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Moore officials: Federal grants to help build 'safe rooms' delayed by red tape

The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes takes a look at the tornado shelter where six people rode out the devastating storm in Moore, Okla., on Monday, talking to survivor Gerald Mobley about his harrowing experience inside.

Officials in the Oklahoma City suburb ravaged by deadly tornadoes Monday complained earlier this year about FEMA’s foot-dragging over $2 million in federal grants for “safe rooms” in 800 homes that would protect people from severe weather.

“Our countywide Hazard Mitigation Plan still has not been approved by the State and FEMA,” said a statement posted in February on the City of Moore’s website. It said that changes to federal requirements occurred while the city’s contractor was preparing the plan, adding, “We’ve found that the FEMA requirements …  seem to be a constantly moving target.”

A spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency told NBC News the agency is “looking into” the city’s claim about delays.

In October 2011, the city collected the name of Moore residents interested in applying for the federal money. In order for residents to be eligible for the money, the city and other communities in Cleveland County had to submit an updated “Hazard Mitigation Plan” for FEMA and state approval. Moore started revising the plan late that year.


Destroyed vehicles lie in the rubble outside the Plaza Towers Elementary school in Moore, Okla., on Tuesday.

In May 2012, according to city’s website, the county-wide plan was almost finished and the city anticipated final approval of the plan by November.

“We intend to apply for $2 million in FEMA funding, which will assist approximately 800 Moore homeowners,” it said. “If a homeowner is chosen for the program … the homeowner will be eligible to receive up to $2,500 in rebate.”

But in an update in February,  the officials said the Hazard Mitigation Plan had to be rewritten because of the “new wrinkles.”

“However, the Plan is not our main obstacle,” it said. “The federal grant program which funds local initiative such as ours is funded by monies set aside during presidential major disaster declarations. Oklahoma has had a few of these declarations in the past couple of years, so there is not a lot of grant money available.”

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Gayland Kitch, director of emergency management for the city of Moore, did not immediately return calls from NBC News seeking comment.

Jim Seida /NBCNews.com

Aaron Miller, owner of Midwest Storm Shelters, shows off a safe room he installed in a new house in Joplin, Mo., in August 2011.

While bemoaning the delay in getting the grants, the unsigned statement played down the need for safe rooms, saying  Moore has no community or public tornado shelters because people “face less risk . . . in a reasonably well-constructed residence.” The city’s website also said that Moore faced only a “1-2 percent” chance of a tornado hitting the town on any spring day, and that if a tornado did strike, there was less than a 1 percent chance of it being as strong as the one that swept through town in May 1999 and killed three people.

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