WEBSTER COUNTY, MS– After observing widespread and repeated damage caused by what seemed to be an increasing frequency of tornadoes in northern Mississippi and, in particular, in Webster and surrounding counties, the Reverend Coy Fulgham decided it was time to take steps to protect his family from the hazards posed by these extreme and unpredictable wind events. Those steps took the form of applying for a grant from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s (MEMA's) “A Safe Place to Go Program” to install a reinforced concrete shelter, or “safe room,” on his property along Hebron Road south of Eupora in November 2010. It didn’t take long to realize the benefits of his investment as Rev. Fulgham and seven family members huddled in that safe room for several hours during a tornado that barreled down Hebron Road at an estimated 125 miles per hour on the night of April 26-27, 2011 – and escaped unscathed.
Although the frame house about 25 feet from the safe room sustained only minor damage to part of the roof, a manufactured home on the same property that was occupied by Rev. Fulgham’s son Larry was virtually destroyed – torn off its foundation and crushed by a large tree.
Televison reports and warnings told the Fulgham family that tornadoes were approaching the Eupora area but, thanks to modern technology, they knew one was taking almost direct aim at their neighborhood. Larry used his cellular “smartphone” to access satellite-relayed high-definition radar that displayed the track and movement of the tornado in real time. He awoke his parents next door at about midnight as the winds were strengthening, and they promptly entered the safe room about 2 hours before the storm reached their neighborhood. Larry and his family continued to monitor television reports of the approaching storm and admits to making his way to the safe room just before the full force of the winds struck.
The Fulgham family spent several hours inside the shelter, from approximately 2 a.m. until decreasing winds and little light coming through the vents indicated it was safe enough to emerge and assess the effects of the storm. Although the destroyed mobile home and the downed trees were heartbreaking sights, they were surprised to see the old home still standing and with only minor damage. “We expected everything to be simply gone,” said Mrs. Fulgham, who grew up living in the home.
Rev. Fulgham would probably agree with the conclusion that safe rooms designed and constructed to established criteria to withstand the forces of extreme winds and to resist penetration by flying debris ill provide “near-absolute life-safety protection.” In his words, “The decision to install a safe room was one of the wisest decisions and investments I’ve ever made.”
Homeowners in Mississippi can contact MEMA at http://www.msema.org to obtain information about safe rooms and current programs that offer reimbursement.
For more information on safe rooms, go to http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom.