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Disaster-Plagued Niangua Erects New Storm Shelter


Residents in tiny, tornado-plagued Ozarks town say they feel safer now that a new storm shelter has been erected next to the public school. From Niangua, KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports.

Next to a field of black-and-white Holstein cows, schoolchildren in this rural Missouri town gather anxiously to watch as builders complete an exciting step in the construction of the new storm shelter.

The dome roof, made of a vinyl material, is about to be inflated, giving the shelter its shape. The vinyl dome will then be re-enforced with steel and four inches of concrete from the inside, making it virtually tornado-proof.

Linda Watts of the Webster County of Emergency Management says the new shelter can hold 400 people—that’s big enough for the entire population of Niangua.

The construction crew turns the knob on a propane tank and lights the flame to the attached hose. They’ll use the heat from that flame to dry the roof before shooting concrete underneath it. It’s an unconventional building process for sure…first of all with the inflatable dome roof, coupled with the concept of building from the top down.

The builders start up the huge generators that will begin blowing air into the shelter to inflate its roof.

School officials say the domed shelter will be the new pre-school classroom area. Currently, the pre-schoolers are in a trailer adjacent to the school.

Linda Watts wrote the FEMA grant that paid for 90 percent of the 300,000 dollar storm shelter. While most people only know FEMA for the work it does after a disaster strikes, Watts says the agency has pre-emptive programs as well.

FEMA actually has a department that writes grants specifically for pre-disaster assistance. Its spokesman in Washington, D.C., Butch Kinerney, says the department’s goal is to preemptively save lives and property.

Before now, Niangua residents would seek shelter in the school cafeteria or in their own homes in the event of a tornado. Many of the homes were built without basements.

Webster county officials say the county has suffered eight natural disasters in the past three years, including tornadoes, ice storms and floods.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.