STONE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - If a tornado or any other disaster strikes South Mississippi, Stone County is better prepared to protect people. The county just finished five storm shelters.
For years, two schools in Stone County have been used as shelters, but the buildings are old and whenever they lost power, that meant no air conditioning, no lights and no water. Now, evacuees have places to stay that are not only safe but also comfortable.
The sign on the building called it a Combined Safe Room.
"If you had to evacuate people, it'll be a safe place to come to. It's not just hurricanes, not just tornadoes, it's all hazards," said Raven James, Stone County's Emergency Management Director.
On Thursday, James took WLOX inside one of the county's new storm shelters. The 5,000 square foot building has enough space for up to 500 evacuees. Wireless access, AC and heating systems and two restrooms are the other amenities.
"It's a comfortable place if you had to put individuals into, and it's safe," said James.
The shelter is located right on the Stone Elementary campus.
"If it's early enough to have like, a tornado or a bad cell coming our way, we would have time to get our children in here," said Jackie Spruill, Stone Elementary Principal. "So we're really excited. I know it's capable of withstanding 200 mph winds, and it's just a safe, easy place to get to."
Three other schools in the county also have similar shelters. And the fifth one is at the soccer field on Project Road.
The fortified buildings are self-sustaining, which means they have back-up power, water and sewer systems. You can't see them because the propane, septic and water tanks are all buried underground.
"Projectiles or anything gets blown over or if something falls on top of it, so it protects it in that area," James explained.
Educators see another benefit to having the shelters right on school grounds. When they are not needed for emergencies, the buildings can be used by the schools for various activities.
"Parent teacher meetings, we could have workshops; we've already had some science experiments," said Spruill. "It's just unlimited uses of this facility."
Now that schools aren't needed as shelters anymore, educators don't have to worry about disrupting classes. Before, they had to wait for the evacuees to move out and the campuses had to be cleaned. The shelters cost $5.5 million and the funding came from FEMA and MEMA.