Sale of storm shelters on rise after string of deadly tornadoes

Brandy Robbins said her mother and children are alive because they ran to an underground storm shelter seconds before an EF-3 tornado ripped through her home last Friday. It's the second time this rural neighborhood in Northern Madison County, Ala., has been leveled in less than a year.

Her mother's home next door was picked up off the foundation and now it rests, severely damaged, in what was the backyard.

It may not be a surprise that after a string of deadly tornadoes over the past 11 months across parts of the state, the sale of storm shelters is rising -- and quickly.

"The reason for the rise here is from the April 27 storms," said Scottie McCluskey, owner of McCluskey Construction. "And of course during the construction of this -- we just had the recent tornadoes that just came through. Every home I've acquired wants some sort of protection."

McCluskey said homeowners are looking for a sense of security from a recent wave of violent weather, and they're finding it in a concrete safe room in their home.

"To me, if it's part of your house and not outside, you would get in it more than if you had to go outside your house and get in something," McCluskey said, comparing shelters that are built below ground in the yard to newer models inside homes. "If it's incorporated inside of you're home, it's a lot easier if you just go get in it."

Storm bunkers are becoming more common across Alabama since the state ranked No. 1 for tornadoes the past two years. The man-made ground shelters are concrete, cinder block or underground fiberglass shells -- usually buried in the yard, not far from the home. You can typically spot them because of an entry door from the earth's surface.

It's not really hard to blame Alabamans -- or the folks across the southeastern part of the U.S. They've taken a hit. There's been an outbreak of tornadoes through that part of the country two years in a row, causing billions of dollars is damages and costing hundreds of lives. Enough is enough, people want security.

"People want to know: Look, if my house didn't get destroyed, can I have this in my garage? Can I incorporate this somewhere in my home," McCluskey said. "The answer is yes -- the pantry, the master, the garage."

McCluskey shelters are so thick he said they exceed FEMA standards and will withstand the impact of a flying car. It's a room, usually found somewhere inside the house, and is made up of four, 10-inch thick walls and a tornado-proof door with a triple-locking system.

It's a personal preference if you want a storm shelter in your home or in your backyard. Vince Thompson, who also lives in Madison County, decided to have one installed behind his home, which had just been rebuilt from a tornado strike on April 27, 2011. He rode out Friday's tornado with his 8-year-old son inside the shelter. And even though it may not have been something he wanted to use, he's glad that the two are safe.

The starting price for tornado shelters is about $3,000, but steel concrete safe rooms could be closer to $10,000. In some cases, FEMA will offer rebates to homeowners who live in tornado-prone areas.

If you're looking for more information and you want to make sure your future includes a storm shelter, whether it be above ground or below, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a list of guidelines and designs.

Peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May. And further north, the highest risk is late spring through early summer.

While material things can be replaced, lives cannot.