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Restraining order filed against Madison County storm shelter company

Published 6:36am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Madison County storm shelter company is accused of violating Alabama’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Attorney General Luther Strange filed a temporary restraining order Monday against a north Alabama storm shelter company, Tornado Masters of Alabama, it’s chief operating officer, Leslie Holt; employee, Grady Holt’ and SafeSteel, Inc.

In the complaint, Attorney General Strange claims Tornado Masters violated Alabama’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act by telling consumers their storm shelters would offer protection from powerful tornadoes.

A hearing is set for March 16 for the Court to consider a preliminary injunction, based on a complaint also filed this morning by Attorney General Strange. The complaint alleges that the defendants “violated multiple provisions of Alabama’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act by soothing people’s fear of tornadoes with the false guarantee that their storm shelters will shield purchasers from the most powerful tornadoes.” Falsely representing that their shelters exceeded FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) specifications, the defendants instead provided structures that “sat on inadequate bases, were not properly anchored, began to rot and rust within a few months, held standing water whenever it rained, and had inadequate ventilation.”

Perhaps one of the most egregious violations alleged in the Attorney General’s complaint is an $80,000 shelter constructed as an addition onto Huntsville Christian Academy in 2009, described as “an unsafe, unlicensed, and thoroughly inadequate shelter, which has no lights, flammable egg-foam crating along the walls, little or no ventilation, and dangerous in-swing doors that are hazardous in a panic situation.” The Attorney General’s motion for a temporary restraining order describes a situation at the school just three days ago, as severe weather struck again in Alabama on Friday. That afternoon, the State Fire Marshal declared the shelter to be an “imminent hazard.”

Attorney General Strange said he is relieved that the Court granted his request and took immediate action to protect Alabamians. “Our evidence indicates that these defendants callously exploited the anxiety of people who did their best to prepare and protect their loved ones from the devastation that has struck at our state through tornadoes and storms. Unbeknownst to these consumers, their loved ones are not safer but actually may be even more endangered by the shelters which many sacrificed to pay for. It was vital that these deceptive trade practices be halted, and steps taken to protect our citizens as we head into another season of tornadoes and unstable weather.”

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