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Tornado cleanup requires caution and eye towards safety to eliminate post-disaster injuries

By Gale Goodner Modified: May 21, 2013 at 4:00 pm •  Published: May 21, 2013

Oklahomans returning to their tornado-damaged homes in the next few days need to be aware that entering a disaster-site after the fact still carries a host of potential dangers.

     “Even though you’re coming back to what’s left of your own home,” stressed Ray Ridlen, Horticulture and Agriculture Educator at the Oklahoma County OSU Cooperative Extension Service, “there are still plenty of hazards that can cause serious injury.”

     For instance, walls left standing in a home may be highly unstable, Ridlen pointed out, or what looks like simple debris may be covering exposed electrical wires or broken gas lines.

     “Anyone returning to a damaged home for initial clean-up needs to be extremely cautious and careful,” Ridlen explained.  “Expect the site to be hazardous before you go in.”

     As local authorities allow area residents to return to their homes, many who first thought their homes had suffered only minimal damage may find that the devastation is much more extensive and their home site a potential danger to anyone involved with the cleanup.

     “People naturally want to get back into their homes as soon as possible and begin cleanup,” stated LaDonna Dunlop, Director for the Oklahoma County OSU Cooperative Extension Service.  “But research has indicated that a great many injuries associated with tornadoes actually occur during post-tornado activities like search and rescue and the initial cleanup.”

     The first rule of thumb before entering any home, Dunlop indicated, is to check the exterior closely for any damage to the foundation, roof, chimney or windows, since these can indicate safety issues inside.

     Also, residents are encouraged to look for downed electrical wires, even if there is no electricity to the home at that time, listen for blowing or hissing sounds that may indicate a gas leak and check their sense of smell for a possible gas leak or spill of hazardous materials.

     In addition, here is a list of other precautions that can help keep residents safe during post-tornado cleanup:

·         Always cooperate fully with local authorities, rescue squads and the American Red Cross.  Remember that your welfare and the continued safety of others is always their uppermost concern.

·         Walk or drive carefully through debris-filled areas as you are returning home.  Try to avoid walking across debris by going around it if possible.  Nails and splinters in the debris or even shifting materials beneath your feet can easily cause injury during cleanup.

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