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The second-deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in U.S. history is fueling a sudden demand for storm-proof safe rooms.

Homeowner Chelsea Berry paid $7,000 to have a storm shelter installed in the garage of her Dallas home on Sunday morning.

Last week's tornadoes that killed at least 342 people motivated her to place the order.

It was an easy call, she said. I did some research... figure it out who could get me something that's the best quality and get it here quick.

Russell Mims, owner of Family Safe Texas, said Berry's shelter was the last one he had in stock. He said demand has soared since the devastation storms in the South.

Last week we received about 60 orders, he said. Normally that's about a year's worth of orders.

Mims' company is among several that sell the 3,000 lb. steel cubes. Workers weld them in an Oklahoma factory and ship them to homes across the country, where they are then bolted into a concrete floor.

Tom Bennett, vice president of Jim Giles Safe Rooms, says his company still has about a dozen shelters left, but he expects to soon sell out. His company is also bracing for a year's worth of orders in the next few weeks.

Now all of a sudden, we have tornadoes and everybody's in panic mode, Mims said.

Other companies can build a storm shelter directly into a home.

Contractor Don Ferrier of Ferrier Custom Homes in Fort Worth says about half of his clients request a storm shelter in their new residence.

His company often will turn a closet into a safe room by lining it with steel plates and securing the room into the foundation.

The whole idea is, if the whole house blows away, Ferrier said, then the safe room is built to much higher standards, so it will survive.

The price tag for such a safe room starts at around $5,000, and companies insist they can withstand the most destructive EF-5 tornado.

The National Storm Shelter Association certifies shelters and puts seals on movels that meet the most stringent requirements.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency outlines different ways to build safe rooms, and the agency will even cover half of the cost, up to $3,000.

In Texas, the program is called the Texas Individual Tornado Saferoom Rebate Program. Homeowners must apply for the rebate through their local city or county, and not all municipalities ask FEMA for the funding.

Berry paid the entire cost of the safe room herself, a price she says she was willing to pay for peace of mind.

Even my friends are saying... they made fun of me at first, but now that they've seen it, this is the house they're coming to if anything goes awry, she said.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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