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Mikewlf337's avatar

(Warning, Morbid) Is it true that the bodies of tornado victims are usually torn to pieces?

Asked by Mikewlf337 (6252 points ) May 1st, 2011

A long time ago a person told me that after a killer tornado like the one in alabama, that the area would be litter with body parts. Is their any truth in what she said? I could only imagine the horror of such a scene. I do not take pleasure in such a scene or find it entertaining. I am just curious about morbid subjects such as this one.

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53 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

No. They die mostly of blunt trauma. Houses falling on them and stuff.

Brian1946's avatar

I don’t think the force of the tornado itself could do that. It seems that would require an appropriately composed intervening physical object for that to happen.

However, given the debris that’s usually also present in a tornado, it’s conceivable.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Brian1946 Yeah, their limbs could be chopped off, for sure! But the tornado itself wouldn’t tear a person apart.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Brian1946 @Dutchess_III I read and heard on tv documentries that most deaths are caused by debris. I would think that it is possible that “missles” generated by an EF4 or EF5 tornado would be powerful enough to mutilate a person. The tornado itself would throw you and probobly kill you but not mutilate you unless you get slammed into a road sign or get splattered against a wall of a building.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, OK, it’s just wind, if you look it it that way. By itself wind can’t hurt you.

Brian1946's avatar

@Dutchess_III

“But the tornado itself wouldn’t tear a person apart.”

I agree, and I said the same thing in the first sentence of my previous post.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Right. And I LOVE the way you said, ”...require an appropriately composed intervening physical object…” Why can’t I talk like that??!! :)

YoBob's avatar

Not so much torn to pieces as riddled with debris. It is important to note that it is not the wind that kills you, its the stuff being thrown around at high speed that does it. It’s kind of like stepping into a sand blaster with the addition of assorted chunks of splintered wood and twisted metal flying around.

I worked as a volunteer in an ER in Wichita Falls just after “the big one” on April 10’th, 1979.

Brian1946's avatar

I think F5 level wind might be able to cause aerodynamic impact injuries to a stationary organism.

I base that speculation on a photo I saw of an airplane pilot that was taken after the canopy of his airplane blew off while it was going about 350 MPH. The poor guy had several semi-spherical indentations in the top-front area of his head.

IIRC, the caption implied that those indentations were due to the sheer force of the wind, but since I can’t recall the caption verbatim, it could be that those injuries were caused by debris from the broken canopy attachments.

Dutchess_III's avatar

There he goes again… So wind CAN physically hurt you! That makes sense. Did the pilot die?

Brian1946's avatar

I don’t think he died from those injuries, because he looked alive in the photo.
However, we’re talking about something I saw almost 50 years ago.

Of all the textbooks that I’ve stolen, why couldn’t I have included that one in me booty too? ;-p

Dutchess_III's avatar

LOL! Well, let’s Google, shall we?

pshizzle's avatar

It depends if they are hit by a certain structure or object.

AmWiser's avatar

A tornado probably wouldn’t tear a body to pieces as much as a plane crash would.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@AmWiser Well of course a plane crash would tear a body apart more than a tornado. I was just curious. Think about it, EF5 tornado+trailor park+trailors ripped to shreds=one giant mutilating machine. I would think that most people will be underground or in a safer place if they got ample warning time.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think I have an idea of why so many people were killed. Here in Kansas we get CONSTANT warnings about tornadoes and storms….it’s never ending. They’re always VIOLENT AND SEVERE!!!!.....and it usually turns out to be nothing. Like crying wolf. Those people probably disregarded the warnings.

Brian1946's avatar

@Dutchess_III

Another jelly who also lives in tornado alley (jonsblond?) said the same thing.

Seems plausible to me, but I’m just simple folk from earthquake country, so don’t mind me none. I.e., we get one or two F2’s or F3’s about once every few years, so we have very little involvement with twisters in CA.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Dutchess_III Whenever sever weather strikes I prepare for the worst. I put my boots on. Boots because if a tornado does come. I want protection from debris. I get my dog ready to come with me to a “safe” place. The tv never leaves the radar station. Windows are open so I can clearly hear the sirens. I am fully clothed for immediate action. If I have time and know a tornado like the one in Alabama is coming my way, I would be ready to get in my truck to outrun it. I know how dangerous it is to try to outrun it but in a tornado like the one in alabama, I know I would not be safe at all in a closet( no basement obviously). The alabama incident was a horrible situation to be in and There was no 100% chance for survival for anyone in it.

Brian1946's avatar

What’s the closest anyone here has been to a tornado or what damage has a twister caused you?
Has anyone here tried to outrun a tornado?

An F3 landed about 4 miles from my house, in February, 1983.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Brian1946 I’ll never forget one memorial night….husband was out of town. I stepped out on the back deck, looked to the west and HOLY SHIT!! I didn’t know what it was coming at me….some sort of wicked nasty cloud. I got all my pictures and stuff into our nasty, unfinished, dirt floor cellar, then sat at the top of the stairs trying to tell my husband what was happening. He kept assuring me that they didn’t have anything on the news so, basically, I was worrying over nothing. I got so PISSED at him I hung up on him. Then the storm, or whatever it was, hit, the house was shaking, the lights went out and..it was just a scary, scary few minutes. Not one siren, nothing on the news, nothing….until it was all over. Then my husband calls me back kind of frantic saying that the news was talking about multiple tornadoes hitting, specifically in our little town. I wanted to tell him to just shove it.
The electricity didn’t come on until 3 a.m. The town was a mess.

@Mikewlf337 it gets old doing that 3 or 4 times a week during tornado season. If I’m concerned enough, I just put my shoes on just in case….

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Brian1946 We’ve chased them. We chased this one down.

Here’s the website it came from

The description is about halfway down: “This is one of the most beautiful tornadoes I have ever seen, located near Mulvane, Kansas on June 12, 2004. We were on the west side of this tornado with a gorgeous white tornado with a rainbow. The left image has some action to it, as you can see the streaks of hail moving inward towards the tornado. The right image is just as the tornado crossed the road with debris falling from the sky.”

It was breath taking.

Brian1946's avatar

@Dutchess_III

“We chased this one down.”

Wow! I can understand why you chased it down. I agree with the description about the astounding beauty of that beast!

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

We’re just wrapping up another tornado warning here in Memphis. This is Day 5 of having the sirens go off, the sky turning black, and heavy wind and rain. I’ve lost a couple of trees in the past, and fortunately they were not tall enough to fall on the house. Driving through the areas where a tornado touched down is really sad.

It’s scarier at night, when you cannot visually watch the changes in the weather. Most houses here are built on a concrete pad without a basement. We just sit glued to the local news reports until it passes with a flashlight in one hand and a fully charged cell phone in the other.

YoBob's avatar

@Brian1946

I was raised in tornado ally where drinking beer and going out to spot tornados was considered a recreational activity.

The closest I have been was a couple of city blocks. Regarding the big one in 79 , I drove right across it’s path. I was not trying to outrun it, trying to outrun one is foolish at best. It’s just that this one was so huge and so close I did not even recognize it as a tornado. Actually it was multiple tornadoes clustered together to make one huge mile wide path of destruction.

When the sirens went off I was at work and decided to head home (gotta understand that sirens go off around there every other day during tornado season so you become a bit desensitized) I saw the storm off to the west, but like I said, thought it was an ugly rain cloud since it was so huge it didn’t have that nice little funnel shape. I made it to my home just as softball sized hail began to come down (more like it was being flung by a major league pitcher!). I ran inside and headed for the basement (the best place to be in our home during a tornado). I later came to find that the music store where I started was just at the outer edge of the southern side of the path of destruction, there were several casualties at the mall less than a block away. My home was about 2 blocks on the other side of the path of destruction, which means that I drove directly across ground zero.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@YoBob Whew!

@Brian1946 We didn’t realize it was going to look like that…we just saw the circulation in the clouds and which direction they were going so…we went that way. Watching it form was just amazing…the clouds are spinning around and around, and spinning faster and tighter..it was like watching a whirlpool in the sky! Then…the tornados started dropping. There were 3 or 4 all together but that one was just incredible! Rick stopped us about a mile away…

YoBob's avatar

@Dutchess_III They say that god looks out for fools and children, and on that particular day I qualified in both categories!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yes you did! It’s crazy how it can just look like a wicked old cloud and not the classic tornado….It can really throw you off.

