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Ten Years

Children of tornado will always remember that night

By Joe Duggan
Independent Staff Writer

In the fall of 1981, Kathryn Martin was preparing to teach the fourth grade at Starr Elementary School. Because of the tornadoes the preceeding spring, she knew this fall would be a little different.

''It was a time when a teacher had to be a counselor as much as they could,'' Martin recalled. ''And just listening was an awful lot.''

Starr school was heavily damaged by the tornadoes. When school resumed in the fall, classeswere held in small, two-room trailers until they could be moved into the reconstructed school after Christmas. Martin, who retired from Starr in 1985, said she and the other teachers tried to be sensitive to the needs of children who had been through such a traumatic experience.

''We broke up into small groups, and the children shared stories about the tornadoes. I felt they needed to talk about it among their peers,'' Martin said. In particular, she remembered an occasion when a television crew came to the school in October to ask the children about their remembrances of the tornadoes.

''At first they were tentative and didn't say much. You could see the tension on their faces. But as they relived their stories, all of this emotion came out. It was an outpouring.''

Most of the children expressed fear for themselves, their family members and pets, Martin recalled. She said she was suprised at how interested the children were in hearing each others' stories.

''They wanted to share their stories, and they showed concern for each other,'' Martin said. ''There were some boys and girls in the more tragic situations obviously we watched for any signs of trouble.''

Post-traumatic stress disorder is the trouble the teachers were looking out for, according to Thomas England, a clinical psychologist in Grand Island. A person suffering from the disorder might experience anxiety, difficulty sleeping, recurring nightmares and flashbacks, England said. But children often react to traumatic situations differently than adults, he added.

''On the surface, kids seem to bounce back quicker than adults. But a fear of threatening clouds or thunder may develop later in life,'' England explained. ''The anniversary dates of a disaster can cause some particularly unnerving moments.''

England said he has not treated anyone for the disorder in relation to the tornadoes.

Lisa Bainbridge did not say she has a psychiatric disorder as a result of the 1980 tornadoes, but she did say she is deeply affected by them. Bainbridge is a 21-year-old communications studies/radio-television-film major at Northwestern University. She was in the sixth grade at Starr when classes resumed in the fall after the tornadoes.

''I remember when we did the drills that year, I took it a lot more seriously. I vividly remember being under my desk and it was so quiet, not like years before,'' Bainbridge said.

Bainbridge lived on Arrowhead Road, close to Starr, in the house where her parents still live. What Bainbridge saw while walking in her neighborhood is something she will never forget.

''I went to one of my friends' houses. It was gone. The school was gone. I remember standing there crying. Seeing the school devastated had a really big effect on me.''

Since that time, Bainbridge said she gets nervous and frightened when severe weather is in the area.

''I immediately want to run down to the basement. I get shaky.''

One time, during a class at college, Bainbridge recalled feeling angry at the people around her because they did not take the warning seriously.

England said Bainbridge's reactions are fairly typical, but there may be the possibility that she has some mild stress from the tornado incident.

Steve Reynolds, who just graduated from Grand Island Senior High School, was in first grade at Starr when the tornadoes struck. Although his house was destroyed, Reynolds said he cannot remember being too worried about tornadoes when he the school started doing drills again in the fall.

''I never, never thought it would happen again, not in the same place,'' Reynolds explained. ''Now if a siren goes off, I go outside and look for the tornado.''