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Paramedic’s Corner: Preparing for tornado season is crucial in Missouri
Paramedic’s Corner: Preparing for tornado season is crucial in Missouri

Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
The dead, 330 in all, died from what would later be called the deadliest tornado outbreak in America’s history. On April 3 and 4, 1974, 148 tornadoes went through 13 states. Another 5,484 people were injured during the 1974 outbreak.

More recently, 16 Missourians died on May 10 and 11, 2008.

Why do these deaths and injuries from tornadoes happen?

The warning systems in 1974 were nothing like today. Meteorologists had to depend on old World War II-type radar systems intended to spot airplanes, not twisting deadly wind. Tracking the tornado had to be done by hand; there were no satellite-computer models so prevalent today. Communications were slow too; even if a tornado was spotted it was a very slow process to get the warnings out in time. It is safe to conclude the heavy death toll in 1974 was a result of primordial warning systems and in some cases no warning systems were available at all.

Let’s jump ahead to May 10 and 11, 2008. The readers may remember over Mothers’ Day weekend that year, a tornado touched down and destroyed properties in a 20-mile path across Jasper, Newton and Barry Counties. Two hundred people were injured and sixteen people died! Warning systems are the best they have ever been; yet those people died. In this modern era, the communication age, why did these Missourians die?

To answer these questions requires a discussion about warnings and seeking shelter. These are the two important issues of this article.

Warnings: The first warning method I want to discuss with the readers is the NOAA Weather Radio. This is my strongest recommendation as far as warnings. The NOAA Weather radio with batteries is, in my opinion, the very best warning model available. It is important to note that a warning means a tornado has been spotted, so seek shelter immediately!

My recommendation and hope would be that every family had a NOAA Emergency Radio with plenty of batteries in case the electricity goes out. The weather channel and other electronic methods such as radio and television are great, but are dependent on electricity unless you have a backup battery system.

The great thing about the NOAA Emergency Radio is it wakes you up. Mine often alerts me with various watches and warnings about the state. The NOAA Weather radio is, in my opinion, the equivalent of saving lives from severe weather, as smoke alarms are in saving lives from fires. No home should be without both!

The next system people like to discuss is the warning sirens. These sirens are good for those outdoors. The storm sirens in Waynesville and Fort Leonard Wood are usually tested the second Wednesday of the month. On Tuesday, March 9, the statewide drill is set for 1:30 p.m. In case of bad weather, the statewide tornado back-up drill will be March 11 at 1:30 p.m.

Seeking shelter: The most salient point here is “to have a plan,” because during the emergency is not the time. Minutes and even seconds may count in saving you or those you love from serious injury or death. If a resident basement is not available, know the location of your local storm shelter and as soon as a warning is issued, get to the shelter.

Let’s return to May 2008 to consider why people died. Most of them died in vehicles, and one person was killed in a mobile home when a tree fell on it. One person got in a car beside the road seeking shelter. One family was driving to a family wedding and all were killed in the vehicle. Two of the worst places a person could be during a tornado are a vehicle and a mobile home.

Please remember the following:

Tornado Watch means watch the sky! A tornado may form during a thunderstorm.

Tornado Warning means seek shelter immediately!

If in a vehicle or in a mobile home get out immediately and seek shelter! If no shelter is available, or if you get caught out in the open, look for a ditch or a low-lying area. Cover your head with your arms, a pillow, coat, blanket, or anything to protect you from flying debris. Flying debris is the number ONE mechanism for death from a tornado!

Also, taking shelter under roadway overpasses is not safe!

If in a house, school, or business, seek shelter in basements if available. If there is no basement, go to the lowest level and go toward the interior. Stay away from windows. Use hallways or staircases. It is important to have a method to account for everyone in the home, class, or office.

Never drive into standing water. It can take less than six inches of fast-moving water to make a slow moving car float. Once floating, a vehicle can overturn and sink.

To conclude and keep it simple to survive a tornado:

1. Make a plan and practice said plan.

2. Have a warning system. This writer strongly recommends NOAA Weather Radio.

3. Know how and where to seek shelter.

4. Respond to the shelter immediately if a warning is issued for your area.

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