Central Florida residents and vacationers received a devastating blow to the start of February as tornadoes ripped through communities across the state, prompting Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to declare a state of emergency in Lake, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties.
In the wake of these devastating tornadoes that also affected mobile homes and disabled power to thousands, community members are in need of a safe place to stay, a nutritious meal and support as they begin the road to recovery.
The American Red Cross is rapidly responding in Florida, moving relief workers, supplies and more that were previously in place to support emergency and first aid needs for Sunday's Super Bowl in Miami. Additionally, Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) and mobile feeding units are on their way to affected communities, helping their neighbors in need.
Whenever a disaster of this magnitude strikes, there are likely outages or disruptions in phone service that make it difficult to call loved ones. During these situations, alternative methods of communication, such as text messaging or e-mail are more effective ways of reaching out to friends and family. If you have been affected by the recent storms in Central Florida or have loved ones in the affected areas that you cannot reach, you can visit www.redcross.org and click on the "Safe and Well" link to report your status as "safe and well" or search the list for loved ones. If you hear from a loved one without access to a computer in the affected area, you can also register them through Safe and Well so that other loved ones can be reassured and you can play a part in the disaster relief effort, right from your own home. As with any other Red Cross service or product, Safe and Well safeguards the privacy of disaster victims and protects their information according to privacy law standards.
Staying Safe in the Aftermath
As it becomes safe to do so, residents will return to their homes and communities will begin assessing damages. The Red Cross urges caution upon arriving back home after a storm and offers these tips for staying safe in the aftermath:
- Listen to local and emergency officials – Use a portable radio or television to listen to the local news for updates, and follow instructions from emergency officials.
- Check for injuries – Often people tend to help others without checking their own injuries.
- Put on protective clothing – Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect yourself from broken items and debris.
- Inspect your home – Inspect your home for damage and get everyone out if it is unsafe. Check on neighbors – Older adults and people with disabilities may require additional assistance during an emergency. Caregivers or neighbors with large households, especially those with small children or infants, may appreciate an extra hand as well.
- Watch for hazards in your neighborhood – Look out for fallen electrical wires, broken gas lines and debris from fallen power lines. Report downed lines immediately so that utilities can be turned off at the source. Avoid hazardous debris such as broken glass or spilled chemicals and do not go into damaged buildings.
- Children and pets – If you have children and/or pets, try to keep them calm and comfort them. Even a normally docile animal when scared may react by biting or scratching, so handle animals and pets with care.
One of the most common problems caused by tornadoes is loss of electricity. If you experience a blackout, and it is otherwise safe for you to remain in your home, the following tips can help you cope until power is restored:
- Turn off electronic devices – Turn off electrical appliances or equipment that were powered on when the electricity went out. Leave one light turned on to easily determine when power has been restored.
- Use only a battery powered lights – Due to the extreme risk of fire, avoid candles during a power outage and opt instead for flashlights or other battery-powered lights.
- Operate generators outside ONLY – Do not run a generator inside a confined space, like home or garage, due to the extreme dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Eliminate unnecessary travel – Unnecessary travel may hamper efforts by emergency and construction crews, In addition, traffic signals stop working during an outage, creating congestion and fallen trees, branches or other debris may make some roads inaccessible.
- Keep refrigerator doors closed – Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer to keep the contents cold.
- Operate generators outside ONLY - Do not run a generator inside a confined space, such as a home or garage, due to the extreme risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Follow directions for connecting to a generator - If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home's electrical system unless you have an approved power transfew switch installed.
A comprehensive list of tips and additional information about staying safe after a tornado are available online in the "Disaster Services" section of Redcross.org under the heading After a Disaster.
If you need assistance, contact your local American Red Cross chapter.
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.