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Mobile Homes Dubious Shelter During Deadly Storms

Posted November 21, 2006

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— Last week's deadly tornado in Columbus County is raising questions about the safety of mobile homes.

Wind speeds measuring about 200 mile an hour obliterated Riegelwood last Thursday. Eight people died when the storm destroyed 13 houses and badly damaged two dozen others.

Most of the damaged residences were mobile homes. The devastation feeds the stereotype of trailers as "tornado magnets." Brad Lovin, executive director of the North Carolina Manufactured Housing Institute, cringes at that reputation.

"There they go again," Lovin said. "A mobile home park, but that has nothing to do with the house itself."

Lovin told WRAL that mobile homes get an unfair rap because they're often placed in areas more susceptible to storms

Alfred Ripley represents the North Carolina Justice Center, a non-profit group that advocates for the poor. He thinks severe weather, whether it's Riegelwood or the deadly 2004 storm in Pender County, highlights the vulnerability of mobile homes.

"Unfortunately, it does take a tragic event to get the conversation going," Ripley said. "They're not inspected at each stage of construction like a regular stick-built home."

The two groups have already battled over allegations of deceptive sales practices and predatory lending. Now, the N.C. Justice Center wants state lawmakers to take a closer look at toughening mobile home building codes.

After Hurricane Andrew hammered South Florida in 1992, Congress passed tougher mobile home building standards in 1994 and 2000. They only apply to new homes

"We are one of the most regulated housing industries," Lovin said. "The durability and the construction standards have greatly improved."

Lovin said he invites further inspection, but warned new standards would drive up the cost for consumers.

Ripley argued everyone deserves a safe home at a reasonable cost.

"These are critical safety issues," he said.
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