When, Hurricane Katrina and, a a month later, Hurricane Rita struck in 2005, they caused nearly 2,000 deaths along the Gulf Coast. But according to new research, that number might be an underestimate. If stillbirths that were likely triggered by stress due to the storms are taken into account, the hurricanes cost between 117 and 205 additional deaths, the New York Times reports.
Past studies have shown that stillbirths are more likely to occur if an expectant mother is stressed, depressed or traumatized—all common conditions in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita. To reveal the hurricanes' likely toll on stillbirths, researchers analyzed stillbirth records from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and compared them with property damage data collected by FEMA.
Women living in areas with the highest rates of home damage and destruction were more than twice as likely to suffer a stillbirth compared to those who lived in parts of Louisiana that experienced no damage, the Times-Picayune reports. When they worked out the numbers, the authors found that for every percentage increase in the amount of property damage an area suffered, the number of stillbirths increased by an average of 1.7 percent.
The researchers did not take into account records from neighboring states such as Mississippi, which also suffered tremendous damage in 2005. Residents from highly damaged areas in Louisiana were the most likely hurricane victims to know someone who died, the team points out, and to have suffered property loss as a result of those storms.
The authors also acknowledge that property damage is just an approximation of psychological trauma, and that evacuees who fled out of Louisiana could have suffered stillbirths that the state did not record. Because of these limitations, the numbers from the study should be regarded as a conservative estimate, The Times-Picayune writes. In reality, stillbirths triggered by hurricanes Katrina and Rita likely exceeded 205.