Wednesday, August 17, 2011
When the 7,743 students in Joplin, MO headed back to school, they will have a safe place to seek shelter if another storm strikes. Thirty-one concrete and steel tornado shelters made to withstand winds in excess of 250 miles per hour have been installed in Joplin by Protection Shelters, LLC, of Wichita, Kan.
The EF5 tornado that hit Joplin May 22 killed 160 people and injured more than 900 others, devastating much of the city with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour. Thousands of students in Joplin lost their homes, and seven students and one school district secretary were killed in the massive twister, which struck on a Sunday afternoon.
The tornado also destroyed or damaged 10 Joplin School District buildings, including the district's only high school. Temporary schools have been set up at four sites, with six other campuses repurposed. Some of those facilities, like the temporary high school for 11th and 12th graders set up in a former Shopko in Joplin's Northpark Mall, do not have facilities to shelter students in case of severe weather. Now if another storm threatens during a school day, those students will be protected by these above-ground, handicap-accessible tornado shelters that feature 8-inch-thick walls and weigh approximately 70,000 pounds each.
"I'm proud that we can give these students a safe place to go if another storm strikes," said Dale Zogelman, president of Protection Shelters. "Being a Kansas company, we know tornadoes. Inside one of our shelters is the safest place to be in one of these killer storms."
Zogelman's company had only 41 days to complete and deliver the impervious structures, each of which required approximately 62,000 pounds of concrete and nearly two miles of steel. The
10-foot by 20-foot structures were built in Wichita, moved with a 100-ton crane, and transported to Joplin on massive tractor-trailers.
"We worked around the clock for 41 days, sometimes in 110-degree heat," Zogelman said. "But it was worth it to be able to deliver some peace of mind to these young people who have been so traumatized by severe weather. If you've ever been in a storm like that, you never forget it-and, you worry that it might happen again."
The doors and designs of these tornado shelters are tested in a laboratory at Texas Tech University, where they must withstand 250-mile-an-hour winds and debris shot into the shelter at 250 miles per hour. The shelters meet or exceed specifications published by both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Storm Shelter Association.
The shelters built for Joplin schools were part of a $27 million mission assignment funded by FEMA and managed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.