By Heide Brandes
MOORE, Oklahoma (Reuters) - A year after a tornado ripped apart the Oklahoma city of Moore, killing 24 and injuring more than 300, residents face a shortage of storm shelters as they brace for a new season of potentially deadly twisters.
The city plans on Tuesday to remember those who perished with memorials for the victims, including the seven children killed at the Plaza Towers Elementary School.
Since the May 20, 2013 tornado hit Moore, with a population 55,000, more than 1,100 shelters, either underground bunkers or above-ground, heavily anchored safe rooms, have been built, city spokeswoman Diedre Beery said.
But demand has far outstripped supply of the specialized structures, usually made of thick steel that sell for about $3,000 to $6,000, said Abby Brown, sales manager for GSF Storm Shelters in Oklahoma.
"We have a pretty big waiting list," said Brown.
Moore city officials estimate hundreds of people are awaiting shelters.
Oklahoma was hit by 19 tornadoes last year, including the EF5 monster on May 20 in Moore, located just south of Oklahoma City. EF5 is the highest rating on the Enhanced Fujita scale that measures tornado intensity. Winds topping 210 mph destroyed or damaged about 2,400 buildings, including two elementary schools.
"There's definitely a lot of respect for tornadoes, and people want to keep their families safe," said Brown.
Also in the back of people's minds is a 1999 tornado, one of the strongest ever recorded, hit Moore with wind speeds of about 300 mph, killing 44.
Many Moore residents seeking storm shelters are tapping into $3.75 million in grant money awarded in January by the American Red Cross for the purchase of as many as 1,500 storm shelters.
Last week, the Red Cross said it was providing an additional $6.5 million to Oklahoma communities affected by last May' s tornadoes.
Oklahoma residents can also seek federal funds to defray costs of a storm shelter.
Apart from encouraging storm shelter construction, the city has implemented new building regulations aimed at helping structures withstand high winds.
Garage doors must be insulated and storm resistant, roofs must have sheathing to keep them in place, and structures must be better anchored and secured around their edges.
"This year, we are doing something positive instead of remembering nothing but death," said Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis.
"Our motto is 'Bigger, Better, Stronger.' We want to show that we are rebuilding," Lewis said.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Carey Gillam and Richard Chang)