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Storm shelter work now under way

Brookhaven is often seen as a refuge for those escaping hurricanes and other disasters threatening the Gulf Coast.

     But despite being used as a safe haven for many, the city had no official shelters in place for people to go and instead relied on churches to take people in.

     That will change when a $3.2 million storm shelter capable of holding up to 1,000 people being built on Belt Line Road near the Lincoln County Civic Center is completed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will put up 95 percent of the funding for the shelter, with the city adding the other 5 percent.

     Mayor Les Bumgarner said the storm shelter has been a long time coming for the area.

     “I started on it right after I came into office,” he said. “It’s taken a while, but it’s under way.”

     Lincoln County Civic Defense Director Clifford Galey said the building will be self-sustaining in the event of an emergency.

     “It will have its own power and water source in case we ever had a disaster and were without power or water,” he said. “It’ll even have its own water tank to use as a suppressant in the event of a fire during a power outage.”

     Bumgarner said the city was in particular need for a shelter due to its proximity to the coast and Interstate 55, a major evacuation route, especially with contraflow ending just south of Brookhaven whenever it’s enacted by Louisiana and Mississippi emergency officials.

     The mayor said Brookhaven will see positives from the storm shelter for a long time.

     “I think the city will benefit immediately from it and greatly in the future,” he said. “The city always needs buildings, and this should stand the test of time. We’re excited about it.”

     Site preparation on the project began in early October and all construction should be finished in late 2013.

     Bumgarner said the architects from Wier Boerner Architecture of Jackson told him the building can withstand winds up to 200 miles per hour and can survive being struck by debris the size of a bowling ball moving at 150 mile per hour.

     The facility will be able to be used for a variety of other events, aside from being a shelter.

     “It’ll be bigger than the Lincoln County Civic Center,” said Bumgarner. “They run out of room from time to time there. We have multiple needs of a building that size throughout the year, such as proms, reunions, homecoming dances and other large events.”

     The city will take full possession of the building in 40 years from FEMA and will be able to convert the building to something else if city leaders so desire.

     “Until then FEMA does not want anything else in there permanently,” Bumgarner said.

     After going years without having a shelter, Bumgarner said the addition of one will be invaluable to the area.

     “It will definitely be an asset to the community,” he said. “Any time you get a shelter, especially one like this, you’ll be able to find a use for it.”

     In the past, Bumgarner said local churches took in many of those displaced by a disaster, but the shelter will allow the local government to do that.

     “Once a storm hits we would turn it over to the American Red Cross,” he said. “I think opening a shelter is the thing to do. You have to do something with the people that evacuate or lose their homes.”