EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Carla Cope was cooking and monitoring weather reports on Dec. 10, 2021, when she and her husband called their son, Clayton, to warn him of an impending tornado.
“We were the ones who were telling him that a tornado was coming, and he needed to get to shelter,” Cope said.
Clayton Cope was one of six people killed when a tornado touched down in Edwardsville and struck the Amazon warehouse where he was working. Clayton was 29.
She keeps Clayton’s jacket and hat from his Navy service hanging prominently. Service was in his blood. Over the past 12 months, she’s learned her son tried getting colleagues to safety. But there was no safe room or storm shelter. Building codes don’t require them.
“Hopefully, they’ll change the way they build these buildings,” she said.
Legislators toured the site in February as they talked about upgrading building safety codes, but then the City of Edwardsville acknowledged the warehouse rebuild was moving forward with the same tilt up wall construction, with no apparent major changes.
Now, the warehouse appears to be almost completely rebuilt. Amazon points out that it’s just a “tenant in the building and that the landlord is in charge of the rebuild.”
“It’s everyone; not just Amazon. All of the warehouse buildings are built the same,” Cope said. “They’re all at the same risk.”
National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) video shows the dramatic difference a storm shelter makes. Their test video shows how a reinforced storm shelter holds up to a 2×4 flying at 100 miles an hour. The association compares that to what happens with no storm shelter reinforcements.
“It’s such a small cost for them to add it in,” Cope said. “I don’t understand why they wouldn’t do it.”
The NSSA estimates adding a storm shelter would add 1% to total building costs.
Illinois State Rep Katie Stuart has been pushing for building code updates, writing FOX 2: “I am still working through the legislative process to develop a task force that would investigate building codes and safety requirements and provide recommendations for updates… Illinois should be a leader and role model in providing safe working conditions.”
Amazon says it’s increased training exercises for managers, as well as drill frequency, and is customizing site-by-site weather emergency plans for the 800-plus North American warehouses.
In the meantime, Amazon and the building contractors are also the target of several lawsuits. The Clifford Law Offices in Chicago said it’s about to depose a dozen corporate officials to get more answers.