New above-ground tornado shelter in Madison, first in GA - CBS46 News

New above-ground tornado shelter in Madison, first of its kind in GA

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Photo from Morgan County Citizen Photo from Morgan County Citizen
Photo from Morgan County Citizen Photo from Morgan County Citizen

The City of Madison just got a new building that now helps save lives. An above-ground tornado shelter is the first of its kind in all of Georgia.

The shelter is ready to use now, exactly three years after two tornados ripped through the same path in April 2011, two weeks apart.

Deer Haven Mobile Home Park was in that path both times. The second twister, an EF-2 tornado, destroyed the 60 or so trailer homes in that community.

Corella Burke lived in one of those homes then, and still lives there with her three children now. Burke said she prayed for the new shelter less than five minutes from her front door.

"I was really scared. We were really frightened," Burke told CBS46 reporter Donna Rapado. "We had nowhere to go and we didn't know what to do. So we all went into my bedroom and just huddled together and prayed."

The tornado shelter is located by the entrance of Deer Haven, designed to protect the hundreds of people who live there and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Morgan County emergency manager Gwen Ruark said she knew she had to look for a safe place for the community. Ruark visited and checked out similar structures in Tennessee, Alabama and Texas. She then applied for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for the shelter's nearly $200,000 price tag.

"Once a tornado watch is issued we can remotely unlock these doors," Ruark explained. "Once we go into a warning we know that these citizens that are behind us can get into this shelter within that 5-10 minute time frame that FEMA gives us, and get in and shut those doors and be safe."

The shelter is two white long cylindrical structures that fit up to 200 people for up to four hours at a time.

It can withstand 250 miles an hour winds and flying debris at up to 200 miles an hour. It's bolted and welded in 18 inches of concrete, made of 3 ¼ inch of steel and weighs 300,000 pounds.

The shelter has water fountains as well as separate men and women's bathrooms. Up to 200 people can fit inside at one time, for up to four hours, until it's safe to go outside.

"The reason we extended it to four hours is if after the tornado there's power lines and trees down," Ruark pointed out. "You just protected them from getting blown away. You don't wanna just open up and shoo ‘em out."

These are the first above-ground tornado shelters in Georgia. Word is quickly spreading across the state, several counties have already called Ruark to find out more.

Copyright 2014 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.