Underground Tornado Shelters

Underground Tornado SheltersWhen I was a youngster, my parents, my younger brother, my two cousins and their parents, and I piled into my uncle's Ford and headed out from Salt Lake City to Mirror Lake in the Uinta Mountains. We were jammed in her car like sardines. My dad's car, an Oldsmobile, was on blocks in our garage, my folks with too many kids and too little cash to maintain it. We boys were all very young. My brother was a toddler so I was only about five years old. But I remember every minute of that trip like it was yesterday.

As we climbed into the mountains, a gray wolf sauntered across the rode. We stopped for him and he paid no attention to us but it brought out some of my dad's wolf stories when he was a kid living at Sage Creek in Rich County, Utah (named after my great uncle) sledding his sisters to the school house wolves following hoping that one of horses pulling the sleigh would fall and break a leg. Dad carried a 30-06 rifle but the wolves never bothered them, just my grandfather's cattle.

The next thing we saw was a path of fallen pine trees which went up one hill and down another. They were twisted like cork screws as I suppose the sappy nature of the trees allowed them to be twisted instead of converted to tooth picks. My dad explained that a tornado had passed through the area.

Tornadoes are rare in Utah although heavy-wind storms are not. It is about like Idaho where I now live. A storm that scared my pants off when I was a kid splattered Salt Lake City with hail which broke the windows in our house, ten thousand windows at the Lang Company, and ended up washing graves out of the city cemetery sending them down the avenues in the eastern foothills. Newly dedicate graves were hit including the grave of President Grant of the Mormon Church. My wife told me she remembered that storm and the coffins and bodies and bones rushing down in front of her grandmother's house on N Street.

Shelter from violent storms, hurricanes and tornadoes was not much of a consideration when I was a kid. During the war, some thought of bomb shelters because we had air raid wardens knocking on our doors saying that they could see light from inside that might lead a Japanese bomb crew to drop an egg our head. We were more concerned about a bomb being dropped from one of the balloons that the Japanese were sending across the Pacific and had killed a school teacher and some kids in Oregon. This news was hidden from America as not to cause panic, but we knew all about the balloons and what was going on.

Our concern for shelter from things that drop from the sky was during the cold war. Little did we know hat people in Utah and other states close to Nevada were already being radiated from nuclear testing. The government finally admitted they had endangered many people. Folks here in Idaho sometimes mention some one who has cancer from Nevada radiation.

In those days some build shelters underground. Underground shelters were provided by communities and they were stocked with food and water for a long stay. The threat of nuclear attack was strong in 1857 and I was creating ceramic nose cones for our nuclear war heads. Some clown passed a flyer around our company which showed a man under a desk and listed what to do in case of a nuclear attack. 1. Sit under a desk. 2. Bow over with your head between your legs. 3. Kiss your butt, Goodbye!

Now days some folks have tornado shelters built into their homes. I saw one newscast where a shelter saved a family from injury. Unfortunately, too many folks in tornado prone areas are not protected as shown on the news this morning, twelve people dying in the Midwest. One woman saved her 92 year-old mother by putting her in the bathtub and laying on top of her.

We have all seen the Wizard of Oz where a farm storm cellar was used for protection. These were common in the Midwest and Southwest on farms. I haven't seen any here in Idaho.

My first tornado which killed one man was in 1951 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Our barracks windows were all open and the wind rushed right through them. But one man was killed in his car and the tents of the Fortieth Infantry National Guard Division were blown to who knows where. For two weeks I worked a crew of GIs to clean up the mess. Fortunately most all the guardsmen were home for the weekend from their summer encampment. The few remaining ran to the bath house.

When we move to Iowa in 1966, the city of Belmont had just been destroyed. We drove over there and there was nothing left. It was leveled. We also drove up to Charles City when it was hit. Despite brick building, it was heavily damaged. When we were on vacation in SLC, the news showed our kids school house and our neighborhood in Iowa. We had a tree jerked out of the ground and some roof damage to our home. In one storm there, a fellow professor from Iowa State University lost his home which was under construction. We had a basement in Iowas and we had a TV down there to monitor the progress of the storm using a technique popular at the time.

My advice to folks in heavy-storm areas to get some plans and build a shelter. FEMA has such plans that are available to the public.

Fly Old Glory!

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