by Gene Adams
The height of tornado season is almost here, but this year preparing is easier on the pocketbook with help from Uncle Sam.
With a new spin on a 2001 program, the federal government is providing millions to make sure everyone can afford a tornado shelter of their own.
When storm clouds roll in and tornado sirens sound families hit by tornados in the past know where to take shelter.
"We immediately gather up the children and go down in the storm shelter," said Stephanie Volk shortly after her neighborhood, Fairfield subdivision, was hit by a tornado in 2002. After the storm, her family decided to build a storm shelter.
Roosevelt Greenwood did the same, building a storm shelter in 2003, saying, "Being underground and locked in is safer."
But safety comes at a cost.
Below ground shelters or custom-built rooms can run several thousands of dollars and more. But thanks to Mississippi Emergency Management's "Safe Place to Go" program, families can have most of that cost paid for by the government.
Federal grant money picks up the tab for up to 35 hundred dollars of the cost of a shelter, or up to 75 percent of the total price, whichever costs less.
"We know this is one of the few programs we can do that saves lives and that's our first priority," said MEMA Director Robert Latham.
"This one's being delivered to Madison and they're using it as a closet," said Judy Blaine, walking into a near finished custom build tornado shelter at S&H Steel in Pearl. Blaine says most of her customers have relied on MEMA's assistance since 2001 to help pay for storm shelters.
"It's a win win situation," said Blaine, "You have your family's safety and you get a rebate back....This is their family's safety, this is their peace of mind."
For tornado survivors, a shelter is one investment they will never do without again.
If you are interested in signing up for the "safe place to go" program to get funding for a shelter of your own, call the emergency management office in your county:
Hinds County Emergency Management: 601-960-1476
Madison County Emergency Management: 601-859-4188
Rankin County Emergency Management: 601-825-1499
Warren County Emergency Management: 601-636-1544