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Table of Contents
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 44-53

Lived experience of the disaster victims of South Indian floods 2015: A concatenated disaster crisis model using phenomenographical framework analysis

1 Asst. Professor, CON, Chettinad Academy of Research & Education, Chennai, India
2 Professor., M.A.Chidambaram College of Nursing, Chennai, India
3 Tutor, M.A.Chidambaram College of Nursing, Chennai, India

Date of Web Publication5-Jun-2020

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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The 2015 South Indian floods resulted from heavy rainfall in November-December 2015. The South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, particularly the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu were badly affected. The aim of this study was to explore the variation in the lived experience of the disaster victims of South Indian floodsand develop a Concatenated Disaster Crisis model. A phenomenographical design was chosen to explore the variation in the lived experience of the disaster victims of the floods which focused on investigating ‘how people experience a natural phenomenon?'. The duration of the study was one year with three phases of data collection and the total sample size was 22. Phenomenographical analysis method of familiarization, compilation, condensation, preliminary grouping, preliminary comparison of categories, naming the categories and final outcome space was used to understand the variations and collective meaning in the participants’ experience. Categories of the description in the form of ten categories named ‘phases’ and descriptions as ‘views’ and an outcome space named Concatenated Disaster Crisis model emerged from the data. The Disaster Crisis model was developed based on the three types of disasters that are linked within an event namely natural disaster, socio-economic disaster and psychological disaster. The Concatenated Disaster Crisis model facilitate nurses to identify the chain of experiences of the victims with the variations therein, plan the allocation of resources carefully and meet the needs of the victims of disaster in different phases of their experiences.

Keywords: disaster, flood, phenomenography, lived experience, crisis model

How to cite this article:
Jobin P, Sudha, Sarasu. Lived experience of the disaster victims of South Indian floods 2015: A concatenated disaster crisis model using phenomenographical framework analysis. Indian J Cont Nsg Edn 2018;19:44-53

How to cite this URL:
Jobin P, Sudha, Sarasu. Lived experience of the disaster victims of South Indian floods 2015: A concatenated disaster crisis model using phenomenographical framework analysis. Indian J Cont Nsg Edn [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 Nov 30];19:44-53. Available from: https://www.ijcne.org/text.asp?2018/19/2/44/286089

  Introduction Top

The 2015 South Indian floods resulted from heavy rainfall in November-December 2015. The South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, particularly the city of Chennai were badly affected (New Indian Express, 2015). More than 500 people were killed and over 1.8 million people were displaced during the floods (Indian Federation of Red Cross, 2015). The estimated economic loss was around the $ 15 billion and was the costliest natural disaster of the year (Narasimhan, 2015). It had a huge impact on the physical, socioeconomic and psychological aspects of human life. Lived experience approaches help us to understand the disaster victims’ experience towards the natural phenomenon.

A qualitative study was conducted to analyze the impact of tsunami 2004 on quality of life of the Sri Lankan population. The results revealed that the life domains such as (1) being (physical and psychological), (2) belonging (connection with the environment) and (3) becoming (day to day actions) were adversely affected. The study concluded that both the disaster and the relief interventions influence the relationships and dynamics of the society (Fauci, Bonciani, & Guerra, 2012). Swedish tourists who were survivors of tsunami described the immediate lived experience of tsunami disaster as different acts of drama: ‘experiencing the very core of existence’, ‘a changed understanding of life’, and ‘the power of communion’ (Raholm, Arman, & Rehnsfeldt, 2008). These concepts help us to understand the important aspects of the whole phenomenon as experienced by victims of a disaster. Human encounters in the aftermath of a disaster are not only about relationships but inherently affect the people’s understanding of life both ontologically and existentially (Rehnsfeldt & Arman, 2012). In a hermeneutic phenomenological study of victims after one year of tsunami, the following four themes emerged: ‘An incomprehensible event’, ‘Aheavy burden’, ‘Help that helps’, and ‘Being changed in a changed life situation’. The study concluded with an emphasis on recognizing the complexity of the world of those who have lost loved ones in major catastrophes that includes possibilities for reconciliation with the loss. The reconciliation creates hope for the disaster victims that pave way for being changed in a changed life situation and returning to the normal life (Roxberg, Burman, Guldbrand, Fridlund, & da Silva, 2010). The above mentioned evidence from research reveals the severity of the impact of catastrophic flooding and tsunami on human lives.

