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A storm system that hit the Gulf and East Coast last week cost people their lives and families their homes as more than a dozen tornadoes touched down in Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida. Near-100 mph winds were recorded in Florida; the tornado that struck Escambia County in Pensacola was the strongest seen in the area in 45 years. At least seven people were killed as a result of the storms, dozens of others were hurt.

The storm is an important reminder that severe weather is not something to be taken lightly: tornado preparedness is a must. Although deadly tornadoes are typically a part of spring and summer, they can be unpredictable and occur at any time, with little warning.

According to the CDC, the key to surviving a tornado and reducing the risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you would do if a tornado strikes.

  • Create a disaster emergency kit
  • Have a family tornado plan in place.
  • Practice a tornado drill at least once a year.
  • Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds.
  • Store protective coverings (e.g., mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc.) in or next to your shelter space.

It is important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop.

  • Have your emergency kit ready
  • Account for all family members
  • Keep a battery-powered radio tuned to weather reports.
  • If time permits, move lawn furniture and equipment inside to minimize flying debris.

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated on weather radar. Tornadoes are capable of completely leveling a home or building, uprooting trees, and sending objects through the air like a torpedo. The most common warning is a siren, but keeping an eye to the sky for these warning signs can help you prepare for safety.

  • Dark, greenish skies
  • Bright blue- or green-colored flashes near the ground. That is an indication of snapped power lines and a sign of intense wind or a tornado.
  • Rotating, low-altitude cloud, or loud roar or rumble, like a train.
  • Strong winds with persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  • Whirling dust or debris.
  • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift.

Everyone has the chance to survive a tornado.

  • The safest place to go during a tornado is underground or in a basement.
  • If no basement is available, go to a small interior room on the lowest level of the home or building. Get under a stairwell, in an interior hallway, or in a bathroom or closet.
  • Avoid areas with glass windows and doors, as well as wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums.
  • Keep all windows shut.
  • Crouch low to the floor and cover your head with your hands, mattress, blankets, sleeping bag, or helmet to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.
  • Know where very heavy objects rest on the floor above (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) and do not go under them. They may fall down through a weakened floor and crush you.

If you are caught outdoors, do not try out run a tornado. Immediately get to an underground shelter or a sturdy building. If there is no adequate shelter immediately available, lie flat and face-down on low ground, protect your head with an object or with your arms, and stay far away from trees and cars as possible.

Mobile homes are not safe in tornadoes. Seek shelter elsewhere at the first sign of severe weather. As a last resort, go outside and lie flat on the ground in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.

It is also important to remember that once a tornado has passed, the dangers are not over.

  • Stay away from power lines and puddles with wires as they may still be carrying electricity.
  • Watch your step to avoid broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects.
  • Stay out of any heavily damaged homes or buildings; they could collapse at any time.
  • Do not use matches or lighters, in case of leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby.
  • Listen for information and instructions from emergency crews or local office.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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