Joplin prepares to open storm safe rooms at schools

Friday, April 18, 2014 | 5:18 p.m. CDT

JOPLIN — Joplin residents will soon be able to seek shelter from storms in safe rooms across the city, school district officials said.

Inspections are expected to be completed in the next few days on safe rooms at four elementary schools and a high school football field, while shelters at six other elementary schools and Joplin High School will be ready in the fall, said Mike Johnson, the school district's director of construction.

Joplin was devastated in May 2011 by a tornado, which killed 161 people and damaged or destroyed several schools. Most of the safe rooms will double as school gymnasiums.

The safe rooms will be open to residents who live within a five-minute walk and a half-mile drive, said Jason Cravens, executive director of secondary education. They will have an average capacity of 1,000 to 1,500 people, The Joplin Globe reported .

"We want to open them to the public because it's that time of year," Johnson said. "We will be calling the city for final inspections just any day."

The safe rooms meet Federal Emergency Management guidelines and are designed to withstand winds of 250 mph; the highest category of tornado is an EF-5 with winds exceeding 200 mph. The rooms will be open to the public whenever the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning or severe thunderstorm warning with winds exceeding 75 mph, or whenever a tornado watch has been issued.

The rooms are equipped with backup generators, first-aid supplies and access to restrooms.

Michelle Storie, who lives about a block from Eastmorland Elementary School with her husband and two children in a house that does not have a storm shelter, said the safe room will reduce her worry during tornado season.

"Not having a place to go has always been a fear, and it's quite a bit of a comfort to know that a block away, I'll be able to keep my family safe," she said.

FEMA funds paid for 75 percent of the cost, with the school district covering the remaining 25 percent and any additional costs.

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