Tornadoes still causing traumaPublished 9:39am Monday, April 4, 2011
Though it has been almost 10 months since tornadoes ravaged dozens of farms in Freeborn County, the memories of June 17, 2010, are still fresh in many people’s minds.
In fact, even some of those people who responded in the aftermath or who only suffered minimal damage are continuing to see the effects of the trauma on their own lives, just as those who suffered from it the worst.
Freeborn County Crisis Response Team Coordinator Rose Olmsted said she wants people to know that those feelings are normal. Especially as the anniversary of June 17 approaches, she noted the original feelings from those tornadoes will re-emerge.
“As soon as people take on the tornado sirens, it will take on a whole new experience than it did before the disaster,” she said. “They’re not crazy. They’re not having a breakdown. There’s going to be anxieties.”
Manchester Township Supervisor Neil Gjersvik responded the night of June 17 to make sure the roads were clear; his own home did not sustain much physical damage. He said everywhere he goes, there are reminders of the tornadoes.
In fact, he said he has felt guilty sharing his story, knowing that he did not receive as much damage as many of his neighbors and friends nearby.
All last summer and into the fall his life was what he described as “chainsaws and sweat,” picking up the pieces of his friends whose homes were destroyed.
Even when he was harvesting his crops in the fall, he and his family had to look out for what they called “tornado trash,” or debris that had not been collected in the aftermath.
A week ago, his barn was destroyed after a brush fire — containing tree limbs from the tornado — started his barn on fire.
When he thinks about the anniversary of the tornadoes, he said he is exhausted and frustrated.
“So long it’s been interrupting my life, and then to get reminded, you go by it every day,” Gjersvik said. “It doesn’t go away.”
He said for so many months he had tried to be strong for those around him, but at a recent meeting with other emergency preparedness officials in Freeborn County, something hit him and he began to cry.
This was the first time since the tornadoes hit that he had cried, he said.
Olmsted said Gjersvik is likely suffering from vicarious trauma and noted that one way adults and children suffering from trauma can overcome these emotions is to take back control of their lives in some way.
One proactive way to do this is to be prepared for any future disasters.
She also encouraged families to talk about their emotions and concerns and to ask questions.
Olmsted noted as the anniversary of June 17 approaches, the Crisis Response Team is considering whether to have a group crisis intervention.
Helping people affected by trauma
Olmsted said the Freeborn County Crisis Response Team, which started in 1999, is looking for additional volunteers who would like to help community members who have been affected by natural or human-made trauma.
To become a Crisis Response Team volunteer, people need to go through an initial 24-hour National Organization for Victim Assistance training. There is other ongoing training as well.
Upcoming training for new volunteers will be April 16, April 30 and May 7 for eight hours each day. The deadline to apply for these sessions is April 8.
The volunteers work with people both in and out of the state, supporting people who have been affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, vehicle crashes and shootings, to name a few.
Olmsted said volunteers can be anyone over 13 who is interested in working with people who have experienced trauma. Children under 18 must have parental consent.
A degree is not necessary to be on the team, and both men and women are needed.
She said currently there are 49 volunteers on the team; at one point there were as many as 70. There needs to be plenty of volunteers because of differences in schedules.
New Crisis Response Team volunteer Annabelle Randall, 16, who is a student at Albert Lea High School, said she got involved with the team because she knew some other volunteers from her church on the team and wanted to get involved.
“I thought it was a way I could help the community and get involved if anything were to happen,” Randall said.
She said she enjoyed the training and has learned skills that will also help her in her daily life.
“I absolutely love it, and I think anyone would love it,” she added. “I hope a lot more people get involved. It’s important to be ready if bad times do come so we can help people get through this.”
Volunteer with the Freeborn County Crisis Response Team
Who: Anyone over the age of 13 (parental consent required for those under 18)
What: The team is made up of a group of volunteers trained to go out into the community to be supportive of people who have been traumatized by natural or human-made disaster.
When: Applications are due April 8; the next basic crisis response training will be from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 16, April 30 and May 7.
Information: Contact Rose Olmsted, Crisis Response Team coordinator, at 377-5461.