WEB EXCLUSIVE: Mobile homes vs. Mother Nature: The science of su - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Mobile homes vs. Mother Nature: The science of survival

A mobile home's foundation is all that's left after a tornado wipes away the home. A mobile home's foundation is all that's left after a tornado wipes away the home.

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Mangled metal frames and flattened earth where mobile homes once stood, a recurring sight along any path of destruction.  Of the 63 tornado-related deaths across the country this year, 45 of them occurred in mobile homes.  A deep concern for a state where as many 16% of its residents, or 700,000 people depend on manufactured housing.

Tommy Colley works for the Alabama Manufactured Housing Commission, training manufactured home installers.  His team inspects every single structure, a tall order.  Alabama is one of the few states that requires a 100% inspection rate.  Colley says, "I become concerned and aware to make sure we are doing everything we can to make it as safe as possible."  Every manufactured home product used in the state is tested in front of the commission to ensure its performance.

Despite the beating mobile homes have taken over the last year, Colley remains confident in the strides the state is taking to help ensure safety.  Compared to the early 80's, today's mobile homes are 10 pounds heavier per square foot.  Federal standards require all homes to use a modern metal anchoring system, until the old steel anchors.  Colley says the advancements are paying off, "Case after case, we see site built homes on either side of a manufactured home that were blown away, but it's still standing."

National Weather Service Meteorologist Kevin Laws isn't sure any advancement can defy mother nature, "No place is more dangerous than a mobile home."  Laws surveys storm damage across the country.  He says anyone who rides out a storm in manufactured home faces deadly consequences.  "I've seen those straps break, no matter what the conditions are, no matter how they're strapped into the ground.  It won't withstand tornadic winds".  Laws says manufactured homes hardly withstand winds that top out at 100 miles per hour.

Laws chose a mobile home park in Maplesville to show the force and damage of a 90 mile per hour wind.  Despite the damage, mobile home owners still aren't convinced enough to leave their homes during severe weather.  "What I'm starting to discover is that people feel safe in their homes, whether it's a brick home, or a mobile home."

The Alabama Manufactured Housing Association Executive Director, Sherry Norris says it's a daily battle to change the perception of the industry.  Especially as many of the homes destroyed in the storms were built before the federal guidelines were put in place.  "It's a blight on the industry."

Alabama is the second largest manufactured home producer in the country.  Norris says the homes created now, far exceed federal standards, and simply can't be compared to those built before the pre-HUD and anchoring standards were put in place.  The biggest problem, the association has no authority to eradicate the older, more dangerous models.  "Nothing can withstand the storms we have seen over the last year.  That's why we encourage everyone to find a shelter underground.  It's the same situation for a site built home."

Officials say the death toll and number of manufactured homes lost during the April tornado outbreak are below average for a typical storm of that caliber.  Norris believes the new standards are to thank.

Colley agrees, "I don't have any reservations about a manufactured home being safe now."  But Laws still feels it's a dangerous decision to make, "They are deemed unsurvivable".

Two agencies going to drastic lengths to beat the deadly odds stacked in mother nature's favor.


To make certain your manufactured home is anchored property, and meets the state's inspection standards, the links below will supply copies of the federal and state laws regarding manufactured homes, and local, certified installers.  



In addition to guaranteeing a safe experience in a manufactured home, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency urges all residents to have a safe place to go during a storm, including a safe room.  The link explains the FEMA guidelines for building and installing a safe room.  It can be downloaded by PDF by chapter, or in its entirety.   


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