On April 27 last year, he and several others were crammed into his neighbor’s in-ground storm shelter in East Limestone. Before hunkering down for safety, Spatz caught a glimpse of the EF5 that ravaged the community.
“I was looking out the back window and it was headed directly toward (my) house,” he said, adding that had the tornado not taken a more easterly track, his neighborhood would have sustained a direct hit. “There would have been nothing left of our subdivision.”
Inspired by what he lived through, Spatz started L and A Shelters and began selling storm protection part time after the stormy spring. With the start of the spring tornado season a little more than a month away, interest in his product beginning to increase.
“I only sold one last year, but I just installed one last Saturday and I’ve got two others to install,” he said. “We’re getting a lot more calls and it’s not tornado season.”
Spatz sells the Granger ISS in-ground shelters, which are made of polyethylene and have a top hatch for entry and exit. He said the eight-person shelters are guaranteed for 500 years and can be purchased and installed for $5,795 if the customer lives within 50 miles of Athens.
“I’ve had some people tell me they’re waiting on tax returns to help pay for the cost,” he said.
Storm shelters aren’t inexpensive items, but after last year’s tornado outbreak it would seem more residents are willing to fork over the money for the peace of mind.
At least six building permits for shelters have been filed in the Athens Public Works Department since October. Officials said, however, that amount does not reflect safe rooms included in new construction.
Citing an increased interest in shelters and the approaching severe weather season, the Limestone County Emergency Management Agency is asking those who have shelters to register them.
EMA communications officer Daphne Ellison said having a list of who has a shelter, the type of shelter and where it’s located will help emergency workers rescue anyone trapped by debris.
“If something happens, we’ll have a list when we go through the neighborhoods for search and rescue,” she said. “If the house falls, it could fall on the shelter and we would have to move debris away to get people out.”
The information on the EMA’s shelter database will not be shared with the public and only EMA officials and first responders will have access to the list. The EMA is simply seeking the shelter owner’s name, address, name of the subdivision, where the shelter is located, if it’s aboveground or an in-ground shelter and the capacity.
“We’ve got 60 people on the list right now, but not everyone has called to give us their information,” Ellison said.
Residents have also called the EMA asking about shelter vendors and who in the area installs them, she said. The EMA has information about pre-fabricated shelter vendors and those who build shelters to Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements.
“There are some people (who built shelters) on their own a long time ago, and are still in the ground,” she said.
Following the tornadoes last spring, the Limestone County Commission voted to use FEMA hazard mitigation funds related to the disaster to build five community shelters, as opposed to disbursing funds for a handful of private shelters.
In October, the commission passed a resolution to sign 30-year lease agreements on the sites that would eventually house the shelters. The county can renew the leases for additional five-year terms. Those sites include:
• Wooley Springs Baptist Church, located at 26069 Alabama 251 in Elkmont;
• Ark of Promise Church, located at 15199 Brownsferry Street in Athens;
• Oak Grove Thatch Volunteer Fire Department, located at 27712 McKee Road in Toney;
• Owens Volunteer Fire Department substation, located at 17210 Glaze Road in Athens; and;
• Little Ezekiel Missionary Baptist Church, located at 16439 Lindsay Road in Tanner.
Ellison said the EMA has not received any information regarding the status of the mitigation funds and doesn’t know when the federal government might release the money.
“We just had such a hard year in terms of natural disasters, so it could be a while,” she said.
The county currently has three storm shelters — at Clements, Pleasant Grove and Goodsprings volunteer fire departments — that can hold between 100 and 130 residents each.
Though not funded by the county, there are several other community shelters in Limestone, including:
• Good Shepherd United Methodist Church at the corner of Old Railroad Bed and Capshaw Road; holds 100 people;
• Owens Elementary School; holds 600 people; open to the public after school hours only;
• West Limestone High School; holds 1,000 people; open to the public after school hours only;
• Lester Community Storm Shelter on Lester Road by the post office; holds up to 150 people.
In a press release issued earlier this week, Gov. Robert Bentley addressed efforts at the state level to help local communities become better prepared for severe weather. He mentioned recommendations from his Tornado Recovery Action Council, including support for additional community storm shelters.
“We need to build them and identify them to the public so people know exactly where to go,” he said, adding that shelters can save lives in areas with high concentrations of people, such as apartment complexes.
To register a shelter with the Limestone County EMA, call 256-232-2631 or information can also be sent via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The form can be downloaded here: http://static.cnhi.zope.net/flashpromo/enewscourier/ShelterRegistrationForm.pdf
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