SPECIAL REPORT: Are mobile home residents safe in the storm? - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

SPECIAL REPORT: Are mobile home residents safe in the storm?

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Spring in Iowa is severe weather season.  In fact, the month of May typically records the most tornadoes. 

But already this year, there have been more than 600 twisters nationwide.  And this year's severe weather has highlighted the extreme danger of riding out a storm inside a mobile home.

This spring's tornadoes in Kentucky and Indiana left 34 people dead.  What's startling is two thirds of those deaths were people inside mobile homes.  That's even though only 20 percent of all residents in both states combined live in such housing. 

Those numbers raise questions about storm safety in mobile homes- even right here in Iowa.

Caleb Poland has lived in his Cedar Falls mobile home for just more than a year.  He admits it's not an ideal place to ride out a storm

"If there's large wind, you can definitely feel it, not necessarily being scared, but at the same time, if there was a tornado, this would be one of the worst places to be," Poland said.

In fact, the National Severe Storm Center says mobile home residents are 10 to 20 times more likely to die in tornadoes than those in conventional homes.  But like so many, Poland says living here is the best economical choice for him despite the risks.

"There's a lot of pros and cons.  The main one for me - it's a really affordable way to build equity.  Obviously there are risks of storm damage, but I think in the long term, I'll be better building equity," Poland said.

During severe weather, Poland typically goes to his workplace or a nearby business, since his mobile home park does not have a shelter. 

By law, Minnesota is the only state to mandate storm shelters at mobile home parks.  But it's estimated about half of parks in Iowa have voluntarily built shelters.  Hames Mobile Home Parks in Linn County are among them.

"We wanted our residents to be safe.  And we felt if there was inclement weather, then that would be good for them to have a place to come and be safe," said Troy Hames with Hames Homes.

Jerry McCoy has lived in several different kinds of houses, but for the last two decades has lived in a mobile home.  While he says he feels perfectly safe, when storms strike, he heads to the Hames shelter.

"I would prefer the shelter than staying home," McCoy said.

And meteorologists say that's a wise choice.  Even though federal laws require tie-downs on mobile homes, which can withstand up to 100 mile an hour winds, tornadoes can pack much stronger wind speeds.  So getting out of a mobile home is your best bet.  It's important to identify an alternative safe location before the storm hits.

"The wind is just going to take it and tumble it like you were in a car, and in a mobile home, you're not strapped in. There's no airbag," KWWL Chief Meteorologist Mark Schnackenberg said.

But what if you don't have any other choice, if you don't have a neighbor's house you can go to, if you live in the middle of the country in a mobile home, what is your best option in that case?

"That's a scenario where you get in a ditch. You want to be underground, you want to be lower than the ground because the tornado will go right across.  You might get injured, but you're playing the odds of trying to survive," Schnackenberg said.

The Iowa Manufactured Housing Association strongly opposes laws to require shelters at all mobile home parks.  However, it urges developers building a new park to install a clubhouse with a storm shelter area for the added safety and comfort of residents.  For mobile home residents not living in a park, meteorologists can't stress enough:  have a severe weather plan and use it.

Weather experts admit it's possible some people refuse to leave their mobile homes and seek shelter because they don't take tornado warnings seriously, believing they're issued too often.  That's why the National Weather Service will pilot a new tornado warning system this summer in Kansas and Missouri.  That system will rate potential damage from a storm on a scale from minimal to catastrophic.  If the test proves successful, that new warning system could be implemented nationwide.

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