Residents and visitors in New Orleans and surrounding communities received a rude and frightening awakening when an apparent tornado struck the area at 3:30 this morning, knocking out power and damaging buildings including homes and hotels.
The National Weather Service radar data provides "pretty convincing evidence" that the severe storm front that struck Louisiana overnight included a tornado, according to an Associated Press report. Westwego, La., a southwest suburb of New Orleans, is reportedly the hardest hit area – where the tornado damaged homes and ripped the roof off a hotel. Among those affected by the sudden storm are tourists, who have begun arriving in the area in anticipation of next week’s Mardi Gras celebration, and those still displaced and recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
In response to disasters such as this tornado, local American Red Cross chapters quickly mobilize to provide assistance to meet the immediate, emergency disaster-caused needs of those impacted. The Red Cross typically provides a safe place to stay, food, and health and mental health services to address basic human needs.
Communicating Following a Disaster
When a disaster like this strikes, knowing that loved ones are safe and well is an obvious priority. Unfortunately, power outages or service interruptions and overburdened phone circuits may make it difficult to stay connected with family and friends. Callers greeted by recorded messages of “all circuits are busy” or a fast busy signal should try alternate means of communicating, such as text or e-mail messaging.
Those with power and an internet connection also can make use of the Red Cross Safe and Well List by visiting www.redcross.org and clicking on the "Safe and Well" link. The site enables visitors to report their own status as "safe and well" or search the list for loved ones. 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
The Red Cross urges caution in and around storm-affected areas 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. Make sure you and your loved ones are okay and seek medical attention, if needed.
- 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 approach and handle animals 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.
- 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. As soon as power is restored, check temperatures. Perishable foods in the refrigerator should not be above 40 degrees for more than two hours. If the food in the freezer has ice crystals and is not above 40 degrees, you can refreeze. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Follow proper directions for generator use – Do not run a generator inside a confined space, such as a home or garage, due to the extreme risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. 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 transfer switch installed.
Weathering the Storm
Forecasts indicate that the storm front now may be headed towards Mississippi and Alabama. The Red Cross strongly encourages people in the path of the storm to remain diligent and prepare now for the potentially severe weather. People in its path should take steps now to ready themselves for the severe weather that is headed their way, and make sure you stay tuned to local officials for additional updates and guidance.
- Gather a Kit – Assemble emergency supplies, providing enough for each member of your household for at least three days. Place supplies in an easy-to-carry container in case you need to evacuate. Supplies should include:
- A gallon of water per person per day;
- Non-perishable food you’d want to eat that requires no refrigeration, preparation or cooking;
- A first aid kit and necessary medical supplies including prescription medication(s);
- A flashlight, battery-operated or hand-crank radio and extra batteries;
- Supplies for your pets or service animals;
- Protective clothing such as gloves and sturdy shoes; and
- Any items to meet specific or unique needs of household members who are very young, old or with a disability.
- Make a Plan – Take a few minutes to make or update an emergency communications plan. Contact loved ones now to tell them your plans in the event that the severe weather strikes your area and you are forced to evacuate. In the event you are separated from loved ones and cannot reach them by phone, try alternate means of communicating such as text messaging, e-mail and reporting your status on the Red Cross Safe and Well Web site, accessible through www.redcross.org. Also, create an evacuation plan, including at least two exit routes in case one is blocked.
- Be Informed – Listen to local radio or television news for information and instructions from local emergency management officials. If told to evacuate, do so. Know the difference between a “watch” and a “warning” when it comes to severe weather such as tornadoes. Take time now to find out how authorities will notify you and where evacuation or emergency sheltering centers are likely to be in or near your community. Check maps for alternate route out of your neighborhood in the event that routes you usually take are blocked by debris. Be sure you know the disaster policies and practices of your children’s school as well as your place of business.
Learn more about preparing for natural disasters such as tornadoes, thunderstorms and other winter storms, visit the “Get Prepared” section of the American Red Cross public Web site, Redcross.org. For more about information and tips for staying safe after a disaster strikes, check out the “After a Disaster” pages for specific disaster in the “Disaster Services” section of the site.
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.