer may be what is left of the courthouse.– No one is living in the parish, with the exception of the National Guard and other security forces. Residents are living with relatives outside of the area or are in commercial or government sponsored shelters.– The water flooded the cemeteries and washed the caskets into the roads, marshes and fields. People will go out in flat-bottom boats, tie ropes onto the caskets and haul them back to the cemeteries in the next period of time.– Public roads are not yet clear of trees, houses and trash.So the bottom line for a large number of families is one that is multifaceted and complicated. Insurance issues are not settled, and the resulting building code for future housing may be such that few can afford to resettle. Under current discussion is a building code that requires houses to be built 18 feet above sea level. Since some areas are only 8 feet above sea level, that means that the house must be 10 feet off of the ground and reinforced to withstand a certain amount of water surges. Children are confused, since their frame of reference is no longer present. Their homes, schools, possessions and their relatives are scattered. Parents cannot say “Everything will be OK” to their children, as that in a child’s mind translates to “Everything will be as it was before the hurricane.” It is vital for parents to let their children express feelings about what they are going though and help them deal with the events. As much as possible, it is important to develop a routine for children and repeat the message that the situation will be worked out and the family intends to stay together.The underlying sadness is that not only have families lost homes and possessions, but a way of life may be lost. Many of the people in the area lived on land that had been in their family for over eight generations. Members of extended families lived within a stone’s throw of each other. Ancestors were buried nearby and routinely visited. The way of life was tied to the land and reinforced values of the past. The next generation may not have the opportunity to experience that life. Dr. Jean Ruley Kearns of Edwards is a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona after teaching human development. She currently consults in international development. Vail, Colorado

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