Why Do We Share Disaster Survivor Stories?

Tornado survivor Martha Hall, 65, had no time to escape her house in West Liberty, Kentucky, on March 2, 2012. "We heard the roaring," says Hall. "It kept going and going and never stopped."

“…the brain prioritizes stories over statistics, and the more personalized the stories, the more powerful the imprint,” writes TIME contributor Amanda Ripley in her introduction to the magazine’s current special issue Time: Disasters that Shook the World. “…there is great practical value in telling stories, particularly when they are told with useful lessons attached.”

The TIME special issue marks the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic sinking on April 15, 1912. New research continues to teach us more about how the accident happened and why many died. Much of what we know—and what moves us emotionally to take action—comes from disaster survivor stories.

In this corner, covered with a mattress and blankets, Martha Hall and her brother survived the the tornado. "It went BOOM," says Hall. "We could feel the house move."

The Red Cross knows this. We provide essential disaster relief to the most vulnerable among us. During relief response, we have the privilege of serving as listeners while people talk to us about remarkable acts of courage, strength, and resilience. We share their stories because personal accounts inspire you to give money for disaster relief, to take steps for being prepared for emergencies, and to become a Red Cross volunteer who makes disaster relief happen.

Red Cross disaster relief worker Anita Foster hugs Martha Hall, who was recovering personal items from her home destroyed by the March 2 tornado in West Liberty, Kentucky.

During this time of remembering the Titanic, we encourage you to continue to learn about people affected by disasters here and around the world. Additional ready resources include redcross.org, ifrc.org, and icrc.org.

Post and images by Lynette Nyman, American Red Cross. Amanda Ripley is the author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes–and Why.

West Liberty Relying on Red Cross After Tornado

West Liberty, Kentucky
A devastating tornado wiped out much of West Liberty, Kentucky, a mountain town of around 3200 people. Dozens are now relying on Red Cross disaster services. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

For some, the Red Cross shelter in West Liberty, Kentucky, is the only home they have. “Without the Red Cross,” says Stacy LeMaster, 26, “we would be on the street.”

Since the March 2 tornado hugged the ground, wiping out dozens of homes and businesses in West Liberty, Stacy, her husband, and their three children have sought refuge at the shelter where everybody knows everybody. “This is just like home,” says Daniel.

Daniel LeMaster and his son, West Liberty, Kentucky
Daniel LeMaster and his son Daniel 3, are relying on the Red Cross shelter for safe and warm refuge after a tornado hit West Liberty, Kentucky, on March 2. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Disaster relief workers from around the region are providing essential services to more than 50 people seeking refuge in the shelter. The shelter is also an assistance station for dozens more staying with family and friends, but who are otherwise homeless.

Shelter operations manager Brad Powell says Red Cross relief teams are also in the community. “We have relief workers doing damage assessment and mass feeding,” says Powell.

Some of the relief workers at the shelter have had little sleep, including Breck Hensley, 16, who has friends affected by the tornado. He says being a Red Cross volunteer is a good experience. “I’m just trying to help all those people who need it because if I were them, I would want it,” says Hensley.

Breck Hensley, Red Cross Disaster Volunteer
Breck Hensley, 16, who has friends affected by the March 2 tornado that hit West Liberty, Kentucky, says being a Red Cross disaster relief worker is a good experience. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

People in West Liberty are likely to rely on the Red Cross shelter for many more days as the slow process of tornado recovery takes its turn.

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