The coping abilities of the families who had faced natural disasters vary with the level of preparedness, problem-solving abilities, emotional regulation, social support, distraction, religious, and family level coping activities with their children (Miller et al., 2012). Multiple behavior changes among adolescent victims of the natural disasters included isolation, social withdrawal, increased arguments with the family and friends, avoiding relationships and being over protective (Mearidy-Bell, 2013). These findings offer a direction for the intervention policies and programs that enhance the parents’ and their children’s ability to cope up with the disasters (Miller et al., 2012). Rebuilding communities after the natural disasters illustrate the importance of adaptability, flexibility, and pre-planning with the local and state government plans and developing mechanisms to fill the gaps in services and establish cooperative ventures (Webber & Jones, 2013). Disaster recovery management in Australia illustrate strengths based, solution focused approaches to the intervention, and a sound understanding of the community development principles to facilitate the community recovery (Rowlands, 2013). Such recovery of individuals, families and communities affected by disaster will not be possible if the experiences of the victims are not understood form their perspective. Although much evidence is available on the experiences of disaster victims, this study looks at peoples’ experiences as variations in their views using phenomenographical approach.

  Methodology Top

Phenomenography versus Phenomenology

Phenomenography is a qualitative research methodology, developed by Ference Marton, a Swedish educational psychologist to study the variant experiences of the people and their perceptions towards the phenomena. Phenomenography aims to map ‘the qualitatively different ways in which people experience, conceptualize, perceive, and understand the various aspects of, and various phenomena in the world around them’ (Marton, 1986). It is underpinned by the notion that people collectively experience the phenomena in a number of qualitatively different but interrelated ways (Bruce, 1997). Therefore, using the phenomenography, a study describes the things as they appear to and are experienced by the people (Pang, 2003). It is also considered to be a relational approach to research because the object (the phenomena under investigation-disaster experience) and subjects (the people experiencing the phenomena-disaster victims) are not treated separately. The phenomenography represents this subject- object relation as experiences, which when combined, represent the phenomena as a whole (Bowden & Walsh, 2000). The study selected a second-order perspective to describe people’s experience of various aspects of phenomena, as being ‘from the inside’ (Marton, 1981). This study focused on investigating ‘how did people experience the South Indian floods?'. Descriptions of the various way the people experience flooding catastrophe, are ordered in different categories based on the occurrence, which are qualitatively different from each other. This phenomenographic study focuses on variations in the responses to the phenomena, whereas phenomenological research examines the essence of the phenomenon in question (Sjöström & Dahlgren, 2002). Performing a phenomenographic analysis means that the data are handled as one set of achieving descriptions related to the group of respondents rather than separate individuals as in phenomenology (Marton & Booth, 1997).

Data Collection

The flooding in Chennai, South India was at its worse from 01.12.2015 to 04.12.2015. The residents of Chennai including the authors were stranded in waterlogged houses for a week. The authors were involved in the flood relief measures from 10.12.2015 to 22.12.2015, in the worst-hit part of the city as water had entered the ground floor of over 70% of houses in the area. During the relief activities, the authors observed the variation of experiences towards the flooding by the victims. The first author did face to face interviews with three victims to understand the real experiences of the people towards the disaster in a natural setting during the flooding period in December 2015 and notes were taken. Verbal consent was obtained prior to the initial interview. The post flood events were photographed, as an evidence of people’s experience which were used as data sources. At the same time, the authors gathered information during the flooding from the media and got the permission to reproduce the photos. The first author presented the report to the Review Board of her institution and got permission to continue the study and publish the ‘no human element photos’ taken by the author.

