Temporary housing is not safe for habitation during hurricanes

Published 11:00 pm Friday, August 25, 2006

Hurricane season under way means South Mississippi residents living in portable housing have a greater-than-ever need to pay attention to the weather.

Months after Hurricane Katrina changed the face of the Gulf Coast, many communities have the majority of their remaining residents living in manufactured homes, travel trailers and Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers.

Gwen Smith, Hancock County director with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said Katrina heavily damaged or destroyed 95 percent of the homes in her county. Most of the storm’s Mississippi deaths occurred in this hard-hit county.

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“The water went 12 miles inland in Hancock County,” Smith said. “Homes and businesses couldn’t stand up to that onslaught, so our people are living in temporary housing now while the area tries to rebuild.”

According to FEMA, more than 100,000 Mississippians displaced by Katrina are living in FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes. Many others are living in similar, non-FEMA structures.

When a storm threatens, the message for these residents from FEMA and other officials is to evacuate as soon as the order is given and to leave the trailer behind. FEMA trailers were not built to withstand hurricane-force winds, and they were not built to travel.

Those living in the little white FEMA trailers are finding life difficult even without a hurricane threatening.

“A very light gust of wind, even 20 miles per hour, rocks them. They’re not sturdy or safe, and they were not built to withstand storms,” Smith said.

She said most Hancock County residents are already preparing for when a storm threatens the Coast again.

Herb Willcutt, Extension safety specialist, said all portable housing should be tied down as designed, but even tie-downs won’t keep these small structures safe.

“If you have a recreational vehicle or a pull-behind trailer, I would leave with it rather than let it weather a storm,” Willcutt said. “These units are light and would blow over easily.”

While residents can tow or drive away their own campers and trailers, they are not supposed to move FEMA trailers. Instead, take all personal and valuable belongings away when possible, and secure the home and windows as best as can be done before leaving.

Chuck Grantham, Jones County Extension director, said his county has a lot of mobile housing units because of Katrina damage and the displaced Coast residents who temporarily settled in the area.

“There’s going to be a lot of people in the situation where they won’t be able to load all their belongings from their trailers into their vehicles,” Grantham said.

He encouraged residents to plan what belongings to evacuate with and where to go if another storm threatens.

“If you are limited in what things you can move, have those things ready now,” he said.