LeFlore County Shares Severe Weather Policy On Public Storm Shelters

LEFLORE COUNTY (KFSM) — Damage in Poteau, Oklahoma was minimal compared to some surrounding areas, but many people were left wondering why the public storm shelter at the local public schools remained locked.

"Why they weren't opened last night? I don't know," said Poteau Assistant Police Chief Greg Russell. "Like I said, I'm not part of that decision-making process. It's a resource that available in town but it's not under the control of the city."

According to a statement by a teacher with a key to the shelter, "Those of us who open at each site don't make the decision as to when to open. We have to wait to hear from the local police."

The assistant police chief disputes that.

"The way that it works the way that it`s been explained to me is they`ve got staff members, the school has staff members, that have the keys to access those and man them whenever the weather situation demands that they are opened," Russell said.

5NEWS spoke to the Poteau Schools Superintendent who said the school offers the shelter on a voluntary basis. He also said he wasn't aware of a tornado warning in LeFlore County.

5NEWS Chief Meteorologist Garrett Lewis says there was a tornado watch for most of the day in LeFlore County and later a tornado warning.

Poteau was just outside the polygon most at risk and although some heard tornado sirens, it was likely coming from nearby Wister.

"Close to us but not close enough that we felt like it was going to strike our city and that`s the reason the determination was made last night, not to sound our storm sirens," Russell said.

The LeFlore County Emergency Manager, Kim Wann, says she relies heavily on Facebook to keep people informed and decisions to open shelters vary by city.

"I can't help in the decision to open the shelters, but they can contact the administration for that particular shelter and maybe talk to them and see what the policies are that way they can have their preparedness plans," Wann said.

There was also an incident in Wister where the public storm shelter was locked.

The volunteer fire department said in a post on Facebook that the shelter had been unlocked before the storm, but it somehow became locked again.

They say they don't know how that happened but new precautions have been put into place so it doesn't happen again.

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