There Are Tragically Few Basements In Tornado Alley [CHART]

On Monday, a mile-wide tornado tore through an Oklahoma City suburb and left a nearly 20-mile path of destruction in its wake.

The death toll has reached 24, including several children. Entire neighborhoods were flattened and hundreds of homes were destroyed. Rescuers are still searching the area.

Oklahoma is in “Tornado Alley,” a region of the Midwest that is especially prone to twisters. When a tornado hits, the best place to seek shelter is underground. Unfortunately, as Oklahoma news anchors noted Monday, most homes in the state don’t have basements.

In some areas of Oklahoma, bedrock lying beneath soil presents an obstacle. To create a basement in an area where bedrock is prevalent, explosives would be required. The cost is too much for most people.

Another problem is the damp soil and high water table in the state. Water seeping into basements could lead to dampness and mould, creating a safety hazard. There are methods for waterproofing basements, but those procedures are also expensive.

The number of homes with basements vary widely by region. Overall in the U.S., 30 per cent of new single-family homes in 2011 had full or partial basements, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the West South Central region, where Oklahoma is located, has the lowest share of basements in the U.S., according to a National Association of Home Builders data analysis from 2005. Of new homes built that year in the West South Central region, only 0.5 per cent had basements.

Here’s a chart showing the foundation type of new homes in 2005:

The best bet for someone who lives in Tornado Alley is building a storm shelter. These shelters can withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour. Monday’s tornado in Moore, Oklahoma had winds of about 200 miles per hour at its peak, according to initial figures from the National Weather Service.

Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb of about 56,000 people, was hit with another massive tornado in 1999. The May 3 tornado had incredible wind speeds of more than 300 miles per hour.

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