After four months (April 2016), two more victims were interviewed to understand the variation of experiences of the affected people after getting verbal consent and notes were taken. To confirm the evolved phases, the authors got the permission from the community to conduct in-depth interviews and focus group discussions in July 2016. The study participants were selected through the snowball method to ensure maximum variation of their experiences. ‘Bracketing’ method was followed to not to contaminate the data with their own perceptions. The study purposes were explained and the information regarding the recording of responses was included to get the consent of the participants. No gifts were given to the study participants. Firstly, an in- depth interview with a disaster victim was conducted as a trial to check the quality of the questions to identify the categories of description. The interview questions were developed by the research team to explore the variations in their experiences in the pre-flooding, flooding and post-flooding periods. Participants who were affected by the flood, married with families and who were available in their homes at the time of the study were purposely included after consent. Then, the authors conducted in-depth interviews with seven disaster victims. One focus group was conducted with ten participants and all were well engaged in discussion. While one author facilitated the focus group discussion and in-depth interviews, the other author took notes. The discussion and interviews were audiotaped. Data collection was stopped once saturation was obtained and no new variation of experiences continued to arise. The total sample size for the study was 22, including 20 females and two males aged between 35-56 years. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and then translated by the authors in consensus from Tamil to English.

Data Analysis

The aim of phenomenographic data analysis in the study is to uncover the variation in how the phenomenon under investigation is experienced (Yates, Partridge, & Bruce, 2012). The authors preferred the seven steps of data analysis in the phenomenographic research (Sjostrom & Dahlgren, 2002). The steps followed were: (1) familiarization step-the transcripts and interview notes were read several times to become familiar with the contents (2) compilation step-the textual data were read repeatedly to deduce similarities and differences (3) condensation step- irrelevant components were omitted and the relevant data for the study were extracted (4) preliminary grouping step- similar answers were located and classified into preliminary groups (5) preliminary comparison of categories-the transcripts were read again to check whether the preliminary established categories bring the actual participants experience that are varied (6) naming the categories-10 categories of description were named to emphasis their essence based on the variation of their experiences (7) final outcome space-the final outcome space was elaborated based on the internal relationships and qualitatively different ways of understanding the particular phenomena by the victims. The final outcome space was named as Concatenated Disaster Crisis model that represents a series of crisis experienced by the disaster victims and illustrates the hierarchal order of occurrence.

  Results Top

The intended results are illustrated in 10 categories that reflect the various ways in which the phenomena were experienced (Edwards, 2007). The aim of the study is to describe the ways in which the phenomena under investigation is experienced collectively rather than individually by focusing on their experience of the phenomenon, not the people in the study (Yates et al., 2012). The results of the study are presented as categories of description and outcome space.

  Categories of Description Top

Categories of description are typically expressed in the form of 10 categories named ‘phases’ and description as Views’. Quotes from interviews and focus group discussion, photographs, and media reports were used as the source of information to illustrate how each phase differ from the others. The results have emerged with three phases of data collection within one year after flooding.

Category 1: Disaster Phase- ‘Expected, but not Expected’

The focus at this phase was on the people when the unforeseen event hit on their normal life. Majority of the participants got warning information regarding flooding in advance, but they had not taken the warning into consideration. They expressed this phase as ‘expected, but not expected’, when disaster hit their life. One participant expressed ‘we did not get any prior information about the flooding. At 11.00 pm, we heard a voice similar to ocean waves…thought that it was tsunami., we got from the bed., shocked to see that the house is full of water., no power., not able to see anything..'(Study participant B)

‘We got information about flooding, but we did not expect it…we thought that it was a false weather forecast’. (Study participant A)

’We got information regarding flooding one month back through television. We got ready., nothing happened…now no information given regarding flooding…we were not at all ready…who would have expected it?..' (Study participant G)
Figure 1: Huts along the Adyar river near Saidapet bridge were submerged in Chennai floods recently (Sribharath, 2015)

