Mental Strain Weighing On Katrina's Kids

keteyian CBS

On the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La., nearly 800 FEMA trailers packed with families stretch into the distance, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports. It's a mud-soaked outpost where 17 long months after Hurricane Katrina, 2,000 lives feel very much like they've reached the end of the road.

A new, in-depth study obtained exclusively by CBS News illustrates the real mental health strain of living long-term in what some have called a permanent state of limbo. The most startling finding: the devastating impact on children.

The study, done by Columbia University and the Children's Health Fund, found as many as 10,000 displaced children across the Gulf are now suffering from clinically diagnosed depression - a 400 percent increase from before the storm.

"The loss of hope is a very powerful factor here," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, who supervised the study. "What we have is starkness - grim, uncomfortable overcrowded camps basically - and that's really hurting these kids."

Latoya Watts, a mother of three of those kids in a sad, muddy camp, says she's been there since March. Her 200-square-foot trailer is home to her family of four. Without a car, she can't find work. She has been keeping her children warm this winter with a hairdryer.

"I'm tired of living like a charity case," Watts says.

"Kids who get very, very angry and out of control and other kids who get incredibly quiet. All sorts of signs that these kids are dealing with things they can't really understand and cope with," Redlener explains.

FEMA's Gil Jamieson talks with Armen Keteyian about what's being done to help people still living in trailers.
"We've got families living with children," says Gill Jamieson of FEMA. "We've done all that we can do to move those people into a permanent housing alternative as quickly as we can." While Jamieson agrees there is a great deal of hopelessness, he adds that, "you need to look at that against the context of what we have accomplished."

FEMA has found emergency housing for more than 80 percent of those displaced by the hurricane. But that's little comfort to the residents still stuck in this trailer camp, ironically named "Renaissance Village."

  • Melissa McNamara

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