Tag Archives: Severe Weather

Alonsa Tornado Part Two – Aftermath

We woke up in the morning after the tornado hit our area. It was nice and sunny. The first thing we had to deal with was lack of power. I heated a kettle of water for coffee on the barbecue. After the coffee I felt awake enough to start dealing with things, we then got dressed, got the generator out and we hooked the trailer solar panel back up system to the house. That gave us enough power to get the modem up and running and to my delight we had internet. The first thing that came up was an email from two more sons asking if we were okay. I sent off reassuring messages.

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Dick then went to check on our neighbours at the store. The Chen family are new arrivals in Canada and we wanted to be sure they were okay. We ran our own generator long enough to get our fridge and freezer cold again and then we took it over to the store to help them. Frank Chen had recently taken over the store and he was worried about his frozen stock. It wasn’t long before another couple came by to check on them and they had a much bigger and more powerful generator. My poor little generator, perfect for powering our travel trailer, just did not have the power needed for the store. They set up their big monster and soon had all the freezers cooling again. Because the power was out, Frank had a lot of customers looking for ice and such.

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Once we were sure Frank and his family were okay we took our generator home and plugged in our own fridge and stove. My husband went over to the RM office which was a hive of activity coordinating emergency response and he came back with some stuff donated from the Chen’s store to make sandwiches for the volunteer fire department. Frank and Lily had to stay to run the busy store but their son Michael came to help. We made sandwiches and packed a lunch and headed off to Margaret Bruce Beach. We found only two firemen with the trucks keeping traffic slow passing the Hydro crews who were busy putting in new power lines and poles. One fireman wasn’t hungry but the other was delighted to have lunch and stuffed it down with many thanks.

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We left the hydro crews and the fire fighters to drive to Margaret Bruce Beach.

 

The damage was so disheartening. We all love Margaret Bruce Beach and for many of us it is like a second home in summer. Poor Crystal and Jimmy had just gotten the beach and campground back on its feet and fully repaired with a lot of work after the flood seven years ago. Now all their work had been blown away in minutes. Crystal told me the campground had been full for the long weekend. She said no one was hurt but afterwards people were wandering around in shock with minor cuts and bruises. It was a miracle no one was dead. Because folks were busy relaxing on a Friday night and radio isn’t great and cell phones service was gone, most people did not get the warning until they noticed others running around, jumping in their vehicles and leaving while shouting about the tornado. Many had as their only warning, the actual sight of the monster coming at them. Now they were sitting beside their destroyed campers and wrecked vehicles in shock. My husband was wandering about with Michael and his box of sandwiches looking for more firemen. He encountered one woman just wandering about utterly distraught and still in shock. Not knowing what else to do, he handed her a sandwich and she calmed right down and began eating it. A group of people also acting kind of shocked were sitting next to an upturned trailer.

“We have nothing to eat,” one woman said.

“We are here to help the people who have been hurt in the storm, not tornado tourists,” my husband said.

“That’s my trailer,” she replied, indicating one that was upside down. “All our food was all in the trailer.”

The rest of the sandwiches ended up feeding them. As she ate she said “I didn’t realize how hungry we were. Thank you so much!”

It was a very small thing to be able to do in the midst of such horrific damage but it felt good. Lesson learned. Before you go tornado damage site-seeing, pack food to distribute. Don’t just arrive and then gawk. Hand out sandwiches. People in shock don’t think to eat and if you can hand them a sandwich they immediately feel better.

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From there we left to go check on the ranch of our friends. We could see the terrible damage on the way out. I said some silent prayers as we passed a place where we had heard one man had died. Again we were struck hard by the power of nature. Tornados are such strange and silly things in addition to killing people. The tornado picked up some 90 big round bales and left hay everywhere. The hay ended up hanging on power lines that were not knocked down and the twine was found wrapped around all kinds of things. And course there was lots of the ubiquitous chucks of steel roofing and smashed grain bins and insulation decorating ruined trees.

