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Tornado Aftermath a Whirlwind of Danger

Almost half the injuries occur during cleanup, so here are tips for prevention

SUNDAY, May 18, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Among the most violent and deadly of all natural disasters in the United States, tornadoes can cause death and injury to people not only as they tear through an area but during the cleanup process as well.

The most common injuries include soft tissue injuries (cuts, bruises and scrapes), fractures and dislocations, chest trauma and brain injuries. According to data collected by the Oklahoma State Department of Health during a series of tornadoes on May 3, 1999, people were most commonly injured by flying debris and by being picked up or blown by the tornado. Other hazards include collapsing walls, ceilings and roofs and flying or falling wood and glass.

"Pieces of debris are stirred up and can be very dangerous," says Cheryll Brown, an epidemiologist with the health department. "They become projectiles, and a piece of wood can become a deadly penetrating body."

In addition, the National Center for Environmental Health reports that almost half of tornado-related injuries can occur after the fact -- during rescue attempts and cleanup. Many of these injuries result from people stepping on nails or being hit with falling objects. Damage to power lines, gas lines and electrical systems can also lead to fire, electrocution and explosions.

To prevent these post-tornado injuries, the American Red Cross suggests the following:

  • 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.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers an injury prevention guide for tornadoes.

SOURCEs: Cheryll Brown, epidemiologist, Oklahoma State Department of Health; National Center for Environmental Health; American Red Cross
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