Hurricane Katrina: Losses to Grieve

© Linda Saxon Nix

Note: This page was written the month after Huirricane Katrina.
While most people have found jobs, rebuilt homes and become relocated,
their losses will always affect them in the other aspects of their lives.
There are many other losses to consider other than death and divorce.
We are now almost five years past Katrina at this addendum. LN


Hurricane Katrina smashed into Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama in the early morning hours of August 29, 2005, causing untold losses. She has affected hundreds of thousands of lives, and those lives will never again be the same.


Losses - all kinds of losses - will eventually have to be grieved.

When Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her book "On Death and Dying", she outlined five stages of acceptance that a dying patient goes through. They are: Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These stages are the ones that have become the standards in dealing with death. These stages are experienced, though not necessarily in the order listed, as Kubler-Ross later said after her book was published.

These five stages of grieving are used as ways that people who have lost loved ones deal with their loss. Death is one of the greatest losses. People who have lost loved ones due to Katrina will have to grieve, and they will go through these stages.

These five stages have also been adapted as stages that people going through a divorce must go through in order to heal. These same stages will have to be experiences with all other types of losses. A loss, whether great or small, must be grieved in order for a person to eventually move on with their life in a healthy manner.
Worse yet, with each new loss a person experiences, the brain is triggered to remember other losses, and sometimes bring up the grief associated with past losses. People who went through Camille, or other storms and had serious losses will again be affected by them to a certain extent. Those who have suffered losses of a different nature will also come up.

Other stages of have been identified that people who suffer a loss will go through. Those stages are shock, numbness, guilt, forgiveness, and letting go, and moving on.

Types of Losses

There are many other types of loss. The people affected by Katrina are going to have to deal with a multitude of losses in their lives. Some people will be able to deal with their losses better than others. It is important to be aware of what they have lost, and be aware of the importance of properly grieving those losses.

Of the losses almost too numerous to list, these are some of the losses that people are going through at this moment:

Loss of loved ones, loss of homes, loss of jobs, loss of places of business, loss of neighborhoods, loss of community, loss of pets, loss of clothing, loss of personal possessions and mementos of their lives, loss of computers stored with important information, loss of whole houses of furniture, loss of clothing and shoes, loss of freezers of full of food, loss of vehicles and ways to get about, separation from loved ones, loss of important papers and documentation, loss of tools and supplies used to make a living and to produce arts and crafts, and loss of schools. Children will have to deal with departed teachers and changed neighborhoods, and college students will have to deal with changing colleges in order to graduate, especially in New Orleans. There are any other types of losses that people could add to this list.
Children will be affected in ways that will make them different from the way they would have been had they not gone through this trauma. They know words such as FEMA, PODS, surge, insurance claims, and soup kitchens.
People have had to deal with closed businesses, shortages of goods, crowded stores, fewer and more crowded restaurants, long waits, all of which shorten their fuses and ability to deal with everything.

In addition, there are losses that affect daily routines and loss of a way of life. One of the biggest losses is the loss of security. We used to know that we would wake up tomorrow the same way that we woke uptoday (before Katrina) with the knowledge that our life had a basic kind of order. We no longer have that order, that routine, or that security. When thunderstorms with high winds are predicted and experienced, now a feeling of unease and fear trickles up our spines.

This below was right after Katrina...

Many people right now are merely existing. Right now they have their lives, and for that they are thankful. But they don't have a life. Their lives are on hold. They are waiting. They are waiting for help, waiting for water, waiting for electricity, waiting for housing, waiting for financial help, waiting for a lease car, waiting to be united with family members. People have waited in long lines for gas, long lines for water and for ice and for food, long lines for Red Cross help, and long lines for FEMA help. People have gone without food or water for days. People have not had bathrooms to use. People have stayed in unsanitary and unsafe surroundings. People have gone for days in the same clothes they were wearing during the storm only to find that they have no more clothes to change into. A trivial but not unimportant factor is that many without homes are dealing with late summer heat, making life miserable. People doing cleanup are having to deal with the heat.

People have had to learn to accept that they can't provide everything they need for themselves; they have had to learn to accept help and acknowledge that their very survival, for now, depends on others. many cases they have lost control of their lives because officials are telling them what they can and cannot do. This, in itself, is a loss.

Shock and Numbness

We are now at Day 16 after Katrina struck. For the most part, people have been stoic. They are holding up and hanging on and doing what they have to do to survive. They have cried very little.
For the most part, people still are basically numb and in shock.

