Sunday’s devastating tornado that destroyed 350 homes in and around Parkersburg and New Hartford has likely prompted many Iowans to re-evaluate their own plans in the event of a major storm. National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Russell says the first and most important step is having an actual plan in place.
"So that when the tornado sirens go off, they know what that plan is and they can executed it immediately…they don’t have to think about what actions need to be taken, they’re safety plan’s been put in place and they’ve practiced it," Russell said. For most homes, the safest place in the event of a tornado is the basement.
Russell says it’s also a good idea to take cover under a sturdy structure like a staircase or work bench. He says it’s a myth that one side of the home – north, south, east or west – is safer than the other. Russell suggests using pillows, blankets or even wearing a helmet to add protection from falling debris. It’s also a good idea to consider what items are located on the floors above the "safe spot" in the basement.
"You want to put yourself in a position where you’re not going to have things fall on top of you and you want to be away from items that may break or cause other kinds of hazards, such as chemicals or hot water heaters and things of that nature," Russell said. If a home is without a basement, the safest place is usually in the center of the structure.
"Many tornadoes do damage to a house but leave the interior walls in good shape. So, putting as many walls between you and the outside is the best thing to do if you don’t have a basement," Russell said. Many of the people that were killed or injured in Sunday’s tornado believed they were in the safest place in their home. But, Russell notes the strength of the tornado was extremely usual. In fact, it was only the sixth tornado in the state’s history to be rated an EF5 – meaning it packed sustained winds of over 200 miles per hour.