HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Nearly 200 people died in Hurricane Ike. More than 100 died in Hurricane Rita, and there were nearly 2,000 deaths in Hurricane Katrina.
A Texas company says it knows how to keep people safe in hurricanes. FEMA believes in the idea so much, millions are being set aside.
Can Houston have affordable, hurricane-proof shelters like Alice's Wonderland or Dorothy's Oz? It sounds too good to be true, but a Sealy, Texas company says it has been building stormproof shelters for decades. Now, FEMA is offering to help Texas towns pay for these domes as part of the "Texas Safe Shelter Initiative". The domes are said to be hurricane, tornado, earthquake and fireproof.
"It's practically impenetrable," ABC Domes' Maria Hahn said.
ABC Domes is just down Interstate 10 in Sealy, Texas. The business has built the durable domes for decades for companies to store valuables. FEMA says if Texas cities or counties want to buy one of the hurricane-proof buildings, the government will pay 75 percent of the cost for a 20,000 square foot structure. That would keep up to one thousand citizens safe in a storm.
"The shape of a dome, being that it's round, it's aerodynamically correct so that the wind just blows around it," Hahn said.
What makes the shelter so structurally sound? You start with a round concrete foundation and attach a special inflatable fabric.
"It's a really, really tough balloon with the strength to withstand most anything," Hahn said. "You can't bend it, break it, tear it. It doesn't stretch."
The fabric feels like the old safety patrol belts. Once the fabric is in place, it's inflated in about an hour.
"We come back and spray in the polyurethane insulation," Hahn said.
Steel rebar is added and "shotcrete", a high-pressure concrete, is sprayed, coating the inside.
The domes can get pretty fancy. We toured a dome with an industrial section and pretty glass doors in the office area. There are even dome homes for families.
The builders boast Mother Nature and the big bad wolf could huff and puff together, and it wouldn't be enough to destroy the dome.
"This building can sustain winds in excess of 250 miles per hour," Hahn said.
The domes cost $40 to $50 per square feet. That's $800,000 to $1 million for a 20,000 square foot dome.
When it isn't being used as an emergency shelter, it can be used as a gym or community center. Edna ISD Superintendent Bob Wells has one dome-shaped gymnasium under construction. Wells said the total cost is $2.3 million. FEMA is picking up $1.7 million of the cost.