Cleanup begins after storms wreck havoc in Midwest

Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @ 12:57 PM
Updated: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @ 12:57 PM


            
            Associated Press

Twisters roared through the nation's heartland in the early morning darkness Wednesday, flattening entire blocks of homes in small-town Illinois and Kansas and killing at least nine people.

Winds also ripped through the country music mecca of Branson, Mo., damaging some of the city's famous theaters just days before the start of the busy tourist season.

In Harrisburg, a town of 9,000 in southern Illinois, residents sorted through piles of debris and remembered their dead while the winds still howled around them.

Not long after the storm, Darrell Osman raced to his mother's home, arriving just in time to speak to her before she was taken to a hospital with a head injury, a severe cut to her neck and a broken arm and leg.

"She was conscious. I wouldn't say she was coherent. There were more mumbles than anything," he said. "She knew we were there."

Mary Osman died a short time later.

In Branson, an apparent twister seemed to hopscotch up the city's main roadway. At least 37 people were reported hurt, mostly with cuts and bruises.

"We were blessed with several things — the time of year and certainly the time of day, when people were not in their vehicles or outdoors," said Mayor Raeanne Presley, noting that during Branson's peak season, up to 60,000 visitors would have been in the city on any given day and staying in many of the hotels that were damaged.

"If it was a week later, it'd be a different story," said Bill Tirone, assistant general manager for the 530-room downtown Hilton hotel, where the intense winds shattered windows and sucked furniture away. Hotel workers were able to get all guests to safety.

John Moore, owner of the damaged Cakes-n-Creams '50s Diner, said the tornado seemed to target the city's main strip, plowing through the entertainment district and a convention center.

"The theater next to me kind of exploded. It went everywhere," Moore said. "The hotels on the two sides of me lost their roofs."

Back in Harrisburg, where six people were killed, scientists said the tornado was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage.

The storm was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph, meteorologist Rick Shanklin said.

The winds were strong enough to blow the walls off some rooms at the Harrisburg Medical Center, leaving disheveled beds and misplaced furniture. The staff had enough warning to move the most endangered patients. Then they heard the walls collapse, officials said.

The hospital discharged patients who could go home or moved them to other medical facilities. But they also had to confront an influx of injured.

"Helicopters have been coming in and out here all morning," said the hospital's CEO, Vince Ashley.

Osman and his sister sorted through twisted debris and chunks of pink insulation at the site of their mother's duplex, looking for photos and financial records.

They found 10 old picture slides that were among a collection of hundreds. Some were caked in mud and damaged by water.

"My mother was a Christian," Osman said. "I know she's in a better place. That is the only thing getting me through this."

In Missouri, one person was killed in a trailer park in the town of Buffalo, about 35 miles north of Springfield. Two more fatalities were reported in the Cassville and Puxico areas.

The tornado that barreled through the tiny eastern Kansas town of Harveyville was an EF-2, with wind speeds of 120 to 130 mph, state officials said. It left much of the community in rubble.

The twisters were spawned by a powerful storm system that blew down from the Rockies on Tuesday and was headed toward the East Coast.

Corey Mead, lead forecaster at the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said a broad cold front was slamming into warm, humid air over much of the eastern half of the nation.

At least 16 tornado sightings were reported from Nebraska and Kansas across southern Missouri to Illinois and Kentucky, according to the storm center, an arm of the National Weather Service.

Near downtown Branson, a strip mall lay in tatters, its roof missing and several walls gone. About 170 boats and several docks were destroyed on Table Rock Lake.

Branson has long been a tourist destination for visitors attracted to the beauty of the surrounding Ozarks. But the city rose to prominence in the 1990s because of its theaters, which drew country music stars including Merle Haggard and Crystal Gale as well as other musical celebrities such as Chubby Checker and Andy Williams.

It is about 110 miles southeast of Joplin, which was devastated by a monstrous twister last May that killed 161 people. Memories of the disaster fueled residents and guests to quickly take cover after the sirens sounded early Wednesday.

"I think so many people from Branson went over to help in Joplin and having seen that, it was fresh on our minds," said Presley, the mayor whose family owns the Presleys' Theater on the main strip. "We all reached for our loved ones a little sooner and got to the basement a little faster."

Branson leaders insisted Wednesday that the city remains open for business, suggesting that any repairs and rebuilding would happen in a matter of days.

Tornado season normally starts in March, but it isn't unusual to see severe storms earlier in the year.

The system also lashed parts of Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky, where three buildings belonging to an Elizabethtown trucking company were heavily damaged. Three trailers parked in a lot outside were pushed into each other, toppled like dominoes.

"It picked the whole building up," said Jim Owen, son of the owner of Harry Owen Trucking. "It would take a group of 20 men five days with equipment to tear that down."

