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5/1/2014 - Latest tornado outbreak a cautionary tale for Americans to prepare

Tornadoes can occur at any time, and there's no telling when or where the next one will be.

As the news headlines have shown in recent days, a series of deadly tornadoes carved a path of destruction throughout much of the South, leaving a trail of devastation in parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Tornado season varies by region, but for the Southeast, activity usually peaks between February and April.

The damage will likely result in millions of homeowners insurance losses, but public safety officials say that residents and business owners can rest assured that those affected will be assisted in every way possible.

Unfortunately, tornadoes can occur at any time, and there's no telling when or where the next one will be. However, with the proper precautions, home and business owners can prepare themselves for the various stages of a tornado, such as what to do before, during and in the aftermath, as recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Assemble emergency kit, monitor forecast
For example, furnishing the home with emergency supplies is critical. FEMA has specific examples of what should be in a basic 72-hour emergency kit and how to coordinate a communications plan.

When a tornado is in the forecast, or if a watch or warning has been issued, the sky gives indications as to the likelihood of twister formation. For example, FEMA noted that if the sky has a greenish hue, produces large rain or hail droplets and thunderous, freight-train like sounds, these are all tell-tale signs that a funnel cloud may be forming.

During a tornado, seeking shelter is of utmost importance. If the nearest structure is a hospital, shopping center, school or high-rise building, the safest place to be is on the lowest floor possible, ideally the basement. However, if there is no cellar, go the center of a room or hallway of whichever floor is closest to the ground. The same rule of thumb applies to residences or offices, so long as they're not mobile. FEMA noted that the safest structures are those with foundations that are installed into the ground.

Check for injuries
Once a tornado has passed, the first thing to do is check everyone's physical well-being to see if they have been hurt or wounded. This is important to know because people can often get injured during rescue attempts, based on a recent study performed after a twister hit Marion, Illinois, FEMA pointed out. People who are seriously injured should remain where they are and medical assistance should be retrieved.

To avoid injuries that may occur in the aftermath, continue to monitor the radio for updates from local officials, avoid broken nails or glass that may be scattered and watch for downed power lines, which could be live, causing electrocution if touched, FEMA noted.

Up until this twister outbreak, tornado development has been relatively limited in 2014. Based on statistics collected by the Insurance Information Institute, there were 109 tornadoes before April 22, according to the National Weather Service. That's more than 100 fewer when compared to the same period in 2013.

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