Our rancher friends were fine, a little shaken but fine. Their trampoline was hung in the trees and their shed was gone. They mourned a litter of kittens scattered about. The mother had found a couple and was still out looking for the rest. I hope she found them. They had been really worried about their horses but they located them, wandering, but unharmed. The pasture our neighbours had been about to move their cattle into was now a giant pick-up-sticks game. They were wondering how to feed them. They had also been fixing up their home and they had no siding on it yet. My husband remarked how it was amazing the tornado had taken all the siding off the house without damaging it. It took a moment for the joke to register but then the poor fellow started laughing and had trouble stopping. The hydro people arrived just then to reconnect their power and we got out of the way and headed home.

We arrived home to find the power was back on. Hydro guys were in the store getting food. Frank and Lily had a very busy day. The next part felt sort of silly because we were missed and not part of the real damage, but we also got interviewed by local press.

The rest of the day was spent walking about in a weird kind of shock. We wandered about talking to folks we knew and everyone had a story to share. Folks were now talking about the poor man who died in the storm. The sense of shock started wearing off and I felt exhausted and fed up and I wanted to just go to bed and curl up and sleep. Instead I started nervous cleaning. At one point I walked around outside and checked my little yellow house I love so much and I felt so very lucky it was still standing. I didn’t sleep well. The night before I had told myself to go to sleep in order to wake refreshed to be ready to deal with things and I did just that. Crisis over, now my brain was processing it and I dreamt all night of black clouds, swirling white funnels and damage and the horror of the people whose lives had been so badly hurt by this thing. We woke the next morning to rain, a lovely, really much needed downpour.  I could not stop watching the clouds, watching. It was nothing but rain but I couldn’t stop watching.

 

 

 

Alonsa Tornado Part One – Our own near miss.

It began while we were sitting outside enjoying the cool breeze in the heavy damp heat we had been experiencing. I was lying on my hammock and my husband had moved a chair nearby so we could sit and read. We could see and hear a storm was forming up to the southwest. I checked the radar using my WIFI connection via my kindle but there nothing awful was on radar so I wasn’t particularly worried.

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I would later learn the storm formed outside of radar range because the Fox Warren doppler radar station is down for renovations. This leaves a blind spot right where this storm was. I soon could tell we were going to get a bad storm so we moved the truck into the garage. It was building fast. There was a lot of thunder and it had that “hail is coming” look you get to know on living on the prairie. We moved back inside and were soon absorbed in our writing.

It was our dog Misty barking who first caught my attention again. I was writing and she leaped up and barked her full dog alert at me. I paused listened and heard the ping of large hail and in the distance near continuous thunder roaring. We went and looked outside and there were several scattered chunks of hail about 2 cm in diameters. Misty was still pacing underfoot occasionally giving us a nudge and making little anxious whining noises. One chunk of hail landed right near our back door so I reached my arm out and grabbed it even though there was a lot of lightning and thunder. Wow that is one big chunk of ice, I thought, thinking to take a picture and telephone Environment Canada to let them know. I recall thinking, hm continuous thunder. Roaring. That is a bad storm. As it turned out Environment Canada were way ahead of me. Tornado warnings were already coming over radio and television and by cell phone all over the province. Of course we live in an area where cell phone service was never great and after Bell-MTS did some “upgrades” last May cell phone service completely vanished over most of our area.

I walked inside and handed the chunk hail to my husband and started hunting up my camera and I turned around to see him pop the ice into his mouth. So much for that picture.  I looked out the window instead and I now understand the expression “My heart stopped”. A large rotating wall cloud structure like so many pictures and videos I have seen was visible. More large hail pinged. I got a message from my neighbour by Facebook just then saying we had a tornado warning. (She had been watching TV.) I checked the Environment Canada website and sure enough where only 30 minutes before there had been nothing at all, now there was a really ominous looking radar structure and the tornado warning.

“Tornado warning! It looks to be coming right at us! We need to get into the basement now!” I shouted.

We ran around closing up windows and Dick shouted back I should get a picture. I got one and it scared me so bad I forgot all about getting any more and I just worried about getting into our basement shelter. It’s a probably one of the crappiest pictures I have ever taken.

