Notes from the Field: Deaths Related... (2023)

Weekly / October 1, 2021 / 70(39);1385–1386

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Arianna Hanchey, MPH1; Amy Schnall, DrPH1; Tesfaye Bayleyegn, MD1; Sumera Jiva, MPH1; Anna Khan, MA1; Vivi Siegel, MPH1; Renée Funk, DVM2; Erik Svendsen, PhD1 (View author affiliations)

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On August 29, 2021, Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150 mph, causing life-threatening storm surges, wind damage, heavy rainfall, and power outages that affected approximately one million homes and businesses along the U.S. Gulf Coast (1,2). The storm then traveled Northeast as a tropical depression, causing flash flooding, tornadoes, and power outages, before exiting offshore.* During Hurricane Ida’s widespread geographic impact, collection and analysis of timely data were necessary to understand regional differences, such as causes and circumstances of death, and to guide public health messaging to promote action (3). In response to the disaster, CDC’s Epidemiology Surveillance Task Force (Epi/Surv Task Force) activated media mortality surveillance to track online reports of deaths related to Hurricane Ida using standardized key search terms from an internal standard operating procedure that outlines surveillance protocol. Team members compiled and coded the information from identified sources (e.g., news media articles, press releases, and social media posts) into a database, analyzed the compiled data, and shared results with emergency response leadership and health communicators to provide situational awareness and guide messaging.§

As of September 9, 2021, the media reported 91 deaths caused by Hurricane Ida across nine states, 56 (61.5%) of which occurred in the Northeast (Table). Among 71 (78.0%) decedents with known age, 29 (40.8%) were aged ≥65 years. By cause of death, the majority of deaths (55; 60.4%) occurred by drowning, most (52; 94.5%) of which occurred in the Northeast. Four reported deaths (4.4%) were work-related, either associated with the emergency response (three) or workplace (one). The top three circumstances of death were drowning (34; 37.4%), vehicular (22; 24.2%), and generator- or power outage–related (17; 18.7%). Cause of death is defined as the specific injury or condition that leads to death; circumstance of death is the determination of how the specific injury or condition leads to death. Among the vehicular deaths, 20 (90.9%) were drownings (e.g., submerged vehicles). The date of death was known for 60 (65.9%) reported deaths; among these, 51 (85.0%) were reported within 24 hours of the death and 34 (51.6%) were reported by media within 24 hours of regional storm impact. Hurricane Ida is the fourth most deadly hurricane the Epi/Surv Task Force has tracked in the contiguous United States since 2012; only Hurricane Harvey (2017) resulted in more reported drowning deaths (Supplementary Figure, https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/110013).

The type of surveillance described in this report can help reveal the diversity in outcomes from the same type of incident and allows CDC to respond quickly to specific public health threats. For example, during Hurricane Laura (2020), messaging focused on carbon monoxide exposures; during Hurricane Florence (2018), the primary concern was driving through floodwaters. During Hurricane Ida, the most recently reported deaths were discovered during wellness checks; therefore, messaging focused on checking on loved ones. Such evidence-based messaging, delivered through multiple channels to reach diverse audiences, is critical to saving lives, minimizing injury, and protecting public health. Leveraging the work of reporters on the ground who provide information about the current situation is important to this effort and facilitates the tracking of circumstances of death and helps target risk communication and messaging.

The findings in this report are subject to at least one limitation. Media reports are not official records and might not reflect all disaster-related deaths. CDC’s Epi/Surv Task Force will continue to work with partners to help improve the accuracy and timeliness of official mortality data sources.

The media represent an immediate resource for timely information during an emergency response (4). CDC’s Epi/Surv Task Force uses media reports of both confirmed and unconfirmed deaths to guide evidence-based public health messaging to help prevent further injury and death. For example, reports of motor-vehicle involved drownings, whether confirmed or not, can help guide geographic targeting and timing for phase-based messages, such as avoiding driving in floodwaters, and can support existing coordination with state and local communicators (5). Continued use of media reports of both confirmed and unconfirmed deaths can guide evidence-based public health messaging to help prevent further injury and death.

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Corresponding author: Arianna Hanchey, kye2@cdc.gov.

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1Division of Environmental Health Science and Practice, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC; 2Office of the Director, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Atlanta, Georgia.

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All authors have completed and submitted the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors form for disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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* https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2021/al09/al092021.discus.015.shtmlexternal icon

This is the formal name for the current Incident Management System for Hurricane Ida as well as previously activated CDC Emergency Operations Center hurricane response surveillance systems. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/disaster/surveillance.htm

§ https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/index.html

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For emergency response purposes, media reports of deaths show what potential hazards and dangerous behaviors are occurring, which is vital for CDC’s Epi/Surv Task Force’s response-related public health messaging.

