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After a Tornado

Immediately after a tornado

  • Have injuries treated by a medical professional. Small wounds may be washed with soap and water and then bandaged to reduce the risk of infection. Replace bandages if they become soiled, damaged, or waterlogged.
  • Remain calm. Pace yourself. You may find yourself in the position of taking care of other people. Listen carefully, and deal patiently with urgent situations first.
  • Check with local authorities to learn if your residence is safe to enter. Doors or windows may be cordoned off with yellow tape to indicate damage. Do not cut or walk past the tape unless local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. If a structure bears a color-coded sign, do not enter it until you get official information about what the sign means and advice about the safety of entering.

General guidelines

If you are away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so. Continue listening to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and instructions.

  • A tornado WATCH means conditions favor the development of a tornado. Be prepared to take shelter.
  • A tornado WARNING means that a tornado has been spotted. Take shelter immediately.

Once the tornado warning has been allowed to expire or is cancelled, the University or local jurisdiction will forward this information.

If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly. From a safe distance, call 911. Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Avoid damaged buildings. Keep all of your animals under your direct control.

While checking out damage:

  • Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
  • Use battery-powered flashlights. Do NOT use candles.
  • Take pictures of damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.

Clean up spilled medications, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids that could become a fire hazard. Check for injuries. If you are trained, provide first aid to persons in need.

Before returning

Preparing to return home after evacuating will keep you safer while inspecting and cleaning up the damage to your home. Before traveling, ensure local officials have declared that it’s safe to enter your community and that you have the supplies you will need. Exercise due caution in returning to, inspecting, and cleaning your home.

  • Find out if it is safe to enter your community or neighborhood. Follow the advice of your local authorities.
  • Carry plenty of cash. ATMs may not work and stores may not be able to accept credit or debit cards.
  • Bring supplies such as flashlights, batteries, bottled water and nonperishable foods in case utilities are out.
  • Create back-up communication plans with family and friends in case you are unable to call from affected areas.
  • Plan for delays when traveling. Bring extra food, water, pillows, blankets and other items that will make the trip more comfortable. Keep the fuel tank of your vehicle as full as possible in case gas stations are crowded, out of fuel or closed.
  • Carry a map to help you route around heavy traffic or impassable roads.
  • Find out if local medical facilities are open and if emergency services are functioning. Do NOT call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number to do this.
  • Understand that recovery takes time. Focus on the positive and have patience. Others will have similar frustrations.

First inspection

  • Return home only when officials have declared the area safe.
  • If possible, leave children and pets with a relative or friend. If not, keep them away from hazards and floodwater.
  • Before entering your home, look outside for damaged power lines, gas lines, foundation cracks and other exterior damage. It may be too dangerous to enter the home. If power lines are down outside your home, do not step in puddles or standing water.
  • Approach entrances carefully. Parts of your home may be collapsed or damaged. See if porch roofs and overhangs have all their supports.
  • Check the ceiling and floor for signs of sagging. Water may be trapped in the ceiling, or floors may be unsafe to walk on.
  • Beware of snakes, insects and other wildlife that may have come into your home with the floodwater.
  • If you smell natural gas or propane, or hear a hissing noise, leave immediately and contact the fire department.
  • If your home was flooded, assume it is contaminated with mold. Mold increases health risks for those with asthma, allergies or other breathing conditions.
  • Open doors and windows. If the house was closed more than 48 hours, let it air it out before staying inside for any length of time.
  • Turn the main electrical power and water systems off until you or a professional can ensure that they are safe. NEVER turn the power on or off, or use an electrical tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • Contact your local or state public health department for specific recommendations for boiling or treating water in your area after a disaster as water may be contaminated.

Using alternative sources of energy

  • The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.
  • When using a portable generator, connect the equipment that you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a portable generator to a home's electrical system.
    • If you are considering getting a generator, get advice from a professional, such as an electrician.
    • Make sure that the generator you purchase is rated for the power that you think you will need.
    • Wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots.
    • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate the unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

Cleaning your home

  • During cleanup, wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots.
  • Be careful when moving furnishings or debris, because they may be waterlogged and heavier.
  • Materials such as cleaning products, paint, batteries, contaminated fuel and damaged fuel containers are hazardous. Check with local authorities for assistance with disposal to avoid risk.
  • Some cleaning solutions can cause toxic fumes and other hazards if mixed together. If you smell a strong odor or your eyes water from the fumes or mixed chemicals, open a window and get out of your home.
  • Make sure your food and water are safe.
    • Throw out all food, beverages and medicine exposed to flood waters and mud, including canned goods and containers with food or liquid that have been sealed shut, water bottles, plastic utensils and baby bottle nipples. When in doubt, throw it out.
    • Do not use water that could be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula.
  • Throw out items that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected (mattresses, carpeting, cosmetics, stuffed animals and baby toys).
  • Remove all drywall and insulation that has been in contact with flood waters.
  • Clean hard surfaces (flooring, countertops and appliances) thoroughly with hot water and soap or a detergent.
  • Return to as many personal and family routines as possible.

Filing an insurance claim

  • When filing your claim, be prepared with: the name of your insurance company, your policy number and a telephone number or e-mail address where you can be reached.
  • Take photos of any water in the house and damaged personal property. Adjusters need evidence of the damage and damaged items to prepare your repair estimate.
  • Make a list of all damaged or lost items and include their age and value where possible.

Recovering emotionally

You may be surprised at how you and others feel after a disaster. It can stir up a variety of unanticipated feelings, and they are as important to address as bodily injuries, damaged homes, and possessions. Almost everyone is apt to be upset. People may fear that the worst isn’t yet over. They may worry about their safety or that of a loved one. They may feel shock, disbelief, grief, anger, or guilt. Memory lapses, anxiety, and depression are also possible. Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk and may need extra attention. It is important to calmly let them know that they are safe and that you will help. Reassurance from a competent adult can help people recover more quickly and completely.

Some basic steps you can take to meet emotional needs:

  • Try to return to as many of your normal routines as possible.
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water.
  • Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio, and in the newspapers.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Recognize your own feelings.
  • Reach out and accept help from others.
  • Do something you enjoy, like familiar get-togethers in the past.
  • Stay connected with your family or other supporters.
  • Realize that recovery can take time.

If you have more questions or observe behavior in your dependents that concerns you, contact a counselor or community professional for additional information and help. See Emergency Support Contacts.

Helping pets

Pets can become upset and react to a disaster in unusual ways, such as spraying urine, defecating on floors or scratching/biting furnishings. Since pets will need regular care and attention to help them calm down, try to leave pets with a family member, friend, veterinarian or boarding facility while you are dealing with other challenges. Animals are naturally inquisitive and could be injured if they are brought back to a damaged home.

If you have pets, try to find and comfort them. Handle animals carefully and calmly.

  • Use toys, a blanket or favorite human's unsoiled clothing to comfort pets.
  • Make sure pets are fed their usual diet, and have plenty of water.
  • Visit your pets regularly, speak calmly and take some time out to play with them. Caring for pets can help you in your recovery, as well.

For more information on tornadoes, see: