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Riding out the storm: Couple caught in 98 twister now sells underground shelters
J.C. Dill, far left, and his wife, Carolyn, talk with Rafael Rivera and his wife, Elicia, on Friday about the Dills’ fiberglass bunker for tornado protection. Rafael Rivera installed the Dills’ bunker. - photo by DEMETRIUS FREEMAN

One tornado was enough for J.C. Dill and his wife, Carolyn. They lived through the disastrous North Hall storm of a decade ago and have now installed a fiberglass underground shelter.

The Dills’ home has only a crawl space, so two years ago they purchased a shelter with enough room for 10.

"The tornado missed us by 100 yards," said J.C. Dill. "But my wife still hasn’t gotten over it. That’s why I bought a shelter."

It’s a modern twist on the old storm cellar, once a staple on farms in the great plains.

The couple that sold them the shelter have been there, too. Elicia and Rafael Rivera are also survivors of the 1998 tornado.

"We lived on Mount Vernon Road," said Elicia Rivera. "We didn’t sustain heavy damage but we had a lot of debris from up the road."

The Riveras are dealers for Southern Illinois Storm Shelters, a company that began making the shelters commercially in 2001.

"The only thing we could find back then were the concrete shelters," she said. "We heard about these and became a dealer."

The company makes four sizes of shelter to hold from four to 18 people.

Out of the ground, the shelter looks like a giant tank, but in the ground only a door with a multi-point lock is visible only inches from the surface. There is a molded set of stairs and a small seating area to ride out the storm.

"It can be installed in just 2« hours," she said. The shelter is easily maintained, requiring periodic lubrication of the rubber seals on the doors.

"The product has been tested in a wind tunnel at Texas Tech University and exceeded the specifications of the Federal Emergency Management Agency," Rivera said.

The larger shelter allowed the Dills to configure the unit where they could stay for an extended period, if needed.

Dill said the 1998 storm came without warning and today, he and his wife go to the shelter at first notice of a storm.

"We just go out there in the storm shelter and she’s comfortable in it," he said. "We can sleep in it all night if we need to. It’s as safe as anything."

He said one neighbor has a different type of shelter, while others are somewhat envious of his shelter.

"I’d recommend it to anybody that doesn’t have a secure basement," Dill said.

The prices range from $3,550 for the four-seat model to $8,000 for the 18-seat unit.

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