The United States is only half-way through tornado season and meteorologists are already referring to it as the deadliest since 1998. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an average of about 1,200 tornadoes and 60 tornado-related deaths are reported in the United States every year. Their prediction is that 2008 will likely exceed that average.
Since April 28, the American Red Cross Disaster Operations Center at national headquarters in Washington, D.C., has supported 32 disaster operations across the country, mainly floods and tornadoes. Like many of these storms, the May 25 tornados that ripped through Parkersburg, Iowa, a town of 2,000, and destroyed a large portion of the town.
The following accounts were taken by Donna Walker, a volunteer with the Iowa Rivers Chapter of the American Red Cross in Marshalltown, Iowa.
Albert Borchers had seen twisters before and knew what was happening when the sky turned black. He and his sister-in-law, Ann, decided to head west without stopping as planned at the cemetery for a visit the Sunday before Memorial Day, 2008.
“It caught us in Parkersburg,” he said as he drank his coffee in the Red Cross kitchen in the Veteran’s Memorial Building. They went to Kwik Star where Ann got struck with a Jeep, “No one was in it. It was just flying through the air,” said Borchers, 79. He worried about her as he lay pinned against the dashboard of his Mercury Marquis which had hit a steel pole.
Both made it, but Borchers sports two black eyes. He thanked the Red Cross for the burger, beans and chocolate pudding, a hearty meal before he headed to Waterloo to visit Ann in the hospital
Regina Rebitz thought she was lost when she crested the hill that led to her house in New Hartford, Iowa. Recker, Regina and her daughter Shonna, 15, were among the first on the scene. Regina felt lost, thinking she might have taken a wrong turn because the landmark grove of pine trees next to the cemetery was gone.
On that Sunday before Memorial Day, the family had watched as people decorated the graves in the cemetery across the street from them. “It didn’t look like a cemetery. It looked like a flower patch,” Recker said.
The family made their way to the American Red Cross Shelter at Aplington Middle School where they found help more essential than food and shelter. Bruce experienced a seizure that night, the side-affect of a previous car accident, and Red Cross Health Services provided his medicine.
“Red Cross has helped in every way, shape and form possible from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed,” Bruce said.
Regina agreed. “They just took a lot off my mind.” With Red Cross help, she received money for necessities, a hotel room following closure of the Red Cross shelter, and counseling for her daughter.
“Red Cross got us over the first bit of tragedy and beyond,” Bruce said. “They helped spiritually, physically, mentally.”
The American Red Cross recommends the following tornado preparedness actions:
- Pick a place where family members could gather if a tornado is headed your way. It could be your basement or, if there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom, or closet on the lowest floor. Keep this place uncluttered.
- If you are in a high-rise building, you may not have enough time to go to the lowest floor. Pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building.
Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit Containing--
- First aid kit and essential medications.
- Canned food and can opener.
- At least three gallons of water per person.
- Protective clothing, bedding, or sleeping bags.
- Battery-powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.
- Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.
- Written instructions on how to turn off electricity, gas, and water if authorities advise you to do so. (Remember, you'll need a professional to turn natural gas service back on.)
Stay Tuned for Storm Warnings
- Listen to your local radio and TV stations for updated storm information.
- Know what a tornado WATCH and WARNING means:
- A tornado WATCH means a tornado is possible in your area.
- A tornado WARNING means a tornado has been sighted and may be headed for your area. Go to safety immediately.
- Tornado WATCHES and WARNINGS are issued by county or parish.
When a Tornado WATCH Is Issued...
- Listen to local radio and TV stations for further updates.
- Be alert to changing weather conditions. Blowing debris or the sound of an approaching tornado may alert you. Many people say it sounds like a freight train.
When a Tornado WARNING Is Issued...
- If you are inside, go to the safe place you picked to protect yourself from glass and other flying objects. The tornado may be approaching your area.
- If you are outside, hurry to the basement of a nearby sturdy building or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area.
- If you are in a car or mobile home, get out immediately and head for safety (as above).
After the Tornado Passes...
- Watch out for fallen power lines and stay out of the damaged area.
- Listen to the radio for information and instructions.
- Use a flashlight to inspect your home for damage.
- Do not use candles at any time.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.