Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Although she can do nearly any task as needed, her primary job is listening.
That’s how American Red Cross mental health worker Dr. Charlotte Taylor, a Berkeley County resident, has been spending her time in Oklahoma since May 28 in the aftermath of devastating and deadly tornados.
Taylor, of the Palmetto S.C. Red Cross chapter, does not know when she will return.
An EF5 tornado struck Moore, Okla. the afternoon of May 20, killing 23 people and injuring nearly 400 others. Another EF5 tornado struck nearby El Reno, Okla. on May 31.
At 2.6 miles wide, the El Reno twister is the largest to ever touch down in the United States, according to the National Weather Service.
When Taylor spoke with the Berkeley Independent last Tuesday she said she was preparing for a night shift that evening.
“The community of Moore was hit hardest,” Taylor said. “Some of these people have lost everything they own. There were more fatalities with the second tornado. More than 80,000 people were without power.”
She said the Red Cross manages disaster relief after major disasters and has been connecting Oklahoma tornado victims to a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) in Moore.
At MARC citizens are given information and guided to receive the type of assistance they need.
Taylor has seen the relief efforts and cleanup unfold firsthand and has had several survivors recount stories to her.
One ray of sunshine in the tragedy’s aftermath has been the role that disaster relief dogs have played. Every day children and adults alike gladly get on the floor so they can hug the lovable canines.
“You can see people rise out of the hopelessness with these animals,” Taylor said.
Volunteers with Service Dogs International have brought the dogs from across the country. Every day at Noon six to eight dogs enter the Moore Community Center shelter to cheer up tornado victims.
Taylor said she spoke with one lady who had 17 people in her small storm cellar.
“We do a lot of listening,” Taylor said. “One family had a 7-month-old. The wife would not speak. She was scared, clinically depressed. She gave birth seven months ago. I was able to connect with her yesterday.”
Every day Taylor and other volunteers have provided a meal for victims and food to take home.
“When they leave, our hope is they know there is hope for them and the future,” Taylor said. “I’m gifted to be here to help these people. When (Hurricane) Hugo hit people reached out to help us.”
Seven children perished on May 20 when a tornado struck Plaza Towers Elementary School. It was the hardest hit building, according to Taylor.
This is the same school where a 6-year-old pulled her teacher out of the rubble and saved her life, according to Taylor.
Children from the school received a t-shirt that is being sold to the public through the website www.atxmafia.com in order to raise funds for the school. Taylor has been amazed by the amount of donated food and the national effort for Oklahoma.
As a disaster mental health volunteer, while she’s not busy evaluating and nursing mental health, she performs other needed tasks such as setting out food on the dinner table every evening at 5 p.m. and even cleans bathrooms.
“I do anything that’s needed to be done,” Taylor said.
A longtime Red Cross volunteer, Taylor has seen her share of disasters. She provided relief after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Hugo and wildfires in the western U.S.
“I’ve seen a lot of devastation, which is why I’m totally committed with the Red Cross,” she said.
Taylor started with the Red Cross as a 15-year-old in Okinawa during the Vietnam War. Now a doctoral level therapist, she went on to become the first director of counseling services in Berkeley County.
“The Red Cross saw a need for mental health associates,” she said. “That’s when I started going out as a mental health worker. We are a non-government agency sponsored by the American people for the American people.”