TARRANT COUNTY With the severe weather season now just months away, Tarrant County is offering to help residents pay for tornado shelters.

North Texans have seen the devastation that monster storms can produce.

My house is pretty open and I have lots of windows, said Tracy Jam. There's nowhere to hide.

That's why she and her family had a 6' x 6' storm shelter installed behind her Tarrant County home. The shelter, set deep into the ground, would go almost unnoticed if not for the big grey door and the ventilation system.

When you're hiding in the closet with your son and don't know what's going to happen, the best place to hide is underground, Jam said. That's the one gift you want to give your family, she said. You want that peace of mind if I have to use it, but you hope you never do.

Her shelter cost about $3,500, but Jam only paid half of that amount. In 2009, Tarrant County received access to more than half a million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

One of the things we try to do is keep our residents from losing their lives, explained Tarrant County spokesman Marc Flake. He said response to the program has been very good, particularly in the Newark Ranch subdivision where residents used Facebook to tell neighbors.

The grant money has helped pay for 90 shelters throughout Tarrant County, and just under $200,000 of grant money remains.

We've had a very good response from residents here, Flake said.

Connie McCrary's safe room is almost completely furnished. Inside the concrete shelter are two living room chairs with a skinny end table sandwiched between them.

Resting on top of the table is a red candle with a box of matches close by. On the floor, a magazine rack stuffed with magazines, and on the wall, a clock ticks as the seconds go by.

McCrary, who had her safe room installed at the end of September, says she's already sought shelter inside once.

Homeowners must pay full price for their shelter before applying for reimbursement, and the shelter must be completed by March 16, 2012 to qualify. The county will cover half of the expense of a shelter up to $3,000 as long as funds are available.


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