What you should do if your house is damaged or destroyed by a tornado

TULSA - Having a home ripped apart by a tornado can leave people in shock or in disbelief.

To highlight just how important it is to prepare ahead of the unthinkable, officials point to the devastation in Moore in 2013.

SPECIAL SECTION with stories, interactives, photos and videos about the Moore tornado

“The thing about disasters is that it is the great equalizer,” said Brian Jensen, the regional disaster program officer for the Eastern Oklahoma chapter of the American Red Cross. “It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor you are, what your station in life is. When disaster hits, we’re all stuck at the same point going, what do we do now?”

Jensen, however, said people could feel less caught off guard by remembering a few things if their home is damaged or destroyed by a tornado.

First, check to see if family members and friends are safe and call 911 if there are any serious injuries.

“Once you know that everyone’s safe,” Jensen said, “what you want to do is get to a safe location as quickly as possible.”

People, however, should also watch out for any dangers in the debris surrounding their homes, like downed power lines or gas leaks.

“A bad situation could turn much, much worse if you have leaking gas and it ignites on fire, so get out of there as quickly as possible and alert someone,” Jensen said.

Emergency management officials also urge people to stay out of damaged buildings and homes until they have said it’s safe to go back inside them. If people lose power because of a storm, use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles to prevent accidental fires. If there is any damage to a home, homeowners should also shut off electrical power, natural gas and propane tanks to prevent a fire or an explosion.

Insurance officials also advise homeowners to contact their agents immediately after a storm hits and try to take pictures of any damage so that the claims process can go faster.

“Right after a tornado destroys your house, you’re not really in the right state of mind to remember everything that you had in that house,” said Brian Cannon, a State Farm agent in Tulsa. “As an insurance agent, I wouldn’t be prepared to answer those questions unless I had that stuff written down somewhere.”

Cannon said people should take pictures of all their valuables, go room by room taking video and save all that information in a safety deposit box or other secure location off premises.

“That will help with the claims and knowing exactly what you had and any serial numbers that you can provide will make it a lot easier and a lot quicker process,” Cannon said. “Also, keep any receipts because if your house is blown away, of course you’re going to be staying in a hotel or somewhere else and having to buy food and clothing, so keep your receipts and you can be reimbursed. It just makes the process go a lot faster.”


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