Federal requirements kept Madison Co. from building community shelters

Published: Apr. 30, 2014 at 9:56 PM CDT|Updated: May. 28, 2014 at 8:10 PM CDT
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Madison County applied storm shelter grants for individual-use facilities instead of community...
Madison County applied storm shelter grants for individual-use facilities instead of community shelters.

MADISON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - As storms moved in Monday, many people decided to ride out the worst in a storm shelter. Some reported having to scramble at the last minute to find one.

As a map of tornado shelters shows, there is a considerable gap of permanent community shelters in Madison County.

In the wake of the 2011 outbreak, counties across the state applied for post-disaster grant funds. Millions of dollars were spread across the state, and counties decided to use the money to build either community or individual shelters.

Madison County received $480,000 and officials opted to use the money for individual shelters, where homeowners could apply for one.

Out of 5,800 applicants, 120 individual shelters were approved, as were two community shelters which are in the process of being built – one in Harvest and another in Triana.

But is that enough?

"There are enough substantial structures to go to. You just have to look, know what your requirements are and go find those places. That's where you need to be when the storm comes," said Madison County EMA Director John "Rusty" Russell.

The challenge for building community shelters is this: the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires such a shelter to be able to house anyone who can walk there in two minutes or drive there in five.

"You can imagine in an urban area like Huntsville or Monrovia, a shelter that would be that big would be cost-prohibitive, even with federal dollars," Russell added. "Community shelters lend themselves to those rural areas that are sparsely populated, and they can get to a place quickly and safely."

FEMA money is not available to the State of Alabama yet. The state has to be declared a disaster area before federal dollars can flow in. Governor Bentley has asked the president for that declaration and is awaiting a decision.

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