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story.lead_photo.caption A family survived in this Vilonia home's safe room even as a tornado ripped apart the structure around it. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

One Vilonia family escaped Sunday's tornado without injury even as a home was blown apart around them.

Nicky Havens said he first sent his three children to his in-laws' home across Oak Street because they had a small, metal safe room installed in the garage.

Havens and his wife joined the children and his wife's parents in the small space as the massive tornado moved into town.

"We seen it coming and we heard it coming, so we got in the safe room," he said. "It beat it pretty bad, but it worked. I'm proud of it."

The house didn't fare as well. The tornado winds ripped the roof off and downed its walls, sending splintered wood and crumbled brick around the yard. A car that had been parked next to the safe room had bricks thrown by the winds through its windows.

The family didn't talk while they "hunkered down" in the safe room, their "hearts thumping" as they listened to the tornado wreak its havoc on the home, Havens said.

"It felt like [the room] was just going to take off at any time," he said. "We knew the house was gone. You could hear it just take off."

On Monday, the family was back at their in-laws' home working to salvage what items they could. It was hard to see it in such shape, Havens said.

"But, hey, we're glad to be alive," he said said outside his nearby home, which was damaged but not destroyed.

Not everyone was so lucky, even those with safe rooms. Among the at least 14 people who died in the storm was a woman who was in a safe room, Gov. Mike Beebe told reporters.

"The house is gone, the safe room is still there, but she died in the safe room when debris hit the door to the safe room," he said. "She was doing everything she knew how to do. And still she lost her life."

Safe room helps family survive tornado

A safe room helped a Vilonia family escape Sunday's tornado without injury even as the home it was in was destroyed. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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  • vmims
    April 29, 2014 at 8:42 a.m.

    We are proud that our shelters do what they are supposed to do. Family Safe Shelters.

  • SBurch
    April 29, 2014 at 8:45 a.m.

    We are proud of our life saving shelters.
    FamilySAFE Storm Shelters

  • aliceinwalmartland
    April 29, 2014 at 9:25 a.m.

    Glad to hear this family is safe and I am sorry for the loss of the woman in her shelter. I have been researching Tornado Shelters for my home. I am deciding between two that I have seen first hand survive an EF5 in Joplin. Twister Safe and Family Safe. I would like to know from the reporter in this article....what was the brand that failed? Consumers have one chance to make the right choice in choosing their protection...we should be aware of the potential failures and those brands.

  • hogfan2012
    April 29, 2014 at 10:21 a.m.

    aliceinwalmartland - I don't think the ladies saferoom failed. As I understand it, she was trying to get the door shut and was uable to due to the wind/pressure and debris hit the door and then she was killed from the debris.

  • nwar
    April 29, 2014 at 12:34 p.m.

    AR Dem-Gaz: I think it would be a wonderful idea for the newspaper to do some reporting on the whole safe room issue. Are there really any standards? Is this industry regulated? How can the average consumer know what he/she is buying? It would be a service to the community.

  • dman
    April 29, 2014 at 1:10 p.m.

    nwar, you can research. There is plenty of information on the internet. Texas Tech has a wind research facility and most of the saferoom providers advertise their products being certified to standards of FEMA/Texas Tech, which basically is to withstand tests similar to an EF5 tornado. There is detailed information and regulations about how the saferooms are constructed, the size of the bolts, depth of concrete slab needed, etc.