The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 5, 2013

After deadly May tornadoes in Oklahoma, interest in storm shelters is skyrocketing

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — In the storm shelter business, May is a fairly busy month.

Tommy Weldon figured as much until a devastating tornado tore through Moore on May 20. Until then, his Crescent-based Oklahoma Shelters only had a four-week-long waiting list for installing below-ground shelters.

“Sometimes five in the heat of May,” Weldon said.

The smaller but still deadly Shawnee-Carney tornado preceded, by one day, the EF-5 monster that claimed at least 24 lives in Moore.

“After the Sunday tornado we got super-busy on Monday. Then after the Moore one, it just went batty,” Weldon said. “Now we’re booking out to somewhere in the middle of September.”

In the past three months, the city of Enid has received 44 permits to allow the construction of storm shelters. There were seven in March, 10 in April and more than two dozen permits filed in May. Considering the construction backlog, though, the May permits might not yet be a direct response to this year’s record-breaking tornado season.

Those 44 permits accounted for more than $160,000 in construction costs. Each shelter cost anywhere from $2,600 to $5,000, according to documents obtained from the city of Enid.

Another storm shelter builder, Troy Schmidt, of Goltry, maintains a lengthy waiting list. The avalanche of shelter interest on May 21 didn’t help that list.

“Phone’s been ringing off the hook. We definitely got a lot of calls,” Schmidt said while on a job Wednesday.

He said because Schmidt Storm Shelters does a complete job of excavation, concrete setting and installation, they only get to about two jobs per week.

“We’ve been running about a year behind for about three years at least now, so we keep really busy. We put quite a bit of work on our list.”

That doesn’t include safe-room installation, which has a shorter waiting list, he said.

Seeing a 2.6-mile wide tornado, like the one that hit El Reno on Friday, puts the public on alert like only a record-breaker can.

“It makes them a little more aware,” Schmidt said.

More aware, maybe, or more panicked about the chances of needing a shelter; Weldon usually gets about 50 calls a day, but the recent tornadoes spiked interest.

“The first week after the tornado hit on the 20th, we were taking between 700 and 800 phone calls a day,” he said.

For a time after the shock of what happened in Moore, those calling his company weren’t really asking about the shelters’ costs.

“They want to know, ‘When can you get me one?’ It’s almost like price doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Weldon said. “For the most part, people have been really good-natured this week about not saying, ‘Can I get it next week?’ They understand there is a little wait now, and they’re OK with it.”