Kevlar Bunker Provides Safe House for Tornado Survivor

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Diana Swenson came within just minutes of becoming a tornado casualty when a vicious twister swept into her hometown of Joplin, Mo.

Instead, she survived to tell her story thanks to a shelter constructed of Kevlar, the same material used to make the life-saving bulletproof vests worn by police officers.

Swenson's home was among the hundreds that were recently battered and destroyed by a vicious tornado. The 200 mph winds sheared off her roof, puncturing large holes in her ceiling. Her furniture was thrown everywhere, and her windows were shattered.

She says that minutes before the twister hit, she ran into the 4 foot by 4 foot shelter that was bolted to her concrete garage floor made of Kevlar.

"I grabbed my weather radio, my flashlight and my cat and went into my shelter. And then in about 10 minutes that storm hit."

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Swenson said her shelter, made by the Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co., didn't budge, even as the twister blew a hole in the garage ceiling above.

"When it hit, it was like chaos outside of the shelter. I mean you could hear everything, but my shelter did not flinch during that whole thing. You know I'm amazed."

Swenson stayed inside that shelter until the tornado passed. When she exited, unlike her shelter, her entire neighborhood was demolished. More than 130 people in her town were killed.

In the wake of a string of deadly storms in the Southeast and Midwest, survival stories like these are garnering a lot of attention. Those who sell the DuPont shelter, and those sold by other manufacturers, say they are a lifesaver.

The prices for the DuPont storm rooms with Kevlar are set by the local distributors and range from about  $5,750 for a 4 foot by 4 foot shelter and up to $15,000 for a 12 foot by 12 foot shelter.

Marty Strough, owner of Storm Solutions in Berryville, Ark., said he's gotten more calls about DuPont's shelter in the last few days than he had in the preceding few months. He's installed more than 100 since 2007, but has taken several dozen calls about the product just this week.

"These storm rooms are made by DuPont; they contain Kevlar, the same life-saving technology that saves people from bullets. The same technology that can stop a bullet. DuPont engineers have made a wall and ceiling panel that can stop the dangerous forces of tornadoes," Strough says.

"This product can go inside of your home. We have to be on concrete; we can become a room of your home. And they are rated for the largest tornadoes such as the one that went through here."

In the spring of 2010, FEMA sponsored post-event tornado investigations in the Southeast that found in some areas, pre-fabricated safe rooms have been installed through federally supported grant programs for less than $5,000 each.

Ernst Kiesling, executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association, a trade group, said shelter companies typically see increased demand during a busy tornado season.

"This year has been unusual in the number of tornadoes in the Southeast, and now in the Midwest," Kiesling said. "It has created a much higher level of interest and activity."