SIKESTON -- Severe storms and tornadoes that ripped through Southeast Missouri over the past month were a mere taste of what residents can expect for the rest of the tornado season.
Last month federal disasters were declared in several area counties, including Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi, following severe storms and strong winds March 9.
And last week disaster assistance was made available for homeowners, renters and business owners in Pemiscot County after severe storms and a tornado ripped through Caruthersville April 2.
"A lot of communities (who were hit) are saying they didn't hear the storm sirens at night," said Susie Stonner, public information officer for the state Emergency Management Agency. "The sirens are really an outdoor warning system so if they're outside, they can hear it. If they're inside they may not because homes are built so well these days, and people don't usually sleep with their windows open."
One solution would be to purchase weather radios, Stonner said. The weather alert radios, which can be found at most major retailers, are connected to the National Weather Service and will send off tones when warnings appear in counties programmed in the radio.
"It gives a heads up for people," Stonner said adding the radios are fairly inexpensive.
Federal/state damage assessments in the previously mentioned counties were recently completed, Stonner said. Now Missouri officials are asking that Stoddard, Dunklin, Butler and St. Francois counties be considered for assistance after storms beginning March 30 through April 3, she said.
While it's uncertain whether or not these counties will receive assistance, what is certain is the unpredictable weather that awaits Missourians, Stonner said.
"With weather being so changeable in Missouri-- it's hot, cold, turbulent and dry -- residents should be very aware of the weather," Stonner said. According to National Weather Service, Missouri averages 28 tornadoes a year in Missouri; however there were 84 tornadoes in 2003, of which 23 occurred in one week, and 69 in 2004.
During the spring and summer months, tornadoes, mild or severe, are a fairly common occurrence in the Midwest. Although tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, the peak season is March through August, according to the National Weather Service.
"Regardless of the season, there is never a bad time to create a tornado safety plan," said Steve Deere, an agent for Allstate Insurance in Sikeston. "It's important for the well being of your family to establish emergency procedures to follow if a tornado strikes."
And once a storm or tornado has passed, the first line of defense is to prevent further loss to physical property, Deere said.
Document damage to things like a roof blown off a home and one-of-a-kind collections, Deere said.
"Photo or video it, and keep all receipts of any minor repairs. If you bring anyone in to do patching or tarping, make sure you document it for your regular adjuster," Deere said.
Make sure no utility or gas leaks are present, and if they are, shut off gas and utilities, Stonner said.
For people who have a local insurance agency, call them first, Deere suggested. If it's a major disaster, they may need to contact the national company if local phones are down, he pointed out.
No matter what size or type of damage, assistance should be available fairly quickly, Deere said.
Typically, in claim situations following a loss, when a certain number of claims in a zip code or area is reached, national catastrophe teams are dispatched to that area, Deere explained.
"They're suited to handling multiple cases and can handle it more quickly," Deere said.
And there is no guarantee with natural disasters that victims will receive federal help, Stonner said.
"Just because we've (Missouri) already received federal assistance twice this year doesn't mean we'll get anymore," Stonner said.
If one good thing can come of last week's disaster in Caruthersville, it's the emergency practice given to community officials.
"We've always thought and continue to think an earthquake will be the major disaster to occur in that area," Stonner said. "This gave emergency management people in Southeast Missouri the chance to band to together and put their planning to use."
If emergency plans aren't exercised, the communities won't know what will work in a disaster, Stonner said.
"You'd hate to have a real event, only to find out you could do something better," Stonner said. "So you're always learning."