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May 31, 2013

Residents seek shelters from storms, tornadoes

NORMAN — Residential storm shelters are not cheap, and many low-income people in Oklahoma cannot afford them. That is reinforced by the state’s policy of not offering shelter subsidies based on income or net worth.

The grants, which are federal funds, have been given out instead to those who lived in or near official disaster areas or whose names were drawn in a lottery.

The state, under federal rules, also doesn’t offer the subsidies to landlords, which means that tenants, who often are low-income, will not have a shelter at home unless their landlord pays the entire cost. Many landlords don’t.

In the wake of the deadly tornado that cut a destructive swath through Moore on May 20, claiming 24 lives, the need for more residential shelters and the government’s role in providing them have garnered more attention.

Tom Bennett, president of a Tulsa safe room company and past president of the National Storm Shelters Association, estimates less than an eighth of Oklahoma’s 4 million residents have access to their own shelter during a tornado warning.

The biggest reason is price, he and others said.

The prices for residential shelters range from about $3,000 for a small garage cellar to more than $10,000 for a top-of-the-line, above-ground safe room. Ground-level safe rooms have reinforced walls and a ceiling built to withstand tornado and hurricane winds.

Bennett’s company sells above-ground safe rooms, certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that begin at $4,600. Shelters below ground generally begin around $2,500, and the price can quickly rise depending on the materials (steel or concrete), the size and the difficulty of installation. For instance, getting a backhoe into the backyard of an established neighborhood is often a problem and can lead to more costly options, such as the placement of a shelter in a home or garage.

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