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Natural disasters can hit at any time and in all parts of the United States. Flash floods can occur in the Southwest, tornadoes in the Deep South, hurricanes along our coasts, ice and snowstorms across the nation, and earthquakes in just about any state. In some areas of our nation, certain disasters happen more often than in others. For instance, California and Alaska are well known for severe earthquakes, while Northern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska are famous as tornado alley. Arizona, New Mexico, and other states in the Southwest are real heat producers, while Michigan, Wisconsin, and other northern states can collect some real snowfall and in just a few short hours. Every state in the union has some natural disasters that are expected, but the overall impact of unexpected disasters is usually more severe. I suspect it's mainly because people in the area are not prepared, mentally or physically, for the type of disaster. Imagine the affect of a hard ice storm in Florida or a foot of snow in the Deep South. The population has little knowledge of those types of disasters and they quickly become life threatening.
A natural disaster, in case you're wondering, is an act of God that may include, but is not limited to:
Extreme Cold with and without snow or ice
Forest and woodland fires
House and building fires
Thunderstorms and Lightning Storms
Nuclear Power Plants
And, much more. It's anything that creates a disaster through the disruption of services and day-to-day life as we understand it. It also places us in a potential life and death situation.
It's important for us to look at each of the most common national disasters and see what occurs that actually creates the danger and how to survive. Each is unique and all have tremendous destructive forces behind them.
Floods can happen with tornadoes, thunderstorms, and melting snow or ice, and the interesting aspect is it doesn't have to happen near where the rain or melting snow takes place. Often the Mississippi River will flood miles from where rain fell or from melting snow many miles away. In Arizona and New Mexico, severe rains in the mountains can cause flooding in the low dry lands, due to the rain collecting in stream-beds of the mountains and then rushing downhill, gathering more and more rain the further it travels. All of these streams have other small streams that feed into them and by the time the water reaches the desert valley below, a wall of water six or more feet high can be in place. The force of a wall of water this large is unbelievable.
The same thing can happen, but in a slightly different way, in a town or city. Heavy rains fall, the drainage ditches are unable to handle the amount of water, and it overflows, usually into someone's back yard. If a nearby lake or river overflows, it will usually cover city blocks of homes and it some cases, it may be intense. If a dike or a levee breaks, the flooding may cover miles. Flooding is also common with hurricanes and tsunamis, but we'll get to that when it's time.
Flooding does much more than just cover ground with water, it pollutes and can spread disease. Imagine if you will, water flooding a water treatment plant, which contains raw sewage. It mixes with the other water and is now in your drinking supply. Also, consider oils and gasoline, which may be washed away during a flood, to contaminate clean drinking water and foods. If the weather is warm or hot, out come mosquitoes to breed where water stands, and we've mosquito related diseases to deal with as well. Floodwaters usually leave dead animals, and in some cases dead humans, behind as they recede, and the dead can spread illnesses and contaminate our drinking water as well. Remember, not all water is safe for drinking and later you'll learn how to find safe drinking water during all natural disasters.
If advanced warning of a flood is given, seek higher ground immediately. If possible, leave the area as quickly as you can, but in some cases, you may not have that option. If you cannot leave, try to find a high hill, or perhaps move to an upper level of your home. The problem with remaining in your home is obvious; the water may wash your home from its foundation and take it along with the moving water. Floods are killers, so evacuate if possible. If your home is in serious danger of flooding, shut off the gas and electrical power at the main switches. Leave them off until the utility company turns them back on.
Tornadoes are extremely dangerous and each year folks die as a direct result of this natural disaster. Some areas, such as tornado alley, expect tornadoes, but few people have storm shelters, although most take some basic precautions. However, when I lived in Oklahoma, tornadoes were just an unpleasant fact and you either survived or didn't. I noticed a general acceptance of tornadoes, which I found strange. While the military had me in Oklahoma, I counted three tornadoes in one day, which deeply concerned me. I was worried about the safety of my family more than once while stationed in tornado alley.
Usually during bad storms, I leave a window open about a 1/4 of an inch to allow the pressure inside the house to equal the pressure outside the house, close the blinds and pull the drapes to cover windows. When a tornado warning sounds, usually sirens or it could be a radio, take cover immediately. The suggested cover inside your home is the basement, but if you don't have a basement, move to a center room or hallway. Stay away from all windows and close all doors to the hallway. Try to imagine the injuries broken glass could do to you with winds in excess of 100 miles an hour. I instructed my children to protect their heads by locking their fingers on their heads and lowering their upper torso toward their knees. If you have a heavy-duty table, or other heavy furniture, in your center room or hall, I'd crawl under it if possible. I've heard of folks wearing motorcycle and football helmets as they wait out tornado warnings.
Once the warning sounds, take all family members and pets to safety immediately. Human's are usually near you or in the house due to heavy rains and wind, so they're fairly easy to round up. With pets, leave them until after the storm if you cannot find them promptly. People have died trying to find a dog or cat and the risk is not worth it. I love my pets too, but as my cat, Macy, discovered recently, if you're not around when a tornado warning sounds, you're on your own. Macy survived, which makes me smile, but I'd not risk a human life to search for a pet. If outside when you hear a warning, seek shelter indoors immediately.
If you live in a trailer or mobile home, even one firmly secured to a solid foundation, leave and find shelter in a strong building. Go to the lowest floor of the building, a basement is best, and stay there until the storm passes. Tornadoes are devastating to campers, trailers, or mobile homes and the destruction is usually total. Consider winds from a tornado may be up to 300 miles an hour, the path of the storm may be a mile wide and up to 50 miles long. There are exceptions to this information, of course, but I think you have the idea. You need a tremendously strong structure for shelter.
If there is no shelter near your mobile home, get out and lay flat in a low depression or ditch. Cover your head with your hands and stay as low as you can, because most injuries and fatalities from tornadoes come from flying debris, some of which can be large. Be alert if you're outside in a ditch for flooding, which is always a potential problem in a ditch or low lying area. Trailers, campers, and mobile homes are poor shelters during tornadoes, so don't try to “tough it out.” Get out and move to a stronger structure.
Besides extremely high winds, another danger from tornadoes are falling trees and limbs. Recently, when a tornado struck Pearl, Mississippi, a house just a few blocks from us had a huge oak tree blown over—and it fell onto the center of the home. Because of the storm, we had huge limbs blown from trees and our yard looked like a combat zone. Limbs, as well as trees, striking your home can be as deadly as the force of the tornado.
If your home is damaged, or you suspect damage, shut off the gas and electrical power at the main switches. Leave them off until the utility company turns them back on.
Images are from MEMA and used with permisson.
Some content from FEMA.