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Tornado survival and claim tips

Tornadoes are among the most devastating phenomena of nature. Yet your chances of surviving a tornado can greatly increase if you prepare your family for action when a twister threatens.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), about 1,200 tornadoes with wind speeds as high as 300 mph touch down in the United States each year. Your home insurance policy will cover damage from a tornado, and if your car is damaged, you'll need comprehensive coverage in your car insurance policy to cover the damage.

Tornado watch: Conditions are right for tornadoes

Tornado season

Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year. In the southern states, peak tornado season is March through May, while peak months in the northern states are during the summer.

Tornadoes are rotating columns of air that touch the ground, spawned by large, severe thunderstorms.

"Tornado Alley" is a nickname for areas of the United States that suffer more tornadoes than other parts of the country. The strongest and most violent tornadoes generally pass through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern Texas and eastern Colorado.

Tornadoes cause an average of 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries each year. They produce wind speeds in excess of 250 miles per hour and can be one mile wide and stay on the ground over 50 miles.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

When a tornado watch is issued, the American Red Cross advises you to tune to local television and radio stations for weather updates. A tornado watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the formation of a tornado. The Red Cross stresses the importance of keeping aware of the changing weather situation; the more time you have to move to safety, the more likely you and your family are to survive unharmed.

According to the National Weather Service, 21 people died in tornadoes in 2009.

Mobile and manufactured homes are especially vulnerable to damage in tornadoes. Consider this: There were 126 deaths due to tornadoes in 2008 — one of the deadliest tornado years. Among those, 56 deaths were in mobile homes and 36 were in permanent homes, according to the National Weather Service. In 2009, a total of 21 deaths were reported (12 in mobile homes and 7 in permanent houses). Mobile home residents are urged to arrange in advance for a safe place to go when tornadoes threaten.

Tornado warning: A tornado is coming

A tornado warning presents an immediate threat. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is spotted visually or on weather radar. In case of a tornado warning, FEMA advises you to:

  • Go at once to the basement, storm cellar or the lowest level of the building.
  • If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Get away from the windows.
  • Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • If you're in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere.

Tornado myths

There are many myths about what to do during a tornado. The American Red Cross wants to set the record straight.

One popular belief is that opening a building's windows allows the air pressure to equalize as a tornado passes overhead. Air pressure can equalize itself through normal openings within a building. Opening windows does little to equalize air pressure. You should stay as far from windows as possible when tornadoes threaten because of the danger from debris and flying glass.

Another persistent myth is that the southwest corner of a building is the safest in a tornado, but the Red Cross warns that any place near windows is dangerous. Here are some other popular myths:

  • Myth: Tornadoes happen only in the spring.
    Fact: Tornadoes happen most often from March through August, but they can happen anytime and in any state.
  • Myth: You should dry to "outdrive" a tornado.
    Fact: A tornado can pick up a car and toss it like a toy. If you are in a car during a tornado, stop and find a safe place. If that isn't possible, get out of your car and duck down in the lowest spot you can find, such as a ditch or gully. A tornado doesn't suck objects up, but blows them around.
  • Myth: Highway overpasses are a safe place to hide during a tornado.
    Fact: You can be killed under a highway overpass because it acts like a wind tunnel, attracting strong winds and debris.

After the storm passes

Once the severe weather has passed, here are some tips from the Red Cross:

  • Tune your radio to a local station, which provides frequent weather reports. There could be more tornadoes in your area.
  • Avoid downed power lines.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • If you're inside a building and you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, open a window and immediately exit the building. Call the fire department or gas company
  • Carefully inspect your home for damage. If it’s dark when you are inspecting your home, use flashlights. Candles could ignite leaking natural gas.

Making a claim

If your house has sustained tornado damage, III recommends these steps:

  • Take photogtraphs of the damaged property.
  • Give your agent a description of the damage so that it can be reported immediately to the insurance company in order to start your claim rolling.
  • Make a detailed inventory of all damaged personal property. You'll need two copies: one for yourself and one for the insurance adjuster. Include as much detail as possible, including a description of the items, dates of purchase or approximate age, cost at time of purchase and estimated replacement cost.
  • Make temporary repairs such as covering broken windows and save the receipts for insurance reimbursement.
  • If you can't live in your house due to damage, make sure to keep a record of expenses such as hotel and meals; your home insurance will cover these additional living expenses.

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