What to do immediately after a tornado strikes your area

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

Though the worst of a tornado’s dangers might appear to end once the destructive and ferocious winds calm down or move out of your area, survivors should continue to use extreme caution for their family’s safety in a twister’s aftermath.

You can still be seriously hurt after a tornado hits. In a study of post-tornado injuries following a strike in Marion, Illinois, 50 percent of tornado-related injuries were found to have happened after the main event during rescue attempts, cleanup and other post-twister activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study showed that common injuries after the tornado included stepping on nails or being hit by falling or heavy objects.

“Resources and emergency personnel can be extremely limited following a natural disaster like a tornado,” said Brian Evans, CEO of Eastern Public, LLC, an insurance claims and risk management firm that specializes in consumer advocacy. “This means that you may be left to care for your family, home or business for some time without much help.”

Tornado damage in Washington State - AP Photo

People stand in front of a damaged home, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, in Port Orchard, Washington, the day after a tornado caused heavy damage in the area. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Experts recommend keeping the following tips in mind when safely navigating your home and neighborhood after a tornado strikes.

Check for injuries

After the tornado passes, experts advise quickly ensuring that everyone in your home or shelter is okay. If a person is hurt, don’t try to move them, as this may worsen the severity of the injury, said Sam Maizlech, a survival expert for Gunivore.com.

“The only reason to move an injured person is if they are in a dangerous location which may cause them more injury,” Maizlech said. “If they are in a safe location, stabilize them and wait for emergency personnel.”

If someone isn’t breathing, you can perform CPR if you’re trained, according to the CDC. To stop any bleeding wounds, applying direct pressure to the injury should help until emergency responders arrive.

If you end up trapped after the tornado, Ready.gov recommends covering your mouth with a cloth to avoid inhaling dust. Then, try sending a text, using a whistle instead of shouting and banging on pipes or walls until you’re located.

Stay informed about severe weather

Even after one tornado passes, a severe weather outbreak with multiple rounds of thunderstorms can potentially produce multiple tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Keep monitoring your battery-powered radio, listen to local news if possible or download and check the free AccuWeather app to stay alert on any active tornado watches and warnings in your area.

Stay in touch with loved ones

If your family and close friends aren’t in the same location during and after a tornado, try to reach out to let them know you and those with you are okay. As phone systems might be down or busy after a major disaster, Ready.gov advises saving phone calls for emergencies and instead sending text messages or posting to social media.

Check for hazards and inspect for damage

If you’re away from home, only return once authorities announce that it’s safe. It’s important to begin assessing any impacts to your property as a result of the tornado.

“Violent winds associated with tornadoes can damage or weaken essential structural building components,” Evans said. “Just because the home or business appears to be okay does not mean it is safe to occupy."

Damage to your home could pose potential structural, electrical or gas-leak hazards, according to the CDC. “Careful inspection of any building affected by a tornado should conducted, ideally by a professional,” Evans added.

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If there is any damage to your home, it’s recommended that you shut off all natural gas, propane tanks and electrical power to avoid fire or electrocution, the CDC cautioned.

While expecting a home in the dark, it’s better to use a flashlight rather than a candle to minimize the fire risk. If the smell of gas is present and you suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve and leave the house immediately. The CDC then advises notifying the gas company and police or fire departments.

“Once the property is verified as safe to occupy, begin to memorize the scene before anything is disturbed by taking photographs and videos of damaged or suspected damaged property," Evans said. "This can be imperative to ensuring you are able to recover the necessary insurance proceeds that may be available to you or to supporting tax write-offs for any uninsured losses.”

The CDC recommends these additional post-tornado safety precautions to keep in mind:

  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Look out for exposed nails and broken glass.
  • Don’t touch downed power lines or objects in contact with them, and report electrical hazards to the police and utility company.
  • Hang up displaced telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the tornado, but stay off the telephone except to report emergencies.
  • Cooperate fully with public safety officials.
  • Respond to requests for volunteer assistance by police, fire fighters, emergency management and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested. Your presence could hamper relief efforts, and you could put yourself in harm's way.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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