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United States

What you lose when you lose everything

  • May 21, 2012
  • North America, US Disasters, Tornado, Emergency Response Blog
Alex Ostasiewicz

Alex Ostasiewicz

Part 1: The worst damage from violent March 2012 tornadoes in Kentucky was centered in the eastern Appalachian foothills. AmeriCares focused its response on communities in this impoverished region, dispatching staff and delivering water, medical aid and relief supplies to help survivors in need.  Relief worker, Alex Ostasiewicz shares her thoughts about what she saw during her time in the disaster zone.

Your house is on fire and you can only save one object…what would you choose to save?For many of us the answer is the family photo album. That was also the answer for the people I met in Magoffin County, Kentucky. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a chance to choose. The tornado that ripped through their homes left them nothing but their lives. And yet, they are grateful.

Undoubtedly they will struggle to recreate the lives they all knew. Although many did not have insurance, walls can be rebuilt. But the more that I talked with these men and women, the more I realized there are certain things you cannot rebuild.

“This is why the mental health initiatives that AmeriCares is supporting are so critical.”

Disaster survivors need the tools to rebuild their homes and survive, but they also need the tools to cope with what they have experienced, what they have lost, and what cannot be rebuilt. This is why the mental health initiatives that AmeriCares is supporting are so critical.

When disaster struck, we rushed bottled water and supplies to the area, but that only fixes the first part of the problem. Now we will work to address the second, more complex aspect of the tragedy. The process of recovery is about more than just cleaning debris and rebuilding walls, it is also about coping with the loss of what can’t be recovered, and the damage that can’t be undone.

The only thing Billy Jordan hopes to find in the rubble of his destroyed home are three old photographs, including one of his wife back when she was just 25 years old. Minutes earlier, his wife was taken away in an ambulance to get help for the broken bones she suffered in the storms.

Elizabeth Kingsboro sits in her wheelchair eager to help the volunteers clearing the debris from what used to be her home. As they shift through all of her belongings trying to decide what is worth saving, a volunteer emerges from the field below, and hands her a small black and white photo “That’s my first born” she says proudly with a smile.

It is the small things, like family photographs, that are so important in our lives, and yet are so often overlooked in the process of a huge recovery effort.