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Ί heard about it..expected..but believed that it would not happen to us.'(Study participant C)

Category 2: Pseudo Relief Phase- ‘Save Only Life’

The focus was to save only the life when disaster hit their life. Following the disaster phase, the victims entered into the pseudo relief phase thinking that saving life was very important at that moment. The survivors felt guilty, for the most part, because they felt that they did not act promptly. They expressed ‘we did not take anything., came out of the house somehow., atnight..' (Study participants A and C)

‘I was sleeping., suddenly everything happened…I tried to take something…no idea what to take.. I ran in the water İnside the house like mad.. my husband told me that our life is important., we came out of the house., (silence)..but we have done wrong…I could have taken my children’s certificates, property documents, identification cards…some money…(weeping)…nothing in our hand…like beggars.. .'(Study participant B)
Figure 2: People vacating from their marooned houses from a colony in Nandanam, Chennai on Thursday (Raghunathan, 2015)

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Ί thought that we are going to die.. I wanted to save my children.. I did not take anything.. I came out of the house and started to swim. .'(Study participant H)

Category 3: Indolent Phase-‘Disaster Victims’

The focus was on the survivors as disaster victims in this phase. Once victims were saved, they had relocated to relief camps. There, they addressed themselves as ‘disaster victims who needed help’. In this phase, they did not put any effort for relief activities even though they were physically healthy and expected ‘Samaritans’ to help them.

They said that they were relocated to colleges, railway station, bus station and schools. The participants shared their situation and said ‘we stayed in the college campus for three weeks. We got enough food, clothes, medicines and mats to sleep. We did not face any kind of problem..' (Study participant G)

‘We stayed there like a family. As we are affected people, many Samaritans helped us., provided food, water., they even arranged sheds for women and children to take shower. ’(Study participants I and M)
Figure 3: Women line up for food distributed by a private organisation in Kotturpuram, Chennai on Monday, as scenes of devastation are seen all around them (Shaju, 2015)

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Category 4: Reluctant phase- ‘Not Willing to go Back to Reality’

The focus at this phase was on the survivors who were not willing to return to their living localities. The schools and colleges were used as relief camps for a month. Even though the flood receded after a week, the survivors continued to stay in the camps and were not willing to go to their community. When the water level receded, the authorities asked the victims to return to their houses. However, they were reluctant to go back to their completely damaged homes. In this phase, the survivors were hesitant to move from the indolent phase and reached the reluctant phase.

They said ‘the authorities forced us to move from schools…we did not listen to them., where would we stay?., our houses are completely destroyed., later, they allowed us to stay there till we are ready with our houses. .'(Study participant I)

‘We asked the authority to relocate us or construct new houses., we continued to stay there., finally, they have given groceries, mats, buckets, dresses and food to move to our houses.. '(Study participant M)

Category 5: Empty Nest Phase-‘Lost Everything’

The focus was on the survivors with damaged houses in this phase. When they had seen their damaged houses, they entered into the empty nest phase from the reluctant phase, realizing that they had lost everything.

The participant expressed ‘my house floated away.I have lost everything, .(weeping).. .'(Study participant C)

‘While seeing my house at this stage…(weeping)…I should have died in the flooding with my children.. .instead of living to witness this. .'(Study participant I)

‘I have lost all the documents, certificates, identification cards, furniture….No one should suffer like this.. .1 do not know what to do. .'(Study participant D)

Category 6: Hornbill Phase- ‘Look at Help’

The focus in the phase was to replace the lost materials with relief materials. After a few hours to days of being in the empty nest phase, they moved on to the hornbill phase ‘looking for help’ to fill the empty nest phase.

