Psychologists summoned to treat survivors of Portugal’s deadly forest fires

The central Portugal town of Pedrógão Grande is out of immediate danger from the ravenous wildfire that consumed many homes and took 62 lives in the area over the weekend.

The fires, started by lightning strikes, tore through the area’s drought-dried forests, fanned by high winds.

The flames were so intense they swept across roadways and cooked people in their cars. Roads away from the region were littered with the burnt-out vehicles of people who thought they could flee the flames.

Many people watched their homes and all their possessions burn to ash.

The area is sparsely populated; it is full of small villages surrounded by forest, with little-used and little-maintained roads as the only connection.

In many villages there was no firefighting response—the villages were too small, too remote for the local government to offer any support. The residents were on their own, deciding whether to risk staying or risk leaving.

The Pedrógão Grande is doing its best to deal with the aftermath. Not only were 62 people killed—at least 54 have been injured. Countless others are homeless.

The government has sent two battalions of soldiers to assist emergency services personnel. It has also erected shelters.

The local government is going a step further. It has recruited psychologists to provide grief counseling for the survivors.

Many of the survivors have lost everything they owned—houses, clothes, personal items, family mementos; many have lost family members.

While they struggle to cope with the immediate reality of finding food and shelter and locating loved ones, they might not realize that their brains are susceptible to going into shock. Grief can cause anger or depression, can make people more susceptible to illness, and can sap people’s will to live.

Hopefully the psychologists can find the ones most at risk and provide some tools to help them cope.

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