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In storms, the best closet space is steel, concrete

The Oklahoma storm has validated an idea that's sure to catch on in high-wind areas: the storm closet.

That's what Beth Bartlett, her mother, two children, and two dogs stepped into a week ago when news came of the approaching storm. It may well have saved their lives. Although the tornado destroyed the rest of her home in this Oklahoma City suburb and claimed two fatalities a few houses away, Ms. Bartlett's storm closet survived easily.

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Its survival validates a similar closet design that Texas Tech scientists have been promoting for years. They suggest that six-inch concrete walls and ceiling reinforced with steel - or a steel-reinforced stud wall - will save the lives of just about everyone who holes up in one during a tornado or hurricane.

"The debris is what does so much of the damage," says Larry Tanner, research associate with the Wind Engineering Research Institute at Texas A&M. For example, researchers there have fired two-by-four wood timbers from an air cannon and found they'll pierce today's typical wooden-frame walls, even masonry walls two bricks thick, he adds. But reinforced with steel, such walls can withstand at least 250 mile-per-hour winds.

Do-it-yourselfers could build such a closet for $2,500 to $3,000, Mr. Tanner estimates; professional installation would cost about twice that.

Ms. Bartlett put her storm shelter in six months ago when her house was remodeled. "I was adamant that we were going to have that closet," she recalls. Her large walk-in size unit was built with foot-thick concrete walls and is extra heavy duty.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers a free booklet and building plans for the shelter through a toll-free number (888-565-3896). The booklet without the plans can also be viewed online (

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