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When tornadoes strike, extremely high winds and flying/falling debris are the primary dangers to your health. Knowing exactly what to do during a tornado can save your and your family's life. After a tornado, there are a number of other potential hazards that can adversely affect your health and well-being, such as:

  • Physical injuries due to debris (stepping on nails or broken glass, falling structures)
  • Fire, electrocution, or explosion due to damaged power lines, gas lines, or electrical equipment
  • Exposure to chemical spills and/or potentially contaminated floodwaters
  • Mold growth from wet or damp conditions
  • Ongoing mental and emotional stress (fear, anxiety), especially in children

How to Prepare

Understand Watches and Warnings. Keep an eye out for bad weather, and stay tuned to a NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information. NOAA Weather Radios with a tone-alert feature can notify you of dangerous tornado conditions, even in the middle of the night. If a tornado is happening or about to happen, there a couple of terms you need to know:

  • A Tornado Watch means that tornadoes are possible. It is important to remain alert for changing weather conditions and approaching storms. Be ready to take shelter immediately.
  • A Tornado Warning is an urgent announcement that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. You should take shelter immediately.

Learn How to Take Shelter. Flying debris is deadly during a tornado. Where you and your family are when a tornado happens changes the way you need to take shelter.

  • House: Go to the basement or lowest level of your home and avoid windows. Get under sturdy objects like tables or workbenches and cover up with blankets for more protection.
  • Mobile Home: Mobile homes cannot hold up to tornado winds. It is best to find a nearby building you can go to for shelter.
  • Driving: Vehicles are not safe against tornado winds. Never stay in or under a vehicle during a tornado. If a tornado is occurring while you're driving, stop and find a nearby building to take shelter in or seek low-lying ground. Never try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle.
  • Outside: If you cannot get to a sturdy building, find a low-lying area, like a ditch, and cover your head with an object or your arms. Avoid places with trees since they can cause more dangerous debris or fall on top of you.
  • Work/School: Make sure you and your family know the tornado shelter plans at your work and school(s) and that these plans are regularly practiced.

Have a plan and supplies ready. Having a plan and supplies in place for you and your family before any emergency happens will make it easier to return to your normal life. Plan ahead of time for you and your family to make sure everyone knows the best place to take cover during a tornado no matter where they are. Come up with meeting places in and out of your neighborhood in case you're separated from loved ones during a disaster. Talking about and writing your plan together will give you the peace of mind that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Learn more about planning and emergency supplies.

How to stay healthy

Prevent injuries. Be aware that the wreckage from a tornado can create a number of hazardous situations. You should avoid or minimize your exposure to dangerous substances and conditions in and around the damaged area.

  • Always wear protective clothing, gloves and boots during cleanup to protect yourself from nails, broken glass, chemicals that may have spilled, and even flood water, which could be contaminated with chemicals or sewage. Wash your hands with soap and clean water frequently, and seek medical attention for dirty cuts, or deep puncture wounds.
  • Watch out for downed power lines, damaged gas lines, or electrical equipment, which could cause an electrocution, fire, or explosion. Make sure to shut off electrical power and natural gas or propane tanks, but only if you can do so safely.
  • Only use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns rather than candles, gas lanterns or torches to examine your home as there may be flammables inside.
  • To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, do not use portable generators or outdoor grills inside your home or outside next to windows. Carbon monoxide gas is colorless, odorless, and deadly!

Keep food and water safe. In a disaster, food and water can become contaminated with poisonous chemicals and even sewage, which can cause you and your family to become very sick if consumed. Follow these few rules of thumb before you consume them.

To keep your food safe:

  • Throw away any food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water. This includes food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods as these types of items cannot be disinfected.
  • Food items in unopened, store-bought cans that may have come in contact with flood or storm water must be washed and disinfected (see instructions below). If a canned good item is bulging, opened or damaged, throw it away, whether it has come in contact with flood water or not.

Disinfection Instructions for Canned Goods:

  1. Remove the label and wash the can well with soap and clean water.
  2. Prepare a solution of bleach and water by mixing one capful of unscented household chlorine bleach into one gallon of water.
  3. Disinfect the can by submerging it into the bleach water for one full minute. Do not rinse the can off. Allow the can to air dry before using it or storing it in a clean, dry place.
  4. Re-label the can with a sharpie or other permanent marker. Don’t forget to include any expiration date that was listed on the original label.

Throw away any perishable food items in your refrigerator, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers, if the power has been out for 4 or hours or more. Throw away any food with an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!

Drinking Water Safety

  • Listen to public announcements or contact your local health department to find out if your tap water is safe.  Until you know your water is safe, use bottled, boiled or disinfected water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, prepare or wash food, wash your hands, make ice or make baby formula! Learn how to boil or disinfect water.

Clean mold from your home. Mold begins to grow in wet or damp conditions after two days. If you need to clean your home of mold, make sure to wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, rubber boots, and goggles. To keep from breathing in mold, wear an N-95 mask. Do not use dust masks or handkerchiefs as the mold spores can still pass through the tiny holes in the material and get into your lungs. N-95 masks (available at hardware stores) are specially designed to keep very tiny particles, such as mold, from getting through. Make sure the mask fits snugly around your nose and mouth.

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