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Many people mistakenly think that a highway overpass provides safety from a tornado. The reality is: an overpass may be one of the worst places to seek shelter from a tornado. An overpass as tornado shelter can put people at a greater risk of being killed or seriously injured by flying debris from the powerful tornado winds.
Wind speeds in tornadoes can exceed 200 mph. These destructive winds produce airborne debris that are blown into and channeled under the overpass where people might try to seek shelter. Debris of varying size and types, including dirt, sand and rocks, moving at incredible speeds can easily penetrate clothing and skin, causing serious injuries and possibly death. Very fine debris can also be forced into eyes, causing injury or loss of sight. A person can even be blown out or carried away from the overpass by the fierce tornado winds. If a person is positioned at the top of an overpass, he/she could encounter even higher wind speeds and more missile-like debris. Wind direction will also shift abruptly as the tornado passes, tossing debris from all sides.
Highway overpasses make inadequate tornado shelters because:
When a tornado approaches, the safety place to be is in an underground shelter, basement or safe room. If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.
Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes or other severe winds. Do not seek shelter in a hallway or bathroom of a mobile home. If you have access to a sturdy shelter or a vehicle, abandon your mobile home immediately. Go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately, using your seat belt if driving. Do not wait until you see the tornado.
If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter, or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter, immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt, and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort: Either Stay in your car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering your head with your hands and a blanket if possible. Or, if you can safely get noticeable lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.
Be aware of weather conditions. Listen to a local radio station to stay up-to-date on changing conditions.
Remember: Overpasses offer NO PROTECTION from tornadoes and should not be used as sheltering areas.