“Trauma is trauma:” Mental health advocates work with tornado victims

Psychological first aid team dispatched to site of tornado

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - As the sun set Thursday, debris piles grew large and lined the streets of Ocean Ridge Plantation. Residents, neighbors, volunteers and workers spent the day clearing what they could, despite the weather.

For many people, the shock is starting to wear off and it’s sinking in that the road to recovery from this tornado is going to be very long.

Several moving trucks were already in the neighborhood alongside all kinds of restoration, roofing and HVAC companies working to help people with their immediate needs.

Those with substantial damage — and it’s dozens of homes — will have to move out and relocate.

Debbie Gaulin and her husband renovated their home and moved in just about 18 months ago.

“Traumatizing is the word,” she said Thursday.

Now, they’re preparing to move everything out. The roof of their home will be taken off and it will need full renovation again.

While some people say, “It’s just stuff,” with a beam of optimism in their eye; for others, it’s not “just stuff.”

“Every time you drive through the neighborhood and you see something, it’s just more devastating, or you go out your driveway and you see part of your home, or your furniture or your clothing — it’s not easy to see, it’s not easy to see,” Gaulin said. “Memory goes with that but we’re doing well. We’re doing well.”

The American Red Cross’ psychological first aid team is working to help residents sort through their emotions.

“We help them understand that it’s okay to cry about your camellia bush that is crushed when your car is crushed too. That’s where they are and it’s gotta be okay,” said Cynthia Sosnowski.

Their work is part of the disaster response and recovery that often goes unseen.

“I think that sometimes we think about people getting through disasters and difficult things just as ‘call the insurance company, get the gas line fixed and then you’ll be okay,’” she said. “But trauma is trauma.”

Gaulin knows they’re lucky to be alive.

“We are safe and we do live in a great community,” she said. “We can’t say enough great things about the help. The calls are overwhelming, so we are very fortunate.”

The American Red Cross’ mental health advocates provide short term support on the ground. Teams will literally walk the neighborhood to check on people. It’s not counseling or therapy. It’s called psychological first aid.

“We offer them the opportunity for us to give them a call in a day or two and check up on how they’re doing. Are they eating okay? Have they found a place? Have they connected with relatives? And then we can offer them resources in the area that they can tap into if they want to talk to somebody longer,” Sosnowski said.

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