Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Storm Safe Rooms as a Wedding Gift? Sure, in Tornado Alley

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Storm Safe Rooms as a Wedding Gift? Sure, in Tornado Alley

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Never mind toasters, blenders and slow cookers. Kayla and Ricky Smith, tornado survivors from Joplin, Mo., had a more practical request for a wedding gift shelter from the next big storm.

The Smiths were on the leading edge of an odd trend in Tornado Alley: Engaged couples using bridal registries or word of mouth to request donations so they can buy safe rooms, which are strong, prefabricated shelters typically installed in houses or garages.

Several tornadoes have ravaged the Midwest and South in recent years. A month before the May 22, 2011, tornado in Joplin, which killed 161 people and destroyed 7,000 homes, hundreds died in a series of deadly tornadoes in the South. And a tornado in Moore, Okla., in 2013 killed 24.

The devastation raised awareness about the need for safety in homes that don't have basements. Safe room sales skyrocketed, aided in part by the availability of Federal Emergency Management Agency grant and rebate programs that help pay for them in some states.

The prefabricated rooms feature thick steel walls and doors that can withstand wind up to 250 mph. They are windowless with no light fixtures or electricity. Most are small and built in a garage or closet. Safe rooms typically cost $3,000 to $7,000, depending on the size. A few are buried in the yard like shelters of years past.

The Smiths weren't yet married when the tornado came through Joplin. Kayla was with her parents in a car that was spun off the road into a yard. Ricky took shelter in his apartment stairwell. When he emerged, the building was gone. All were relatively unscathed.

As their wedding approached in 2013, they asked for safe room donations as wedding gifts, eventually building a $5,200 safe room in their garage. "It was really just our main necessity, something to keep us safe," Kayla Smith, 29, said.

Sometimes, relatives of the newlyweds buy the rooms to make sure the young couple are safe out on their own, according to John Hunter, co-owner of Atlas Safe Rooms in Joplin. …

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