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I was literally going down the basement stairs when the telephone landline rang and it was our daughter calling from Winnipeg to warn us. My husband was behind me and he answered it and said “We’re going down into the shelter now!” and then hung up on her. Misty, who normally doesn’t like going into the basement followed us without a hitch and then sat quietly nearby watching us, panting hard, her eyes huge. The cat soon followed us and found his own spot in the back corner of the shelter.  We hid in the basement listening to the roar. We lost power. The roaring got a bit louder then it faded.

“Missed us,” I said.

“That was close,” my husband replied.

We went upstairs. This was the view.

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These clouds were huge, filling the sky, rotating and rolling. Later on, I would see a video from a different angle and realized these were the boundary clouds of the wall cloud with the actual tornado below our view. This video was taken while the tornado was crossing our own quarter section near Silver Ridge. Meanwhile one of our sons called via the landline to make sure we were safe. I also called my daughter back to let her know we were fine.

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Check out the lower left to see the same columns. The whole video is linked below.

I think we were all kind of in shock. I went to check on my neighbour and we stood outside watching the monster clouds roll and commenting on them and just watching the spectacle. It was obvious it was bad. We began to worry about our other neighbours outside of town. One young couple hopped into their truck to run and check on a nearby family and were soon back. I was thinking of following but we’re older people and not much use in that kind of an emergency. Better to let the young people handle it. They soon reported the neighbour’s shed was gone and most of his windbreak was down but his house was okay.

Not long after that more people began arriving in town in their trucks all excited. A tornado had hit “The Ridge” (Silver Ridge) and taken out the old Graham house. Now that abandoned house had been an eyesore for a while so my initial thought was that it was actually a good thing. It wasn’t. Not long after that we heard that it was heading for the Margaret Bruce Beach campground. We walked over to the local restaurant. People were sharing pictures and videos. And then the really bad indicator happened. A call on their landline to one of the men changed everything. It wasn’t exciting fun anymore. Caback Way had been directly hit and there were houses down and people were trapped and hurt. The man, a volunteer firefighter, was running outside. We could see the volunteer firemen racing into town and gathering. Soon the trucks were hightailing it out of town sirens blaring.

During the initial shock and sharing, one of our neighbours, David Mozdzen, arrived and he was sharing this picture on his cell phone. Other people had their own pictures to share.

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We spent a long time talking to people and watching the sky trying to decide what do. I did not want to be one of those idiots who goes tornado sightseeing into the midst of other peoples’ anguish and misery. Nor did I want to get in the way of the first responders. Eventually, we did decide to drive to our own property to check for damage. The Graham house across highway 50 from our quarter was indeed rubble. While we looked at that, an ambulance sped past. We could see the space the tornado had just made through our line of tree. We started to drive towards Margaret Bruce Beach but as we neared Caback’s Way we could see fire trucks and police car lights. We decided help was there and it was more likely we’d get in the way than be any help so we turned around and headed home. I was strangely calm at this point. We decided since the power was out we would just go to sleep and in the morning get up and deal with things refreshed. And we did just that.

 

We get through our second major tornado outbreak.

I am a weather fanatic. I freely admit. I have been as long as I can remember. Tornado and severe thunderstorms are kind of my ultimate weather fear and thrill. So last night was one fantastic terrifying experience.

Early in the day NOAA released one of their charts with a big red bull’s eye and our winter parking spot was on the boundary of the red zone. The last time we saw one of those was back on May 2011 when we spent 6 hours in a tornado shelter in Lexington Kentucky. That was the same day Joplin got flattened. We were on alert. We went out for dinner and our waitress told us that school was being cancelled the next day due to the forecast. That was pretty shocking. Schools closed due to a possible tornado event? The locals were worried and one absolute rule we have with severe weather is if the locals worry then you should worry too. As we were getting ready to retire for the night we checked the NOAA site and found that Pensacola was under a tornado warning. There was also a report about a tornado having hit an RV park. It is a horrible eery awful sensation to look at the red on the map and know people may be dying at that moment.

