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In Wake of Deadly Tornadoes, Home Shelter Construction Booms
April 29, 2012

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Many people in areas of America hit hard by tornadoes are building their own shelters in hopes of being more protected the next time a twister hits.

The tornadoes that tore through the Midwest and the South in 2011 devastated families and homes and towns for miles and miles. Many of the people who died had no access to the kind of shelter that many homes in those areas used to have. A combination of new housing plans and comparatively tame storm activity in recent years produced a fairly large number of houses that had none of the traditional trappings of twister shelter, such as "safe rooms" or "safety sheds" or even basements.

Demand for such home improvements has been particularly high in Joplin, Mo., where a particularly powerful tornado killed 161 people and tore up large swathes of the city. One Joplin resident who survived that city's devastation by waiting it out in a safe room was a man who had lost his wife in a similar storm three years earlier. This time around, he and his daughter emerged unscathed after a scary vigil in their safe room, despite the destruction of the rest of their house around them.

The series of storms that devastated several Southern states killed more than 350 people. Such losses have spurred many residents to accelerate their plans. A business in Joplin that specializes in home shelters has recently increased its staff from four to 20 in order to meet current demand.

Safe rooms typically feature little of the amenities of home. Homeowners prefer the minimalist approach, meaning no windows or electricity, in order to minimize the possibilities for storm-induced injury. The typical safe room is made of reinforced steel and can house just a few people. Costs run into the thousands of dollars, but storm survivors have been glad to pay that amount.

Another common option is a community shelter, which is a large building designed to withstand huge tornado-like winds. Such shelters came in handy when tornadoes hit a few cities in Alabama, as residents were able to huddle inside and ride out the storm. The location of such community buildings, however, requires people to leave their homes in order to reach the shelter, which is often not an option if the storm is directly overhead — thus the popularity of individual shelters.

Funds are often available to finance such constructions, although the amounts and provisions vary by state.



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