The Midwest and South were to get a reprieve from the menacing weather Thursday, ahead of another strong storm system expected Friday.

Ryan Jewell, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the approaching system is forecast to take a similar path as Wednesday's storms and has the potential for even more damage.

On Friday, he said, both the Midwest and South would be "right in the bull's eye."

Pools: Before and after tips

Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 9:15 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 9:15 PM

Don’t drain water from pool

Leave water level alone. Draining, so it won’t overflow, is pointless. If you drain it more than a few feet below normal and the ground gets saturated, the pool’s shell could pop out of the ground (even with concrete pools). Water provides weight to hold the sides and bottom in place.

Turn off power to the pump motor, lights and other equipment at circuit box. Disconnect gas from heater; if possible, have your gas supplier or pool service disconnect it to be safe.

Consider removing diving boards or slides if you fear they won’t be secure in high winds; if you decide to remove them, try to have a professional do it.

If the motor is exposed and you live in a flood-prone area, remove the pump and store it indoors. Otherwise, try to wrap it up with a waterproof cover and tie securely.

Remove automatic pool cleaners, pool blankets and covers, and take inside.

Super-chlorinate or double chemicals you normally add to reduce contamination and infestation by insects.

Stock up on chemicals to “shock” pool after storm.

Don’t throw patio furniture in pool to keep out of the wind; pool chemicals will harm the furniture and can mar the pool finish.


After the ‘all clear’

Call gas company or a pool company to reattach gas line to heater.

Don’t reconnect electrical equipment until you’ve removed debris from the pool with a net and power has been restored. Make sure electrical equipment is dry.

Do this as quickly as possible before bacteria starts to grow. Don’t use your vacuum; debris will clog it and the pump. Then, if the area around the pool is dry, start the pump. When draining the pool to proper level, remove cartridge filter or bypass the filter system. Super-chlorinate again.

Remove vegetative debris before treating water. Add 5 gallons of chlorine (based on a 15,000-gallon pool) and start pump after inspecting electrical equipment to be sure it’s dry. Reset timers, if necessary.

Closely watch the pump system through complete cycles for any problems.

Wait 24 hours to see whether water clears and turns blue. If it does, test water and follow instructions. If water is darker or black, pool may need to be drained, or partially drained, treated and refilled. Call a professional

Balance pool chemicals and monitor a few days.

Claims: How to file, deal with adjusters

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 10:43 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 10:43 PM

What if you have to file a claim?

Take photos or video of your home to document your belongings for insurance adjusters. A free computer software program, www.insurancevault.net , will walk you through what are the key images to take. Make sure images are easily accessible immediately after the hurricane — not solely stored on a computer.

Save copies of receipts, purchase dates and serial numbers.

Start a disaster savings account so that money is available in a worst-case scenario.

Write down the name, address and claims telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information.

Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate.

Keep materials such as plywood on hand in case you need to make temporary repairs after a storm. Take photos of the damage before you make repairs. Finally, keep receipts from your repairs so that your insurance company has documentation to reimburse you.

Also, document any repairs you make to your house after previous hurricanes. If you don’t, and suffer new damage in the same place, an insurance company could dispute that you ever used the money they paid you to make repairs.

Help adjusters – and others – find you

If you have to leave your home following a storm, it is helpful to leave a phone number where you can be reached somewhere on the outside of your home.

You can spray-paint the number on a piece of wood or on the side of your house. Paint your address and the name of your insurance company on the damaged part of your home for adjusters cruising neighborhoods.

Storm prep checklist for outside the home

Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 @ 2:53 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 @ 2:53 PM

WHEN THE STORM THREATENS:

Refill special medications.

Get cash (ATMs may not work for days after). Don’t charge credit cards to the limit; you might need extra cash after the storm.

Get supplies. Follow instructions in this guide for food and water.

Don’t fill gasoline cans until right before the storm; they are a fire hazard.

Fill vehicle fuel tank. Gas stations could run out and some will not have power to run pumps. Check your car’s battery, water, oil. Make sure you have a spare tire and buy aerosol kits that fix and inflate flats.

Check fire extinguishers.

If you own a boat, make necessary preparations.

Prepare your pool. Don’t drain it.

If you own a plane, have it flown out or secured.

WHEN THE STORM IS APPROACHING:

Get shutters, storm panels or plywood in place on windows. If you haven’t installed sockets, attach with wood screws; they’re better than nails and do less damage.

Don’t tape windows; tape can create daggers of glass and in the heat can later bake onto panes.

Remove swings and tarps from swing sets. Tie down anything you can’t bring in. Check for loose rain gutters, moldings.

Move grills, patio furniture and potted plants into your house or garage.

If you do any last-minute pruning, take clippings inside so they don’t become hazards in the wind.

Disconnect and remove satellite dish or antenna from your roof.

