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Trying to cope when a tornado threatens

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Although the path of a tornado is fast and furious, early warning and information on what to do during the storm can save lives during its devastation. When tornadoes touched down in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Ontario last Friday, people in communities with a good warning system were able to cope better than were people in towns where the warning was not widely known, said one disaster relief worker in Ohio.

Cleanup from last week's tragedy continues. Earlier this week President Reagan declared 12 counties in Pennsylvania and four in Ohio as disaster areas, making them eligible for federal disaster relief. The storms caused at least $250 million in damage. Seventy-four people were killed, more than 700 injured, and 1,700 buildings were destroyed. And an estimated 7,000 people were left homeless.

In Canada, 12 people were killed, as many as 500 were injured, and thousands were left homeless. Both the Ontario provincial cabinet and the Canadian government are expected to provide relief. Damage is estimated at $100 million in Canadian dollars ($73 million US).

Predicting tornadoes has not been easy for scientists, because their catastrophic fury lasts so short a time. Tornado warnings were given in the devastated areas less than an hour before the storms struck, according to some reports.

``Unfortunately, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio people have virtually no experience with twisters,'' adds Samuel H. Schiff of the Insurance Information Institute. ``In Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, people have a better grip on what should be done. When warnings are given, they have a better handle of how to take cover.'' Those states make up a ``tornado alley,'' where the bulk of twisters occurs each year.

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