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  • Writer's pictureNEIA Red Cross

From the Field: 4 Days After April 2024 Tornadoes

By Ashley Peterson-DeLuca

At 8 a.m. on Monday, April 29, Stu Coulson picked up his rental car in Waterloo, Iowa, to drive over six hours across the state to Omaha, Nebraska. Three days earlier, dozens of tornadoes raced across Nebraska and Iowa, some as strong as EF3 with winds up to 165 mph, causing widespread damage.

Stu Coulson, Disaster Mental Health Volunteer

Coulson is a Red Cross disaster mental health volunteer. He and his colleagues in disaster mental health services and spiritual care are onsite to provide support, mental health wellness strategies and a sense of hope after natural disasters.


“Our message is one of hopefulness. We want to let people know the Red Cross is here to help them now and in the long run. We’re not going anywhere,” says Coulson.


After a debrief with the Red Cross team in Omaha, Coulson jumped back in his car to reach people in rural areas impacted by the extreme weather. The tornadoes crossed seven counties in Nebraska and 35 in Iowa, leaving homes, farms and equipment in ruin. He talked to one person who came home to the top floor of his home missing. Another family had all their fences ripped out by the wind, scattering their cattle in the fields. The storms even damaged heavy-duty vehicles like combines and tractors.


He expects to be on the road for a week working to reach those who live miles away from their neighbors. Criss-crossing the countryside, he’s traveled about 300 miles a day. He’s currently accompanying teams distributing disaster relief supplies, providing support alongside food and other necessities.


Emergency Response Vehicle being prepared to distribute recovery items..

“We’re four days out from the disaster. It’s a tough time. People are starting to get overwhelmed and exhausted,” says Coulson. “We’re here to let people know they’re not alone.”


The people he talked with are strong and determined. They are already re-roofing, cleaning up debris and helping their neighbors. Coulson wants to make sure they have the tools they need to keep going.


“Recovery is a journey. It requires the people that are on this journey to take care of themselves. You can’t make a stressful journey, like recovery from a tornado, if you don’t take care of yourself.”


Although there is a mountain of work to do after a disaster, Coulson recommends not exhausting yourself. He says: “Rest. Take breaks. Play with your children. It is going to take a while to recover.”


Despite the long days in the car and many tough conversations, Coulson remains hopeful. He attributes this to his amazing colleagues.

Red Cross volunteers speaking with residents affected by tornadoes.

“Ninety percent of the Red Cross is made up of volunteers. They are so committed. They are putting in 12 or 14 hours of work, going to bed and waking up again,” says Coulson. “The Red Cross’s mission is to alleviate suffering. They’re not going to stop until we do.” 

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