Oklahoma will not mandate tornado shelters in schools: Governor

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 04, 2013 7:03 PM
Oklahoma will not mandate tornado shelters in schools: Governor

By Greg McCune

(Reuters) - The state of Oklahoma will encourage but not require residents to build safe rooms or tornado shelters, after 43 people died in massive storms over the last two weeks, Governor Mary Fallin said on Tuesday.

Oklahoma was hit within 11 days by two EF5 tornadoes, the strongest rating assigned to such storms, with winds of 200 miles per hour or more.

The first tornado on May 20 flattened whole sections of the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, killing 24 people, including seven children at an elementary school that did not have a shelter.

The second, on May 31. was the widest tornado ever recorded in the United States, at 2.6 miles. But it skirted the town of El Reno, Oklahoma. Nineteen people died from tornadoes, flooding and other weather-related events on the day of the monster El Reno twister.

Some people have asked why every school in Oklahoma, a state in the so-called "tornado alley" prone to such storms, does not have a shelter or safe room.

The two EF5 tornadoes in quick succession was highly unusual, Fallin said. Many facilities do have shelters, basements, safe rooms or other areas for protection, she said.

Fallin said she hoped that when local school districts make decisions on new school construction, they consider such facilities, although she said cost is a consideration. She said Oklahoma also is getting donations from private sources to help fund shelters.

But she pointed to an article in the Tulsa World newspaper this week that estimated the cost of putting a shelter in every state public school at more than $2 billion, or nearly a third of Oklahoma's state budget.

"There will not be a state mandate that individuals or businesses or schools have to put in" shelters or safe rooms, Fallin said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

Fallin said that once the immediate rescue and recovery effort from the tornadoes is complete, state leaders will have a discussion about what can be done to be better prepared in future. She said this should include several topics including public education about how to stay safe, shelters, and construction techniques.

Oklahoma officials had been in touch with people in Joplin, Missouri to find out what they did following one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history that killed 161 people in 2011, Fallin said.

(Reporting By Greg McCune; Editing by David Gregorio)