We decided we would prepare for the worst. We checked out the nearby study building with a washroom, concrete walls and  reinforced roof designed to withstand hurricanes we had previously chosen as our safest place. We covered windows that might be problematic with cushions and got the shower stall ready complete with mattresses and quilts to put over our heads. I really really really missed my nice sturdy basement shelter back home.

We couldn’t sleep so we both decided to stay up and work while watching the radar. Time and again we saw severe storm warnings with red tornado warnings popping up. The weather people always sound alarmed but this was alarmed and grave, meaning bad. At about 4:00am I saw a large storm heading our way from the ocean. I told hubby dearest we would have to move to our sheltering spot soon. He began preps for trouble. About five minutes later the severe thunderstorm warning went up and we headed to the bathroom. Normally a severe thunderstorm warning by itself is not enough to send us to shelter but there had been many examples of these severe cells sending down tornados with almost no warning I could see on the radar and it just seemed better to not take a chance.

The storm cell took about fifteen minute to pass over and two more came right behind it. Each one brought lots of lightning and pouring rain but thunder was distant and muffled. We had one spell of horizontal rain that lasted about two minutes but no other danger signs. We never actually moved into the bathroom although we were right beside it. As the storm cells moved on shore there was an obvious weakening and  the radar showed no rotation and we felt it was fine to simply be near safety.

By about 5:00am it was pretty much over. The storm system had passed us by with no damage. The ground was wet when we went back to our trailer and finally went to sleep. I mumbled about how we had really wasted our time worrying about the tornado and staying up. Hubby dearest strongly disagreed. This time nothing came our way. If we get careless or complacent next time might not be so lucky.

Today we learned a long track EF3 hit Pensacola destroying almost 100 homes. Another tornado destroyed an RV campground in the town of Convent, in southern Louisiana and killed two people and injured 31 people. It was a strong graphic reminder of how RVs are not a good place to be in tornado weather.Tonight I am heading to bed grateful for a tornado free night to catch up on my sleep.

I hope the folks hit by this tornado outbreak all make a full recovery of home and health. My condolences to the family who lost loved ones. That could have been us.

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Associated Press picture of the Convent RV Park in Louisiana after it was hit by a tornado.

Tornado Shelter – Part 5

Today’s forecast is for a moderate probability of strong thunderstorms including tornadoes. Storm chasers have taken up positions to the south west and south east of us. The arrival of professional storm chasers is always an ominous sign. I fretted and fretted about using the line of credit as I hate having any debt, but after the forecast yesterday, we decided to go out and buy enough plywood to give the shelter one layer. There is frugal and then there is penny wise and pound foolish. A pleasant surprise was finding out our little local lumber store in Glenella has prices that match Rona, plus great service, so we will be patronizing them first from now on. I didn’t have to climb up on my truck and load lumber. They have a fork lift to precisely place and stack stuff on top. I was very impressed.

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The shelter plan calls for two layers of 3/4 inch plywood. We added one this time. One layer is good enough for most severe weather that would involve some windows being knocked out by hail or maybe a small microburst. Not enough for say an F3, but pretty good.

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Hubby dearest is a bit paranoid about us being trapped in the closet so we have added an escape hatch at the end opposite the door. This is bolted in but if we find the door buried we can undo the bolts and pull the hatch door in, airplane emergency door style. Hopefully we won’t need it. You can also see our sump pump hole. We are going to use the leftover PWF stuff and make a proper cover and we have purchased a back up sump pump that will run on DC power because the place will flood in heavy rain if the power is out. The battery will be inside the closet and also give us DC lights.

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Finished trap door.

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A shelter is only as good as the door so we framed that in. No storm is sucking that door out! Inside is more problematic. The local lumber shop did not have any big heavy duty dead bolts as we put three of these little ones in for now but they are not adequate for keeping the door closed with heavy flying debris coming at it. We’ll work on better reinforcing today.

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And so we are kind of ready. Our plan is to finish and bolt in the escape hatch today, reinforce the door, and then begin stocking the space. We will move the pets kennels in first thing. That way if we need to take shelter, they can be locked up. I once took a dog through a car wash and I learned it is not pleasant to have a panicking dog in a small space. We will also put in a bench for us to sit on. We will also add emergency supplies in case we have to sit in it for an extended time or need to undo bolts or saw and pry debris in order to get out.

