- Education and Science
Tornadoes Have the Potential to Effect Psychological Health
Tornadoes Cause Emotional Distress
The United States has the most severe and damaging tornadoes of any country in the world. Research about how tornadoes develop has been going on for years but there is still a lot of mystery about how they work. One thing for certain is that they are unpredictable and deadly. I grew up and live in an area that meteorologists call Tornado Alley. Tornadoes can strike swiftly with little or no warning. The unpredictable nature of tornadoes can cause emotional distress. Natural Disasters of any kind have the potential to effect psychological health. On Saturday June 2nd, 1990 my hometown was devastated by a tornado.
Petersburg Indiana is a small town in Southern Indiana located in Pike County. I lived the first twelve years of my life in this sleepy small town where in the 1960s everyone left their doors unlocked and children played outside with no worries. I remember when they used a block off the side of Main Street for street dances. The Skating Rink and the Movie Theater was part of my life. Skeet’s café served ice cream, shakes and root beer floats in those good old fashioned Sundae glasses. You could also stick a dime in the jukebox that was right at the table.
My family was from Pike County however when I was twelve we moved thirteen miles north to Washington located in Daviess County. The years went by and times changed. I was a grown woman with three children the night tragedy hit the small town where my family lives. My husband’s best friend who lives in Petersburg came to our house looking shell shocked telling us Petersburg has been wiped out by a tornado. It’s gone! My daughter was at my Mom’s house in Petersburg and the panic that grabbed me is indescribable. Fearing for friends and family members we got in the car and headed for Pike County. The short 15 minute drive that passes right beside the White River gave us some indication of what we were in for. The power lines were down and huge transformers made of steel were bent over double. We were astounded when we got there and found the National Guard had set up road blocks into town. We kept telling them we needed to get in to check on our family members but they would not let us pass. Being from the area we just turned around and took the back roads in. Probably was not suppose to do that but I was going to check on my daughter. I later learned a State of Emergency had been declared in Indiana. Governor Evan Bayh had sent the National Guard to Petersburg and also Bedford a town about 40 miles north of where I lived because these were the two hardest hit areas in Southern Indiana.
The sun was rising as we drove into to Petersburg and seeing the destruction was one of the biggest shocks of my life. I had never seen anything like it. It looked like a war zone. We were starting to feel anxious about all the folks we knew. We heard six people had been killed. Being separated from our families and friends we were feeling overwhelmed and confused. My husband and I both checked on our parents first who were okay and luckily their homes were still standing. My little girl was really shook up but physically fine. I was very agitated by this point because the apartment building my grandpa lived in was wiped out. A temporary morgue had been set up at the Fire Station but I was too scared to check there. After looking for him for two hours we finally found him at the VFW which had been set up as a temporary shelter. We next stopped by a friend’s trailer but it was gone. We later found out they were not home at the time and were still in one piece. This couple’s story was incredible. They left their home in Petersburg because of the tornado warnings. They were driving towards Montgomery a small community located six miles from my home and ran straight into a tornado. They out ran the tornado by driving very fast (which the experts do not recommend) the whole time not knowing their mobile home had been destroyed.
Walking through downtown Petersburg was quite a shock. The tornado had gone right down Main Street. Half the town was destroyed. What we saw that morning are images I will never forget. Glass was everywhere, cars were twisted pieces of metal and debris was scattered everywhere. The tornado destroyed the elementary school where both my husband and I had attended. The Mayors home was completely demolished along with several landmarks of our childhood.
The effects of a tornado can be long lasting. It’s normal for people who live through a tornado or who have loved ones in a tornado to deal with a range of emotions. In our case for years we had to deal with our daughter who would get hysterical when the wind would blow. To this day she is petrified of storms.
I read an article on how 50% of people ignore tornado warnings and I was shocked. If a tornado warning is issued take cover. If you are ever in a tornado get as close to the ground as possible. If you live in a mobile home leave for a safer place. If you do not have a basement take cover in an interior room. Bathrooms are best because they usually have stronger walls because of the pipes.
In the tornado outbreak that hit Indiana June 2nd 1990 the National Weather Service confirmed 37 tornadoes that day. Seven of the tornadoes were rated F4 with winds estimated at 207 Mph. Petersburg recovered just as many other places that have been devastated by a tornado and today the town remains a great place to live, work and raise a family.
My family was very lucky that day but others were not.