After the hurricane can be as deadly as during, how people die

Hurricanes are killers, but in the U.S., the aftermath can be just as deadly.

The National Hurricane Center is putting a new emphasis on saving lives lost following a storm – people who suffer heart attacks cleaning up debris, fall off roofs, crash into trees and succumb to the slow-motion death of carbon monoxide poisoning.

About 44 percent of people who died in 59 storms studied by the National Hurricane Center dating back to 1963 did so as a result of indirect impacts.

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Source: National Hurricane Center

Ed Rappaport, acting director of the NHC, announced the new focus on mitigating post-storm deaths Wednesday at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando.

It’s an effort initiated as advances in forecasting and communication have led to fewer people being killed directly by hurricanes, such as those who drown in storm surge, are crushed in collapsing homes or hit by flying debris.

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“If we are going to reduce the number of indirect deaths following hurricanes, we need to know how they are occurring and in what numbers,” said Rappaport, who co-authored a 2014 study that looked more closely at how people die after storms.

The study was published in the American Meteorological Society Journal two years ago, but Rappaport said the NHC wanted to highlight it this year as part of the effort to increase the awareness of post-storm safety.

Hurricane Irma crossing the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, 2017.

Heart attacks accounted for the largest percentage of post-storm deaths at 34 percent. Other notable categories included deaths from car accidents with other vehicles, 12 percent, cars running into trees, 3 percent, and carbon monoxide poisoning, 5 percent. About 4 percent of deaths were caused by someone falling.

In half of the storms studied, more people died from incidents that happened after the storm, than because of a direct impact. While indirect deaths can occur before a storm makes landfall, Rappaport said it’s two-to-three times less likely than after the storm.

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“The wind is frightening, the preparations are frightening, but we have to expand our messaging that it’s outside of that scary part of the storm that you also need to be careful,” said Craig Setzer, chief meteorologist for a CBS-4 in Miami. “One thing we stress is that whatever you do, do it with great care and caution, and don’t get hurt, because rescuers might not be able to make it to you in time.”

Hurricane Irma killed seven people in the U.S. directly, including four people in Florida. Two people died in Duval County when their tent flooded, a Manatee County man died after he fell during the hurricane trying to secure his boat, and an 86-year-old man in Broward County died after he opened his door during the storm and was blown over by a wind gust.

In contrast to the few direct deaths, 85 people in the U.S. died in incidents indirectly related to the storm.

“In one sense, being hit by Irma was less deadly than the aftermath,” Setzer said.

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Not much was left of the homes in the Seabreeze Mobile Home Park in Islamorada Tuesday afternoon, September 12, 2017. The storm surge from Hurricane Irma passed over the area and and devastated almost all of the homes. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

 

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