WICHITA, Kan. — A lesson from the tragedy in Joplin, Mo., is that tornadoes may strike with little or no warning, hidden by rain or nearly transparent until they kick up dust and debris.
You might be shopping, visiting a nursing home, driving a car or attending a movie.
Emergency officials recommend following these basic guidelines if you find yourself in an unfamiliar place when a tornado approaches:
_ Get to the lowest level, find an interior room or hallway away from windows, and try to put as many walls between you and the storm as possible. Flying debris is the leading cause of fatalities and injuries in a tornado.
-- If you plan a trip to a so-called big box store and severe weather is predicted, stay home. Big box stores generally are built of light weight materials that may meet code but are inadequate to protect against a tornado. In addition, they are filled with loose items that can turn into deadly missiles in a tornado.
-- If you must go to a big box store, stay aware of weather alerts. If you are in a store when a tornado approaches, the best option is leave and find cover outside in a ditch or low-lying area.
-- In high-rise apartments or office buildings, get to the lowest floor, then pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building. Central stairways are good if enclosed by concrete, not glass. Elevators are not good places to go because buildings could lose power.
-- Stay away from glass walls and windows, no matter how small.
-- Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down, and cover your head with your hands.
-- In houses or other small structures, prepare a safe place to go in advance. If there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest floor is the best place to wait out a storm.
-- Hide under a heavy work table or under stairs to avoid crumbling walls, chimneys and debris. Avoid areas on lower floors beneath heavy objects such as pianos, refrigerators and beds.
-- Bathtubs and commodes are anchored into the ground and sometimes are the only things left standing after a storm. Get into a bathtub with a cushion or heavy blankets over you.
-- In a pinch, put a metal trash container over your head to protect against flying debris.
-- In schools, shopping centers, churches and other large structures, avoid areas with wide, free-span roofs. If possible, get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Crouch down and cover your head. Stay away from windows and outside walls.
-- In churches or theaters, get under seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms.
-- In vehicles, don't try to outrun a tornado. If a tornado is visible far away and the traffic is light, you may able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the storm. Otherwise park the car as quickly as possible out of traffic, get out immediately, and head for nearest sturdy building, or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area.
_ If you are caught in the tornado, stay in the vehicle with your seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering your head with your hands and a blanket if possible.
_ Don't take shelter under overpasses. Deadly airborne debris can easily be blown into those areas.
_ Mobile homes aren't safe, even if securely tied down. Residents should abandon them and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately.
_ If you are outdoors, get to a sturdy building or low-lying area. Keep your head and neck covered.
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McClatchy Newspapers 2011