Finding your safe place in a storm

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Tuscaloosa, Hackleburg, Joplin, Missouri and many other cities. They've all seen, firsthand, the fury of a tornado. Hundreds have been killed. Thousands have been injured, and many are asking where they should go if a tornado touches down in their neighborhood.

Home is more than a roof and four walls. It's a place of refuge from the outside world. When the peaceful winds of spring become violent, your home is your protection against the storm.

Inside every home there are specific places that give you and your family the best chance of surviving thunderstorm winds and tornadoes. It's called your safe place.

You've probably heard meteorologists talk about them before, but what exactly makes a safe place, well, safe?

Dwight Leary, a licensed home inspector and home builder, took Doppler 12 StormVision meteorologist Josh Johnson on a tour of a home in the River Region to show viewers where to go when tornadoes threaten.

Wendi Payton of Prattville knows all about tornadoes. During the Prattville tornado of 2008, Wendi, her husband and their triplets, found themselves directly in the path of the twister.

"We heard windows busting," Payton recalls. "We heard the roof tearing off, the awning peeling off the back of the house." She says when she opened the door, it was a disaster.

Wendi and her family huddled in a small bathroom in their house, but it's the hallway in the master bedroom that is probably the best place in their home to ride out the storms. Why? The water heater.

When picking a safe place, your water heater's location should factor into the decision. You don't want to get too close to it. If it's damaged, it could scald you and your family. For the Payton family, that tank is in the attic, over their heads and near the bathroom. Not a good place to be.

Angela Stephens lives in Eclectic. Her home was narrowly missed by the Lake Martin tornado on April 27.

At Angela's home we looked at all the rooms including the living room and the bathroom. There are too many windows in her living room to make it safe. There are two strikes against using Ms. Stephens' bathroom as a safe area. Leary says the bathroom is on an outerwall and has a window.

After ruling out the rest of the house, we find the safe place. Angela's family is best protected in an inner, small hallway in the home.

If you live in a site-built house and tornado warnings are issued for your county, go to the lowest floor of your home. If that's a basement, great! If you don't have a basement, find a small room in the center of the house - bathrooms, hallways and closets work best.

Avoid exterior walls at all costs.

Mobile homes are one of the worst places to be during a tornado. If you live in one, plan ahead. Hours before the weather gets bad, plan to go visit a family member or friend who lives in a site-built house. If that's not an option, call your local EMA and ask if they have any community shelters open.

If a tornado warning is issued and you have no other options, abandon the mobile home and go lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area. In 99 percent of tornadoes, these "safe places" will keep your family safe and sound. The strongest 1 percent of tornadoes - the EF4 and 5s – require more protection.

If you're constructing a new home, ask your builder to reinforce the structure with hurricane straps and ask for the walls to be bolted to the foundation.

After seeing the destruction in Alabama in April, Wendi isn't taking any chances with her family.

Invest in a weather radio, so that you'll have a way of hearing warnings.

Make sure everyone in your home knows where to go when tornadoes threaten.

Make sure you can find your safe place.

The key to surviving a tornado is to plan ahead.

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