Tornado victims get priority on storm shelter grants

By Mike McDaniel - email

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - As Mississippians pick up the pieces from deadly tornadoes, folks across the state are now wondering how to protect themselves in the future. State leaders say what's always a safe bet is a safe room or storm shelter.

"These things are very structurally sound," said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Mike Womack.

Womack says there's often a spike in safe room construction after a disaster like recent tornadoes. To help with the cost, a hazard mitigation grant program, through federal dollars, can help homeowners with up to 75 percent of the construction cost. Since 2003, the program has helped fund more than 6,000 safe rooms and storm shelters across the state.

"It's very unlikely that you would ever have any damage to the safe room or the individuals inside of it," said Womack.

However, that program is currently unavailable to just anyone.

"We want to make sure that the families that had homes destroyed by the recent tornadoes are given the opportunity to apply for the grants first," said Womack.

From there, if any money is left, the general public would then be allowed to apply, which Womack says is still months away. The grant process takes anywhere from two to three months and Womack says there simply won't be enough grant money to go around. That's another reason Womack says not to wait.

"If you're building a new home, go ahead and build your own safe room. You're going to be a lot better off, because there's no guarantee that you'll qualify for a grant anyway," said Womack.

It's a grant which by federal regulations is not retroactive for anyone who makes room for a room.

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