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May 7, 2013

When in a tornado, here's what not to do

If you’re out in your car and a tornado threatens you, don’t try to hide beneath an overpass.

That’s just what reporter Greg Jarrett did in April 1991, when he worked for KNSW-TV in Wichita, Kan. He was out with a cameraman when a tornado came and nearly swept them up. He raced down the highway for a nearby bridge, pulled over and ran up underneath it.

Jarrett, his cameraman and the occupants of another car all survived, shaken but unscathed.

A video of Jarrett hunkering beneath the bridge, while more than 20 years old, “still haunts us today,” said Rick Smith, coordinator with the National Weather Service. “People have it in their heads that it’s the safe thing to do.”

It isn’t. One danger is the potential for a bridge to collapse and crush people. Also, bridges generally are not much protection from debris flung by a tornado.

Jarrett and the photojournalist, Ted Louis, were lucky, said Gayland Kitch, emergency management director in Moore, Okla. “The tornado did not cross over that bridge, which most people watching that video don’t realize,” he said.

The situation was different when a massive tornado hit Moore in May 1999. A woman caught in a similar situation took shelter under a highway bridge and was killed. She was one of three people who died in Oklahoma that day while riding out a tornado beneath an overpass.

Watch the video of a television reporter taking shelter from a tornado beneath a highway overpass. (Note: Foul language)

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