'Safe room' tornado shelters booming across the United StatesManufacturers can barely keep up with demand, and some states are offering grants and other financial incentives to help pay for the added protection and peace of mind.
By: HOLBROOK MOHR , The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — When deadly twisters chewed through the South and Midwest in 2011, thousands of people in the killers’ paths had nowhere to hide. Now many of those families are taking an unusual extra step to be ready next time: adding tornado shelters to their homes.
A year after the storms, sales of small residential shelters known as “safe rooms” are surging across much of the nation, especially in hard-hit communities such as Montgomery and Tuscaloosa in Alabama and in Joplin, Mo., where twisters laid waste to entire neighborhoods.
Manufacturers can barely keep up with demand, and some states are offering grants and other financial incentives to help pay for the added protection and peace of mind.
Tom Cook didn’t need convincing. When a 2008 tornado barreled toward his home in rural southwest Missouri, Cook, his wife and their teenage daughter sought refuge in a bathroom. It wasn’t enough.
His wife was killed.
Cook moved to nearby Joplin to rebuild, never imaging he would confront another monster twister. But he had a safe room installed in the garage just in case.
On May 22, Cook and his daughter huddled inside the small steel enclosure while an EF-5 tornado roared outside. They emerged unharmed, although the new house was gone.
“It was blown away completely — again,” he said. “The only thing standing was that storm room.”
Generations ago, homes across America’s Tornado Alley often came equipped with storm cellars, usually a small concrete bunker buried in the back yard.
Although some of those remain, they are largely relics of a bygone era. And basements are less common than they used to be, leaving many people with no refuge except maybe a bathtub or a room deep inside the house.
The renewed interest in shelters was stirred by last year’s staggering death toll — 358 killed in the South and 161 dead in Joplin. So far this year, more than 60 people have perished in U.S. twisters.
Safe rooms feature thick steel walls and doors that can withstand winds up to 250 mph.
They are typically windowless, with no light fixtures and no electricity — just a small, reinforced place to ride out the storm. Costs generally range from $3,500 to $6,000.
Freddie Wooten stands on April 23 in front of the storm shelter he built at his own expense following a 2011 tornado in Henager, Ala. AP Photo