A twenty-year chronicle of emotional impact of disaster from an anthropological perspective: a survivor's story
Susanna Hoffman (International Commission on Risk and Disaster)
Paper short abstract:
In a very personal story of living with disaster this paper describes the cascade of emotions that descend upon disaster victims from an anthropologist’s insight, horror, grief, love, anger and more. It further addresses the detachment from emotion and the flashbacks that every survivor undergoes.
Paper long abstract:
On October 20, 1991 a spark from an old fire reignited and swept down the hills behind Oakland and Berkeley, California. Within four days it destroyed 3,356 homes and 456 apartments. Twenty-five people died. Six thousand people were left homeless. I am one of the survivors. In the fire I lost my home, clothing, furniture, heirlooms, car, pets, photos, library and twenty-five years of anthropological research, the addresses and phone numbers of everyone I ever knew, and every record of my past and work. To describe the devastation both physical and psychological of this kind of loss is like trying to define eternity. This very personal paper describes the cascade of emotions that descent upon disaster victims from an anthropologist's point of view and unfolds a twenty year chronicle of living with disaster. In everyday language, it details the advent of horror, grief, love, anger and more. It further covers the detachment from emotion and its upshot and addresses the issue of the flashbacks that every survivor experiences and their possible meaning. The experience not only changed my life but also my anthropology. Inadvertently rendered a survivor, I became a researcher, activist, and advocate for the victims of disaster and in the twenty years hence, have turned into an ardent voice devoted to the topic.
Living with disaster: comparative approaches (JAWS/JASCA joint panel)