North Texas

Couple's Underground Tornado Shelter Pops Up After Flooding

Many people are considering getting a tornado shelter with all the crazy weather we've had this spring, but a North Texas couple says they never expected what happened with their tornado shelter.

The couple lives in a home, so they knew a tornado shelter was critical. But they never in a million years expected to see the 30-thousand pound shelter pop up out of the ground.

Gary and Marie Helmick love living in the country, but living in an RV makes them vulnerable. They live a football field away from the river in Millsap, something they said they asked about when buying the shelter.

"We talked to them about living on the river and if there would be any problem with the water," Marie said. "He said, 'Absolutely not.'"

Federal flood maps show the Helmicks live just inside a flood zone. After excess lake water was released last month, the whole area flooded.

"We didn't think there was anything wrong because the water didn't get to the shelter," Marie said.

The water did not breach the shelter, but there was still a big problem.

"It was like somebody was underneath pushing it up," Gary said. "It just come right out of the ground."

So the couple called American Tornado Master, the company who installed it.

"He told me basically we were on our own," Helmick said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not recommend placing underground shelters in flood zones. Neither does the National Storm Shelter Association.

American Tornado Master owner Bill Stegman said his company is not responsible.

"If they would have told me they were in a flood plain, I wouldn't have done it," he said.

Stegman said going forward, he will figure out how to tell if someone is in a flood plain to require the homeowner to give him that information. He said he doesn't know what his salesman told the couple, but that it is up to the home owner to make their own choices.

"I see what their point of view is, but my point of view is that that is their responsibility to let me know if you are in a flood zone," he said.

The Helmicks point out that you have to drive over the river to get to their house. Now, they just want the shelter gone.

"The danger are the holes around, children falling in or animals, our pets," Marie said. "That's the biggest danger."

Stegman said he'd split the fees to put the shelter back in the ground, but the Helmicks said they don't want to do that. Stegman also says he'd split the fees to move it and bury it in another location.

Requirements for shelters vary from city to city. The Helmicks live in an unincorporated area where there are none.

Federal Emergency Management Agency
National Storm Shelter Association

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