It has been nearly 3 months since Hurricane Hugo ripped through the southeastern seaboard, yet its aftermath is still being felt. Most of the physical effects are obvious - uprooted trees, missing mementos, and homes filled with up to 9 feet of mud and water. But the most devastating losses cannot be measured. These include a lost way of life, a lost sense of permanency, and a lost ability to fight back. Although Hugo did not discriminate when it struck, the elderly are having a harder time restructuring their lives than other victims.
"They don't have the energy to move furniture, the energy to get to work that younger people have," said Sally Weinrich, RiD, a nurse gerontologist from the University of South Carolina College of Nursing. "They don't have the time to rebuild broken dreams.... Everyone is suffering, but elderly people don't have the years to recover."
Weinrich, who was also hit hard by the hurricane, is part of a relief effort involving her nursing students and others from the university. The students are helping to clean flooded homes, deUver food and water, and provide counseling. They are also relieving nurses who have been working overtime in hospitals and nursing homes before going home to deal with their own losses.
More than half of all elderly in South Carolina live in the 23 counties that have been declared a disaster area, said Weinrich. Although many have gone to stay with their children, there are still many who have nowhere else to go.
The most immediate focus of the relief program is restoring the "basic level of living," said Weinrich, but the assistance does not stop there. When the physical emergency has been taken care of, the students tend to emotional support, which is even more important to the elderly.
"Knowing that someone cares is the deciding factor whether they go on and survive another day," said Weinrich. To help provide this support, the College of Nursing developed programs where individuals can "adopt" an elderly person and where hospitals, churches, or other groups can adopt similar organizations.
For names of those needing letters of support or for information on sending contributions, contact Elderly Hurricane Relief Fund, South Carolina Commission on Aging, Fontaine Business Center, 400 Arbor Lake Drive, Suite B-500, Columbia, SC 29223; 803735-0210.