|Wendy Newton has never liked severe weather. She has, somewhere in the recesses of her mind, a memory of a tornado swirling toward her house when she was little, and her father yelling at her and the rest of her family. |
The tornado did not touch their house, but it instilled a fear she has not been able to get rid of.
"I just remember being scared. I have always been scared of thunderstorms," she said.
Two weeks ago, Newton and her family got a place they can rush into whenever it appears that the weather will turn dangerous and rip through her house.
It is a large box in a corner of the garage. It is anchored to the floor, has a sturdy door and is packed with some basic food and water for a bad day.
It is a storm shelter. Many families in Tornado Alley have been buying these as tornado season gets under way. It is a trend that is being duplicated across the Midwest, with companies that produce, install or sell the shelters reporting increased sales compared with other years.
Although Newton and her husband have wanted a shelter for a long time, last year`s tornadoes pushed them to get one faster. They have two young children, and she figured getting them into the basement of their home in a storm would be difficult.
The couple got their shelter from the Comerio Corp., the Kansas City area supplier and installer for their "storm room," which is made by DuPont.
Company spokesman Damon Comerio said there has been a lot of interest in the rooms. Company rules forbid giving specific sales numbers, he said, but the company is installing several shelters in the Kansas City area.
Another storm room manufacturer, Twister Safe, had seven shelters in Joplin when the EF-5 tornado hit the town on May 22, 2011.
"All seven were standing at the end," said Enos Davis, the firm`s owner.
More people started coming in, and Davis said they have had more sales this year than last year.
"What we used to do in a year we`re doing in a month," he said. "We`re selling 400 to 500 a year now, compared to maybe 100 before."
He said most of the sales had been around Neosho, Mo., where the firm has its headquarters, but there have been some in the Kansas City area.
The firm has expanded its workforce from four last year to 20 this year. Most are the welders who put the storm rooms together.
On a broader scale, the National Storm Shelter Association says its members` business is 65 percent better than it was at the same point in 2007.
The association is also involved in testing and approving storm shelters, said executive director Ernst Kiesling.
A National Storm Shelter Association seal says the shelter has been verified to be in compliance with the industry`s rules and standards.
Storm shelters start at $3,500. A variety of installers can be found online across Kansas and Missouri, as well as in other states in the Midwest.
Kiesling advises prospective buyers to ask the supplier or installer whether the shelter has been debris-tested, whether it can withstand strong impacts, how it is anchored to the ground, how it is ventilated and whether the access is safe.
It should also be accessible for the disabled.
"There are two primary things to think about and these are the structural integrity and the debris impact resistance," Kiesling said. "If the supplier cannot answer these questions or he looks like a deer in the headlights, then you probably need to look elsewhere."
A storm shelter needs to be anchored to the house`s concrete basement and secured to the floor, he said. The walls need to be strong enough to withstand winds of up to 250 mph. Winds at these speeds transform ordinarily harmless stuff such as branches, pebbles and garden tools into lethal projectiles.
The shelters are ideally located on the ground floor.
Kiesling said while there are still some shelters being placed out in the yard, they are less common than they were several decades ago.
But "if you have to leave the house to go to the shelter, you do that when there`s a storm warning, not when the storm is on."
He strongly favors an indoor shelter, either above or below ground.
Prospective buyers are also likely to be bombarded with information about the quality of the material used to make the shelter.
The DuPont shelters are made out of Kevlar, a material that is tougher but lighter than steel and is most commonly used to make bulletproof vests.
Marty Strough of Berryville, Okla., a dealer of the DuPont StormRoom with Kevlar, said the shelter`s material does not interfere with communication. It means one can still use a cellphone while inside, as well as keep track of the weather reports on the radio.
In cases where parents are away from home, that would mean being able to stay in touch with their children even as they are safe in the shelter.
(c)2012 The Kansas City Star
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Story image: Del City, OK, May 4,1999 - Beth Bartlet, her mother Norma Bartlett, two dogs and two cats weathered out a tornado in their safe room. Courtesy of FEMA Photo Library
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