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Prepare early for bad weather

File photo: A Clayton County home was damaged during the Mother’s Day 2008 tornado. Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jeff Hood asks residents to take proper precautions during the severe weather season.

File photo: A Clayton County home was damaged during the Mother’s Day 2008 tornado. Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jeff Hood asks residents to take proper precautions during the severe weather season.

As parts of the country mourn the loss of loved ones and desecration of large portions of towns –– caused by tornadoes –– Clayton County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Hood warns local residents to stay prepared for severe weather.

"Prepare for severe weather and tornados now," he said. "All of us empathize with those who have been devastated by the recent tornadoes that have caused so much destruction and pain. Every citizen needs to do whatever they can to prepare now, before severe weather arrives in Clayton County."

A Leap Year Day tornado ripped through the popular country music town of Branson, Mo., and parts of Kansas and Illinois, killing at least 12. Huntsville, Ala., emergency management officials were scouring through their storm-battered neighborhoods looking for victims, and assessing damage after a tornado skipped through northern Alabama Friday morning.

Damage was reported to homes and an Alabama prison.

The last time Clayton County was ravaged by a tornado was the storm that hit on Mother’s Day 2008. Known as the Mother's Day Tornado by Hood and other emergency officials, the high winds caused millions of dollars in property damage and claimed the lives of two people. Residents in Clayton, Bibb, Laurens, Carroll, Henry, Rockdale, Newton, Twiggs, Wilkinson, Johnson, Jefferson, Emanuel, Washington, Montgomery, Toombs and Truetlen counties felt the wrath of Mother Nature early that Sunday morning.

About 500 Ellenwood residents lost their homes and were displaced in the aftermath. Clearly, nature cannot be harnessed but, Hood said, residents can prepare for the worst-case scenario.

"The best thing to do to protect yourself and your family is to have a plan of action before a threatening tornado develops," he said.

Most tornadoes are weak but some can be strong or violent. They can last from 20 minutes to more than an hour and produce winds of between 100 and 300 mph.

Hood said the plan should include a place for residents to gather inside their homes, if a tornado is coming. "It could be your basement, or if there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest floor," he said. "Keep this place uncluttered."

People living in a high-rise building should pick a place in the hallway in the center of the building. "If you are outside, hurry to the basement of a nearby, sturdy building, or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area," he said. "If you are in a car or mobile home, get out immediately and head for safety."

Hood said every family should have a disaster-supplies kit. The kit should contain first aid and essential medications; canned food and a can opener; at least 3 gallons of water per person; protective clothing, bedding or sleeping bags; a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and extra batteries; special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members; and written instructions on how to turn off utilities, if authorities advise doing so.

"Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio, or local radio and television stations for updated storm information," Hood said. "Know the difference between a watch and a warning."

A watch means a tornado is possible, but a warning means a twister has been sighted. Residents in a warning area should seek immediate safety. "Be alert to changing weather conditions," he said. "Blowing debris or the sound of an approaching tornado may alert you. Many people say it sounds like a freight train."

After a tornado passes, watch for fallen power lines and stay out of the damaged areas, he said. Listen to the radio for information and instructions. Use a flashlight to inspect your home for damage. Do not use candles at any time.

Hood suggests that residents visit claytonready.com and georgiaready.com for more information. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency also maintains a Facebook page with useful information.