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How Virginians are helping those impacted by deadly tornados

How Virginians are helping those impacted by deadly tornados
Posted at 6:36 PM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 18:36:49-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Central Virginia volunteers will soon be on the ground in Western Kentucky to help families who have been devastated by a recent tornado outbreak.

On Monday morning, Ned Worman made sure everything was in place and ready to go with the American Red Cross emergency response vehicle before hitting the road and setting off for an area near Mayfield, Kentucky.

He and five other volunteers will be there for at least two weeks providing meals and shelter to people who lost everything in the storms.

“These people went from just sitting back in their chairs getting ready for Christmas to absolute and total destruction," Worman said.

Red Cross Virginia is also meeting needs that go beyond the physical realm.

“We are there to provide emotional support," said Marty Dwyer, a Disaster Mental Health Supervisor with the Red Cross.

Dwyer is one of two trained mental health volunteers deploying to the Midwest on Tuesday.

“We'll be talking with people who are staying in shelters and encouraging them to use good coping strategies," she said.

Dwyer explained that it's hard to imagine what she and her team will be faced with because each person responds to trauma differently.

“They may not be able to sleep or eat, or some people are very emotionally blunted and they act as if everything's okay," she said. "Children tend to get much more irritable and clingy, maybe regressing.”

She said the overarching message is to remind people that it's okay and expected to feel whatever it is they're feeling. Dwyer said it's important to be a listener and really try to understand each person's needs and concerns.

Meanwhile, emergency officials are stressing the importance of having a plan in place in case disaster strikes closer to home.

“Preparing yourself right now, preparing your family, it’s the time to do it," said Jason Elmore with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Elmore said the most important thing to prepare for is knowing where to go in the event of a tornado.

"If you have a tornado warning in your area, you need to make sure that if you have a basement, you get down into your basement to be safe. If you don't have a basement, you want to make sure that you get into an interior room that has no windows, get down low, and stay covered," he said.

For those who live in mobile homes, Elmore said they should find a building nearby that they can get into safely. They could also get into a vehicle, put a seatbelt on and get down low.

"We may not get them as frequently as some other areas of the country, but just a couple of years ago here in Chesterfield County, tornadoes ripped through here, causing significant damage and also killing an individual that was at work," Elmore said. "So they can happen here."

No matter where disasters happen, Red Cross volunteers say they're committed to helping.

"When you see people who have gone through the worst day or days of their lives, and you're able to just make them smile, give them that little bit of hope that they're going to make it through to the next day, that is just incredibly rewarding," Dwyer said.