How to fix trauma after natural disasters
Edward Duff is a Joplin tornado survivor and has an incredible story about trauma after natural disasters. Joplin is about three days by bike or three hours by car from Kansas City. On May 22, 2011, 5:41 pm, Joplin was hit by a huge tornado that wiped out an entire half mile by one mile strip of the city and damaged up to 70% of the buildings in other parts of the city. Edward says, “The worst thing about that tornado was in the aftermath, we’d be walking around what used to be the city, and have no landmarks at all to tell us where we were.”
I thought it was the deadliest tornado in US history, but Wikipedia says not. “As of November 12, officials reported that at least 160, and possibly as many as 161 people died from the tornado. It was the deadliest U.S. tornado since that of April 9, 1947 in Woodward, Oklahoma and surrounding locations, the seventh deadliest tornado in U.S. history and 27th-deadliest in World history. It was also the first single tornado since the June 8, 1953 tornado in Flint, Michigan, to have 100 or more associated fatalities.”
Edward flew a half mile in his car that day. He was driving to an errand and saw the storm clouds and got caught up in it.
He emailed me about three weeks after the tornado with this description of the scene as the city put itself back together and people tried to help each other heal from the trauma after natural disasters like this tornado.
The human response of trauma after natural disasters (as told by Edward Duff)
One Ozark Center employee, a leadership cadre level staffer at the drug rehab unit, was sucked out through the plate glass doors into the parking lot just in time to see a large dumpster crush his pickup. Despite his wounds from glass, he loaded up the people at the unit there, adjacent to the St. John’s hospital, and directed the recovery of patients that had been sucked out of the nine-story hospital ( a corporate competitor in the local health care scene). Only after that did he personally go get the glass embedded in his own body removed, an over three hour process.
In my sorties through the various feeding stations on parking lots in Joplin, I have found some very interesting things. At one tent, some chiropractors are assisting people free of charge.
How acupuncture is healing trauma after natural disasters
The simple fact of things here is that a vast array of ad hoc responses in no apparent organizational framework has responded. There is absolutely no need for clothing or food in Joplin, or bottled water. Water is stacked waist high on many corners in the storm path. Tools, shovels, rakes, etc. are propped up on whatever can support them or lying at street corners. There are not many street signs and posts on Joplin corners now, they are simply gone. Someone has gone around staking out small banners to replace them at key intersections. Without this, even life-long residents cannot figure out what street corner they are near. Few reference points exist, either geographically or cognitively. There is a new normal here that goes something like this: tired, dirty, smelly, and still doing something, whatever seems to be next.
Now and then someone would rather fight than be led to safety, so that means that I just go to the next available person, not far away.
Many of these trauma victims are still in the clothing they had on before the storm, or whatever they could find from the rubble, often clothing that is not “gender appropriate” or fitting properly. [There were also about eight deaths later from a very rare fungus infection that came from tornado debris that had gotten into wounds and the wounds had healed without proper cleaning.]
I am reminded of images of Bangladesh from the 1970s, or of post-war Berlin or Coventry, England. Another comparison is the snapshots my father has of his service on Okinawa, Japan during the invasion and just afterwards, without the big blow torches to get survivors out of caves. I have literally found people still hiding under their beds a week afterwards. Some people in the suburban areas outside of Joplin have expired from lack of hydration because they were still hiding somewhere in a state of… trauma, I suppose is the best term. This is one of the reasons the death toll number has continued to rise in the area. Some people have “frozen brains” from this trauma after natural disasters. They are simply not thinking, cannot resolve what to do next and do nothing at all.
The industry to label and diagnose trauma after natural disasters:
One further observation: There appear to be people who spend most of their lives responding to these major disasters, like hippies used to follow the Grearful Dead rock band from venue to venue. There are nomads like that all over the place here, that are apparently just ingratiating themselves into the system that is providing food and resources, some who are genuinely doing hard and dirty work for no compensation but the tents that have sprung up on parking lots all over the place, and some who are apparently just camping out in a new place and feeding off of the chaos.
Truama after natural disasters one year later:
Edward sent me this email recently explaining what things are now looking like a year later.
When I was over there Friday, people were picking up debris and building stuff. Which was what I was doing too. Volunteers from all around the country are still showing up, mostly from big evangelical type, non-denominational mainly, churches. They are gearing up to really go at it large-scale. Some very interestingly-designed small homes have been put up where more traditional four-bedroom, two bath tract houses were before the storm.
But it is clear that the local “non-profit” community mental health center has outright rejected the use of AcuDetox acupuncture even in its drug rehab unit. The trauma-relief aspect is being ignored too, but Missouri law basically insists on this outcome. There is a work-around, to do it under the supervision of a physician. There is malpractice insurance available so the odds of finding one to do it are at least slightly enhanced. [The trouble is that many medications are not effective for trauma after natural disasters or any other kind of truama. Giving the the label can simply be harmful all by itself. ]
Of course, the churches are really doing all the heavy lifting now that the FEMA monopoly cleanup contractors have left town. They were doing it all along. They can do counseling and whatever else considered mental-illness related too, without licensure, as long as they aren’t practicing medicine without a permit.
The area is somewhat less traumatizing just to look at it now, with the biggest part of the rubble and debris removed, but it is still very disorienting to be in a once-familiar part of town and not be able to figure out where you are because the landmarks you imprinted upon are simply gone and you can see clear to both the East and West horizon from South Main Street. The other thing is that you don’t see rabbits and squirrels, but you do see cats coming up out of the storm sewers. Some Mexican roofers told me they’ve been seeing big rats. I lend this observation a great deal of credibility. I suspect there are undiscovered cadavers and other organic detritus to feed upon. It still smells that way on a warm afternoon, like a battlefield. It has the same kind of “vibe” as one too.