Shelter is considered, under most circumstances, as third on the list of needs for humans – food, water, shelter. We need a place to protect us from the elements, and when you live in Tornado Alley, that shelter needs to be strong enough to withstand whatever Mother Nature unleashes.
The deadly tornado from last week in Moore, Oklahoma, is fresh on our minds. We’ve seen the devastating pictures of schools leveled, homes, daycare centers, businesses, wiped entirely from their foundations. The sad fact is that while most of Moore had advanced warning, up to 16 minutes lead time and even a ‘Tornado Emergency’ issued by the National Weather Service; as the sirens blared in Moore, for too many, where for them to go for shelter was inadequate and fatal, in the face of the monstrous EF5 tornado.
Journalists, politicians, structural engineers, FEMA, shelter companies and residents have all weighed in, and while the responses vary on what is feasible and practical, the resounding cry is for something to be done; everyone interviewed for this article state more shelters need to be installed, to protect lives in the path of violent EF4 and EF5 tornadoes. The risk is real, and frequency of occurrence too high.
To be without a shelter, or a means to escape such a grave threat as the Moore EF5, is a true nightmare. The interstate, I-35 was in a gridlock. Traffic between SW 19th Street and SW 4th was backed-up prior to the tornado ripping across the highway. Panicked drivers, seeing the tornado to their west- mistakenly thinking the highway overpasses would offer protection drove up and under the angled supports. Traffic was at a complete standstill, travelers, too many people, were exposed to grave danger with nowhere to go. Worse still, at Moore schools: Briarwood Elementary and Plaza Towers Elementary in particular, students, teachers, and staff, had to ‘shelter’ in areas not capable of withstanding the magnitude of an EF5. Inside bathrooms, and interior hallways proved structurally unsound for the monster tornado’s 200+ mph winds. For many interviewed, in the face of such a grave threat, placing a tornado shelter sign over a bathroom seems hopelessly inadequate. For me, seeking adequate shelter distance from such powerful threats are worthwhile efforts.
May 20th 2013 proved that being in a ‘closet or bathroom on the lowest floor, if a basement or underground shelter isn’t available’, is no protection from such a violent tornado. Many of these closets and bathrooms that day in Moore were completely demolished and scattered over miles. In winds such as these, underground shelters or FEMA approved EF5-rated safe rooms are the only way to go.
Safe rooms that can withstand the impact of an EF5 are often pricy additions to people’s homes. Below ground storm shelters and basements afford the next safest place, if properly constructed. In-garage shelters can be dug out relatively inexpensively and offer reliable protection from deadly tornadic winds, according to designers. (See slide show). Certain Oklahoma banks and credit unions offer discount rates for building storm shelters, and a number of insurance companies have reduce rates for homes constructed with storm shelters.
Public policy needs to be addressed. Schools and public buildings, especially in high-risk, tornado prone areas, such as Tornado Alley and Dixie Alley (the Southern ‘Tornado Alley), need to have adequate shelter- so that when the sirens sound, and warnings are issued- seeking shelter is safe and effective. The Moore, Oklahoma, tornado was not a freak accident. On May 3rd, 1999 a deadly tornado, of the same magnitude, ripped a damage path merely a few miles from the recent EF5 tornado. “The deadly Joplin, Missouri, EF5 tornado struck a little over two years ago. According to the Storm Prediction Center, (SPC) severe weather, including a threat of tornadoes to Tulsa, OK and the Joplin, MO area, are possible again today. We need to act now to assure adequate shelter in the face of violent weather. ‘Preparedness is resiliency’” – says storm chaser and Moore first responder, Lauren Hill.
If you haven’t had the chance yet, please donate to the local Red Cross, or contribute to the various official charity benefits for Moore Relief.