State plans tornado safe rooms in central, western Minnesota

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The tornado that swept through Oklahoma this month has renewed interest in safe rooms, especially at schools. Minnesota safety officials announced Thursday that two new safe rooms are planned in the state.

The larger of the two will be at the high school and middle school in Paynesville. The other will be in far western Minnesota, alongside an R-V park near Lake Traverse.

In announcing approval of the new shelters, Minnesota's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management encouraged counties to include safe rooms in their planning. Kris Eide says the federal government will cover three-fourths of the cost through grants administered by FEMA.

Some safety advocates say safe rooms should be standard at schools. But right now they're pretty rare -- even in Tornado Alley. Oklahoma's governor said last week that 94 percent of the schools in the state lack safe rooms.

Paynesville's will be just the second school safe room in Minnesota, joining the one in Wadena. That one, which doubles as the school's gymnasium, was built after a 2010 tornado destroyed the high school. It's designed to withstand winds of up to 250 mph.

A recent report by KSMU of Springfield, Missouri, found that -- even with FEMA grants -- the high cost of building safe rooms is an obstacle for many school districts.

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