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Red Cross Helps Residents Cope with Emotional Toll of Disaster

The Smallest Disaster Victims: Children
As you listen to people telling their story, it’s a way for them to process what’s been going on. It helps them to come to terms with it.

Over the past month, the American Red Cross has responded to relentless severe weather in the state of Texas including tornadoes and flash flooding. Facing ongoing violent storms and rising water, families and individuals have felt the heavy emotional toll of these floods in Austin, worrying about the safety of loved ones and threats to their homes.

For those who survive a disaster, it’s often more about a chance to talk about their feelings than being told how to deal with their emotions. Red Cross disaster mental health counselors are reaching out to recent victims on-the-ground in Texas.

“As you listen to people telling their story, it’s a way for them to process what’s been going on. It helps them to come to terms with it,” said Jerry Montgomery, a Red Cross volunteer who’s leading the team of about a dozen mental health counselors in the state.

Montgomery said what some might consider unusual behavior isn’t necessary that.

“It’s normal to be upset, maybe to cry. It’s just a normal reaction to an abnormal event,” she said. “We help them to understand their feelings are normal and they aren’t crazy.”

The Smallest Disaster Victims: Children

Children often are upset and show their feelings about a traumatic event. That’s when counselors like Richard and Carolyn Newkirk can use their specialized skills of counseling children. The husband and wife team were in Van, Texas after a tornado struck that community damaged the elementary school and damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes.

They talked to the teachers and school administrators about what to look for with the children and what they could say to help the student. They also made themselves available to the students.

“Children are very resilient and they get cues for handling stress from their parents,” Montgomery said.

The Newkirks said a wide variety of emotions come into play for survivors, the most common being glad to be alive. There’s also a lot of open generosity, giving and sharing. They said children are particularly resilient even if they lost everything.

For Richard and Carolyn, their work can be a mixed blessing. There’s a sense of sorrow when they see people who have lost everything. But there’s also a deep sense of fulfillment when they can see how they helped some people.

Weather Fatigue as Severe Storms Continue

Recent social media posts in Texas show mounting stress among those who have watched the string of severe weather go from days to weeks with no immediate end in sight.

Frustration and anger toward stressful situations are normal, even if you haven’t suffered any personal loss, said Montgomery.

“Stress is stress. Just because you haven’t lost your home doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing a lot of stress.”

People under stress feel physically and mentally drained, getting frustrated more quickly and more often. To help manage these feelings, the Red Cross provides people with coping tips during events over which they have no control.

5 Coping Tips for Stressful Times:

  • Eat properly and maintain a balanced diet, drink plenty of water and get some rest.
  • Stay connected with friends and family. Support reduces that feeling of being alone.
  • Be patient with those around you and recognize that everyone is stressed and may need time to put their feelings and thoughts in order.
  • Remain positive and remember having successfully gone through other tough times.
  • Reach out when support is needed and help others when they need it.
  • Learn more about Red Cross Emotional Support. To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

    Help People Affected by Disasters

    A donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief can help provide food, water and shelter for someone who has had to leave their home. Help people affected by disasters like floods, tornadoes and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. To donate, people can visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

    About the American Red Cross:
    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.