By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A Home Depot store in Joplin, Missouri, where seven people died in a tornado last spring reopened on Wednesday with a reinforced storm room for safety but a similar overall design to the one that did not withstand the giant twister.
Home Depot was among several large stores destroyed in the May 22 EF-5 rated tornado that took 161 lives and destroyed about 8,000 homes and other buildings in Joplin.
The store began operating out of a tent in the month after the tornado, serving a demand for construction and other materials in the cleanup and rebuilding of Joplin. Store manager Steve Cope said the new store is a step forward for Joplin.
"We are ecstatic," he said Wednesday. "This is another piece of Joplin being rebuilt."
On May 22, Cope arrived at the store 20 minutes after the tornado. Outer walls and much of the roof collapsed, killing one employee and six other people.
The new store will have a reinforced room in the event of another tornado, but it is not a designated storm shelter, said Stephen Holmes, spokesman at Home Depot's corporate office.
The old store was built with what is called tilt-up construction in which large concrete slabs are pre-made and then lifted up to form walls.
Larry Tanner, a civil engineering research associate at Texas Tech University who helped examine the Joplin storm damage for the federal government, has said that big box stores were vulnerable to failure during the storm, even though they were built to code.
Home Depot officials stressed the buildings were built to code rules that states they must withstand winds of 90 mph. The May tornado packed winds more than twice that strong.
The new store also uses tilt-up construction, with walls poured off-site and then brought in. That doesn't affect their strength, Holmes said.
The Tilt-Up Concrete Association, which defends the construction practice as safe, appointed a task force to study the damage to the Home Depot in Joplin, according to the association website. Its findings and recommendations are to be released soon.
The new store will have a memorial in front, with benches and a plaque in memory of the people who died on May 22.
(Reporting By Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski)