More families building their own tornado shelters

April 30, 2012 • Business

This April 27, 2012, photo provided by Betty Harryman shows Betty her daughter Linda Harryman with the safe room they installed in the garage of their new home following last years tornado in Joplin, Mo. Harryman, 76, was in a Joplin hospital about to have open-heart surgery when the twister hit. (AP Photo/Courtesy Betty Harryman)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — When deadly twisters chewed through the South and Midwest in 2011, thousands of people in the killers’ paths had nowhere to hide. Now many of those families are taking an unusual extra step to be ready next time: adding tornado shelters to their homes.

A year after the storms, sales of small residential shelters known as safe rooms are surging across much of the nation, especially in hard-hit communities such as Montgomery and Tuscaloosa in Alabama and in Joplin, Mo., where twisters laid waste to entire neighborhoods.

Manufacturers can barely keep up with demand, and some states are offering grants and other financial incentives to help pay for the added protection and peace of mind.

Tom Cook didn’t need convincing. When a 2008 tornado barreled toward his home in rural southwest Missouri, Cook, his wife and their teenage daughter sought refuge in a bathroom. It wasn’t enough. His wife was killed.

Cook moved to nearby Joplin to rebuild, never imaging he would confront another monster twister. But he had a safe room installed in the garage just in case.

On May 22, Cook and his daughter huddled inside the small steel enclosure while an EF-5 tornado roared outside. They emerged unharmed, although the new house was gone.

“It was blown away completely — again,” he said. “The only thing standing was that storm room.”

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