BELVIDERE — For Violet Munoz, the physical wounds from surviving a tornado that ripped open the Apollo Theatre have started to heal.
The emotional agony might endure for a significantly extended period.
Erik, her boyfriend, bravely rescued Beal from the wreckage, as she was trapped under the rubble, desperately trying to free herself. In the process, she sustained splinters lodged in her hands and suffered scrapes and bruises all over her body. It has been over a week since the incident, and she still bears the scars of a deep laceration on her scalp, which required five staples. Beal, a 25-year-old artist from Belvidere, was inside the theater when the debris from the roof fell.
Munoz, who claimed to have endured a serious head injury, expressed, “I desire individuals to comprehend the immense fortune we possess in having courageous individuals who were prepared to undertake valiant actions to ensure that individuals did not perish due to lack of oxygen. I genuinely believe that it is truly a marvel that they managed to rescue me precisely at that moment.”
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Dozens of people, including one man who died, were injured when a tornado EF-1 ripped a path from Davis Junction to downtown Belvidere on March 31, striking a roughly 101-year-old theater where roughly 260 people were gathered for a concert.
After enduring the disordered and disastrous occurrence, she is also dealing with the emotional distress. While recuperating from the injury to her head, she was still trying to assemble recollections from that evening when she had a conversation with the Rock River Current last week. Munoz is gradually recuperating from the harm she endured, and the stitches have been taken out from her head.
Munoz stated, “It is difficult to overcome the main aspect of this, which is the mental component. I believe that one hundred percent. I am gradually regaining my own reality, and I am also listening to it from the viewpoints of other individuals.”
In the region, mental health experts say that the long-lasting psychological effects of surviving a traumatic event are often overlooked by the general public, despite the fact that there is a hidden need for healing to take place, not only for the visible physical scars.
Xavier Whitford, an instructor in mental health first aid who educates the general population on how to react to a mental health emergency, stated, “Each individual has a unique understanding of trauma.” “There will be numerous individuals who were present on that evening and will experience the effects of that distress, but the truth is there will also be many individuals who were present on that evening and will be impacted by that distress.” “What may be considered traumatic for one person may not necessarily be traumatic for another.”
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Some survivors said that they may not realize the psychological effects of the tornado until much later, and Whitford, who has spoken with Munoz on several occasions since then, mentioned this.
Whitford expressed, “You simply cannot comprehend the extent to which it will impact each person, but the fact remains that numerous individuals will experience long-lasting effects on their mental well-being as a result of that.” “Post-traumatic stress disorder and the consequences of trauma can occur unexpectedly. It is impossible to anticipate it.”
‘Show yourself kindness and compassion’
Experts in mental health say that networks, which support important parts, are crucial in the healing process. Aaron Dennin, one of the men who credits Munoz with saving his life, said he has been talking with other survivors of the tornado to understand what happened.
Dennin said, “It has been a very numb experience. The wave of emotions has been extremely difficult to process, especially after the initial shock.”
The 26-year-old from Poplar Grove remembers hearing a loud bang before the power went out. Then there was a rumbling from above.
He stated, “Luckily, I managed to evade the majority of it.” “I only suffered a couple of bruises. It only hit my legs.”
Dennin stated that he and numerous individuals within The Apollo promptly began assisting in excavating individuals from beneath the debris.
“He mentioned that he simply entered and assisted until the fire marshal confirmed that everyone had evacuated,” he recounted. “Once I comprehended, after the initial shock, that I was unharmed, I became aware that there were individuals still trapped beneath the debris, and from that point on, I acted promptly without any hesitation.”
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Dennin remembers witnessing Munoz and Beal, who are friends with Munoz and Beal, reaching out to grab her hand and commencing the process of freeing her head from the wreckage, allowing her to breathe. Munoz remained trapped under the debris until her boyfriend, Beal, arrived.
He stated, “The dirt was so severe that initially we couldn’t distinguish one person from another.” “There were numerous individuals, once they recognized their safety, who eagerly arrived and greatly assisted in rescuing people.”
Carol McNeal, a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health provider at Crusader Community Health, stated that traumatic incidents can lead to various consequences such as nightmares, depression, feelings of isolation, and fatigue. These effects may have lasting impacts similar to the one experienced by Apollo. The resurgence of these emotions can intensify anxiety or be triggered by adverse weather conditions. Additionally, a distressing reminder can also manifest as physical injuries.
McNeal, who was raised in Belvidere and nostalgically remembers watching $1 films at The Apollo, stated, “that serves as a constant reminder of the traumatic experience you went through” every time you glance at your reflection.
People said she that patients should also give themselves time to heal. They should stick to their normal daily routine and rely on a support network to lean on during the processing of trauma.
She expressed, “Until your physical being conveys to you that you’re not in a satisfactory state,” occasionally we enjoy exerting effort, similar to saying ‘I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.’ Display compassion and tenderness towards yourself. We are not educated on how to handle our uneasiness on a daily basis in educational institutions.
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McNeal said that in a survivor’s support system, others and friends often don’t know what to say, so they should avoid suggesting that someone should get over the trauma. It is even worse to compare the person they loved to someone else.
“At times, it’s simply being present and actively listening, you don’t need to solve it,” McNeal stated.
‘I am unable to even tolerate the sound of thunder’
After another concert goer assisted him in releasing his leg from beneath a section of the ceiling, Beal, who came to the aid of his girlfriend, expressed that he hurriedly searched for Munoz.
Beal stated, “I began to utter her name, even while I remained trapped on the ground. “She managed to release her arm from some of the wreckage, and gradually I began to perceive faint cries for help.”
Once he found her, the 26-year-old man from Belvidere started pulling off a pile of wood as quickly as he could, handing it to others who were helping, eventually lightening her load enough for her to be freed.
“She slipped out of her boots to escape from beneath the debris,” Beal stated.
She was transported to the UW Health medical facility in Belvidere, where she was detained overnight.
Munoz stated, Munoz expressed, “that’s everything I could comprehend and I was in motion, but I couldn’t even sense my physical being yet. I had an injury to my head that was seeping blood onto my T-shirt.”
Beal mentioned that two additional acquaintances of his were transported to the medical facility with severe wounds.
Beal expressed a sense of unease he had never encountered from a storm before when potentially intense storms passed through the area once more four days afterwards.
He expressed, “Recently, I am unable to even tolerate the sound of thunder without becoming slightly overwhelmed. I am grateful that my friends managed to escape, for the most part.”
‘Enduring impact on our community’
Munoz said she initially avoided watching online rescue videos because she knew it would be too difficult. After a few days, she returned to Apollo to collect her thoughts and jacket following the tornado.
Munoz expressed, “The current situation is extremely distressing, making it challenging to even comprehend.” Munoz stated, “As time passes, the experience is gradually sinking in and it’s starting to feel quite overpowering.”
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Munoz stated that she became aware of the tornado alert once the intermission was announced and she checked her mobile device. The tornado hit while the concert was paused due to the extreme weather conditions.
“Then, out of nowhere, I found myself right beneath the debris,” she expressed.
Whitford also emphasized the significance of prioritizing her mental well-being when she reached out to her during her recovery, according to her statement.
Munoz and Corral were friends. In 2014, her son, who died by suicide, was named the foundation. Whitford is the executive director of the Tommy Corral Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people affected by suicide or mental health crisis.
Whitford stated, “The mental health of individuals and our community will be impacted by this, and I think it’s something important that often gets overlooked, which can have a lasting effect on people.”