And the primary purpose of this space is storage, not shelter, and so I intend to put in lots of shelves, big ones, small ones perfect for canned goods, places for boxes, hooks to hang stuff, junk and treasures too good to toss. Oh glorious wonderful storage space! You shall be fulfilled soon.

The guy in the lumber store asked us what we were building. I told him a reinforced storage closet that could double as a shelter for a tornado. He went white and then described how his brother’s home was a mere 100 yards from the path of the infamous Elie Manitoba F5. He then added one more happy thought.

“And if you have this ready, you’ll never need it. This will be the cheapest insurance you ever paid for.”

I sure hope he’s right.

And as if to prove it:

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The professional storm chasers in their reinforced vehicles have converged on Manitoba and put out their own predictions and we are about 20km outside the upper bullseye.

Tornado Shelter – Part 4

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Work continued on our shelter. The framing is done and the men moved to the door. FEMA has an entire pamphlet on the door for a shelter because the shelter is only as good as the door. You can have the best shelter there is but if your door is weak you’ll end up like the father of the lady scientist in the movie Twister, sucked up for some close and personal encounters with the big one. After checking the diagrams FEMA has, our engineer decided we would need to make a door with the same specifications as the walls, two layers of 3/4 inches plywood glued together and then screwed together. We went to the lake for a swim while we were waiting for the glue to set. It was so pleasant we stayed to watch the sunset.

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Back to work. The door needs some heavy duty hinges, and then it would need to be framed into the structure itself, so that even with extreme sucking it would not be able to open outward. It would also need some fancy deadbolt hardware on the inside. Given the design, the basic door had to go in before the layering of plywood and framing on the outside.

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Industrial strength hinges with the screws also glued in to make it strong. By this point we were out of wood and Bryan has to leave for a visit with family. He’ll be back in a week and we have plans to go to a country music concert weekend.

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This morning we were awakened by thunder storms. A quick check of the radar showed severe storms approaching fast. Then we had some fun watching more rotating clouds overhead doing the eery green thing while Environment Canada issued warnings. Wow it came up fast! Twenty minutes between nothing on radar and then this strong storm. It passed us by, dumped a bunch of golf ball sized hail into the lake 12 kilometres east of us, and we are now sitting in a severe thunderstorm watch with more storms expected later today. Ever feel like you’re in a bulls eye or someone is trying to give you a message?

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We had planned on waiting until next month to purchase the next $300 or so of stuff we need to finish the shelter. However the forecast is for extreme heat (35C/95F) until Saturday and then an approaching cold front will mean yet another round of severe storms. So we may yet decide to buy the rest on the line of credit and finish this thing for Saturday. For today though, we will just get caught up on other stuff. Having company is great. Having a project to build is a lot of fun. Still we are behind on a whole bunch of little things, there is sawdust everywhere in my house. All the floors need washing. Time to get to work.

Tornado Shelter – Part 3

Work on our basement closet/tornado shelter continues. We had some delays yesterday. We needed to borrow some tools and that took some scrounging around town. This meant we had folks come to see what we were up to. Naturally, we needed to break out a beer or two to keep the conversation moving. Then we had to wait for the beer to wear off before we went back to work. Saws and beer don’t mix. But, finally, we did get back to work. SAM_6095

These metal plates with nails add enormous strength against uplift. One way tornados kill is that the tremendous uplift rips off the roof. Once the roof is gone, the rest of the structure collapses onto anyone down below and then if that doesn’t kill you, the tornado blenderizes all that wall material and stuff inside and then shreds everything down to deadly missiles. (I read a tragic story of a two year old who died because a doorknob got inserted into the back of his head by this force. So heartrending!) These strengthening plates are added at all the points where the roof meets the side frame. These plates are also cheap and easy to install. I took on the assignment of hammering in 125 nails into six plates for the back wall which is against the concrete block basement wall. The total cost of plates and nails was under $15 from our local Co-op. It’s little touches like this that greatly increase the strength of the structure with minimal additional cost. You do have to plan these things into it though. You can’t just wing it.

