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GAINSVILLE -- Residents in Cooke County, Texas, are cashing in to stay safe.

In a rare program, the county is helping people cover the cost of installing safe rooms and storm shelters. It's meant to be protection in the event of a tornado.

Every time a cloud comes up, [a tornado] is in the back of your mind, Tommy Langston said.

The 70 year old has lived in a one-story Gainsville home for 40 years. He's a native of Oklahoma and no stranger to twisters. In fact, he and his wife spent some time considering a storm shelter, because they have vivid memories of recent tornadoes, like the one that tore through Joplin, Missouri, in 2011.

Just total devastation. If you don't have a place to go, you're a part of that devastation, Langston said.

It is the reason you will now find a six-by-eight foot, reinforced safe room sitting in his driveway. The white room, which looks like a refrigerator or storage bin, is bolted to the concrete.

Langston put it in with help from Cooke County's emergency management office. The agency reimbursed him for half the cost of the shelter -- roughly $6,000.

It's worth the cost, Langston asked. What's money when your life is at stake?

It took just a couple of hours for crews to install the room. Langston is among a growing number of people in Cooke County who have taken an advantage of the new program.

It's not if, it's when, said Cook County Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Fletcher. We know it has happened in the past, and it's going to happen again here.

Late last year, they began implementing a $450,000 grant to help residents put in storm shelters. So far, 58 shelters have been erected in the county. Fletcher anticipates they will add 100 or more by the 2014.

When it's all said and done, the money is spent, Fletcher added. And people have as many safe rooms as we can get in this county.

To qualify for funds, residents have to be the actual homeowners and they can't live in a flood plain. And whatever safe room they install has to be certified to withstand the most damaging winds a tornado can produce.

Most designs have been tested at Texas Tech's wind research facility. Gainsville resident Virgil Walker installed an in-ground shelter; it sits just feet from the back door of his manufactured home.

I think if a tornado come through, that anybody that was in it would come out of it -- would walk out under their own power, Walker said.

And that is the goal, not only for Walker, but every other resident the county who have taken advantage of the program.

E-mail mmoore@wfaa.com

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