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Why many Oklahomans turn down storm shelter rebates

PURCELL, Okla - When tornadoes come calling, there is no better place to hide than underground.

In May 2013, hundreds of lives were saved when families took refuge from an EF5 in their storm shelters.

It's estimated that less than a fifth of the state's 4 million residents have access to meaningful private shelter from tornadoes.

Purcell Emergency Management Director Kevin Rhoads told NewsChannel 4, "When you think about emergency management. their safety is our top concern."

The City of Purcell has been awarded $179,000 in FEMA grant money. It's available to residents to offset the cost of a storm shelter.

Resident Bobby Elmore, applied for the rebate. He wanted security for his family of four.

"Usually we have to run out in the rain to get to the neighbor's shelter. This program came up and I just had to take it. It gives me peace of mind to know there is a shelter just feet away from the back door. It's the same as a security system for your house when you're gone," he said.

But the emergency management director was stunned when others on the list began rejecting the rebate.

"Obviously they worried enough to register to try to win one. Now, they aren't going to be able to," Rhoads said.

The most popular shelter costs $2409.50, including the city building permit.

A rebate of 75 percent is $1807.13. That leaves the homeowner with an out of pocket expense of only $602.37.

These shelters cost next to nothing, so why are so many people refusing the offer?

It's this clause in the contract:

"If my application is selected, I understand that I will not receive funds until all requirements of the Oklahoma Safe Room Rebate Program are met."

That means participants must wait 45-60 days after installation for those rebates.

That`s a tough sell, even though it could mean the difference between life and death.

According to Rhoads, "They have to pay up front which makes it difficult for them and so they just weather the storm, so to speak."

Instead, the City of Purcell may be forced to return the unused grant money, unless they can find about a dozen more applicants.

"They are invaluable. If you care about your family and you're able to do it, there is no reason why you shouldn't. It's almost like a roll of the dice. In Oklahoma, it's not the place to roll the dice," said Rhoads.

It's a gamble, Mother Nature usually wins.

If you'd like to register for a storm shelter rebate, you can submit an application at this link.