Mikewlf337's avatar

I can imagine a wedge tornado that is a mile wide to not look like a tornado at all when there is trees and othe obstructions involved. You wouldn’t know it until you see the debris flying around. Here in Cincinnati we were hit by an F4 that killed 4 people. You gain a whole new respect and fear for tornadoes when you see the devestation first hand.

Bellatrix's avatar

You see you can never trust the movies. I thought you all had bunkers you went to when tornadoes started coming at you. You know those dug out things? Does anyone have those?

You have been having some terrible weather over there. 2011 surely has to be right up there in terms of freak weather and natural disasters.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Bellatrix Tornado season occurs in the spring and fall where I am and have been for the past 20 years. I think that there aren’t any basements or underground shelters for the most part because of the low elevation, but that might be wrong. With the frequency of tornadoes, you would think that secure community shelters would be built, but that isn’t the case either. I am just thankful for having a brick house, which while still not safe, is far better than a wooden frame/facade.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Bellatrix Lots of folks around here have those “dug out things,” but more have basements. That’s something to consider when you rent or buy a house here….where is the nearest storm shelter.

Bellatrix's avatar

Wow @Pied_Pfeffer. Given you have a “season” I would have assumed (I know, silly me) some provision would have been made. How much notice do you get of tornadoes being around though? Would there be time to get to shelters? It seems from what I have seen, they pretty much just hit the ground out of nowhere. While you know it is the season, you don’t know where they will appear? Is that correct?

Here, we have cyclones and we get a lot of warning of their approach. So in most urban and populated (not all) settings there would be cyclone shelters. I think there would also be buildings designated as cyclone proof but how effective that is when dealing with a very strong cyclone, I don’t know. In our most recent cyclone, a building designated as safe and originally planned for use by a lot of older residents in the community, was flattened. Thankfully the person in charge had doubts and had moved them before the cyclone hit. I am lucky to have never had to go through one. I know housing up north now has to be built to certain standards but I have also seen footage of buildings on remote communities where the buildings have been all but destroyed. I suppose you can do as much as possible and that still may not be enough.

I suppose the closest thing we have is bush fires which can start without warning and are sadly started without warning. Whether homes should have bush fire shelters was one of the debates after the Black Saturday fires. I am not sure what the outcome of that debate was.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Yeah, I would have assumed so as well, so I’m in the ‘Silly Me’ group with you. The tornado warnings seem to be good as far as giving advance notice. The problem is that they can be almost daily in season, and without proper shelters, it doesn’t do much good. Right now, the bigger threat is the flooding due to all of the rain and the rising water level of the Mississippi River.

If your country’s definition is like the US’s for hurricanes, then yes, there is a fair amount of warning for those. Unfortunately, there are a fair amount of people who refuse to evacuate when the situation looks really dire and are told to do so.

augustlan's avatar

I’m not in tornado alley, but we get quite a few in my neck of the woods. Luckily, the mid-Atlantic area is chock full of basements and really old buildings made out of stone and marble. There are several bomb/tornado-shelters in our downtown areas, where a lot of people walk. Usually, finding a safe-ish place isn’t a problem. However…

We were in a bar once during a bad storm, a wood building with no basement and no nearby shelter. The place was packed, and the TV was on the weather channel when a tornado warning flashed onscreen. It was heading directly toward us, following the path of the street the bar sat on. We watched it get closer and closer on the TV, knowing there wasn’t a damn thing in the world any of us could do to escape it. So, we all called home, telling our kids to get to shelter, and proceeded to drink our asses off. It was like a damn party in that bar! Luckily, it petered out just before it reached us.

The worst damage I’ve personally had involved shingles and siding flying off my house, nothing major. Nearby homes weren’t as lucky, losing whole roofs and garages. I’ve never seen anything like the damage done by these recent storms though, thank goodness.

YoBob's avatar

@Bellatrix What most fail to understand is that tornadoes are usually highly localized and rather hard to predict. So, the best that can be done is give a warning if a tornado is spotted in a given area (that area being fairly large relative to the size of the tornado). Even if the warning sounds in your area the chances your house will be the one hit are about the same as the chances that you personally will be struck by lightning in the next passing thunder storm.

