Oklahoma tornadoes affect NASW members

Oklahoma City tornado damageThis photo, taken on Southwest 149th St. in Oklahoma City, shows some of the damage caused by tornadoes that hit the area on May 19 and 20.

On May 19 and 20, tornadoes tore through the Oklahoma City area, causing deaths and injuries and affecting thousands of residents. The storms left a path of devastation in surrounding towns, including the cities of Moore and Shawnee, and leveled homes and buildings.

It was the first time NASW member Lauren Black experienced a tornado, having moved to Moore from Massachusetts about a year ago. She said she was aware she was moving to a tornado-prone area, but during her first Oklahoma summer she barely even saw rain.

“I’ve heard how a lot of people in the news ask why would anyone live in Oklahoma because of the tornadoes, but it’s like so sporadic,” Black said. “The odds of a tornado this big, you just think that’s crazy, I’ll never have to go through that.”

Black, a youth career services coordinator for Add Us, recalled leaving work early the day the EF5 twister hit Moore. She said she heard cautionary weather reports about a severe tornado potentially approaching, and was vigilant about checking the stormy skies.

“I went home, turned on the news and thought, ‘We’ll be OK.’ No sooner than I thought that than my boyfriend and I heard a tornado (had) touched down in Moore.”

Black and her boyfriend left home and drove south to a friend’s house in Norman, Okla., away from the tornado’s northeastern path.

“It looked like a huge black rain cloud stretching to the ground,” Black said. “I was in survival mode — it felt like an out-of-body experience.”

Black has stayed with friends since the storm while her home — which suffered significant damage — undergoes repairs. She said her social work skills have helped her deal with the situation as the shock wears off.

“I was able to recognize the shock in myself, and through blogging about my experience I’ve found an outlet for it, which helps” she said. “I almost feel like I’m doing process recording, like during my MSW internship.”

The whole thing was pretty scary, said NASW-Oklahoma Executive Director Mary Jo Kinzie, adding that Black is one of three NASW members in Oklahoma to date affected in some way by the storms. The chapter has been doing outreach to members to offer assistance, and working with the Red Cross to help develop strike teams as necessary to respond to different areas around Oklahoma City that need intensive services.

“Citizens have gotten very smart about developing response teams, and the Red Cross statewide disaster response team is pretty phenomenal,” Kinzie said. “We are working on keeping Red Cross information on our site fresh, up to date and relevant.”

She said the chapter also is assisting with lost-pet notices.

“I receive lost-pet notices by email, and we have learned from previous disasters people will not leave to safety (after the storm) if they can’t get their pets out,” Kinzie said. “We have to be sure people are safe.”

Although a lot of energy was spent in the first couple of days after the storm passed, she said the challenge will be to sustain that energy to rebuild what was lost.

“What we have to remember even when the last stick and stone is picked up, you’ve got pretty much a multiple square mile area that nobody can live in again,” Kinzie said. “There will be ongoing needs. There will be suicides, attempted suicides, depression and PTSD to deal with.”

But there is hope, Kinzie said.

“I’ve lived in Oklahoma all my life; there are all kinds of weather nemeses here to deal with,” she said. “And we want to survive.”

Lend a Hand

Out-of-state social workers can help the Oklahoma Chapter in providing mental health services. “Those interested in doing mental health counseling, get connected,”said Mary Jo Kinzie, executive director of the NASW Oklahoma chapter. Social workers can contact the chapter for more information, and like them on Facebook to receive regular updates.