East Texas tornado survivors share reoccurring symptoms, support at group therapy session

East Texas tornado survivors share reoccurring symptoms, support at group therapy session

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - All the tornado survivors East Texas News has met in the last month share a common bond; they’re amazed they’re still alive.

“And I can’t believe I was in a grass house in a F-3 tornado with 140-mile-an-hour winds,” is what Jeff Williams said days after riding out a tornado in the Caddo Mounds grass house.

Williams is one of about 30 survivors of the tornado that hit the Caddo Mounds Historic Site. He visited a trauma counselor just a few days after the April 13 tornado.

“That’s opening the dialogue, so if I start to go over and over the situation in my head, what we could of have done, then I know to remind myself I’m a survivor, not a victim,” Williams said.

Trauma counselor Dr Jose Carbajal knows the benefits of early intervention following a traumatic event.

“The earlier you deal with it, the better you’ll be able to cope with it,” the Stephen F. Austin State University social work professor said.

Tornado survivors are quickly learning trauma symptoms.

Sheila Roberts, a San Augustine tornado survivor, said, “I hadn’t been sleeping at all.”

“When you’re traumatized, your REM sleep is specifically affected,” Carbajal said.

CC Conn, a Caddo Mound tornado survivor, has moments of anxiety, particularly during thunderstorms.

"I’m shaky. I’m always shaky,” Conn said.

“You have to stay in the present," Carbajal said. "Noticing what you’re experiencing, but not go back all the way to when you were shocked by the event.”

Some survivors have developed personal coping skills. For Conn, it's work.

“I thought I didn’t want to go into work, but once I got to doing my work, I was like, it was the only time I didn’t think about it," Conn said.

For Roberts, it's a sense of humor.

“You have to laugh to keep from crying all the time,” Roberts said.

And for The Friends of Caddo Mounds, its journaling their experience via social media and developing a very strong, personal bond with all the survivors from the collapsed museum.

Carbajal says there are scientifically proven coping methods as well.

“There are three methods," Carbajal said. "Eye movement, tapping, and oratory method where you hear a tone back and forth.”

He’ll teach the methods next week in a two-hour group therapy session. The simple methods can quickly replace a trauma mode with a relaxed state. More than 20 individuals have signed up, including Jeff Williams.

“There’s no shame," Williams said. "In fact, I would encourage anybody who is emotionally upset by whether they are here or down the road or in Alto or any of the communities that has lent support or are emotionally affected by this to seek help.”

The tornado group processing session will be May 17 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will be in SFA’S Baker Pattillo Student Center multimedia room and is free of charge.

And on Saturday, join Caddo Mound survivors as they share their stories. Also, the PBS grass house documentary will be screened with its director. ‘Sha-no’ stories, which means tornado in the Caddo language will be May 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center on Raguet Street in Nacogdoches. A $20 donation to support survivors is suggested.

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