Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Counseling, community help tornado victims cope

Long after the funnel receded and the rubble settled, the April 27 tornado continued to tear through people’s hearts and minds.

Many students and residents affected by the tornado have dealt with ongoing psychological and emotional injuries as physical wounds have healed.

“The stress, the anxiety, a lot of grief and loss issues can culminate in affecting a person’s mental state,” said Larry Deavers of Tuscaloosa’s Family Counseling Service.

Master’s student Jessica Trull said she had always been frightened of storms and was always certain she would die in one. She huddled in the bathroom of her University Village apartment on April 27, listening to the roaring of the twister and debris flying around. Though she escaped unharmed, she still calls it her “worst nightmare.”

Trull can remember the weeks following that day vividly, when she spent time at her parents’ home to cope with the immensity of the situation.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Trull said. “I stayed busy so I wouldn’t have to think about it or focus on it. My mom would try and help me, try to make me take Nyquil. But I didn’t want to go to sleep. I felt like I couldn’t help when I was asleep.”

Though separated from Tuscaloosa, Trull sought solace in talking with others via the Internet.

“I turned to social networking,” said Trull, who used her blog to organize donations for victims. “I just tried to spread the word and just let people know. I didn’t feel so separated and alone because everyone else was talking about their experiences.”

Holly Prewitt, a counselor at UA’s Counseling Center, said Trull isn’t alone with leaning on peers to cope. The Counseling Center hosts a weekly Tornado Recovery and Support group.

“When they share their stories, it makes them feel like they weren’t the only ones that went through it,” Prewitt said. “Someone else understands exactly what happened to them. They are usually able to identify how their situations are similar.”

Deavers said as time passes, the Family Counseling Service deals less with grief and more with stress relating to residual effects of the tornado.

“What we’re seeing lately is people who are facing a new living situation, different than what they were living before,” he said. “There are some people who are still living in a hotel a year later. Those kinds of stressors can really drain a person’s emotional or mental resources.”

Deavers said the Family Counseling Service treats clients who are dealing with crippling uncertainty.

“Their living situations, their income [are] things they may have taken for granted prior to the tornado. But now it’s ‘Where am I going to be in a month?,’” he said. “People really get a sense of security by having stability in their life.”

Though Trull’s apartment sustained minimal damage and she was physically safe, the psychological trauma she experienced is long lasting. Now she avoids situations that might trigger painful memories from that day.

“It still terrifies me when I hear the sirens, even though I know it’s just a test,” she said. “The perfume I was wearing during that time – if I smell it now, I will start crying. The aftermath, when we came out of our buildings – why did nothing happen to me and and something happen to them? It’s hard to cope with those questions.”

Deavers said the anniversary might be a time that people revisit those painful questions – depending on the person.

“It really comes down to their own perspective or attitude about it,” he said. “Some people may very well say this is a milestone, we’ve survived a year. A lot of people there might have frustrations when they think that it’s been a year, and certain things haven’t been fixed.”

For Trull, coping with the tornado means not contemplating the one-year anniversary.

“I don’t know how I’m going to feel in that moment,” she said. “Maybe overwhelming sadness, but that’s such a useless emotion to feel. I’ve really just been trying not to think about it.”

Prewitt said many students are apprehensive about tornado commemorations, fearing flashbacks of painful memories.

“I think clients see it as a milestone, that they’ve reached a year past the tornado,” she said. “But most plan to be with family and friends instead of being out in the community. That’s where they get their comfort. They don’t want to relive it. They want to think it as a year has gone by, and I’ve survived.”

Deavers said people would naturally begin to reflect strongly on the memories they have coped with as the anniversary approaches.

“Sometimes reflecting can be good, but sometimes people can get so caught up in reflecting that it’s very depressing,” he said. “The key is to mentally acknowledge that you’ve survived a year, that things are different and will never be the same. Memorialize it for yourself, but don’t allow it to consume you.”


Family Counseling Service – [email protected]; (205) 752-2504

UA Counseling Center – (205) 348-3863


More to Discover