The devastating storms that ripped through central Tennessee on March 3 remind us that tornadoes continue to be one of the most destructive and costly natural disasters.
Tornadoes are more common in the central United States, though they can occur almost anywhere in North America, including in large cities. They can happen at any time of year or at any time of the day or night, though they occur most frequently between early spring and July.
Below are some of the basic precautions to take before, during and after a tornado.
The Red Cross recommends the following precautions:
- Identify a safe place in your home where household members and pets will gather during a tornado: a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
- In a high-rise building, pick a hallway in the center of the building. You may not have enough time to go to the lowest floor.
- In a mobile home, choose a safe place in a nearby sturdy building. If your mobile home park has a designated shelter, make it your safe place. No mobile home, however configured, is safe in a tornado.
When a tornado warning sounds or a tornado has been sighted, do not try to outrun it. Stay calm but quickly seek shelter in the safest place possible.
- If you are at home, the safest place to be is underground. Basements are usually the most protected area, but if this is not an option take cover in central part of the house away from windows—for example in a bathroom, closet, interior hallway or under a heavy piece of furniture.
- If you are in an office building or skyscraper, go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building—away from glass and on the lowest floor possible—and crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter and, if they are not crowded, allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off elevators, you could get trapped if the power is lost. If you are in a tall building, you may not have enough time to evacuate to the lowest floor.
- If you are at school, follow the staff instructions and go to an interior hall or room in an orderly way as directed. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.
- If you are in a car or truck, abandon the vehicle and seek shelter in sturdy structure. If you are in open country, seek shelter in the nearest ditch. Lie flat, face down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can.
- If you are in a mobile home, get out! Even if the home is tied down, you are probably safer outside.
Damage caused by tornadoes is covered under standard homeowners and business insurance policies, as well as the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.
If you sustain tornado damage:
- Contact your insurer as soon as possible and start the claims filing process. After tornadoes and other disasters, insurance companies will reach out to those with the worst losses first.
- Take photos of any damage. A photographic record is useful when making insurance claims.
- Make temporary repairs to prevent further loss from rain, wind or looting; these costs are reimbursable under most policies, so save the receipts.
- Make a detailed list of all damaged or destroyed personal property. If you have a home inventory, it will be extremely useful here. Don’t throw out damaged property until you have met with an adjuster.
- Don’t rush to sign repair contracts. Do your homework, deal with reputable contractors and get references. Be sure of payment terms and consult your insurance adjuster before you sign any contracts.
- If your home is uninhabitable because of tornado damage, your homeowners or renters insurance provides coverage for additional living expenses (ALE), such as hotel bills or meals out. Save all related receipts and, if you have vacated your home premises, make sure your insurance representative knows where and how to contact you.
- Talk to your insurance professional if you have any questions about any part of your insurance coverage.
More on how to file a claim following a disaster here
Facts & statistics on tornadoes and thunderstorms here