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Minn. communities make tornado protection a priority

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LAKEVILLE, Minn. (KMSP) -

The demand for storm shelters is surging -- especially across southern states -- in the wake of the devastating EF-5 tornado in Oklahoma, and FOX 9 News looked into available options.

Some cities required trailer parks to have tornado shelters. In some cases, they are built into the basement of the park office. Other sites build concrete bunkers that are buried into the hillside.

Lakeville, Minn., is a city that is very protective of people who don't have basements. When Todd Wagner looked at the townhomes, two of the three he toured had built-in storm shelters.

"This is what they listed it as," he explained. "This door has got steel and it's got three deadbolts on the side."

In the townhome he bought, the shelter doubles as a bathroom -- but it has a heavy-gauge, triple-locked door; over-thick walls and a reinforced interior. Wagner admits it came as a bit of a surprise.

"We always had one growing up on the farm -- one that actually went below ground, old school," he recalled. "Buried in the yard."

Those are the shelters most typically think of, and they're often used in places like Oklahoma, where most houses don't have basements because the ground is too wet. Atypical unit runs about $7,000.

Lakeville saw a townhome boom about 15 years ago, and the city created an ordinance that requires provisions must be made to provide storm protection for anything built on a slab or without a basement.

The Lakeville townhome Marlaina Rumpza is renting has a steel-encased storm shelter in the kitchen that doubles as a closet. That's something she finds comforting in a home with no basement.

"It seems safer than just under the stairs that can obviously be ripped up," she said.

After a tornado heavily damaged the high school in Wadena in 2010, the new one was designed with storm walls surrounding the gym. Those walls can withstand winds of up to 275 mph and can hold 1,200 people. It's the only school tornado shelter in the upper Midwest.

While it may never be needed, seeing the destruction at the schools in Oklahoma certainly makes parents glad it's there -- and it's also designed to be a community shelter. Dispatchers can remotely unlock the doors and turn on the lights when severe weather strikes.

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