Henagar residents voice frustrations over locked storm shelter during tornado warning

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HENAGAR, Ala. – Several Henagar residents reached out to News 19 after they said they arrived at the storm shelter Wednesday evening to find it locked.

“It was frustration, and it was concern that I’d made a bad decision. Honestly, I look at it as by the grace of God that it wasn’t a much worse situation than it was,” said Henagar resident Harlan McLemore.

McLemore told News 19 Thursday afternoon that he woke up just before 11 o’clock the night before after hearing a warning severe weather was on the way.

He said he turned the TV on to News 19 and decided to seek safety.

“I decided to bring my family to the shelter. My adult daughter and grandson were staying with me for the evening,” said McLemore.

He said when he got there, the door was locked.

“I was just kind of at a loss to what to do because I had done what I thought I needed to do which was get a shelter, I live in a double-wide mobile home and so I needed to not be there. So, I felt like my family was failed by my community and I felt like I failed my family by counting on them,” explained McLemore.

McLemore said they waited around 10 minutes before the person with the key finally showed up.

“By the time we got into the shelter, I basically just wanted to get in on principle that I had come to go into the shelter, but we were in there a minute or two and then the individual that let us into the shelter announced the watch was over in our area,” added McLemore.

He said he does not want anyone to be punished, but he does want this issue to be addressed so that it doesn’t happen in the future should a tornado actually hit the area.

Henagar Mayor Lee Davis told News 19 that after getting dozens of calls from concerned citizens, they got to work making sure the problem does not happen again.

He said they have given a shelter key to the police and fire departments and will get with the DeKalb County EMA to see if they can open the shelter before a watch is issued, like their current protocol states.

Davis explained because the shelter was built by FEMA that they follow FEMA’s rules of not opening the shelter until there’s a tornado watch in place.

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