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Surviving a Tornado-The Aftermath

Updated on February 9, 2012

The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by him; and the LORD shall cover him all the day long. Deuteronomy 33:12

My disabled neighbor's home
My disabled neighbor's home | Source

I realize there are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about tornadoes. So why have I written this one? Because I have recently experienced one myself and hope to offer a personal objective that will pass this hard won wisdom on to others. Not only have I learned how to survive the tornado but what to do and not do afterward.

How does one cope with the power of a storm like a tornado? What happens after it passes, leaving shocked people and uprooted lives? Recently a tornado came through our neighborhood and left us all reeling and many homeless. But good can be found in terror, positive birthed from tragedy and we learned what we did right and what we did wrong. I will share those lessons here in the hope they will be beneficial to others.

200 Year Old Oak Tree Uprooted In 30 Seconds


A tornado is a mass of violently whirling wind that twists itself into a funnel shape and travels over land at a high rate of speed. It is always destructive, ripping apart buildings and lives without discrimination. Many people lose their homes and lives to tornadoes each year in the United States alone.

Many people (including my family) do not keep the television or radio on and are caught unprepared for a storm or other emergency. Most local television and weather channels have a phone application so an alert is sent in the event of severe weather. I advise everyone to take advantage of this free option. I now have a text application on my phone to warn me of any emergency alerts.

Know the difference between a tornado Warning and a Watch. A watch means conditions are positive for a tornado to form. A watch means one has been sighted and all precautions should be taken.

I did not have an alert or warning when the F2 tornado hit us that evening. We were caught by surprise, thinking it was only a bad storm until too late to seek safety in the basement. When the wind hits one has no doubt about the difference. The roar is like a jet engine upon takeoff and hail, debris and other matter is thrown against homes, trees and all structures. It uprooted 200 year old oak trees seventy feet tall and we never heard the crash because of the wind volume.

My Neighbor's RV


Scary? Yes, indeed it is very frightening. Should a person be caught in a tornado, seek safe shelter in a downstairs area. Underneath the stairs is one of the safest spots in a home or under a heavy table to protect oneself from falling walls and roofs. If this option is not available, get into an inner closet, a narrow hallway or the bathroom. Get in the bathtub and curl up in a fetal position unless the tub is near a window or outside door. The main objective is to get as far away from windows as possible. Try to grab pillows, cushions or the like and protect the head.

Put as many barriers between yourself and the storm to prevent being struck by flying debris or being sucked into the vortex as it passes overhead. If possible, strap babies and small children to yourself with a belt or other secure material to prevent them from being sucked away in case the roof is torn off.

An old myth says opening a window or door will release the pressure and allow the building to suffer less damage. This is incorrect. Never open a window or door during a tornado because it allows the wind, once inside, to lift the roof right off the house. It also increases the danger of being struck and injured by glass that is shattered by the wind or objects thrown against the windows.

Do not remain inside a mobile home if possible to retreat to safety elsewhere. They are not constructed to withstand tornado force winds or objects thrown against them at 200 plus miles per hour. If ripped apart, the metal siding can become blades capable of slicing through flesh and even through other buildings. A couple on the next street had one tied down and it still lifted and they "rode" the tornado. Thankfully neither were seriously injured.

If caught outdoors in a tornado, keep away from trees and other tall items such as light poles. Get into a gully, ditch or depression. Do not try to drive away from the tornado. The perceived distance is deceptive and the consequence deadly as the vehicle can be lifted by the wind and flung about. Do not seek shelter under an overpass. They can become a virtual wind tunnel, placing the occupant in danger of flying debris or of being sucked into the air.

Hang onto a cellular phone for dear life as it may indeed save your life. The electrical power and telephone lines will most likely be compromised for an unknown period of time.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Taken several weeks before the tornadoAfter the tornado
Taken several weeks before the tornado
Taken several weeks before the tornado | Source
After the tornado
After the tornado | Source

Now What?

The storm has passed leaving shaken but unharmed people to wonder what just happened. The power is out and the extent of damage to one’s home and loved ones in other areas is unknown. What should one do first?

WAIT before going outside. A tornado can spawn others and one may be following closely behind the first. There may be downed trees with branches still falling or precarious. Power lines may be lying on the ground pulsating with electricity that could injure or kill anyone who touches them. It is best to wait for emergency workers or police to arrive before venturing outside especially if dark.

Call out to any other people who were in the home, gather everyone close and assure everyone is safe. If separated, get everyone in the same area but do not climb on fallen areas. They may be unstable or contain live electric wires. Tend to any wounds if necessary and possible. Keep everyone calm and stay close together.

Use that cell phone to call 911 and report your location and the status of any injuries. Roads and highways may be blocked by fallen trees and other objects but injured people will receive first response but emergency personnel want to know about those without injuries also and about people who may be trapped inside their home or on their street.

If safe to move about, fill sinks, tubs and buckets with water. Get some flashlights or candles immediately (even during daylight hours) and keep them close. Even if your home was spared, the power and water may be off for hours or even days.


Vultures Attack!

Once the roads are clear and emergency workers allow access to the area impacted by the tornado, all sorts of people arrive like cockroaches on a leftover sandwich. Dozens of roofers, tree services, contractors and anyone else who could remotely find any sort of work descend on the stunned survivors. Each touts their own company as the single one that can provide the best service. Do Not Agree To Or Sign Anything! Some of these are reputable and indeed do a good job. Others are looking to take advantage of the situation. Take your time to settle down and perform due diligence before choosing a repair service. Have the insurance adjustor out and get his/her report and monetary estimate before committing to repairs. Simple tell the people you will take their card to review and will choose the right one later.

