Tornado watch on until 10 p.m.; Officials in Fort Mill, Tega Cay on alert

news@fortmilltimes.comJanuary 30, 2013 

— Emergency response officials are taking the tornado watch issued earlier today seriously and they want residents to do the same.

Chief Scott Syzmanski of the Tega Cay Fire Department said that he planned to meet with city officials and city police this afternoon. Extra volunteers and paid staff are being brought on-duty for the potentially bad weather.

By noon, teams were already checking trucks and chainsaws to make sure they were ready.

The watch is in effect until 8 p.m.

Officials want residents to know the difference between a watch and a warning: a watch means weather conditions, such as a cold front meeting a warm front, are optimal for storm creation; A warning, however, “means it is happening,” said Russell Rogers with the Fort Mill Fire Department.

A warning will trigger blasts from the emergency sirens, Rogers said, and that should be a signal for residents to head inside “and tune in to local media for updates.” Rogers cautions people to avoid driving and to find “the most interior, lowest-level of your home to take cover until the storm is over.”

In Tega Cay, Syzmanski said information would be sent out via the city's website, tegacaysc.org, on what residents should do. He's advising that residents stay in their homes and away from windows during the storm.

Sites like the Glennon Center could be evacuated and guests sent home. Should power be lost, Syzmanski says to hold tight until the power company arrives, but that his officers will go neighborhood-to-neighborhood, street-to-street helping residents as needed.

"All they can do is hold tight," he said.

David Jennings, chief of the Flint Hill Fire Department, agrees.

"Just stay inside and go to the strongest part of your house, probably an interior bathroom or somewhere you can seek shelter that's pretty well constructed, probably a smaller area," he said.

If a tornado or other powerful storm comes through the township, officials stress staying away from downed power lines. Rogers said they could be hard to detect, especially at night, so resident should stay away from fallen trees that can be tangled in power lines.

After a severe storm, Cotton Howell, director of York County Emergency Management, said to call 911 if there is any danger from damage.

“That’s the first call,” he said.

In the case of a tree falling on the house or a similar situation, Howell said, the fire department could help the homeowner put a tarp over the area to protect the interior from rain and wind. Firefighters can also make sure the house is structurally sound.

“The tree is on the house and everything seems fine, but the house could be knocked off the foundation and no longer be structurally sound,” Howell said.

Howell cautioned that residents should take the threat of thunderstorms seriously.

“They can be equally disastrous and devastating as tornados,” he said. “If you’re in a car hit by a microburst or inline wind, you’re of the road. They’re dangerous. People need to have an awareness level of how devastating these inline winds can be.”

For more weather updates, go to fortmilltimes.com/severeweather/

Reporters John Marks and Jenny Overman and Editor Michael Harrison all contributed.

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