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Cover Focus | Mar 2018

Dealing with Disasters

Uncovering lessons learned after natural disasters and traumatic life events.

Looking back, 2017 was quite a year, and it showcased epic amounts of controversy and tragedy. As if terrorist attacks in many European countries, including Spain (Barcelona’s Las Ramblas), the United Kingdom (a mosque in Finsbury Park, London; the London Bridge; and Manchester Arena, in Greater Manchester, during an Ariana Grande concert), France (on the Champs Elysees in Paris), and Sweden (on Stockholm’s pedestrian street Drottninggatan);1 investigations into Russian interference in the US election; ballistic missile testing in North Korea; and the barrage of sexual misconduct allegations and the #MeToo movement weren’t enough for the year’s highlight reel, the world also experienced an onslaught of natural disasters.

Arguably causing the most widespread damage in 2017 was the trio of hurricanes that gained traction over the Atlantic Ocean in August and September—Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. These storms left a trail of devastation across the US Gulf Coast. During Hurricane Harvey, an estimated 24 to 34 trillion gallons of rain fell over Houston alone. Totaling more than 4 feet of accumulated rainfall, Hurricane Harvey broke the record for the most amount of rain produced by a single tropical storm.2

Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc in the US Virgin Islands and caused more than 1,000 deaths. That storm also left Puerto Rico to endure the longest blackout in US history.2 Likewise, Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic basin hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, affected at least nine US states across its 12-day duration and damaged about 95% of the buildings on the island of Barbuda.3 Across the areas affected by the storm, approximately 5.6 million people were evacuated.

Moving from water to fire, dry lands from California to Portugal and Spain were relentlessly scorched by wildfires this past year; 2017 marked that West Coast state’s most destructive wildfire season to date. The Tubbs Fire in Northern California spread so quickly and unapologetically that it killed 22 people and damaged more than 5,600 buildings.2

In Portugal and Spain, at least 39 people were killed and at least 63 injured in wildfires this past October.4 Some of the fires, which began in northern Portugal and spread across the border into Spain, may have been started intentionally, according to local authorities, but low humidity and unusually high temperatures played a large part in them spreading. For Portugal, 2017 brought the largest wave of wildfires since 2006, and it was the country’s driest September in 87 years.

Obviously, such events are catastrophic. With a quick visit to a few websites, it is easy to detail the damage and destruction they have caused. But there is more to these storms than just record-breaking numbers and statistics. What about their effects on the lives of the people who weathered those storms?

In the following series of articles, some of your colleagues open up about how they have dealt with various devastations in the past, including some of the natural disasters that occurred in 2017. Others tell stories of traumatic life events and episodes that have limited their abilities to practice ophthalmology.

A sincere thank you to our participants for being so forthcoming about the tribulations they have endured. There are things to be learned from each one.

Laura Straub

1. Foster A. Terror attacks timeline: From Paris and Brussels terror to most recent attacks in Europe. https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/693421/Terror-attacks-timeline-France-Brussels-Europe-ISIS-killings-Germany-dates-terrorism. Accessed March 8, 2018.

2. Irfan U, Resnick B. Megadisasters devastated America in 2017. And they’re only going to get worse. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/12/28/16795490/natural-disasters-2017-hurricanes-wildfires-heat-climate-change-cost-deaths. Accessed February 28, 2018.

3. Irma: A hurricane for the history books. https://www.cnn.com/specials/hurricane-irma. Accessed February 28, 2017.

4. Vonberg J, Cotovia V. Portugal and Spain wildfires kill at least 39 people. https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/16/europe/portugal-spain-wildfires/index.html. Accessed March 8, 2018.