Tornadoes Vs. Mobile Homes


Thursday, February 8th 2007, 5:36 am
By: News On 6


LADY LAKE, Fla. (AP) _ It became clear as workers dug through rubble and collected the dead: All 20 victims of the tornadoes that tore through central Florida last week lived in mobile homes.

Now some advocates are urging the state to spend more to strengthen such homes, especially older ones that are vulnerable to the fierce winds.

Florida spent about $10 million last year to strengthen 3,800 older mobile homes, most built before 1976, when the federal government tightened building codes.

But in a state peppered with mobile home communities where retirees live, work and play, more than 600,000 such homes do not meet the standards, according to the Florida Manufactured Housing Association. More than a million Floridians and 22 million Americans live in mobile homes.

``Florida could spend twice that amount and it still wouldn't be enough,'' said Jim Ayotte, executive director of the association. ``It's just a drop in the bucket.''

Hurricane Andrew demolished mobile homes south of Miami in 1992, and the federal government two years later required newly built mobile homes to withstand winds of 90 mph, 100 mph or 110 mph, depending on their location. Mobile homes in Florida must withstand winds of at least 100 mph inland and 110-mph winds in coastal counties.

Seven tornadoes killed 42 people in Florida in 1998, and state regulators the following year acted to strengthen installation and tie-down requirements for new mobile homes. Before 1999, mobile homes had to be tied down only on the two long sides; now all four sides must be tied down.

After four hurricanes hit Florida in 2004, the state found that new mobile homes did not suffer the same catastrophic damage as older ones. More than 3,600 older mobile homes were destroyed, while none built to at least 1994 standards was seriously damaged.

The latest killer storms also showed the fragility of old homes. In Lady Lake, Doris and Albert Gantner's mobile home, built before the 1999 tie-down restrictions went into effect, was obliterated by a tornado.

Doris Gantner, 81, died and her husband Albert Gantner, 89, suffered a concussion and broken collarbone and vertebrae, said his granddaughter, Sue Westerhoff.

Mobile homes built today can withstand the same winds as regular homes, said Kevin Grosskopf, a professor at the University of Florida's School of Building Construction. But the state needs to do more to make older homes safer, he said.

``I think that it's a rational conclusion that the state program to make mobile homes more durable is not being very effective,'' Grosskopf said.

Measures that can strengthen older mobile homes include replacing tie straps with galvanized steel straps and securing any attached structures.

But for many working-class people and retirees, older mobile homes have long been the only affordable option.

``I don't know what we're going to do for the older homes. I just don't know the answer to that,'' said state Rep. Hugh Gibson, a Republican who represents Lady Lake. ``Where would they live?''