The Shock is that something like this has happened - that something more terrible than Hurricane Camille has happened. Nobody ever believed that it could be worse than Camille. People are shocked that Katrina didn't downgrade, didn't stay on its track, and that they underestimated her fury and her potential damage. The shock is that they don't know what to do with their lives. Everything that they knew about their lives is no longer true. Life has changed forever.

People are still Numb. It hasn't fully registered. This is nature's protective mechanism. The numbness allows us to do what has to be done immediately after the disaster. They have had to deal with no shelter, finding shelter, finding food to eat, missing family members, finding family members, missing pets, no water, no electricity, no means of communication, not knowing what is coming next, and total feeling of helplessness.

Some have cried. Others haven't cried, but have sucked it up and bottled it inside. When our body will allow us, we need to let ourselves cry. Crying is a major way of relieving stress. People can't keep feelings of stress and frustration and helplessness bottled up forever those feelings have to come out. If they don't, people will start experiencing major health problems. Some will experience them, anyway, after things start to settle down and their body starts to register feelings again.


Anger, as well as frustration, are normal emotions during a catastrophe such as Katrina. People will eventually have to find a way to express their anger at the unfairness of what has happened to them and to their lives and the lives of loved ones.

Anger has been expressed over the handling of this disaster, and about the lack of response. People have been outspoken - not only those affected by the storm, but people who see that things could have been handled better, more quickly and more efficiently.

Different kinds of anger will surface. People are angry that they weren't rescued sooner. People have gotten angry in long lines. In Hattiesburg, someone was shot over a bag of ice. They will be angry at insurance companies for not covering their losses like they expected. They will be angry at losing their jobs.

People might be angry at themselves for not evacuating, for not insuring their homes for flood, at Mother Nature for dealing us such a rotten blow, or for not putting a little money aside in case of such a hardship. There are any number of reasons for anger at a time like this.

Anger is a normal reaction to the stress of things not going our way. To hold anger inside is detrimental to our health. Hopefully, people will chose to express their anger in appropriate ways, not by lashing out and doing destructive things. Gentle confrontation, expressing how you feel to others, or how you feel when they do what they do, rather than shouting blame and accusations will go a long way in dealing appropriately with anger. Talking about your anger and frustrations to someone who will listen and understand will also help. Knowing that someone relates to your feelings and understands and validates your feelings goes a long way in helping you realize your feelings are valid and normal.

Update: It is now 20 months after Katrina, and hundreds of families are still in Katrina trailers. There isn't enough affordable housing on the Gulf Coast for people to find to live in. Costs of apartments (the ones left) have skyrocketed, while some apartments are being converted to condominiums, with an even higher price tag. There are lawsuits with State Farm, who cheated homeowners by purposefully ignoring engineering reports about wind damage.

The Coast continiues to be littered with debris; piles of refuse are being reported everywhere, and people have become careless with litter. They seem to be so used to things being a mess that they just toss garbage out of the windows. Most of the litterers are teens. My car was actually hit by a student throwing a soda pop bottle out of a Biloxi schoolbus near my home, and I promptly called the transportation supervisor and he informed the school principal, who took action. Much of the trash can be blamed on out of state workers who don't have a stake in our community. A lot of stuff along roadsides is caused from dump trucksand other containers hauling debris not being covered, so things just blow out and land on the roadsides. And, our locals are to blame for the thousands of cigarette butts that are carelessly tossed out of their vehicles when they are finished with it because they don't want the nasty butt in their car. Does this say something about the nastiness of smoking and smokers???
People who care are on the warpath about the litter and piles of stuff still sitting around, and are starting to demand that the local governments start enforcing the litter laws. We are sick and tired of living with trash, not to mention the reputation that we have down here for being the dirtiest state in the nation. I'm here to tell you that many of us do care. It is just hard to enforce laws when police departments are understaffed, and the city governments are trying their best to stay afloat and manage without equipment and adequate budgets.

To be continued...


March 2010

I had intended to add more about loss, but Katrina is just a memory now. When I re-load all of my web pages that had to be moved when my web host stopped hosting and I had to find a new host, I will add more information for you if you are interested.


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All content on this page except that credited to others is Copyright 2005 & 2006 by Linda S. Nix and may not be copied, published, downloaded,printed or reproduced in any manner without explicit written permission.
All Rights Reserved.

This article is meant to be helpful, but should not be considered to be advice from a professional.


This page was created September 2005;
modified 3/30/10.