Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mary Gunther

Committee Members

Josephine Wade, Johnie Mozingo, Ralph G. Brockett


Hurricane Katrina, a Category Four hurricane, made landfall on August 29, 2005, along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. The strength and the extent of winds resulted in the worst destruction and the largest storm surge in the history of the United States. Within hours after the hurricane hit, the earthen levees in New Orleans were breached and 80% of the city became submerged in up to 20 feet of water. Health care workers and patients were stranded in hospitals, where they experienced extreme environmental conditions. The death toll was reported at, 1836 persons, and the damage was estimated at 200 billion dollars. No one in the United States was prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.

The purpose of the study was to describe nurses’ experience of caring for patients in Mississippi and Louisiana during and after Hurricane Katrina. An existential phenomenological research method was used. Face-to-face, digitally recorded interviews were conducted with a purposeful, networking sample of nine Registered Nurses. Transcribed narratives were analyzed by the researcher and members of an interdisciplinary research team using a hermeneutical approach developed by Pollio and applied to nursing research by Thomas. Each interview was examined to identify themes.

The experience of providing care was grounded within the context of caring. The themes that emerged were 1) Fear, 2) Ethical Conflicts, 3) Blurred Boundaries, 4) Isolation/Connection, 5) Powerlessness/Power, and 6) No Hope/Hope. Descriptions of the environment were woven throughout every narrative, and it was described as overwhelming. The nurses in this study experienced terror, chaos, danger, threat, and isolation while providing care to patients. During this ordeal, basic physiological needs were not met. The nurses experienced physical exhaustion and some became patients.

The findings from this study point out the inadequacies of local, state, and national government and hospital administrators related to disaster preparedness. The findings also illuminate areas where nursing education could be improved, policies to protect nurses could be implemented, and areas needed for future research related to emergency preparedness.

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