Check your mailbox. If it’s loose, secure or remove it.

Remove roof turbines and cap holes with screw-on caps. Unsecured turbines can fly off and create a large hole for rain to pour through.

Prepare patio screening. It usually is built to sustain tropical-force winds, but with higher winds, it can separate from the frame. Officials recommend you remove a 6-foot panel on each side to let wind pass through. Pull out the tubing that holds screening in frame to remove screen.

Secure and brace external doors, especially the garage door and double doors.

Move vehicles out of flood-prone areas and into garages if possible. If not, park cars away from trees and close to homes or buildings.

Don’t turn off your natural gas at the main meter. Only emergency or utility people should do that.

Landscapes: Trees and yard

Published: Friday, May 27, 2016 @ 9:02 PM
Updated: Friday, May 27, 2016 @ 9:02 PM

Trees should be trimmed by early June, before storms threaten. Many municipalities have “amnesty” weeks before storm season, when you can deposit more than the allowable limit of yard debris. Call municipalities for more information.

Call a professional. Trees trimmed by a professional arborist are far less likely to go down in a storm.

Thinning a tree allows wind to blow through its canopy, offering less wind resistance in a storm. Prune young trees to create a single leader, which will grow into a strong trunk.

To minimize damage to a mature tree, eliminate weak branches and reduce the length of limbs at a tree’s sides. Don’t remove interior branches, as this can make a tree unbalanced.

Hatracked trees become sails. Removing a tree’s canopy encourages bushy growth, which makes a tree top heavy and wind-resistant. Some hatracked trees “sailed” directly to the ground. Hatracking is illegal.

‘Lifted’ trees mean broken branches. “Lifting” is a common practice where the lower branches are removed to provide clearance underneath. Lifting contributes to branch breakage and makes the tree top heavy.

Don’t wait until the storm is threatening to prune. If the trash pickup doesn’t get to your curb before the storm strikes, you’ve created a pile of potential missiles.

Coconuts behave like cannonballs in high winds. Remove them well before a storm hits. If trees are too tall for you to reach, hire a tree trimmer.

  • More hurricane tree protection tips

    Tips for your yard

    Take in hanging pots and baskets. Secure or take in pots from shadehouses.

  • Secure young trees with additional stakes.

    Don’t remove fruit. If you put it in a trash pile and the pile isn’t picked up, the fruit may fly around in the wind.

    Tree-dwelling bromeliads, staghorn ferns and orchids can be secured with fishing line.

    Take in or tie up any piles of yard or construction debris.

    Take in all garden furniture, grills, tiki torches and other outdoor items. (Do not sink furniture in swimming pool.)

    Consider removing gates and trellises.

    Palms, native trees fared best through 3 hurricanes

    In high wind, palms will bend but not always break. Since they originated in the tropics and subtropics, their supple trunks have adapted to hurricanes.

    Plant palms in clumps around the edge of your garden (not near the house) to block the wind and protect more fragile plants inside. Although fronds will be damaged in a storm, most of these palms will recover.

    Ficus trees come down easily in storms

    Ficus trees are not meant for residential yards. They grow to 70 feet with a massive span of shallow roots, and come down easily in high winds.

    If you already have a ficus, have it professionally trimmed before hurricane season begins. (If you have Australian pine and ficus in your yard, consider removing them.)

    Stake small trees as a storm approaches with stakes driven at least 8 inches into the ground.

    Trim large masses of vines so they don’t pull down fences.

    Lay arches and trellises on the ground and anchor with rope.

    Fast-growing, brittle trees should never be planted in hurricane country, no matter how quickly you need shade.

    STRONG TREES

    Gumbo limbo
    Cocoplum
    Cypress
    Dahoon holly
    Geiger tree
    Buttonwood
    Jamaica caper
    Mastic
    Ironwood
    Live oak
    Sand oak
    Red bay
    Red maple
    Cypress
    Sea grape
    Stopper
    Strangler fig

    BRITTLE TREES
    (Consider removing these trees from your yard.)

    Australian pine
    Earleaf acacia
    Ficus (ficus benjamina, weeping fig)
    Bishopwood (Bischofia)
    Carrotwood
    Hong Kong orchid
    Tabebuia
    Laurel oak
    Melaleuca
    Schefflera
    Black olive
    Jacaranda
    Java plum
    Norfolk Island pine
    Royal poinciana
    Silk oak

    STORM-SAFE PALMS

    Cabbage palm (sabal palm)
    Canary Island date palm
    Christmas palm (adonidia)
    Coconut palm
    Florida thatch palm
    Foxtail palm
    Robellini palm (Pygmy date palm)
    Royal palm
    Majesty palm
    Paurotis palm
    Thatch palms

    Note: Queen palms are the exception. They have a very low wind tolerance.