Fiberglass shelters create 'Refuge' for homeowners

May 09, 2005|JOHN T. DAVIS

McAFEE - Terry Gordon comes by his interest in storm shelters naturally. At the age of 13, he saw what a tornado could do.

He was living on Chrisman Spur in Boyle County in 1974 when a deadly tornado blew through the area.

"I was watching it," Gordon said. "It scared me to death."

Later, Gordon said, "we went down to Moreland where I grew up, and our farm, it tore it all to pieces. When we sold the farm a few years later, they subdivided it. Think of what would happen now with all of those houses."

Since 1989, he and his wife, Sue, have been living in the area of northern Mercer County sometimes referred to as "tornado alley." Tornadoes have struck the McAfee area five times since then, including a storm two years ago that took the life of a Mercer County woman.

It was in the wake of that tragedy that the Gordons decided they needed a storm shelter. That decision led to the couple's recently formed business, Safe Haven Storm and Tornado Shelters, which sells fiberglass, underground tornado shelters called "The Refuge."


"My wife said, 'Build me a storm shelter.' I said, 'Honey, I can't lay block.'

"So I got on the Internet and found these. When I saw them, I thought, 'My gosh, this is the way to go.'"

An 8-person version will be buried as a model

This winter, Gordon visited the manufacturer of the shelters, Fiberglass Creations Inc., in Henderson, Texas, and brought a couple of them home with him. He recently finished installing a large, 12-person shelter just outside the back door of his home, and he has an 8-person version that's going to be buried as a model in a new subdivision going up in the county.

In past years when storms threatened, the Gordons had to rouse their three children and take the family to a relatives' house that has a basement. It wasn't easy making the decision about whether to wake up the kids in the middle of the night, call the relatives and wake them up, and then go out into the storm to get there, Gordon said.

When a storm came through the area a couple of weeks ago, the experience was much different.

"It was nice," he said. "We walk out the door - everybody was laughing and smiling - crawl into the shelter, shut the door and watch TV, as opposed to ... 'We have to get out in this mess.'"

The fiberglass shelters are ventilated according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards, and the door and locks have been tested in a wind tunnel at Texas Tech University where they "ran a two-by-four into the door at 67 miles an hour," Gordon said.

With the popularity of modular homes, very few of which have basements, the need for storm shelters is growing, Gordon said.

"I wouldn't want to live in a trailer or modular home without one," he said. "I've talked to the guys that sell (modular housing) and they say, 'Where have you been for 20 years?'"

In some states, FEMA will pay part of the cost of installing the shelters in trailer parks, he said.

Only about a 10-foot by 10-foot space underground is required

For anyone building a new home, Gordon said, it makes sense to bury a shelter under the garage during construction. The 8-person shelter, which is the most popular model, only requires about a 10-foot by 10-foot space underground, he said.

Residents also may want to bury a shelter and then build a patio over the top of it. Since concrete has to be poured around the shelter base to hold it firmly in the ground, it's easy enough to pour some more over the top. "Pour a little patio, put some tables and chairs out there and use it."

Because of his experience as a boy, Gordon is not one to ignore or play down the significance of storm warnings. He watches the weather reports on TV, and he takes shelter.

"'74 changed my mind," he said.

He still remembers seeing trailer homes that were turned into twisted pieces of metal in only a few seconds by that storm.

"That made a believer out of me at 13. This stuff's ugly. You don't need to be fooling with it."

For more information on Safe Haven Storm and Tornado Shelters, call (859) 865-4534 or (859) 265-1059, e-mail or check out the company's Web site at

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