Seeing the destruction and suffering caused by Hurricane Harvey on TV – as survivors take their first steps on the long road to recovery – brings back my own memories of the aftermath of 55 deadly tornadoes that claimed 243 lives in Alabama on April 27, 2011.
Some things I learned after that terrible day six years ago can help us all understand what’s to come for the more than 1 million people displaced from their homes and for others whose lives were also upended by Harvey’s fury in Texas and nearby states.
I was not in Alabama when the killer tornadoes struck. I arrived in Birmingham the next day, moving there to start a new job as host of a radio talk show.
I was terrified by the devastation I found in my new community. So many people injured. So many dead. So many homes turned to rubble. Debris piles taller than me. Roads impassable.
I submerged myself in working to help my radio audience – folks who needed healing, prayer and a listening ear. And with three postgraduate degrees in mental health, I got out of the radio studio as well, meeting more people than I can count to help them cope with their trauma.
The lessons I learned in those terrible times have stayed with me. I want to share them.
Disaster survivors are leaders in helping each other recover. In the aftermath of the Alabama tornadoes, people helped each other survive.
I spent time with a nurse who had turned her home into a temporary medical emergency room. The home was a bloody mix of debris and wounded neighbors. The nurse’s son was injured by flying glass, but she stitched up his wounded back and he was helping her treat neighbors at a time when emergency medical crews couldn’t reach the area.