Door on tornado safe room taken for research

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Scientists are focused on one particular piece of debris from last month's tornado that they hope may help save lives in future storms. 80-year-old Donald Greer rode out the tornado with his wife in their safe room in Mayflower. The shelter held up but the door on the safe room buckled from all the debris. Greer's wife was killed and now scientists are taking a close look at that door.

"I would get in that safe room again, go through the whole thing again," said Greer. "But I would get back away from that door."

Greer built his house in Mayflower as well as the safe room inside it. The shelter itself was one of the few things still standing after the tornado but its door gave way under the power of the storm.

"Got in the safe room and locked it up and about that time it hit, and it sounded like somebody out there shooting a canon at it or something, I mean it was just bam, bam, bam, bam, one right after another," said Greer. "Then, all of a sudden, last I remember that door caved in, broke my arm and knocked my wife back against the back wall."

After spending nearly two weeks in the hospital and burying his beloved wife Greer says he hopes sending the door for research and analysis will help save lives in the future.

"I wanted it to be inspected," added Greer. "I wanted it to be looked at to see if it can be improved so maybe someday if this happens again it won't happen to somebody else and someone else gets killed."

"A lot of the wind engineers and people that deal specifically with storm shelters wanted to know specifically about that situation," said National Weather Service Meteorologist John Robinson. "In Oklahoma some of the distributors say only about one-tenth of the above-ground safe rooms will meet the FEMA standards because they don't have a strong-enough door on them."

Robinson says that door is now on its way to Texas Tech University where some of the country's top wind engineers will put it through a battery of tests.

"In this office when the word of fatalities start coming in it is very distressing," added Robinson. "In this particular instance where we had that strong a tornado most houses are going to be pretty well torn apart unfortunately, but it's also important to point out that very few of the tornadoes that we have in Arkansas are going to reach that level."

While Greer says he does not plan to rebuild in Mayflower, he has been overwhelmed by the generosity and outpouring of support of Arkansans. Among those especially dear to his heart: various churches including the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in North Little Rock, the funeral home that held his wife's service, the nurses on the 3rd-floor at Baptist Hospital in Little Rock and his family.

"I don't know what my future is, I don't know why the good Lord left me here, but I guess I'm going to find out down the road somehow," said Greer. "Maybe my wife's death won't be in vain."

Robinson recommends consulting what's known as "FEMA Publication 320" if you're looking at installing a safe room. It outlines everything from building materials to planning to sample drawings of safe-room designs.


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