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Officials say underground shelters can be dangerous in heavy floods

Officials say it is important to know that storm shelters are not water tight.

This week in Oklahoma City, a 43-year-old woman drowned in an underground storm cellar.

According to Oklahoma Police, the woman went in the shelter to avoid severe weather. But flood waters rushed in and trapped her inside.

All underground storm shelters have air vents on top of the unit. Matthew Rothove with Precision Precase, a company in Columbia that makes storm shelters, said water can rush in through those vents as well as the door if the water level is high enough.

“The storm shelters aren’t 100 percent water proof,” Rothove said. “They’re more for shielding you from debris. They do have air vents to keep air circulating in there, keep fresh air coming in. So they’re not water tight.”

Residents in Oklahoma City also posted pictures online of storm shelters popping out of the ground because of flash flooding. Rothove said that can happen if the water table level rises and the shelters are not anchored into the ground.

“What we do is we run like a screw type anchor into the ground, and we do this during installation,” Rothove said. “And we run cables up the base section of the storm shelter, and we anchor it to those. So it actually locks it down into the ground even farther.”

Brad Fraizer with the Columbia Fire Department said it is important to know where you will seek shelter before severe weather strikes.

“We encourage everyone to have a plan, a pre-plan of where they would go in the case of bad weather,” Fraizer said. “Generally speaking you want to go to some place low like a basement. Avoid windows and be familiar with the area that you’re going to. Is it prone to flooding? Is it structurally sound? Is it away from windows? Is it easily accessible?”

Fraizer said you should evaluate all aspects of your planned shelter. For example, if your basement is prone to flooding, he said you should have another place in mind that you can go to.

“If you’re in a shelter, an underground area, and there is heavy flooding, that can be very dangerous,” Fraizer said.

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