ATLANTA (AP) -- Mental health experts say that escaping a fire-filled forest, as thousands did Nov. 28 in the Great Smoky Mountains, can be more traumatic than disasters such as hurricanes, floods or earthquakes.
One reason: Flames that scorched neighborhoods in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area spread so rapidly that people had no time to brace for it.
Experts say that survivors of the wildfires now face many dangers, including suicide, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.
Valerie Cole of the American Red Cross, who helped victims of a devastating wildfire in Canada, says that depression, anxiety and other problems might not show up for some people until months after the disaster.
Cole says the images of flames draped across homes could haunt residents of the Gatlinburg area for a very long time.
They say resources for people include:
—Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line: 1-855-CRISIS-1 (1-855-274-7471).
—Candace Allen of the Helen Ross McNabb Center, who is providing behavioral health services to fire victims in east Tennessee: 865-329-9141.
—American Red Cross disaster line: 1-800-REDCROSS. The Red Cross Disaster Mental Health team has been meeting with victims of the east Tennessee wildfires. Disaster mental health support has also been available in shelters set up in the Gatlinburg area.
—Healthcare firms UnitedHealthcare and Optum have an emotional support line for people affected by the North Carolina wildfires: 1-866-342-6892.