Helping tornado victims

Mental health worker Charlotte Murrow Taylor of South Carolina comforts Jesus Hueso and his young family in Moore, Okla. The Carolina Lowcountry Chapter of the American Red Cross dispatched her to the area. She was among 1,100 Red Cross disaster workers assisting victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. (provided by American Red Cross)

Charlotte Murrow Taylor paused, her voice momentarily breaking with emotion, when asked how she was holding up as a volunteer mental health worker for victims of the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla.

She apologized and quickly regained her composure.

“It’s emotionally very taxing. I’m OK,” she said.

To deal with the stress, she recorded her feelings in a journal.

“You can’t leave one of these disasters without leaving a little piece of your heart behind,” she said.

Taylor, 65, a three-time cancer survivor, was dispatched to the area for the Carolina Lowcountry chapter of the American Red Cross.

Much of her time in Oklahoma was spent listening to people tell their tornado stories. She saw a lot of situational depression and anxiety.

“Sometimes people have to tell their story again and again and again,” she said. “It’s impossible to get the pain out without repeating the story. They can begin to feel that they are not alone.”

Children expressed their feelings to her through images and behavior. One drew a family with their house fallen behind them. Another knocked all the pieces of a game down.

She helped survivors get their medication and other basic necessities.

“This is such a significant tragedy that I do whatever needs to be done,” she said in a phone interview.

So far, the Red Cross has deployed more than 1,100 disaster workers to the Oklahoma City area, including 11 from South Carolina. The agency has served more than 257,000 meals and snacks, distributed more than 46,000 relief items and provided more than 12,000 health services and mental health contacts.

Taylor, who lived here during Hurricane Hugo, said the Oklahoma tornadoes were much worse. The May 20 twister that hit Moore killed at least 24 people, injured more than 300 and affected nearly 33,000 people. The Oklahoma City area was hit by another outbreak of deadly, destructive tornadoes on May 31 that killed 20 people, The Associated Press reported.

Taylor was in the area when the May 31 twisters hit.

“I’ve done a lot of disaster work, and I’ve never seen a funnel like we saw here. I will take hurricane alley over tornado alley anytime,” she said.

Taylor was scheduled to return to the Charleston area Friday after 12 days in the field. She looked forward to spending time with her granddaughter.

She has a part-time counseling practice with offices in Walterboro and Orangeburg and her home is in Cameron. She lived in Hanahan for 24 years, where she still owns a condo. Her children went to high schools in this area.

Now, though, she has new memories of Oklahoma and the tornado survivors there.

“This disaster is not going to be over for a while,” she said. “I’m a positive spirit and I think that helps these people.”

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.