It’s been fascinating watching an engineer plan and then see the plans come together. Our friend Bryan read the plans provided by FEMA and studied some of the diagrams and stats on force and uplift of F0-F5. His eyebrows went up and his eyes went wide a few times as he read. Twice he actually whistled in awe. Yes, tornados are vicious beasties. No doubt about that. To me, the neat FEMA diagrams looked like strange goblety gook lines in black and white but he understood them. He speaks that language.

“Okay, I can see why they do that.”

“Oh yeah, that makes sense.”

“Well, we can get the same amount of protection for a lot less money if we do this instead.”

And all of this knowledge and experience got built into the design. So I recommend that if you want to build one of these reinforced sheltering areas, it would be a really good idea to involve an experienced engineer. First, to make sure the thing holds up against a monster storm, second to save money, and finally, because each place one of these shelters needs to be built in requires special modifications to fit the location. I could have built a closet myself but I could never have come up with this design.

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We are doing the framing now. The studs on the outer wall are spaced every 12 inches instead of the standard 16 inches to increase the strength of the walls by 50%. Since the studs cost under $4 you get a great increase in strength for very little additional cost. The other cheap strength improvement is that all the screws are getting glued in with special construction glue applied before insertion. So you get not just the power of the screw itself, but also the adhesive and that adhesive is really cheap too. Such things do add time.

And the door will open inwards and be partly under the stairs. Our stairs are very well built with dove tailing where the stair is inserted into the stringer so they will take a lot of force. This makes it less likely we’ll be trapped if the building collapsed. We would be able to open the door with greater safety and have a chance of getting out once it’s all over and the storm has moved on.

I sure hope we never have to use this closet/tornado shelter. But if we do, we’re going to have it. I have always been of the opinion that if you prepare for events, they don’t happen. So my little superstition means putting our shelter in, will actually prevent a tornado from coming.

Tornado Shelter – Part 2

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This is some lovely rotating clouds we saw from our front porch during a severe thunderstorm. Fortunately the rotating never organized into anything, but it sure makes you think.

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The roof needed to be made in advance and so we made it from 2 sheets of 3/4 inch plywood. These were glued together and attached to a frame of 2X4s.If we decide to upgrade to an F5 suitable shelter we will add 1/4 inch steel sheets. I don’t think we’ll bother though. The cost would be huge and the risk, while not zero, is extremely low.

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The space for the shelter is here under the main beam and near the stairs. Naturally Klinger supervises everything,

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We have a very high water table anyway and with heavy rain we get a lot of water. If the sump pump fails the basement fills with water to the height of the black on the bricks. So the flooring has a one inch space for water to flow to the sump pump. During a severe thunderstorm, a space like this can swiftly fill with water from inches of rainfall so we have to plan on being wet. Because of the wet, the bottom most layer and everything that touches walls is made from treated “preserved wood foundation material” lumber. We have also purchased an emergency back up sump pump that will run on DC power since any severe weather will likely mean the electricity is out. There will be a deep cycle marine battery in the space. We will also have lights from the battery.

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We originally were planning on bracing the roof into the beam of the house itself. But according to FEMA it’s better for the box to be self contained and not attached to the house in case the house gets moved off its foundation. So the box frame is bolted to the concrete with special 1/2 inch concrete anchors at six points on the floor and four on the roof where it attaches to the cinderblock wall that will act as the fourth wall. Each concrete anchor can take 1000 pounds of force with ten bolts we have 10,000 pounds. It’s not going anywhere any time soon. It would hold very nicely for an F2, F3, the kind typically found in Manitoba) and probably an F4. It might even be good enough for an F5 providing the tornado passed over very quickly and didn’t sit on us churning, since we are also below ground level.

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Now the roof is in. It’s all framed with temporary frames and bolts until the main interior framing is completed. I can’t say we worked all that hard. We took lots of breaks, had a rather leisurely dinner and we didn’t start until after noon. Plus we had an afternoon nap. We finished to this stage by 9:00 pm.