Tornado recovery taxes victims, helpers

Children, adults show signs of wear weeks after storm hit

The damage immediately visible after the July 19 tornado tore through Marshalltown left no doubt that there was a lot of work ahead to get back to a sense of “normal.”

While many victims and helpers leapt right into action with cleanup and relief, Center Associates CEO Paul Daniel, a mental health expert, said now many people are running out of steam.

“The center was able to go into the streets and work with them and point them in the right direction — that was initially,” he said. “Here we are, a month later … if I walk down the same street, I see blue tarps on that same house where, the first three days, they were lost.”

Despite the progress, Daniel said many victims are still waiting on insurance money or have been rebuilding themselves. Some families have moved and many residents have had to get back to their family and work lives.

“Now we’re seeing some ‘Oh my gosh, winter is coming, am I going to have a full roof?” Daniel said.

While victims are still experiencing stress related to tornado recovery, Daniel said another group seeking stress relief is relief helpers.

“These individuals that did jump in and help with a great heart, they went hog-wild,” he said. “They’ve been giving, giving, giving so much and they’re just tired and struggling.”

Daniel said symptoms he has heard helpers dealing with include sleep disturbances and feelings of guilt when they are spending time doing something not related to tornado relief.

His advice to helpers in need of a break: take one.

“You can’t give what you don’t have,” Daniel said. “They have to take care of themselves so that they can go back to their families — you’ve got to refuel.”

He said helpers are more effective when they’re rested and energized.

Dealing with trauma

Adults and helpers aren’t the only ones affected by the storm. The start of the school year may bring a sense of normalcy to many children in Marshalltown, but it won’t erase trauma they may have experienced on July 19 and the storm’s aftermath.

“We have students that, from the day they showed up at school, we could tell they were being impacted by the event,” said Marshalltown Schools Director of Special Services Matt Cretsinger. “Our counselors, as they’re working …. they’re talking about how to look for signs of trauma.”

Teachers at the district, some of whom are dealing with storm-related issues themselves, must not only do their normal job of instructing but also keep an eye out for signs of trauma in their students, from the elementary level to seniors in high school.

“From talking with our teachers who were directly affected, seeing interactions with some of our students, I think fatigue is going on,” Cretsinger said. “This is something they’re dealing with everyday.”

He said symptoms of distress can come in many different forms depending on the child and age group. While younger kids may have fantasy play that involves a tornado or storm event, older kids may act out, be more adventurous, become withdrawn and more, Cretsinger said.

Daniel said he has also heard of school children reacting to trauma from the storm.

“Because of the trauma, they’re regressing back a little bit, they’ve gone back into a shell,” he said. “They’re finding some respite at the school.”

Cretsinger said the district and Center Associates have partnered extensively to provide services to students and families impacted by the tornado. The two partner to provide services regularly.

Daniel said Marshalltownians should think of tornado recovery not as a “sprint” but as a “marathon” as recovery will take time.

“This is a long-term issue,” he said.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com