Safety Rules in Light of the Joplin Tornado

There have been many comments about how the traditional tornado safety rules “didn’t work” in the Joplin tornado. This isn’t exactly true and, now that I have seen the damage for myself, I’d like to comment.

The paramount safety rule is to get underground. In the St. Louis Good Friday tornado there were no deaths and no serious injuries. Most homes in St. Louis have basements so getting underground was easy.

In Joplin, it has been reported that 87% of the affected homes did not have basements. The criticism has been that getting in a bathtub or a closet “didn’t work.” Those rules did work, at least to an extent, as the photos below demonstrate:

Intact bathtub in wrecked Joplin home.

Portable television inside closet. One could surmise the occupant(s) took shelter inside
the largely intact closet and used the TV to stay informed.

That said, the “get in a closet or bathtub in the interior part of the house” will often not provide adequate shelter in an F-5 tornado (the strongest 1%). We usually don’t know, in advance, the intensity of a tornado. So, to the extent possible, you have to plan for the worse. Get underground if at all possible.

There has been a lot of controversy about Red Cross recommendations to, if you are caught out in the open, to ride out a tornado in your car. As you know from my previous postings, I believe that getting in a ditch on the side of the road away from the tornado’s approach and away from the car(s) is generally a better approach.

The car has a 2 x 4 that protrudes into the passenger side of the front seat as well as a wooden “spear” (click to enlarge) that is driven into the dashboard. You wouldn’t have wanted to be in the front seat when the tornado occurred. Moreover, as far as I can tell, this car was not rolled. I saw cars that had been rolled that were clearly death traps as the roofs were collapsed into the front seats.

So, if there is a good low ditch, I’d suggest that is your first choice. If not, then the Red Cross’ suggestion to buckle up and crouch down in your seat is probably the right thing to do.

Finally, I want to comment that no photograph or series of photographs can do the staggering Joplin damage justice. More than 7,500 homes and businesses destroyed. The city has a long way to go and I’m sure our financial donations would be appreciated from this point forward.

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