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Cotaco residents prefer underground safe room

A group of 17 Cotaco residents indicated a preference for a self-financed underground storm shelter in the storage bay of Fire Station #1 at a public meeting Saturday morning.

A second option was an above ground model similar to those already located in Danville and Somerville. It would cost approximately $80,000 and would be eligible for a 75/25 federal grant, leaving $20,000 to be raised locally.

Fire Chief Robbie Elliott pointed out it would take from six to nine months at the earliest to get grant approval and, if not approved the first time around, it could take another year.

The preferred choice was to build the shelter underneath the storage bay in Fire Station #1 at an estimated cost of $28,000, with the cost shared equally by the volunteer fire department and donations from residents of the fire district. It would be able to accommodate 100 people.

Elliott reported that his department has already set up a storm shelter fund at People’s Bank and it has a current balance of $600.

“I understand that some of our churches are willing to help us raise the $14,000 we’ll need from the community,” Elliott stated. “I feel sure we can meet that goal in a short time.”

Brian Matkin, a retired engineer, expressed concern about folks being out in their cars en route to a storm shelter during a tornado warning.

“They may have only 10 minutes to get to a shelter and don’t need to get caught out in the open,” he said. “I’d prefer individual shelters.”

“In a perfect world, everyone would have his own shelter,” Elliott pointed out.
“But that’s not going to happen. I’d rather have a public shelter as an option than not to have any place to go.”

Elliott said by having the shelter underneath the fire station, residents would be able to arrive well ahead of a storm and remain in the station’s meeting room until a warning is issued. He said the station would be equipped with a television so weather conditions can be monitored. It was also suggested that a light could be installed in front of the station to indicated a storm watch and a storm warning.

Elliott said the underground shelter would not affect the operation of the department. Parking would be provided behind the station.

District 4 Commissioner Greg Abercrombie offered county equipment and personnel to dig the basement. However, he pointed out that the cleanup of the tornado-damaged Hulaco community would have to remain a priority.

Elliott said Cotaco Fire Department’s board of directors put a public storm shelter in its five-years capital improvement plan last January.

“A lot of public interest has been expressed in our community having a storm shelter since the April 27 tornadoes,” he pointed out. “At the present time we only have a couple of churches and a commercial building with basements. We’re anxious to move forward.”