Newspaper: The Sentinel

Date: April 7. 1979

Article: Evacuees filtering back; Anxiety levels minimal

Author: United Press International


HARRISBURG (UPI) - Residents in small communities surrounding the slowly cooling Three Mile Island nuclear reactor have uneasily made their way home and they appear to be taking things in stride.

Clergymen and mental health workers say the prevailing mood is calm as citizens try to settle back into their normal routines after the nation's worst nuclear accident.

Yet, both religious and secular counselors agree that anxiety may mount in following weeks when residents must deal with feelings that have been denied or assuaged by the sudden tightening of family community ties that occurs in any crisis.

"People are actually aware of the situation now," says Rev. Catherine Welton of the St. Michael and All Angeles Episcopal Church in Middletown. "But I expect in a month or so, anxiety is going to hit in some form.

"In any crisis, you get along for a while with the help of neighbors and friends… Everybody is always calling and letting you know they care," she said.

"BUT THERE comes a point where friends stop checking so much … that people aren't being so supportive … and they realize what they've been through and there's this feeling of aloneness…"

Brian Fogarty, a psychotherapist at Harrisburg Hospital agrees.

"In something like this, the community pulls together and people become more interdependent," he said.

"Then, after a while, they start forgetting and people are left alone to deal with the feelings they're having," he added.

Others feel that many of those affected just haven't had the time to think about what they've experienced and what it means.

"We really haven't got many calls relating to it (Three Mile Island)," says Joe Bushman, counselor at the Dauphin County Crisis Intervention Center. "It seems we've hit a lull … it hasn't sunk in yet … people are somehow denying what's happened."

"WHEN IT does sink in, I think we'll have our work cut of for us," he said.

He also noted that unlike previous crises in this area, like the Susquehanna River flood of 1975, people cannot work out anxiety "in a physical way."

"In that, they could help people move or throw sandbags around. This is intangible … it's frustrating," he said.

And the Rev. Billy Holmes of the First Church of God in Highspire says of his 200 parishioners still may be stunned by the unreality of it all.