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References

  1. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Federal agencies stand ready to respond for Hurricane Ida response [Press release]. Washington, DC: US Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency; 2021. https://www.fema.gov/press-release/20210830/federal-agencies-stand-ready-hurricane-ida-responseexternal icon
  2. The New York Times. New Orleans without power as Hurricane Ida batters Louisiana. The New York Times. August 29, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/29/us/hurricane-ida-live-updates-new-orleans-louisianaexternal icon
  3. Issa A, Ramadugu K, Mulay P, et al. Deaths rlated to Hurricane Irma—Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, September 4-October 10, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:829–32. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6730a5external icon PMID:30070979external icon
  4. Olayinka OO, Bayleyegn TM, Noe RS, Lewis LS, Arrisi V, Wolkin AF. Evaluation of real-time mortality surveillance based on media reports. Disaster Med Public Health Prep 2017;11:460–6. https://doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2016.170external icon PMID:28031073external icon
  5. Vanderford M, Nastoff T, Telfer J, Bonzo S. Emergency communication challenges in response to hurricane Katrina: lessons from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. J Appl Commun Res 2007;35:9–25. https://doi.org/10.1080/00909880601065649external icon

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TABLE. Characteristics of reported deaths* related to Hurricane Ida — nine states, August 29–September 9, 2021
CharacteristicNo. of deaths (%)
TotalLouisianaMississippiAlabamaNew York§New Jersey§Pennsylvania§Connecticut§VirginiaMaryland
Total91 (100)28 (30.8)2 (2.2)2 (2.2)18 (19.8)32 (35.2)5 (5.5)1 (1.1)1 (1.1)2 (2.2)
Sex
Female24 (26.4)6 (21.4)0 (—)0 (—)9 (50.0)8 (25.0)1 (20.0)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Male49 (43.8)20 (71.4)2 (100)2 (100)8 (44.4)13 (40.6)3 (60.0)1 (100)0 (—)0 (—)
Unknown18 (19.8)2 (7.1)0 (—)0 (—)1 (5.6)11 (34.4)1 (20.0)0 (—)1 (100)2 (100)
Age group, yrs
0−171 (1.1)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)1 (5.6)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
18−6441 (45.1)13 (46.4)2 (100)2 (100)7 (38.9)14 (43.8)1 (20.0)1 (100)0 (—)1 (50.0)
≥6529 (31.9)14 (50.0)0 (—)0 (—)5 (27.8)7 (21.9)3 (60.0)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Unknown20 (22.0)1 (3.6)0 (—)0 (—)5 (27.8)11 (34.4)1 (20.0)0 (—)1 (100)1 (50.0)
Work-related
No51 (56.0)25 (89.3)0 (—)0 (—)12 (66.7)9 (28.1)3 (60.0)0 (—)0 (—)2 (100)
Paid4 (4.4)1 (3.6)0 (—)2 (100)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)1 (100)0 (—)0 (—)
Volunteer0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Unknown36 (39.6)2 (7.1)2 (100)0 (—)6 (33.3)23 (71.9)2 (40.0)0 (—)1 (100)0 (—)
Cause of death
Drowning55 (60.4)2 (7.1)0 (—)0 (—)18 (100)28 (87.5)3 (60.0)1 (100)1 (100)2 (100)
Blunt force trauma5 (5.5)2 (7.1)2 (100)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)1 (20.0)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
CO poisoning6 (6.6)6 (21.4)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Electrocution3 (3.3)0 (—)0 (—)2 (100)0 (—)1 (3.1)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Preexisting condition6 (6.6)6 (21.4)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Hyperthermia10 (11.0)10 (35.7)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Other/Unknown**6 (6.6)2 (7.1)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)3 (9.4)1 (20.0)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Circumstance of death††
Drowning34 (37.4)1 (3.6)0 (—)0 (—)14 (77.8)15 (46.9)1 (20.0)0 (—)1 (100)2 (100)
Trauma (tree or building)1 (1.1)1 (3.6)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Generator/Power outage17 (18.7)17 (60.7)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Vehicular22 (24.2)1 (4.5)2 (100)0 (—)4 (22.2)12 (37.5)2 (40.0)1 (100)0 (—)0 (—)
Preparedness/Repair injury5 (5.5)1 (3.6)0 (—)2 (100)0 (—)2 (6.3)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Other7 (7.7)6 (21.4)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)1 (20.0)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)
Unknown5 (5.5)1 (3.6)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)3 (9.4)1 (20.0)0 (—)0 (—)0 (—)

Abbreviation: CO = carbon monoxide.
* The Epidemiology Surveillance Task Force scans media reports daily for confirmed and unconfirmed deaths using key search terms according to a standard operating procedure. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/disaster/surveillance.htm
Percentages might not sum to 100% because of rounding.
§ States in the Northeast that were affected by Hurricane Ida.
Cause of death is the specific injury or condition that leads to death.
** Other/unknown includes alligator attack in floodwater and unknown cause of deaths (e.g., insufficient information at the time).
†† Circumstance of death is the determination of how the specific injury or condition leads to death.

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Suggested citation for this article: Hanchey A, Schnall A, Bayleyegn T, et al. Notes from the Field: Deaths Related to Hurricane Ida Reported by Media — Nine States, August 29–September 9, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:1385–1386. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7039a3external icon.

MMWR and Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report are service marks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
References to non-CDC sites on the Internet are provided as a service to MMWR readers and do not constitute or imply endorsement of these organizations or their programs by CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDC is not responsible for the content of pages found at these sites. URL addresses listed in MMWR were current as of the date of publication.

All HTML versions of MMWR articles are generated from final proofs through an automated process. This conversion might result in character translation or format errors in the HTML version. Users are referred to the electronic PDF version (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr) and/or the original MMWR paper copy for printable versions of official text, figures, and tables.

Questions or messages regarding errors in formatting should be addressed to mmwrq@cdc.gov.

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