Tornado safety: How to survive when twisters strike

The “violent tornado” that tore through Jefferson City, Missouri overnight has highlighted the terrifying destructive force of tornadoes.

The damage spanned about a 3-mile area in Jefferson City, said Police Lt. David Williams. About 20 people were rescued by emergency personnel, and although there were no reports of missing people, authorities planned to do door-to-door checks on Thursday, he added.

This week has seen several days of tornadoes and torrential rains in parts of the Southern Plains and Midwest.

TORNADO IN JEFFERSON CITY, MO., MAY HAVE CAUSED ‘CATASTROPHIC DAMAGE’: REPORTS

The National Weather Service urges people to be prepared ahead of severe storms and tornadoes. “Know your safe location,” it explains on its website. “Be ready to act quickly if a Warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching.”

This still image taken from video provided by Chris Higgins shows a tornado in Carl Junction, Mo., on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. The tornado caused damage in the town about 4 miles north of the Joplin airport. (Chris Higgins via AP)

This still image taken from video provided by Chris Higgins shows a tornado in Carl Junction, Mo., on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. The tornado caused damage in the town about 4 miles north of the Joplin airport. (Chris Higgins via AP)

If you are unable to access a specially-built tornado storm shelter or FEMA safe room, officials say that a good option is to find an interior room of a well-constructed home or building or shelter in a basement.

“Identify a safe place in your home where household members and pets will gather during a tornado: a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows,” adds the American Red Cross, on its website. “In a high-rise building, pick a hallway in the center of the building. You may not have enough time to go to the lowest floor.”

TORNADO IN JEFFERSON CITY, MO., MAY HAVE CAUSED ‘CATASTROPHIC DAMAGE’: REPORTS

Large open rooms such as gymnasiums are bad options for sheltering, according to the National Weather Service, as is manufactured housing. Officials urge people to find alternative shelter.

Mobile homes should be avoided at all costs, as the Red Cross warns that no mobile home, however it is configured, is safe in a tornado. “Choose a safe place in a nearby sturdy building,” it says. “If your mobile home park has a designated shelter, make it your safe place.”

Vehicles and areas underneath highway overpasses are also to be avoided. “Do not seek shelter under an overpass or a tree,” warns the National Weather Service. “This puts you at greater risk of being killed or seriously injured by flying debris from the powerful tornadic winds.”

DOZENS OF TORNADOES SLAM MIDWEST AS FLOODWATERS RISE; AT LEAST 2 DEAD

Drivers should not attempt to outpace a tornado. “Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle,” warns the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov website. “If you are in a car or outdoors and cannot get to a building, cover your head and neck with your arms and cover your body with a coat or blanket, if possible.”

After the tornado has passed, DHS officials have the following advice: “If you are trapped, cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust. Try to send a text, bang on a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting.”

People should also save their phone calls for emergencies. “Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster,” explains Ready.gov. “Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.”

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Severe weather sweeping across Missouri this week killed at least three people and injured nearly two dozen others. The three deaths occurred more than 150 miles away from Jefferson City in the Golden City area of Barton County, near Missouri's southwest corner, Missouri Public Safety said. The severe weather moved in from Oklahoma, where rescuers struggled to pull people from high water.

Fox News’ Travis Fedschun and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers