With a price point oftentimes lower than conventional housing, mobile homes offer a tempting option for those on a budget. However, during a tornado, modular homes may end up costing more than what their owners bargained for.
One case and point is 63-year old Clifford Haney. He’s a Dallas County resident who has survived more than one ‘storm in life.
“I survived Vietnam, I survived cancer, and now I survived a tornado,” he said.
Choking back tears, it’s still hard for Clifford to talk about the moment the storm tore through on the evening of February 28th.
“I just said, ‘Oh God!’ And that trailer just went to rocking and it just flipped….I can remember there was stuff going by me and hitting me,” Clifford recalls.
He made it through with, but his neighbor wasn’t so lucky, and succumbed to her injuries.
Clifford’s mobile home was one of thirteen in a row near Buffalo tossed, mangled, and shredded beyond recognition. Unfortunately, it’s a sight that seems to becoming more common across the Ozarks.
“A tornado is going to heavily damage a frame home- or one built bricks. So, we know if it going to do that, it is going to be deadly in a mobile home,” explained Steve Runnels, meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Springfield.
Experts say it takes an EF4 tornado packing 165-200 mph winds-to level a conventional house. But a twister with winds half of that strength can destroy a mobile home.
“They are almost like a vehicle. They are just very light compared to the strong winds of a tornado,” said Sarah Jones, KY3 Meteorologist.
“You are especially susceptible to the dangers of a tornado if you live in a mobile home,” Runnels said.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports only about 8% of people reside in mobile homes. However, National Weather Service numbers show nearly half of all tornado deaths in homes occur in modular units. In 2011 alone, 226 fatalities occurred in permanent homes, and 111 deaths took place in mobile homes.
“We are starting to see an uptick in the number of people killed in tornadoes- and perhaps that’s due to the number of people living in mobile homes these days, Runnels said.
“We are on limited incomes, I still work part time, admitted Haney. “A thousand, two thousand dollars down- and you have got yourself a home...it ain't like financing a house.”
Until recently, the number of mobile homes being sold and occupied was on the increase. That trend left more people than ever occupying modular units. However, the popularity of those residences has come as number of tornadoes is on the increase. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April 2011 was the most active tornado month on record.
“It’s OK to live in a mobile home. But when it comes to severe weather safety…you need to be more aware of the situation,” Jones said.
Many newer mobile homes are built to better standards to withstand some winds, and strapping an older homes to the ground can be prevent roll-overs. However, ultimately, meteorologists say mobile homes and tornadoes don’t mix.
“Plan long in advance and that might even mean today. Go ahead and investigate if a storm shelter is a good idea for you and your family,” Runnels said.
The NWS also urges residents of all types of homes to have a weather radio.
What about those who can’t afford the price of a shelter, or aren't afforded enough time to drive to a safer place during a storm warning? As last resort during an emergency, experts recommend something may seem extreme.
“Please get out of that mobile home and seek shelter in a ditch,” Runnels explained.
KY3’s Sarah Jones admits the advice may sound odd. “You wouldn't think run outside to find better safety when you are covered with walls and a roof of some sort. But it may be safer, if you live in a mobile home, if there is a low area.”
Anything is better than staying in the trailer,” Clifford explained. He added that he likely would have sought shelter in a nearby pond bed if he would have had more warning about the oncoming tornado.
Clifford still has some recovery ahead. When it comes to rebuilding, he's trying to decide if another mobile home is in his future.
“I don't know if I will ever live in another one or not. I have been offered a good deal,” he said. “It doesn’t hold together in a tornado. I don't think any of them will.”
The Manufactured Housing Institute says it’s important to anchor trailers to the ground, and claims modular homes built after 1976 are safer.
But when it comes to the disproportionate number of tornado fatalities in mobile homes, MHI explains it as a coincidence, stating “…the explanation for the reports of damage to manufactured homes from tornadoes is quite simple: manufactured housing is largely found in rural and suburban areas where tornadoes are most likely to occur.”
The statement has been called into question by some meteorologists, who say there are mobile homes in many urban areas, and tornadoes have indeed been known to tear through towns and cities.