Turkey

Part I of II: Before Rebuilding Can Begin, Disaster Survivors Must Sift Through Emotional Aftermath

Source
Posted
Originally published
Cynthia Long, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org
At 3:02 a.m. August 17, 1999, Winnie Balikci awoke to the clamor of what she thought was a plane crashing. But the thunderous boom was followed by roaring vibrations and the guttural rumble of cement, brick, and glass crumbling around her. As she was thrown from her bed, Winnie knew a plane hadn't crashed at the nearby naval base. With the floor undulating beneath her, she was keenly aware that a powerful earthquake was rocking Degirmendere, her small town in northwestern Turkey.

There are few things more terrifying than experiencing a violent earthquake and, for those who survive, the trauma from the event is acute and long lasting. Surrounded by death and destruction, emotions range from panic, horror, and disbelief to rage, disorientation, and despair. According to an Israeli military doctor who treated Turkey's disaster victims, it takes a while for the reality to sink in, but before long "people will come to recognize the situation . . . that within a second all they had is just gone."

Perceptual Cues Delay Emotional Recovery

Treating the psychological wounds of survivors is as important as treating the physical injuries, according to Jill Hoffman, an American Red Cross mental health counselor. She emphasizes that the longer the delay in psychological counseling of survivors, the longer the recovery from the disaster.

The emotional strain of losing family members is debilitating, but the stress is compounded by the loss of one's home, one's place of business or worship, and one's community, according to trauma counselors.

Added to that are what Hoffman calls constant "auditory and visual cues" of the traumatic event--scenes of devastation, frequent and terrifying aftershocks, and the anguished expressions of survivors, many of them living in makeshift tents or shacks.

After August 17's earthquake, and the hundreds of subsequent aftershocks, the region was rocked by two more powerful temblors: a 5.8 magnitude aftershock on September 19 and a massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake on November 12. Thousands more were killed, more communities were destroyed, and survivors were thrown into a state of constant anxiety, afraid that every passing truck was another deadly rumbling of the earth.

Five Stages of Recovery

Every community that suffers a disaster goes through the same five stages of rehabilitation, according to Hoffman. First is the "heroic" stage, which occurs immediately after the disaster when adrenaline is pumping and everyone is helping everyone else. Miraculous rescues occur during this stage, but it can't be maintained for more than 48 to 72 hours. After so long, energy and adrenaline stores expire and people collapse from exhaustion.

Next comes the "honeymoon" stage when search and rescue teams, media and relief agencies rush to the scene. News crews are everywhere reporting live from the disaster zone, bringing images of devastation to the world, and creating an outpouring of sympathy and donations.

Volunteers from countries around the globe arrive to help the victims and there is a general feeling of goodwill despite the tragic surroundings. Dozens of cliched "triumph of the human spirit" media reports are produced during this stage.

But then the media leaves to cover a breaking story elsewhere on the globe. Volunteers pack up to go home to their families and return to their jobs. As the rest of the world moves on, the community is left with the destruction and the monumental task of cleaning up and rebuilding. The "disillusionment" stage sets in when people are frustrated and angry as they realize the assistance they were promised will be a long time coming, if at all. They are surrounded by ruin and are, in many cases, out of work and homeless. They quickly become depressed or enraged. In families with no history of violence, spousal and child abuse appears. Suicide attempts are made, and strangers lash out at each other on the street.

Eventually the community will rise from the disillusionment stage and enter the "reconstruction" phase as cities, towns, and villages are slowly rebuilt, creating a sense of rebirth.

"People begin to realize that nothing will ever be the same, that their homes and cultural centers will never be the way they were before the disaster, but they accept that a new community will emerge from the destruction," Hoffman said. "People are adaptable and they will find new ways of doing things, different ways of living in their new environment."

And then they are ready to enter the final stage--"recovery." Life has returned to a state of normalcy, people are out of temporary housing and are back to work and school, and the troubling symptoms of disillusionment are gone. Once in the recovery stage, people draw strength from the fact they survived and were able to mend their lives. They draw strength from the resources they summoned to survive and use them to carry on.

Part II of the series will focus on how psychological professionals are treating the emotional scars of Turkey's earthquake survivors.

DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement.

----

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

=A9 Copyright 1999, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.