One victim verbalized ‘I did not have anything in my hand., even a single paper to wrap sanitary pad., please help us., (sees)…a vehicle came there…(pointing the fingers)…what do they bring..(ran near to the vehicle)…' (Study participant O)

‘What will you bring for us., please arrange some money for us.. we have lost everything.. look at my house., please bring what we need now .. (silence)., like the stove, vessels, bed, clothes…(Study participant E)
Figure 4: South Cinema stars unite to help flood-hit TN (2015)

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Figure 5: A house overloaded with donated dresses, Chennai, December 2015

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Figure 6: Dumped extra flour and rice in the garbage, Chennai, December 2015

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Category 7: Saturation Phase- ‘Saturated with Donated Materials’

The focus was on the survivor’s homes which were saturated with donated materials in this phase. Following the hornbill phase, they entered into the saturation phase ‘saturated with the donated materials’ and finally, all the donated materials turned into waste. Victims who got relief material were not satisfied with what they received and many relief materials were thrown away or wasted.

One victim told ‘I have got many dresses., nothing for my sons., everything is lady’s wear..' (Study participant E)

We got enough food and water., no place or containers to store it…we want something else…the things can store for future…'(Study participant J)

Category 8: Life Initiation Phase-‘To Start a Life from the Zero Point’

The focus at this phase was to start a new life with available donated materials and leftover household items.

One victim verbalized ‘I started to clean my house with family members…we cannot expect help from others., so much mud, waste materials, snakes, worms… (silence)., up to the knee level., firstly we cleared the waste., washed the house thrice with bleaching powder..' (Study participant U)

‘I threw up all vessels…not at all reusable.J have to arrange new ones.'(Study participant K)

‘I came to Chennai 22 years back., that time I had only (Rs. 10/- in my hand.. I started to save the money and about to settle here…now everything was washed out? I have to start my life from the zero point again., oh my god… (silence).' (Study participant V)

Category 9: Recovery Phase-‘Disaster Becomes a Nightmare’

The focus was on how the survivors recover from the deadly floods in this phase. After four months, they had entered into the recovery phase stating that “disaster is still a nightmare for us”.

One victim expressed ‘I have applied for new documents including children’s educational certificates and identification cards.. Still we could not buy all the items, which we had before flooding., like television, fridge, fan, furniture., power got established., now we are adapted to whatwehave..' (Study participant P)

ΊI did not want to remember those days., it is a nightmare for me and my children…(weeping)..it destroyed our happiness and life., lost everything., slowly we are recovering..' (Study participant L)

Category 10: Normal Phase-‘Disaster Becomes an Anecdote’

The focus is on the normal life by the affected community. After 10 months of South Indian floods, the survivors had entered into the normal phase, showing that they are leading a normal life as previously.

One victim told ‘We forgot about those days., nowadays no one is discussing it.. I feel that we came back to our normal life..' (Study participant T)

‘I think that there is no point of weeping about what we have lost., we lead our life as normal., children are going to schools…we are going to office., now it is a past incident for us to share to our next generation like stories…in future…' (Study participant R)

Outcome Space

The final outcome of the phenomenographic research involves representing the categories of description in the outcome space (Barnard, Mc Cosker, & Gerber, 1999) as shown in [Figure 7]. The outcome space is named as Concatenated Disaster Crisis model which portrays the complexity of different experiences which together comprises the victim’s whole experience towards the natural phenomena. In the outcome space, three main types of disasters have emerged; natural, socioeconomic and psychological disaster. The clear understanding of the variations in the lived experience in disasters helps the community health nurses to plan and advocate for the desirable first aid for the affected people during the natural disaster (physical first aid), socioeconomic disaster (socioeconomic first aid) and psychological disaster (psychological first aid).
Figure 7: Concatenated Disaster Crisis Model

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Natural Disaster

The natural disaster phenomena emerged during disaster, pseudo relief, indolent and reluctant phases. The circle of response is dominantly from relief activities (from outside of the community) rather than self-reliant activities (by the disaster victims). The community health nurses need to implement physical first aid for any person suffering a sudden illness or injury and meet the immediate needs for physical human survival such as water, food, clothes and shelter (Mearidy-Bell, 2013).

