Nightly News   |  May 21, 2013

Red tape delayed safe rooms in Moore

The city of Moore applied for $2 million in federal aid to help build safe rooms in 800 homes, but the city complained the program was delayed because FEMA standards were a “constantly changing target.” NBC’s Tom Costello reports

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>>> welcome back. here in the state of oklahoma , the expression "this hard land" comes to mind, and it's true in more ways than one. when you think about it, the national conference of tornado preparation is held in oklahoma city , and they do that every year for a reason. this weather is a surprise to no one, and for the most part they're ready for it when it comes. but nationwide, especially people on both coasts are asking why aren't there more shelters, cellars, basements? why aren't there more safe houses within houses across this region given the weather here? our report on that tonight from nbc's tom costello.

>> reporter: yet another devastating tornado, and so many people are asking why aren't there more basements in the very place they need them most, tornado alley , and why aren't there more tornado shelters ? many of those who managed to get underground survived.

>> it ripped open the door , and it just glass and debris started slamming on us. we thought we were dead, to be honest.

>> reporter: basements are not common in oklahoma because the soil, heavy with clay and water, makes anything underground prone to flooding and mold. so most homes are built on a concrete slab. and most homes can only withstand 90-mile-per-hour winds, not 200.

>> we just don't design homes on the interior of this country to sustain winds the same way we do along the coast.

>> reporter: but building a safe room for a shelter is a different matter. a safe room can be installed in the ground or inside the home itself. a reinforced box almost like a bank vault but built to fema tornado standards, but they cost 8,000 to $10,000 each. oklahoma has a lottery to decide who gets state help to pay for them. last year 500 homeowners were chosen out of 16,000 applicants. separately, the city of moore was applying for $2 million in federal aid to help build safe rooms in 800 homes, but the city complained that the program was delayed because fema standards were, quote, a constantly changing target. fema says it's looking into what caused the delay. so why weren't schools better prepared.

>> certainly yesterday raised a lot of questions with people, why don't schoolses have storm shelters?

>> reporter: today state officials said 100 schools do have same roofs but they're expensive. fema estimate $1.4 million per school.

>> when you're glued to a limited number of funds you set priorities on which schools do want to ask for. not a matter they would be left out for any reason. it was a matter they hadn't been brought forward yet.

>> reporter: the town of moore had not built any community tornado shelt bears the town said it faced only a 1% to 2% chance of a tornado ever hitting on any spring day . tom costello, nbc news.