Lee County EMA says not to wait for federal funding to build storm shelters

Lee County EMA says not to wait for federal funding to build storm shelters

LEE COUNTY, AL (WTVM) - After the loss of 23 Beauregard residents in a tornado Mon March 3, and the damage to hundreds of homes throughout the Chattahoochee Valley, many people are considering building or buying storm shelters to keep themselves and their families safe during the next tornado.

But, Lee County EMA said people should buy or build these shelters on their own and not wait for potential federal funding.

Donald Sandifer has lived in his home in Beauregard since 2003 and said though he loves his mobile home, it comes with its risks.

“It’s like the three little pigs," Sandifer said. "A house made of straw, that’s basically what it is.”

He was in his home when the tornado hit, but after seeing the devastation around his community, he wants a storm shelter.

“I’m in the process of investing in one because of how bad the tornadoes hit in this particular area,” he said.

He said living in a mobile home has its challenges, especially when it comes to tornadoes, and he’d rather be safe than sorry.

“People invest in porches, roofs, stuff like that," he said. "The most basic thing you can put in place is a storm shelter.”

Lee County EMA Director Kathrine Carson agreed.

“You’re talking about your family’s safety," she said. "And you may never need it. Heaven knows we hope you don’t. But when you do, and something like this comes over the hill towards your house, you’ll be happy you have it.”

Before the most recent tornadoes, there was a list of about 150 Lee County families who were hoping to get storm shelters partially paid for by FEMA.

But now, that list has thousands on it.

Carson said by the time a family gets on the list, is chosen, goes through mountains of paperwork, is approved by FEMA, and then has the shelter built, it could be too late.

The grant is not continuously available, and the amount offered in the coming years is unknown.

“We’ve already got two or three thousand people on this list," she said. “I don’t think that there’s any way we would get that many tornado shelter grant opportunities. It’s just not going to happen.”

The grants would allow for a 75 percent reimbursement of total cost with a cap of $3,700. The grant must first be awarded, then the family would have to pay for the shelter up front and potentially be reimbursed later.

Carson said it’s best to prioritize the investment in a storm shelter and to hold off on purchasing four-wheelers, cars, or vacations so you can guarantee your family’s safety.

Storm shelters vary in price from around $3,000 to $10,0000, depending on size and available technology.

Carson suggested going to a local dealer in order to save on shipping and other costs, and she said it is imperative to buy a shelter that is FEMA rated.

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