Moore, in the heart of "Tornado Alley," where twisters frequently
hit, will be operating this year under new building codes, arguably
some of the most stringent in the nation, to protect people and
structures from deadly winds.
In all new construction starting this month, garage doors must be
insulated and storm resistant, roofs must have sheathing
to keep them in place, and structures must be better anchored and
secured around their edges.
"Garage doors are the first to come off during a tornado. Once the
garage door comes off, the roof comes off," Mayor Glenn Lewis said
in an interview last week.
Many building met the new codes even before they took effect,
because many people know just how high the stakes are when it comes
to twister, with an average of 50 hitting Oklahoma each year during
its March to August tornado season.
In May 2013, twenty-four people were killed and 240 injured when a
top-rated tornado devastated Moore, a city of about 55,000 south of
Oklahoma City. Some 2,400 buildings were damaged or destroyed,
including Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children were
It was even worse in 1999 when one of the strongest tornadoes ever
recorded, with wind speeds of 300 mph, struck Moore, killing 44 and
leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
"The new building codes are great, but I wish they were approved
sooner," said Lewis, who was mayor when both tornadoes hit.
While many building codes require structures be able to withstand a
90-mile-per-hour wind for 30 seconds, Moore's new standards,
approved by the town council this year, mandate that homes withstand
a 135 mph wind — still not foolproof protection but better than was
in place before.
PAYING FOR PROTECTION
Moore, Oklahoma City and other cities began operating this year
under building codes offering more protection, but inadequate
structures and a dearth of shelters persist in large parts of the
One hold-up appears to be in the state legislature, where lawmakers
have been bickering over funding tornado protection.
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One Democratic lawmaker proposed using funds from the state's
franchise tax, a levy suspended in 2011, to pay for tornado and
storm shelters for the majority of schools in the state without
them. Republican lawmakers, who dominate the legislature, have
balked at the proposal, saying they want to eliminate the tax
The annual franchise tax calls for corporations that do business in
the state to be taxed $1.25 for each $1,000 of capital invested or
used in Oklahoma, according to the state's tax commission.
Lawmakers are looking at a joint resolution that would allow cities
and towns to have local elections to see if they want to issue bonds
to build tornado shelters and strengthen buildings.
A pair of Oklahoma legislators say businesses, schools and churches
that open their doors to citizens during severe weather should not
be held liable if people are hurt or killed. The proposal is in
response to a lawsuit filed by relatives of those killed after
taking shelter in a convenience store in the 2013 tornado.
"The most important part of this legislation is saving lives. You
shouldn't worry about being sued by trying to save lives," said
state Representative Larry Glenn, one of the lawmakers proposing the
Back in Moore, the city is still picking up the pieces from last
"What are you going to do?" said Mayor Lewis. "You just rebuild
stronger and better."
(Reporting by Heide Brandes; writing by Jon Herskovitz;
Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky)
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