Steel steps lead into a small cement chamber buried in the ground behind a lakes area mobile home.
Inside the nondescript interior waits to provide greater safety for those moments when the wind becomes a roar. Roger and Karen Walton moved into their mobile home in the Meadow View Manor park about two years ago. They wanted to downsize and did, but then found themselves living in a home without a basement.
The former Iowa residents saw storm shelters for homes throughout their travels in the south.
Roger Walton, who is on disability, wanted to do part-time work, so he looked at availability of storm shelters in the area and eventually founded his own business selling them about a year ago.
With permission from the Meadow View Manor, he put one in his back yard.
Landscaped with rock, the shelter sits just feet from the expansive back deck. The Waltons' mobile home is the last one on a long line of tidy homes in the park. They estimated they are about three blocks from the park's shelter building.
In a mobile home it is not hard to understand the concern that comes with storm forecasts and high winds.
"With no basement you kind of want some shelter," Karen Walton said. "It's not that I'm afraid of (storms). I respect them."
Roger Walton said he received calls from Siren, Wis., after the deadly tornado devastated that city in June 2001 and now has a working model there. He also received calls after the tornado struck Ladysmith, Wis., in September 2002.
On a couple of occasions, the Waltons have gone into their own shelter. They keep lawn chairs inside the small space. And in the warm weather months when severe storms are most common they keep water, a flashlight and batteries, blankets and sweatshirts in the shelter. An air flow system keeps the shelter dry.
A steel door leads into a small chamber created with poured concrete. Inside there is enough room for emergency supplies and for the family to sit out a severe storm in lawn chairs. Karen Walton used the steel steps to exit the shelter on a warm day earlier this week.
"It really gives you a feeling of security rather than sitting in here with no basement and just anchored down," Roger Walton said of his mobile home.
The shelter was installed about two weeks after the June 2001 tornado hit Brainerd.
In most cases, Roger Walton said a shelter can be installed for less than $4,000. In one version of his Storm Safe Shelters business, the shelters can be a minimum of 43 inches in the ground and a maximum of 53 inches. Other shelters can be just 14 inches in the ground or sit on top of the ground for wheelchair access. In those cases dirt fill is needed to bank the cement structure.
Another shelter can be 20 inches to 22 inches in the ground and have a crawl space access with bench seating once inside. A 5-foot by 7-foot structure can accommodate up to nine people. The larger 6-foot by 8-foot structure can handle 12 people. Although in an emergency more people have been known to be inside. Federal Emergency Management Agency standards are to allow four square feet per person.
Steel doors complete the entrance and the shelters are ventilated. Walton said his Storm Safe Shelters come in two parts and are set together with a silicone with adhesives, which keeps out ground moisture. There are no utilities and no hookups. Installation takes about three hours. Checking on permit requirements is up to the homeowner. The shelters weigh between 11,000 pounds and 14,000 pounds. The poured concrete is rated to withstand winds up to 250 mph.
Typical customers are those in mobile homes, residents of homes built on slabs, cabin dwellers or those with unsuitable basements. Roger Walton said the majority of people can finance the storm shelter the way they do a garage.
George and Donna Jensvold, Mille Lacs Lake residents, bought a shelter from Walton last October. Tuesday, George Jensvold took a radio into the shelter in preparation for the storm season. The Jensvolds have lived on the lake for 18 years and have been in a mobile home there for about 14 years. While they have not left their home because of severe weather, they have come close.
George Jensvold said they watched a tornado that left Garrison and crossed the lake in the 1980s.
"It was actually beautiful from this side," he said of the white twister. "It was big and it took forever to get across the lake. There have been a couple of other ones fairly close."
Living in a home without a basement, the Jensvolds decided it would be a lot safer to have a shelter if a tornado ever turned their way. They have plans set up to landscape the area and to see safety there if needed with a cell phone in hand in case debris blocks the door.
"It's nice and it's got easy access," he said. "... It's like buying something you hope you don't need."
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