Yes, in the rather rare occasion when an exceptionally large one hits in the middle of a highly populated area the results are devastating. But from a practical standpoint you can’t live your life diving into a bunker every time a dark cloud rolls across the sky.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Bellatrix A cyclone is a tornado.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Dutchess_III Are you sure? I’ve looked it up on several sites, and a cyclone is more affiliated with a hurricane than a tornado. I chalk it up to the Wizard of Oz to be misleading all of these years.

Bellatrix's avatar

No, I would say a cyclone is more like a hurricane. My understanding is a tornado is a twister, a funnel shaped weather event.

Brian1946's avatar

@Bellatrix

What do they call tornadoes in Oz? Tornadoes or something else?

Bellatrix's avatar

We would call them tornadoes I think Brian. We have willy-willys too which are whirl winds or dust storms. We don’t have tornadoes as often as you have them over here. I found this news story that covers tornadoes in Australia. Link

Dutchess_III's avatar

In Oz they called it a twister…

Googling….I’m a little confused…from Wiki “Mesocyclones form as warm core cyclones over land, and can lead to tornado formation.” “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone”

So..are they violent?

Bellatrix's avatar

Are what violent? Cyclones or Tornadoes? Cyclones can be exceedingly violent. They have flattened whole cities here. Look up Cyclone Tracy for instance. Tornadoes… by the look of the report below they don’t reach the levels of tornadoes in the US but I still wouldn’t want one to head for my house.

This is from the Bureau of Meteorology. It explains what a tropical cyclone is. Link

This is also from the BOM about the incidence of Tornadoes in Australia and their severity. I think both people in the US and Australia would colloquially refer to tornadoes as “twisters”. Link

Dutchess_III's avatar

In Kansas we don’t call them twisters…and in Kansas we think that the movie by that name was stupid!

But…cyclones are more like small hurricanes, right? So, do you get days and days of warning that they’re approaching?

bhamsam's avatar

I live in Birmingham, AL. Yes, there are body parts. Today, I spoke with a firefighter who has recovered legs and arms, as well as strewn about internal organs.

In 1998, another deadly tornado came through my area and the same thing happened.

If a tornado can rip a house from its foundation, send 18-wheelers 3 blocks away, and snap metal poles in half, then know it can easily rip a body apart.

Bellatrix's avatar

Cyclones aren’t small. They are big, nasty storms and yes, we know they are coming. Not necessarily days and days, but the BOM will alert people a cyclone has formed. They are rated from category 1–5. Here is more info about cyclones Link

Have a look at these images. This is what Cyclone Tracy did. People went back to see what damage had occurred to their homes, and couldn’t find the street they lived in let alone their house. Link

Tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, nasty weather events I think we would all rather not be in amongst!

jonsblond's avatar

@Brian1946 Yes, that was me that said that. When you live with tornado sirens going off once a week (at least) during the season, you kind of take them for granted. We had a tornado hit our house in 1999, luckily it was just an F1 and did minor damage. Usually my husband wasn’t that concerned when we had warnings in the past, we would get warnings and he would say we were fine, but this time he knew it was different. I was working and he was at home when it happened. I called him when the sirens went off. When he answered the phone he said he couldn’t talk. I never heard him that terrified. He went in the closet with our sons and he had to hold the door closed. It kept pulling open on him. The windows broke and we ended up with a hole in our roof. We were lucky. Like I said, that was just an F1.

Bellatrix's avatar

As coincidence would have it, a tornado just hit Auckland, NZ and two people were killed. Link

augustlan's avatar

@bhamsam Welcome to Fluther. I hope you are doing well out there in Alabama.

tjcdjc's avatar

Yes, I live in Alabama and volunteer with the relief efforts here. We were not allowed in some areas until the past 48 hours while National Guard and Rescue Personel removed all body parts. They used cadaver dogs to help them.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@tjcdjc But the tornado itself did not “tear them apart.” They suffered amputations due to being hit with things.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

Depends on what’s inside the tornado with you? Feathers from a pillow factory, no, the pillow factory itself… yup!

Dutchess_III's avatar

@GabrielsLamb Ah! But what if the feathers had quills on them! OUCH!! The force of a tornado is mind blowing. It can drive a piece of straw several inches into a tree trunk…

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