Grants near as shelters gain demand

TUPELO – Recent tornadoes prompted a surge in storm-shelter demand, but some residents could save up to $4,000 by waiting until a federal grant becomes available.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation grant will reimburse up to 75 percent of safe room installations, capping at $4,000, but the state agency handling applications hasn’t yet opened the process.
“It absolutely will open because of the tornadoes,” said Brett Carr, spokesperson for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “We will put out info as soon as it does.”
In the meantime, potential storm-shelter customers shouldn’t necessarily postpone installation. Not everyone who applies for the grant will get it, and there’s no guarantee another storm won’t strike the region before the money’s dispensed.
“The most violent tornado season really is winding down, although tornadoes are a threat 12 months out of the year in this part of the country,” said Jim Belles, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis.
“We always preach storm shelters,” said Belles, who has one at his own home. “It’s always a good message any time, whether the grant is there or not.”
When the grant does open, preference will go to applicants whose homes sustained documented damage in the April 15 and April 26-27 storms. Second priority goes to residents in declared hazard-mitigation areas, which the federal government last month extended to all counties statewide.
Applicants must get MEMA’s approval before installing a storm shelter. Those bought or built before grant acceptance will not be reimbursed.
It’s an important distinction to note, said Stevie Shackelford of Shackelford Storm Shelters. He said some uninformed – or unscrupulous – vendors apparently have told customers to install safe rooms now and apply for the grant later.
“If you put it in before you get the grant, you don’t get any money,” he said. “It’s a big misunderstanding.”
Shackelford said out-of-town or fly-by-night vendors sometimes saturate the storm -shelter market after major disasters. They make money, then they exit or fold.
“After a storm comes through like this, the next year and the year after, our biggest business is fixing repairs from people that were not experienced,” said Shackelford, who has operated in Guntown for 14 years. “You don’t have to pick us, but pick somebody who has been in business a long time.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.

At a glance
- To learn more about the storm shelter grant, visit the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency website at www.msema.org and click on “Safe Rooms.”

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal