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First Person: Arkansas Tornado Response

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He took my hand and led me over to the dirt foundation. “We have nothing left,” he said.

At the end of April, powerful storms cut a path of devastation and despair from the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast and across the Mid-Atlantic. Pascale Vermont, a Disaster Mental Health volunteer from the Bay Area was one of 1,900 trained American Red Cross workers providing shelter, food, and health services across 14 states. Below Pascale recounts her experience assisting a large Mexican community in the Black Oaks area of Vilonia, Arkansas. 

A young boy named Angel asked for help creating a sign for President Obama as he toured the state where 300 homes were destroyed, 132 people were injured, and 16 people died. As we decorated a sign with tornado shapes, embellished letters, and diamonds (his favorite shape), Angel told me about his family running for their lives against the wind all the way to his cousin’s house. They huddled in the hallway, their arms linked, while others hid in a bathtub under a mattress. I asked Angel where his house was. He took my hand and led me over to the dirt foundation. “We have nothing left,” he said. 

“Let’s make another drawing,” I suggested, asking him to draw kites, inside which I wrote the items he said he lost.

Then I asked him to turn the cardboard over and draw more kites, inside which we wrote the names of his friends, family, and community members who had survived the storm. 

“See,” I said, “you will someday have a new bed, new clothes, and  toys,  but you still have the most important things in life—the  people you care about and who love you.” 

“That’s right!” he exclaimed.

As Angel proudly ran around explaining his drawing, smiling faces turned towards me in acknowledgment, and I knew this was a community that would take care of each other, and a boy who had learned an important lesson about what truly matters.