Carter Henson uses an overhead crane to position a bucket containing one yard of cement over a metal form that, when removed, will create a new safe room.
With the release of a lever, the cement pours from the bucket and fills the form. It takes four buckets.
Wearing knee-high rubber boots, Henson steps onto the concrete roof of the shelter and slides steel bars into its walls. The last pieces of steel are for the roof.
“This fireproof concrete box will be anchored in someone’s garage or backyard in a foot of concrete,” Henson said. “The walls are 6 inches of concrete reinforced with 550 feet of one-half-inch steel rebar. It’ll weigh 37,000 pounds when it’s done.
“We are making them as fast as we can, working six days a week.”
In the past year, Henson has sold more than 200 in-ground and above-ground safe rooms. They range in price from $2,650 to $4,200 installed.
A survey of the 15 or so businesses — up from five just two years ago — that are selling safe rooms in the Joplin market indicates that well more than 1,000 safe rooms have been installed in local houses, churches and other structures since May 22.
The demand is so great that businesses, such as Henson’s, have expanded and added employees.
Enos Davis, with Twister Safe of rural Neosho, has seen demand for his all-steel shelters quadruple.
“We have expanded our work force from four to 20 people,” he said. “Since the tornado in Joplin, we have sold about 500 Twister Safes in this area. They’re primarily for existing homes, but we get a lot of new construction too.
“We got caught up last December, but we’re four months behind on delivery right now.”
At Twister Safe and other providers of storm shelters, the phones light up when severe weather looks possible.
Said Davis: “Any time it thunders, we get a lot of phone calls.”
A Twister Safe costs about $4,000 installed.
“If you want one, you had better get on someone’s list right now,” said Shelly Terry, with A Quality Excavating, of Joplin. “We could be putting in two shelters a day if we had them available. It’s supply and demand. Be prepared to wait six to 10 weeks.”
Terry works with two suppliers of in-ground and above-ground shelters.
Not all storm shelters are made of concrete and steel. Some are made with Kevlar, the material that is used to make bulletproof vests.
Dave Durham, with Closet Works, of Carl Junction, said he has sold nearly 20 of the Kevlar shelters made by DuPont. They start in price at $5,800 installed. Kevlar rooms were used in all seven of the “Extreme Makeover” homes built in October in Joplin.
Durham has been selling the rooms for five years. Before May 22, he had sold only four rooms. He has five customers now who are waiting on delivery.
“Two-thirds are for existing properties. The others are new construction,” he said.
Charlie Wilson, with Wilson’s Vault and Ready Mix, north of Webb City, also casts concrete storm shelters.
“Before the tornado, it was pretty slow,” he said. “The downturn was hurting us. Now, the demand for ready-mix and storm shelters is up. I’d say we have done three shelters a week for the last 52 weeks.
“Those are the ones we have sold here locally for existing homes and backyards. We’re hauling them all over the country.”
A new concept in storm shelters could benefit the owners of mobile homes, which are more vulnerable to damage from high wind when compared with a home of conventional construction.
The SafePorch shelters are designed to look like a porch with steps. They can hold four to six people.
“It’s a good concept that’s designed for mobile homes,” said Mark Pile, with SafePorch in Northwest Arkansas. “It’s right at their doorstep. You don’t have to run across a yard to get to it.”
The company offers one model. It costs $3,895 delivered and installed. The concept was pioneered by a Florida company that has expanded into the Midwest.
Karen Olsen, with Missouri Storm Shelters in Joplin and Springfield, said her company has seen a 50 percent increase in business since May 22.
“We want to caution people when they buy a storm shelter: Not all are created equally,” she said. “You have to watch what you are buying, be it steel or concrete.”
Shelters from her company start at $3,195 installed.