Illinois Man Promises Neighbors Spot in Underground Tornado Shelter

By JON KRENEK, The (Kankakee) Daily Journal | November 24, 2014

The 1,200-pound steel cylinder in James Trudeau’s driveway certainly struck his Bourbonnais neighborhood as odd, at least at first.

Even Kankakee County’s planning department wasn’t sure what to make of it when Trudeau sought a building permit to bury it in the ground.

“Somebody said, ‘That’s the biggest barbecue I’ve ever seen,”‘ Trudeau said. “I just laughed.”

The structure was a storm shelter manufactured in Arkansas, complete with shelves, seating, a breathing vent and steps to its underground confines. Since he buried it recently, every one of his neighbors has secured the promise of a spot if a tornado heads their way.

The neighborhood has few basements and offers little protection from a potentially devastating tornado.

“I just told them, ‘Come on over,”‘ Trudeau said. “A lot of them are friends, anyhow.”

The storm shelter was a nearly $7,000 investment with all the work completed, making it a major purchase for Trudeau and his wife, Melody. The couple had wanted one for years. The only protection their home offers is a hallway absent of windows, and they didn’t feel safe.

Trudeau lived through the 1963 tornado that left a destructive path through Olivet Nazarene University’s campus, leaving one woman dead and destroying his childhood home. He was 14 at the time, and can still recall the sight of trailers torn to pieces at ONU and his neighbor’s orchard leveled.

“I don’t fear storms, but when you knew a tornado was in the vicinity there was nowhere to go,” Trudeau said. “The storms have been getting worse every year.”

On Monday evening, when the tornado sirens blared across Kankakee County, Trudeau and his wife submerged to the shelter for the first time. His weather radio sounded a tornado warning for Bradley and he says, “I was in my hole.”

Arkansas storm shelter. Photo: Charles S. Powell/FEMA
Arkansas storm shelter. Photo: Charles S. Powell/FEMA

The stay lasted about half an hour. He had three bars on his cellular telephone and talked to his son. Melody brought her tablet and played some music.

“We were talking about what we needed down there,” Trudeau said. The couple decided to bring stronger battery-operated lights and blankets to throw on the seats.

The shelter was buried only on Saturday after a long process of getting it in place.

Trudeau hauled the structure from the Arkansas manufacture’s site earlier this year but had to wait months while the Kankakee County planning department tried to figure out how to handle the permit. It is the first storm shelter in Kankakee County, Trudeau said, although some local tornado victims have built reinforced structures within their basements when they rebuilt.

The manufacturer, Cozy Caverns Storm Shelters, of Arkansas, sells the structures across the country. Trudeau bought a smaller one, with dimensions of six-by-eight feet and over six feet tall. The shelter can fit a dozen people for a short, cramped stay.

The company boasts a similar model saved 14 people from three families when a swatch of deadly twisters across the southern states claimed 35 lives in April, leveling the entire neighborhood.

“If it gets crowded down there we won’t be in there long,” Trudeau said. “You’ll get to know your neighbors pretty well.”

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