Socioeconomic Disaster

The survivors experience socioeconomic disaster through the empty nest, hornbill and saturation phases. The circle of response is equally from relief (from outside of the community) and self-reliant activities (by the disaster victims). The community health nurses need to channelize socioeconomic relief supplies; groceries, furniture, financial help for reconstruction of houses etc. to start a new life by them (Mata-Lima, Alvino-Borba, Pinheiro, Mata-Lima, & Almeida, 2013).

Psychological Disaster

The survivors experience severe trauma through the life initiation, recovery, and normal life phases. Here, the circle of response is dominantly from self-reliant activities by the disaster victims and the relief activities from the outside communities would be gradually stopped. The community health nurses have to create a compassionate environment for the disaster victims, do frequent home visits, assess what a person or family needs and do immediate response, provide counseling services and connect them with the social groups (Everly, McCabe, Semon, Thompson, & Links, 2014).

The Concatenated Disaster Crisis model is a hierarchical framework based on the different categories that are related to the history of interviewee’s experience of the phenomena, rather than to each other (Yates et al., 2012). This outcome space serves as a vehicle for communicating the ways in which the victims experience a disaster phenomenon. It is not feasible to suggest that the outcome space captures all possible ways in which an event may be experienced (Marton & Booth, 1997). However, it helps throw light on the experiences of the victims with the variation therein, possibly to enhance the effectiveness of the disaster nursing management process in the future.

Reliability and Validity

Establishing trustworthiness in the phenomenographical research is important like other qualitative research methodologies (Åkerlind, 2012). By checking the validity and reliability of the research data, the authors ensured the trustworthiness of the research. Validity in phenomenographic research is considered as the extent to which the findings can be replicated (Åkerlind, 2012). The findings were presented to a panel of experts and the significance of the results to the target audience was checked and confirmed. The authors have done dialogic reliability check through discussions and agreement between the authors (Khan, 2014).

  Discussion Top

From the phenomenographic perspective, this study aimed to explore the variation of the experience of the natural disaster victims. Ten categories emerged: Disaster phase: ‘expected, but not expected’, pseudo relief phase: ‘save only life’, indolent phase: ‘disaster victims’, reluctant phase: ‘not willing to go back to reality’, empty nest phase: ‘lost everything’, hornbill phase: ‘look at help’, saturation phase: ‘saturated with the donated materials’, life initiation phase: ‘start a life from zero point’, recovery phase: ‘disaster becomes a nightmare’ and normal life phase: ‘disaster becomes an anecdote’.

Social vulnerability studies provide an insight on the importance of the deeper understanding of how the demographic characteristics combine to influence human vulnerability to the hazards. Inequalities in access to the social, economic and political resources have an impact on communities’ ability to cope with the hazards (Aboagye, 2012). The present study showed that survivors had taken several months to move from disaster phase to the recovery phase. They expressed that they could not live their life as they had before the disaster and could not attain their pre- disaster life. The survivors reported changes in the quality of life after disaster. Similar findings of loss of quality of life are noted in tsunami victims (Nygaard & Heir, 2012). The affected people in this study through a ‘hornbill phase- look at help’ attempted to retain the quality of life. Regardless of their initial socio-economic status, the disaster impact was experienced by the most of the affected people as total damage, which signifies the extent of consequences on their lives in terms of human, social, financial and political capital which is also found by other disaster victims (Fauci et al., 2012 ). In the current study, victims reported a series of crisis ranging from natural, socio-economic to psychological disasters in their life.

The Concatenated Disaster Crisis model facilitates the community health nurses to identify the chain of experiences of victims with variations therein, plan the allocation of resources carefully and provide what they are in need. It helps them to avoid confusion and wastage of man, material, money and time during disaster response.

  Conclusion Top

The results of this study offer an insight into a real- life experience by the victims of floods. Further research on the lived experience of the affected people in various disasters will bring a universal understanding of the experience as a whole. The Concatenated Disaster Crisis model (outcome space) can be evaluated for its applicability in various settings.

Conflicts of Interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7]


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