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Tornadoes Prompt New Resolve to Get Prepared

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VAN ZANDT COUNTY, Texas (CBS11) - The tornadoes that tore through North East Texas last weekend left a miles long path of destruction. But, the aftermath didn't stop at despair. There's also a new resolve to be prepared for the next time.

"We were supposed to pour concrete on Thursday," said Lacey Neal.

Neal and her husband are building their dream home in the North East Texas woods. The wooded site sits just down the road from where tornadoes left a deadly calling card near Canton.

"I was scared to death," said Neal of the storm system that found her and her children taking shelter at a nearby high school where her young son was participating in a show. The mother of three said the experienced changed her mind about whether the family needed a tornado shelter in the new home. She says the family had talked about shelters just this past weekend.

"I was like, we're not in tornado alley… we don't really need it. And, now it's a must."

The Neals were one of many reaching out to local companies to inquire about storm shelter options after seven tornadoes tore through the area. Four people were killed and dozens injured.

So now, along with their dreams, they're investing in an underground storm shelter to avoid a weather nightmare, next time. "I definitely feel comfortable thinking it could save our lives," says Neal.

And the family is not alone in looking to take precautions.

"Our phones were just ringing off the hook," says Ken Welch with Texas Storm Shelter of Frisco. Welch says homeowners now have safe room options ranging from about $4,500 to $8,000.

"We have concrete shelters, where we come out and we dig the hole and put it underground, and we offer the in-floor shelters, and the above ground safe rooms," said Welch.

He said some options like the safe rooms that can be installed in garages can also be moved if the homeowner decides at some point to relocate.

"These violent tornadoes really make you think and make you aware that a tornado shelter is really a great insurance policy."

Regardless of 'how', local officials are reminding everyone—and in particular the newcomers to North Texas—to take advantage of readily available resources to put together a plan.

"It's not a matter of 'if'; but, 'when'," said Rhonda Simpson with the North Texas Council of Governments. Simpson works to encourage and educate the public about the need to be prepared. "There's going to be some kind of incident where you're going to need that plan and those supplies, and if you don't have them, it's going to be that much harder to bounce back," said Simpson.

The agency has created a website, to provide templates, lists and ways to get started. "You don't have to do it all at once," said Simpson. "Just buying that first aid kit, and a weather radio, an extra jar of peanut butter when you go to the grocery store" can be tiny steps that pay off big during a crisis.

The North Texas Council of Governments also encourages citizens to go online and apply for a tornado shelter rebate program.

However, the federal requirements can be cumbersome and applicants often wait years for approval.

Homeowners must pay the full cost of the shelters up front and then apply for the rebate—but, the shelter can't be installed prior to receiving grant approval.

Nevertheless, NTxCOG officials are encouraging community members to apply for the tornado shelter rebate program because it helps to gauge the level of interest in the shelters as they advocate for additional funding for the program.

"I will definitely sleep better knowing we have one, if there's a storm," said Neal.

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