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Photo of Mother and Child Under an Overpass near Newcastle, Oklahoma

This photo has become one of the most popular and widely seen images from the 3 May 1999 outbreak. To help illustrate how widespread the public perception has become in recent years, in the slide above, the two captions below the photograph are actual captions that appeared below this photograph in widely read weekly national news magazines. The second caption is particularly disturbing because it implies that people who did exactly what they SHOULD do in a tornado warning situation (i.e. stay at home and either get to an underground shelter or go to an interior room on the lowest floor and cover up with something) paid the price with their lives. What this caption can easily be interpreted to mean is: the next time a tornado warning is issued, leave your home and run for the nearest highway overpass and get up under the girders. This contention is FALSE! There were many, many more people who stayed in their homes and did exactly as the current safety guidelines suggest, that not only survived – but walked away with only minor injuries, than died. Conclusive proof of this is provided in slide 21 and in the Federal Emergency Management Agency document “Building Performance Assessment Report: Midwest Tornadoes of May 3, 1999.” This document can also be accessed on the internet at http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=1423. The message conveyed by these captions from the national news magazines is simply wrong, but yet they only reinforce the myth that overpasses offer sound severe storm shelter.

Author’s additional note 12/10/99: It was recently brought to our attention that this image was published again in Time magazine’s special edition “Great Images of the Twentieth Century” with a similar caption.

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