US tornado: devastated city’s storm shelter programme was put on hold

The devastated city of Moore developed a plan to help residents build storm shelters but it was put “on hold” as local authorities battled for scarce federal dollars and through a maze of regulations, city authorities said.


Raf Sanchez

By , Washington

3:32PM BST 21 May 2013

Three months before the tornadoes that killed dozens across Oklahoma and leveled Moore, city officials released a frustrated statement explaining why residents could still not apply for money to build safe rooms.

The city said that regulations put in place by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were a “constantly moving target”, which changed during their application process and were slowing down progress.

Aside from the federal regulations, city authorities said that funds for storm shelter programmes were scarce because of a lack of federal government disaster declarations which provided extra resources.

“Oklahoma has had few of these declarations in the past couple of years, so there is not a lot of grant money available,” the February statement read.

Moore had intended to apply for $2 million in grants, enough to offer a $2,500 subsidy for 800 storm shelters, so families would “have a place to seek refuge from severe weather”.

Few homes in Oklahoma have basements, leaving many families dependent on specially-built “safe rooms” for shelter during a tornado.

In May 2012, the city said that it hoped to receive approval from FEMA by the end of that year.

Instead the process continued to drag and in February 2013, the city released a statement partly blaming changes to FEMA’s regulations for the delay.

“The City’s safe room rebate program is still ‘on hold’, with not a lot changed from our update of last May,” the city said. “We’ve found that the FEMA requirements and their interpretations seem to be a constantly moving target, more so with the new wrinkles.”

Authorities said they hoped to have a revised plan submitted by March but it is not clear if it went through.

FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Senator Tom Coburn, one of the state’s two fiscally conservative Republican senators, would seek to offset the cost of any disaster relief with equivalent cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

Both Mr Coburn and Senator Jim Inhofe were criticised by fellow Republicans for voting to cut relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and both men also voted against sending money to FEMA during a funding shortfall in 2011.

A spokesman for Mr Coburn defended the senator’s record of disaster relief, telling the Huffington Post he “makes no apologies for voting against disaster aid bills that are often poorly conceived and used to finance priorities that have little to do with disasters.”

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