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Early warnings may blunt trauma of displacement due to flooding

(Reuters Health) - Early flood warnings reduce the mental health impacts of being forced to flee home because of rising waters, a UK study suggests.

“Since people are often displaced from home and live in different places for many months, services in areas not directly affected by flooding should be alert to this increased risk and offer support as necessary,” Dr. Angie Bone, the head of Public Health England (PHE)’s Extreme Events team told Reuters Health.

“A warning of at least 12 hours prior to flooding may reduce risks and is why we encourage everyone to sign up to the Environment Agency’s free flood warning service” (, Bone said by email.

Heavy rainfall across southern England in the winter of 2013-2014 washed away railroad tracks, wiped out power in many areas and forced thousands out of their homes, Bone and her colleagues write in Lancet Planetary Health. The episode was just one of eight major flooding events in England since 2000, they note in their report.

Seven studies done after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina showed severe mental health effects in people displaced by flooding, the researchers point out. To better understand flooding’s long-term effects on mental health and wellbeing, PHE established the National Study of Flooding and Health.

The study previously showed that people living in areas flooded during 2013-2014 were six to seven times more likely to have depression, anxiety or PTSD one year later than those in non-flooded areas.

In the new study, Bone’s team looked at whether being evacuated from home during the 2013-2014 flooding influenced the risk of subsequent mental health problems. Displacement nearly doubled depression risk, they found, while anxiety and PTSD were about 1.7 times as common among those who left their homes.

Among those who were displaced, people who had received more than 12 hours warning before flooding were less likely to have depression or PTSD one year later than those given no warning.

In the United States, the National Weather Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues flood watches and warnings.

“As climate change progresses, flooding events are expected to increase in frequency and intensity due to rising sea levels and more frequent and extreme precipitation events. Increased urbanization will expose more people to flooding events and impacts of flooding will likely increase over the coming decades,” Shilu Tong of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and Queensland University in Brisbane, Australia, said by email.

Tong, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, noted that the Australian government is taking steps to put early flood warnings in place.

“Enhanced early warning systems for floods are urgently needed because climate change will probably cause more frequent and severe flooding events,” he told Reuters Health. “Affordable, good quality accommodations are necessary for individuals displaced after flooding; local authorities should identify people who are displaced after flooding who are susceptible to mental health problems, and resources directed to those people as needed; and flooded residents should be encouraged to remain at home where possible and basic services (including mental health clinics) should be put in place to enable them to do so.”

SOURCE: and Lancet Planetary Health, online June 19, 2017.