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When Tornadoes Hit: Safety Tips from US Agency

A deadly outbreak of tornadoes struck the South last night (April 27), reportedly killing more than 200 people, and warnings continue throughout the region. Here are tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to stay safe before, during and after a tornado.

Before and during a tornado

Take time to develop a tornado emergency plan with your family. Discuss where you would take shelter and know where your first-aid kit and fire extinguisher are. First-aid kits should be stored in a tool box or fishing tackle box so they will be easy to carry and protected from water. Inspect your house for possible hazards. Heavy items that might fall should be stored on low shelves, and toxic substances should be safely stored. The areas of connection between wall studs and roof rafters can be strengthened with hurricane clips.

You cannot always depend on seeing a funnel cloud to know a tornado is coming, the CDC says. Large, dark, low-lying clouds may also indicate a tornado is coming. You should stay tuned to local radio and TV stations, or to the NOAA radio station for updates on tornado warnings.

If you see a funnel cloud, or other signs a tornado is approaching, you should take cover immediately. Flying debris causes most deaths and injuries during a tornado, the CDC says.

Your shelter spot will vary depending on where you are when the tornado strikes.

  • At home: When taking shelter, try to get as far away from windows as possible. The basement is the safest place for shelter at home. If you don't have a basement, go to an inside room with no windows, such as a closet or a bathroom. If possible, cover your body with something, such as a blanket, and protect your head with anything available even your hands. For added protection, get under something sturdy, such as a table.
  • Mobile home: You should not stay in a mobile home during a tornado. If you live in a mobile home, you should plan ahead and go to a nearby building to take cover, preferably one with a basement.
  • On the road: Cars are very unsafe during a tornado. If you see one approaching while you are driving, don't stay in your car and try to outrun the tornado. Instead, stop your motor vehicle, get out and try to find a safe shelter spot. Avoid areas with many trees. Try to find a spot low to the ground, such as a gully or a ditch, and protect your head with your arms.

After a tornado

Just because the worst is over and the tornadoes have passed, doesn't mean there aren't health hazards lurking in a home or neighborhood. In fact, 50 percent of tornado-related injuries occur from post-tornado activity, and nearly a third of injuries are caused by accidents like stepping on nails, according to the CDC.

Tornadoes can also cause heavy objects to roll and fall over, as well as damage power lines, electrical systems and gas lines, which increase the risk of fire, electrocution and explosion, the CDC said.

Here are some general safety tips:

  • After a tornado, it's important to constantly monitor your television or battery-powered radio for emergency information.
  • Be careful and be aware of your surroundings whenever you walk into a building that has suffered tornado damage.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, gloves and long sleeves when handling debris.
  • Be aware of exposed nails and shards of broken glass that may have resulted from the tornado.
  • Don't touch downed power lines or things that are in contact with the downed lines, and report these hazards to a utility company or the police.
  • Try to use battery-powered lanterns instead of candles in the event of a power outage. If you must use candles, make sure they are placed in safe holders and kept away from flammable items such as paper, wood and curtains.
  • Never use carbon monoxide-producing products like grills, generators, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home or an enclosed space. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that causes illness and even death when breathed in.
  • Hang up telephones that may have been knocked off from the tornado, but don't use the telephone except for an emergency.
  • Cooperate with public officials.
  • Respond to volunteer requests from emergency officials, but don't try to help in damaged areas unless asked by a rescue official.

After a tornado, it's also important to assess the damage. When doing so, be aware of any possible electrical, structural and gas-leak hazards (indicated by the smell of gas or frayed wiring or sparks) that could be present in your home, the CDC said. If damage is suspected, shut off electricity, natural gas and propane to avoid any explosions, electrocutions or fires.

If it is dark outside when inspecting the home, use a flashlight instead of a candle or torch to avoid fire risks, the CDC said.

Anxiety is another health issue to be aware of after a tornado strikes, and while possible for people of any age, can be especially impactful for children. Be mindful of fear and anxiety a child may face after a tornado by listening to the child's fears and being reassuring, according to the CDC.

Follow MyHealthNewsDaily on Twitter @MyHealth_MHND.

Live Science Staff
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