a massive tornado ripped through Oklahoma, killing at least 24 people, nine of them children.First responders continued to sift through debris in search of survivors on Tuesday, a day after
Experts typically encourage families to come up with a disaster plan in case of emergencies, but in the face of extreme and instant devastation, does a family disaster plan even make a difference?
"I would absolutely say that family disaster plans are worth having," Anne Marie Borrego, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross, told Yahoo! Shine in an interview on Tuesday. "It's something we should all do with our families to make sure we're prepared for any kind of disaster."
Though they're much more prevalent in America's Great Plains, tornadoes have touched down in every state in the U.S. at one time or another, the Red Cross points out.
"The Red Cross urges everyone to pick a safe room in their household where loved ones and pets can gather, such as a basement, storm cellar or interior room on the lowest floor with no windows," the emergency services organization says on its website. "Mobile homes are not safe during tornados. If someone is in a mobile home, they should get to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately—do not wait until the tornado is visible."
It's important to figure out where you'll meet if you're separated, and how to touch base after the disaster is over -- phone service may not work. (The Red Cross offers several free apps that can help, and sites like Safeandwell.org allow people to search through lists of people who have checked in as "safe and well" on the site.) That may mean that kids need to follow different procedures and seek out different safe places depending on whether they're at home or at school.
Contrary to what one might think, it's not confusing for kids to learn several different disaster plans. Think of it as a family agreement on how to stay safe, rather than a plan that's written in stone.
"Children are pretty good at following rules," Borrego said. "They learn they have to follow their teachers rules and they have to follow the rules at home."
Following their teachers instructions -- even when they deviated from the regular emergency plan -- is how Alexander Ghassimi and his twin sister, Alexia, survived the tornado, even though the Plaza Tower Elementary School didn't have a tornado-safe room.
“We were in the hallway doing our procedure,” Alexander told The Washington Post. “ ‘Get down. Put your hands over your head.’” But when a teacher who had been watching the storm's progress told students to cram into the girls' bathroom, he did so right away. Seventy to 80 children -- all fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders, squeezed into the restroom within minutes.
"We thought we heard hail coming, but then we realized it was debris," he remembered. "Then we looked up, and the whole ceiling was gone. … It almost looked like 'The Wizard of Oz.' Just a bunch of papers and books above us."
The raging tornado destroyed the school; the bodies of seven children were found in the wreckage, and several other students are still missing, but all of the students who sheltered in the restroom survived. The disaster has sparked a slew of petitions at Change.org, calling on states in tornado-prone areas to mandate proper storm shelters in schools.
Borrego grew up in "Tornado Alley," she said, and remembers what it was like to wait out a frightening storm. "I remember spending the night in the family's tornado closet in Wichita Falls, Texas," she told Yahoo! Shine. "One of the things that really struck me about this was that it was a disaster of such magnitude that many local officials said you won't be able to survive this unless you get underground. So there's something to be said for making sure everyone knows where the safest place is."