It can be overwhelming and one’s desire is to fix their home as soon as possible. Restrain and refrain from doing so. Most insurance companies severely limit resources for down trees and other damages. By committing to a contract, you will be responsible to pay out of pocket for any excess expenses. Take time to stabilize thoughts and to make a plan.

Charitable foundations will come by to offer assistance. In our case, Samaritan’s Purse was out early the next morning. They are well known and have a spotless reputation. They will assess the neighborhood and individual properties and may be able to help for no charge.

Their services include reestablishing water, gas and electrical services as well as tree and debris removal. This can save the homeowner hundreds to thousands of dollars that can go toward structural repairs of the home.

Samaritan’s Purse also will secure contractor grade tarps on damaged roofs for free while professional roofers want anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. Some unethical contractors will offer to do this (“it will not cost you a penny.”) then later inform you that it must be filed with your insurance company to recoup their costs. Do not fall for the scams. Ask to see state licenses and accreditation.

One such company in our case showed up in a van that proclaimed disaster relief, went about handing out bags that contained water, ready to eat meals, first aid supplies and other essentials. Turns out they are just another company wanting to contract for repairs. Two of our neighbors fell for them and now are stuck paying out of pocket for services they unwittingly agreed to.

Local churches will most likely set up pantries for food, clothing and household goods. Do not feel bad about utilizing them. These goodhearted people ache to help in the only way they can. They like knowing victims are fed and clothed. Many times they can provide resources for shelter also. A scripture in Matthew 25:40 says, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Allow the brothers and sisters in Christ to soothe the process of recovery and to provide spiritual and physical needs.

Just be cautious not to act while in shock. So many of these people swarmed our neighborhood that the police closed the streets to all but residents and ones they personally escorted in.

(Let me state that I know people with businesses need to earn a living and provide for their own families. That is understandable and I do not intend to take away from legitimate owners who act with respect and integrity.)

Working On The Downed Trees


Our Personal Story

We often go days without turning on the television or radio and almost never watch the news. On the evening the tornado struck, we had finished dinner. I was washing dishes and my son was studying on the computer. I saw lots of lightening and got out of the water (duh!). I went into the living room and looked out the window. What I saw stopped my breath!

The sky was dark and greenish and the trees were whipping down to the ground. Just then hail started hitting the house with hurricane force and something slammed against the back. I heard glass break and called my son to come to me. He obeyed instantly thank God because just then we heard a sound like a jet plane taking off or a freight train. It was loud, powerful and mighty. We have a brick house and I do believe it shook!

I knew it was a tornado and, clutching my son, turned toward the basement stairs. But the power went off just then and it was pitch dark. All we could do was stand there and hold each other while placing ourselves in the arms of God. It was over before I could think what to do. I opened my cell phone so there would be a bit of light and retrieved candles from the hallway closet.

I lit several candles and opened the curtains hoping to get light inside the room from outside. I know the Holy Spirit led me to do that just as He kept us safely upstairs during the storm. A twelve year old boy across the street was home alone when the storm hit. Something slammed into the room he was in and pushed the wall in. He ran and hid in the living room until the wind passed. Then he looked outside and saw my lights burning. He grabbed his little poodle dog and ran to us for safety. He was shaking all over so hard it was almost convulsions.

I brought him inside and we used my cell phone to call his mother who had intended to be gone only fifteen minutes. She was out of her mind with worry and could not get into the neighborhood because of downed trees but walked up the hill carrying her two month old baby. The next morning, we saw the downed power lines and thanked God that she had not been electrocuted.

The aftermath was just that. It felt like we had survived a war or a tragedy, which it was. President Obama refused to declare this a disaster area because no one died in the tornado. Dozens were injured, fifteen homes were totally destroyed and dozens of others damaged. Some required only a few thousand dollars in repairs; others will be 20 or 30 thousand dollars. Estimates are over 15 million did dollars in damages where the tornado set down in a 4 mile span. Our Governor did pay us a visit and after seeing the wreckage declared a disaster area here.

That hopefully will provide assistance to make repairs after the insurance money is used for greater damages. Our own home was virtually unscathed and the damage is about $7,000. Insurance covers that but allows nothing for all of the trees that fell. My heart already yearns for them and I intend to contact the Arbor Day Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. They may provide interested parties trees and several neighbors and I want to hold an Earth Day tree planting ceremony and get new growth started.

Puppy Found Unharmed Under Destroyed House

What Do People Need After A Natural Disaster?

We need prayers.

  • My heart clutches when the wind picks up and I must force myself to relax. I know God is my protector and I trust Him. But just for a minute I go back to that moment when the wind struck our home. Pray for my mind to instantly be at peace.
  • My son has brought out his little sleep toy again and carries it everywhere. He asked if someone he knows was killed in the tornado. He wants me to sleep with him so I am close in case it comes again. Pray for him to forget that night and be at peace again.
  • Pray for my neighbors who lost everything that all will be restored and they can be in a home again.
  • Pray for the injured that they make a full recovery.
  • Pray for trees to be replanted. That may sound minor but it is very important for our spirits. We need them for air quality, beauty and to protect our homes from the heat of summer.
  • Pray for everyone who gave of themselves so unselfishly to be rewarded and to receive that love back a hundredfold.

The Lord's Prayer by Andrea Bocelli


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