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 had lived in mobile homes.
Some are now urging the U.S. state to spend more to strengthen such homes, especially older ones that are more 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 many 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.”
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew demolished mobile homes south of Miami, and the federal government two years later required newly built mobile homes to withstand winds of 90 mph (145 kph), 100 mph (161 kph) or 110 mph (177 kph), depending on their location.
In 1998, seven tornadoes killed 42 people in Florida, and state regulators the next year strengthened 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.
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,” said state Rep. Hugh Gibson, a Republican who represents Lady Lake. “Where would they live?”
On the Net:
Florida Manufactured Housing Association: http://www.fmha.org
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