How to survive a tornado: Know where to seek shelter

April 4, 2012 3:17:32 PM PDT
Tornado survivors and experts say, knowing where to seek shelter during a tornado can make all the difference.

There were 1,691 tornadoes reported across the United States last year. That is the second highest number in history.

Last year also had the distinction of being the deadliest in modern history, with 550 tornado deaths. You have no doubt heard tips about where to go in a storm -- the basement, the bathtub -- but, what makes those places so safe?

When a tornado hit Harrisburg, Illinois, last month many survived by doing the same thing -- they hid in the tub. That's right, experts say if you don't have a basement, the tub may be the next best place to ride out a storm.

"Because a bathtub in many cases is cast iron, especially the older tubs are hard. It's like an upside down helmet," said John Drengenberg of Underwriters Laboratories. "When you're in there, the flying debris can't get at you."

Drengenberg and his team at Underwriters Laboratories test everything from steel supports to shingles, floors to doors, for their ability to withstand the worst Mother Nature has to offer.

Experts suggest small rooms in a basement, away from windows, are the best bet to survive a tornado.

Beyond that, where you are in the house may also matter. Go to the corner where the storm will hit first.

"It's because the wind is coming from that direction, and it will blow debris into other parts of the basement," said Drengenberg. "If you're house disappears, the debris will go in other parts, but not right down on top of you."

In a storm, shingles can become flying projectiles. That is why Underwriters Laboratories has a machine that tests them under wind speeds of up to 100 mph.

At the Molloy Special Education Center in Morton Grove, administrators have identified in advance the special needs of students to first responders.

"If something were to happen, the fire department would treat us almost like a hospital. They would send more support out to help us with our students," said Molloy Principal Michael Meyers.

Experts say advance planning is key: Discuss things like family meeting locations and pick a close friend or relative who lives in another city to be a central point of contact who everyone can check in with after the storm.

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