Monday, May 30, 2011


Joseph O. Prewitt Díaz[1], PhD

The news today was positive regarding Joplin, Missouri. The number of dead has stabilized at 130+, the hospital had reopened with another name, and the disaster-affected people were photographed looking through the rubble for whatever memories were left. My neighbor saw me in the afternoon and yelled from the other side of the street: “Good news today, does this mean that the Joplin emergency is over? I just smiled and walked on. I didn’t have the courage to say, “bad things are just beginning”.

I reflected about the psychosocial effect of this terrible catastrophe over time. The disaster-affected people had (1) developed a personal identity with Joplin, through the churches, schools, shopping centers, and the hospitals (2) purchased a property and through hard work, collaboration of friends and neighbors, had turned it into a home, and (3) developed social and cultural aspirations and expectations.

There are some hard times now. The tornadoes have not only destroyed the physical “place” they have attacked and broken the bonds of continuity, familiarity and attachment to the home, neighborhood and community. I heard people say: “we are homeless”, “we belong nowhere”, “live in the shelter make us feel like we are outsiders”. The personal identity, and belongingness have been broken by the loss of control over the tornadoes and the outside organizations that have come to town introducing themselves as “Hi, my name is------,  I am with -----------, and I am here to help”.

But...better days are ahead.  Important actions taken by the community today will carry you all a long way.  Establish networks with family, neighbors and community. Volunteer your time and skills to help each other. Seek practical help, and timely information. In as much as you can listen to others, share a meal and a smile. Through your neighborhood groups join clean-up, and planning activities for the future. Soon you will realize that valued experiences and mutual understanding, bonding and learning will emerge. Soon the feelings of “despair” and “impotence” will shift to a “can-do feeling”.  You all will shift from victims to victorious!

[1]. Dr. Prewitt Diaz is a Visiting Professor and Director of the Disaster Law and Policy Studies Center, School of Law, University of Puerto Rico. He was the recipient of the 2008 APA International Humanitarian Award.

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