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Tsunami raises questions about disaster mental health, Science reports

chological relief after a disaster, Miller writes.

Miller's news story, "The Tsunami's Psychological Aftermath," will appear in the 12 August issue of Science. AAAS Senior Writer Edward W. Lempinen interviewed him by email this week.

Let's start with some scene-setting: When you first arrived in the Sri Lankan tsunami zone, what did things look like? What was your impression of the prevailing mood? Did you feel like the emotional or psychological trauma dating to the earthquake and tsunami was something palpable on the street, in your interactions with people?

My first morning in Kalmunai, I walked down to the beach. Kalmunai is a town on the east coast of Sri Lanka that was badly affected by the tsunami. The zone near the beach was once heavily populated, but now it's devastated. There's nothing left but toppled palms and piles of rubble. But on the main road through town, just a few hundred meters away, there was a chaotic buzz of activity like you'd see in any other Sri Lankan town, a swarm of autorickshaws, bicycles, overloaded buses, stray goats, you name it. Women were selling fruit and fish on the side of the road, children were running by in their school uniforms. At least superficially, life seemed to be getting back to normal.

How did this story first come together for you? What provoked your interest? What kind of preparations did you have to undertake in advance?

I have a fellowship from the Carter Center this year to do some reporting on mental health issues in developing countries. When the tsunami happened, there was a great deal of attention paid in the media to what the psychological impact would be, and I knew this was something I wanted to investigate.

In general, how would you describe your findings? How much of a lingering psychological impact has the tsunami had, and how is that making itself manifest now?

It's impossible to know at this point just what the i
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11-Aug-2005


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