Amid anniversary plans, students learn to cope



For two University of Alabama students who lost their homes and friends to the April 27, 2011 tornado, the anniversary memorials are a chance to continue to move forward.

Chelsea Thrash, a junior majoring in psychology, was thrown from her second-story apartment to the courtyard during the tornado. She was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, among other injuries, including blood loss, internal bleeding, punctured organs and a deep gash in her left ankle.

Although she survived the tornado, some of the tenants around her, including her Gamma Phi Beta sister and University of Alabama student Nicole Mixon, weren't as lucky.

“I have dealt with a lot of survivor’s guilt and other psychological issues, like feeling very anxious about the weather,” Thrash said. “I am very happy that I am here and able to go these events and share my story, but, on the other hand, I probably shouldn’t have made it, so I do feel guilty and remorseful that I am attending and that all who died in the storm deserved to attend.”

For Thrash, the anniversary of the tornado feels unreal, but she plans to attend one University memorial event.

“I’ve made plans to see Nicole’s family and drop off a cross my uncle made, as well as deliver letters that my sorority sisters made in memory of her,” Thrash said.

Adam Melton, a sophomore majoring in electrical computer engineering, lost his Arlington Square apartment, along with his vehicle, to the tornado. He and his girlfriend, Jessica Colburn, were hiding in the cellar of a house in front of the complex that was also destroyed.

“I am extremely thankful for how my situation turned out and am very appreciative of everyone around here, including the University,” Melton said.

Melton said he and Colburn plan to attend the memorial service events, as well as conducting their own private memorial.

“I do not dread it now, nor do I believe that I will dread it during,” Melton said. “I feel both thankful for the assistance I received and sorry for the losses of those around me.”

To help students cope with the aftermath of the tornado, the University of Alabama Counseling Center began the Tornado Recovery and Support Group, Holly Prewitt, a therapist at the counseling center, said. The support group runs weekly on Fridays from 2 to 3 p.m.

“The main goal is for students to get a chance to talk with one another and provide support for each other, as well as learn coping skills to deal with the stories they have coming out of the tornado, their emotions and feelings, as well as the more specific things they are dealing with, such as anxiety, grief and loss,” Prewitt said. “We have a set topic each week and usually go in that direction, unless someone has a specific issue or need for us to discuss.”

The group will continue to meet through May 15, and if there is continued interest, meetings will be extended over the summer and into the fall semester, Prewitt said.

For more information on the Counseling Center, visit counseling.ua.edu. To read Melton’s full account of his tornado experience, visit his website at addictronics.com.

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