Some victims of the April 16 tornadoes are getting new homes that will make them among the safest in the nation from future twisters.
Disaster relief volunteers from Samaritan's Purse and the N.C. Baptist Men are building a dozen homes in Bertie and Hertford counties that are those groups' first anywhere to include vault-like "safe rooms" to offer shelter from the destructive winds of tornadoes and hurricanes.
The rooms will feature 8-inch walls of cinder block filled with concrete and steel reinforcement bars, concrete floors and ceilings, and a massive, steel-clad door with three deadbolt locks. They will also serve as the main bathroom in the homes, and be finished with standard drywall, paint and trim.
"Basically, for the folks living here, it will seem like any other bathroom, except it will be really, really, quiet inside," said Artie Johnson, the case manager for Samaritan's building projects in Bertie.
In recent years, such safe rooms have become a popular addition to new homes in tornado-prone states such as Oklahoma, Missouri and Alabama. Samaritan's is planning to include them in homes its volunteers are building in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., that were ravaged by their own deadly tornadoes shortly after those that hit North Carolina.
The idea is to give refuge homeowners who live in areas where deadly storms have been common, and also to give peace of mind to traumatized survivors, said Rick Cobb, the deputy director for North American Ministries for Samaritan's.
"With so many tornadoes this spring, and so many injuries and deaths that came from them, we made the decision that in the areas hit that we would include safe rooms," Cobb said. "It's an added expense, but with the obvious psychological impacts with starting over again for these folks, we wanted to provide that peace of mind."
North Carolina isn't a tornado capital like Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas, but hurricanes are almost routine and Bertie in particular has been disaster prone.
The first two houses that Samaritan's is building in Bertie, at a small community on Morris Ford Road near Colerain, are nearing completion and will be the first with the safe rooms.
Of the 10 homes there, nine were total losses, and four residents were killed. The two new homes will be owned by elderly widows. One had no insurance, and the other didn't have enough to rebuild, so Samaritan's - which had sent volunteers right after the storm and knew the needs - stepped in to help, Johnson said.
One of the owners, Lucy Pearl Clemons, 72, has been living in a FEMA-supplied trailer a few miles away. She pronounced herself thrilled with the house, and said the safe room was a particularly welcome addition.
"It's going really help us if another storm comes, and I just think it's wonderful," she said last week.
Samaritan's is building at least six more homes in Bertie, and the Baptist men are building four on the Hertford-Bertie county line, with both organizations using basically the same floor plan, including safe rooms built to FEMA standards.
The houses are being built mainly by volunteers, safe rooms are being built in from the beginning, and they will replace standard bathrooms. So the cost is relatively modest, said officials with both relief charities.
The materials add about $3,000 to the cost, said Gaylon Moss, disaster relief coordinator for the Baptist Men.