Goshen News, Goshen, IN

May 23, 2013

Mayor wants tornado shelters in new homes


CNHI News Service

MOORE, Okla. — Ten children are dead, and Mayor Glenn Lewis wants tornado shelters in all new homes built in Moore. A proposed ordi­nance would require a shelter either inside or outside each new residence.

“We haven’t talked about this,” Lewis said Wednesday. “We don’t want it to be so expensive that our homes aren’t affordable.”

Lewis said he believes most people whose homes were destroyed in Monday's tornado will rebuild with a shelter or safe room. The tornado's winds, exceeding 200 mph, destroyed or damaged more than 12,500 homes in this suburb of 56,000 people.

The tornado killed two dozen, injured more than 350, and caused between $1.5 and $2 billion in damage. It destroyed two Moore elementary schools - Plaza Towers and Briarwood, the latter of which is physically located in Oklahoma City.

At Plaza Towers, seven children were killed while taking refuge inside one of the oldest schools in the district.

About 10 percent of Moore's homes had safe rooms or shelters before the storm, said the city's emergency management director, Gayland Kitch, during an interview earlier this spring.

Many of those shelters were added after an EF-5 tornado hit the Moore and nearby communities in 1999, killing 43 people.

Money is the biggest obstacle to installing safe rooms, which cost upwards of $3,000. But in many cases, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse homeowners up to $2,000 of that expense.

That FEMA program has been the source of controversy in Moore in recent days. Many residents of Cleveland County, which includes Moore, were selected in a local lottery to receive money to help build safe rooms. But they learned in January that FEMA would not be making the reimbursements.

Officials here said they were told Cleveland County hadn't had a significant tornado in the prior year, and therefore wasn't eligible.

It is unclear if Moore will apply for FEMA's help should it require safe rooms in new construction.

Also unclear is whether officials here plan to include shelters or safe rooms in designs for two new elementary schools and one junior high school to be built by a $126.4 million bond recently approved by residents.

"Outfitting schools with shelters is certainly something we'll look at," said Moore School Superintendent Susan Pierce. "We're hoping there may be FEMA money available for that purpose."

Schools recently built in nearby Norman include several safe rooms. Kelly Elementary, a new school in Moore, was among the first in the country with a shelter area, the mayor said.

“When you walk in there, it’s one of the hallways,” he said.

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Details for this story were reported by The Norman, Okla., Transcript.