Storm shelter need ‘has never been greater’

Published 2:37 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Storm shelter need ‘has never been greater’

By Andrea Burroughs

During the Feb. 13 Marengo County Commission meeting, Rayvell Smith appeared before the Commission to discuss the need for storm shelters in Marengo County, particularly in outlying areas.

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Smith said that storms are becoming more dangerous every year, and that many people living in the rural areas have few options on where to go for shelter.

“For those of us living in the rural areas, the closest place where we can get any kind of protection would be in the courthouse in Linden,” said Smith. “And that it is, in my opinion, unacceptable for a person to have to travel that far.”

Smith acknowledged that it is difficult to get shelters, but he believes that something can be done to help the residents in the rural areas of the county.

“Every time I look at the weather forecasts and it says bad weather is coming, I’ll be honest with you, I am thoroughly uneasy,” Smith said. 

Smith said he knows that three shelters have been placed around Marengo County in the last year, one of which is in the Spring Hill area. Smith described how he went out to look at the shelter in Spring Hill and said that he didn’t believe “ten people could get inside” that particular shelter.

“Gentlemen, you all know in certain ways we have been blessed here in Marengo County. We haven’t had a catastrophic situation, but I am mighty afraid that if we don’t do something, we’re going to end up in a bad situation,” said Smith.

Commissioner Freddie Armstead, Jr. said that County applied for three additional federally funded shelters, but the state handed over the applications to a “third party” to evaluate the applications to determine if the county qualified. Eventually, the Commission learned that the grants had been rejected.

“What we found out is basically those people didn’t go out to try and help people with those grants. They didn’t worry about it, they just denied it,” said Armstead.

Marengo County EMA Director Kevin McKinney said that a second round of grants opened, and the county sent in another letter of intent. That letter was approved but is still pending. McKinney said the process has to go all the way to Washington to reach the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“In the FEMA criteria, the main grading characteristic of a grant is cost benefit. So if we don’t have a population base of people in a certain area that can get to that shelter in a certain amount of time, it is not going to be funded,” said McKinney.

The criteria is based on a five-mile radius and how many of the nearby residents can get to the shelter within five minutes. 

Smith inquired about an individual person purchasing a storm shelter, and McKinney said the county applied for grant funding for individual storm shelters. If approved, the grant would cover 75% of the cost for a home-based shelter.

The Commission tasked McKinney with finding the dimensions and prices of additional shelters for the county. McKinney will provide an update at the March 12 meeting.