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Storm shelters and cardinals: symbols of safety and hope for Delmont

DELMONT — Delmont has reached another milestone of recovery in being better prepared to face another future disaster.

Members of the town board gave an update on the completion of two storm shelters at their regular meeting last week at the Delmont Community Center. The installation of the safe rooms is part of a long-term recovery project after the small town was struck by a devastating tornado on Mother's Day in May 2015, caused substantial damage to the rural town with a population just more than 200.

Nine people were injured by the EF2 tornado with wind speeds of up to 135 mph, but no lives were lost. About half of the town's residents were displaced by the storm, the twister wiped out or damaged 84 structures, including the fire hall and a century-old church, and hit two area farms. Clean up efforts inched forward and residents started holding regular recovery events and organizing fundraisers.

Through volunteer efforts many of the iconic buildings, like Zion Lutheran Church and the Onion House were repaired in the second year of recovery. The purchase of new storm shelters was a top priority for the town after the disaster struck.

"None of the businesses in town have a basement. People that work in town or people that are passing through our town can now use the shelters if another storm hits," said Earla Strid, member of the town board. "We put $6,000 into a special fund in 2015 and spent about $5,500 on the two units."

With funds left over, the board chose to direct the money toward a beautification project for one of the concrete shelters downtown.

"I would like to see a patriotic theme with flags and I think we should put some cardinals on there," said Rob Hotchkiss, president of the board.

"Cardinals yes, but absolutely no tornadoes," added Strid.

The cardinal has a special meaning to the residents of Delmont. After the tornado devastated the community, the red bird became a symbol of hope.

"It symbolizes birth, death and renewal. My art student Barbara Hoffmann came up with the idea of the cardinal as a symbolic figure," said Elizabeth "Sam" Grosz, owner of The Paintbrush Studio and project manager of the beautification project for the storm shelters.

Students from the Tripp-Delmont School District assisted with the Cardinal Project in 2016 by cutting out wooden birds and wings during their shop classes. The cardinals were painted red by the The Paintbrush Studio and hung up in the trees around Delmont, giving the recovery efforts wings.

Grosz plans to present her ideas and designs during the upcoming board meeting on Sep. 18 at the Delmont Community Center at 6:30 p.m. and plans to incorporate the cardinal in her artwork that will be painted on the shelters.

The new safe rooms, one at the tennis park and another close to the community center on Main Street, can sustain winds up to 200 mph and were designed following FEMA guidelines. There is room for 11 people in each of the units. The concrete, underground shelters were delivered this summer in two pieces; top and bottom and are assembled with metal brackets. The doors have a lip on the inside and outside and slope together with a rubber seal in the middle. Signage will be placed on the front of the doors identifying the tornado and storm shelters.