Deaths Associated with Hurricane Sandy: October–November 2012

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Thursday, 6 February 2014: 2:00 PM
Georgia Ballroom 2 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Rebecca S. Noe, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chamblee, GA; and M. Murti, E. Yard, A. Wolkin, and M. Casey-Lockyer

Handout (1.6 MB)

Deaths Associated with Hurricane Sandy — October–November 2012 Noe R, Murti M, Casey-Lockyer M, Mertzlufft C, Heick R, Yard E, Wolkin A

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern U.S. coastline. Based on storm surge predictions, mandatory evacuations were ordered on October 28, including for New York City's Evacuation Zone A, the coastal zone at risk for flooding from any hurricane. By October 31, the region had 6–12 inches of precipitation, 7–8 million customers without power, approximately 20,000 persons in shelters, and news reports of numerous fatalities. To characterize deaths related to Sandy, CDC analyzed data on 117 hurricane-related deaths captured by American Red Cross (Red Cross) mortality tracking during October 28–November 30, 2012. This session will describe the results of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis, which found drowning to be the most common cause of death related to Sandy, with 45% of drowning deaths occurred in flooded homes in Evacuation Zone A.

Information on the Sandy-related deaths captured by Red Cross included the decedent's age, sex, race (white, black, Asian, other, or unknown), and date and location of death. Disaster-related deaths were categorized as direct or indirect. Directly related deaths are deaths caused by the environmental force of the disaster (e.g., wind or flood) or by the direct consequences of these forces (e.g., structural collapse). Indirectly related deaths are defined as deaths occurring in a situation in which the disaster led to unsafe conditions (e.g., hazardous roads) or caused a loss or disruption of usual services that contributed to the death (e.g., loss of electrical services). The characteristics of drowning deaths were compared with all deaths using chi-square tests of trend and t-tests. Home addresses of decedents whose drowning death occurred in the home were examined with respect to FEMA's hurricane storm surge area (field-verified as of November 11, 2012) and known, geographically defined areas under evacuation order (i.e., New York City's Evacuation Zone A).

A total of 117 deaths was reported by Red Cross occurring during October 28-November 29, 2012. The source of information for the mortality forms was a medical examiner/coroner for 94 (80.3%) cases and the family of the decedent for 10 (8.5%) cases. Most deaths occurred in New York (53 [45.3%]) and New Jersey (34 [29.1%]); the other deaths occurred in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Maryland.

Decedents ranged in age from 1 to 94 years (mean: 60 years, median: 65 years); 60.7% were male, and 53.8% were white. Of the 117 deaths, 67 (57.3%) were classified as directly related deaths, and 38 (32.5%) were indirectly related to the storm. Of the directly related deaths, the most common mechanism was drowning (40 [59.7%]), followed by trauma from being crushed, cut, or struck (19 [28.4%]). Poisoning was the most common indirectly related cause of death; of the 10 poisonings, nine were caused by carbon monoxide. Comparing the 40 drowning deaths to all Sandy-related deaths, the age, sex, and race distributions of decedents were similar. The majority of drowning deaths (29 [72.5%]) also occurred in the initial phase of the storm, during October 29–31. Twenty-one (52.5%) drowning deaths occurred in the decedent's home, and 11 (27.5%) occurred outside; one person drowned in a flooded commercial building lobby, and another person drowned while intentionally swimming off a storm-affected beach. The location of drowning deaths by state was significantly different (p<0.05) compared with all Sandy-related deaths. The majority of drowning deaths (32 [80.0%]) occurred in New York, whereas deaths in New York accounted for only 27.3% of nondrowning deaths. Twenty decedents drowned in flooded homes in New York, and home addresses for 18 (90.0%) of them were located in Evacuation Zone A; the other two decedents' homes were in or near areas of flooding and near Evacuation Zone A. Notes written by Red Cross volunteers on these 20 deaths captured decedents' reasons for not evacuating, such as "afraid of looters," "thought Hurricane Irene was mild," and "unable to leave because did not have transportation."

Drowning is a leading cause of hurricane death but is preventable with advance warning systems and evacuation plans. Emergency plans should ensure that persons receive and comprehend evacuation messages and have the necessary resources to comply with them.

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