Scars of the Storm Revealed Days After Tornado Hits North Carolina Trailer Parks

The weather is calm today. But Beulah in the Pines, a mobile home park in the North Carolina town of Micro, shows the scars of a violent storm that ripped across the state Saturday.

Nearly every unit suffered some sort of damage. And there is total destruction in one section of the park a quarter of a mile wide, revealing where a powerful tornado touched down.

Wilbert Allen, a 25-year resident of Beulah in the Pines, evacuated to his sister's apartment in the nearby town of Selma as soon as he heard the tornado warnings.

"They always tell you to leave and to get into something steady when something like this happens," Allen said.

Several residents who remained were hospitalized for lacerations or broken bones. No one was killed.

It was a different story at Stony Brook North, a mobile home park in Raleigh. Three children died Saturday when a tornado caused a tree to fall on their family's mobile home. The twister caused severe damage to at least 200 other units in the park.

Throughout the state, there are similar stories of the weekend storm's wrath on mobile homes.
According to U.S. Census data from 2007, the latest available, 14.5 percent of North Carolina residences are mobile homes. That figure ranks seventh highest in the U.S. and is well above the national average of 6.7 percent.

On its website, the National Severe Storms Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains, "(Less than) 7 percent of our population lives in mobile homes, and almost half of tornado fatalities in the U.S. occur in mobile homes. The problem of warning and sheltering mobile home residents has become the biggest obstacle to continuing to reduce death tolls from tornadoes."

"Economic and Societal Impacts of Tornadoes," a new book published by the American Meteorological Society, gathers and interprets data from NOAA and the Census. Its authors, economists Kevin Simmons and Daniel Sutter, calculate that people are 10 times more likely to die in a mobile home than in a regular house during a tornado.

For families on a budget, factory-built mobile homes are generally more affordable than houses built on location. But lightweight materials used in mobile home construction offer less resistance to severe winds than a standard house secured to a foundation.

Mobile home sites rarely include basements. And floor plans often lack interior rooms, where residents could seek shelter away from windows.

"Get out!" is the advice Roger Edwards of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. "Even if your home is tied down, you are probably safer outside, even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers similar advice: "If you live in a mobile home, go to a nearby building, preferably one with a basement. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands."
The CDC also encourages mobile home communities in tornado-prone areas to build shelters where residents can take refuge during emergencies.

In 2010, tornadoes killed 45 people in the U.S., according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Among those fatalities, 11 were in regular houses and 20 in mobile homes.