New analysis finds that people in mobile or manufactured homes are more likely to be killed during a tornado than those in site-built homes.
The Associated Press analyzed tornado data going back to 1996 and found that 53% of all deaths at home during tornadoes occurred in mobile or manufactured homes.
But these mobile homes account for 6% of all housing units in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.
In January, seven people died during a tornado in Alabama. All of those who died lived in mobile homes. Some of them were ultimately thrown more than 1,000 feet from where the building originally stood.
The worst damage done to a nearby site-built home, meanwhile, was some damage to its roof shingles.
Experts who study the effects of tornadoes on mobile homes told The Associated Press that the problems with mobile homes usually stem from weak connections to the ground, compared to the foundations of site-built homes.
When the bottom fails, the structure is free to move.
"The whole structure is rolling or flying through air. You've got dressers falling on top of you. You've got the entire structure that's trying to crush you," Auburn University engineering professor David Roueche told The Associated Press.
"You just have to be in some structure that’s attached to the ground," NOAA social scientist Kim Klockow-McClain said. "And then no matter what the tornado throws at you, you have really good odds."
The percentage of deaths from tornadoes in mobile homes is also increasing, a trend that may continue because of the way storms are shifting location in the U.S. Experts say new regions of the south are at increasing risk from tornadoes, because of altered weather patterns due to climate change and other factors.
Mobile homes in places like Alabama are often spread out, making centralized tornado shelters less practical. Tornadoes may also strike quickly, in a matter of minutes or seconds, which gives those in their path little time to prepare.
The experts who spoke to The Associated Press recommend extending federal rules that require better anchoring of mobile homes. There are laws in place for mobile homes in hurricane-prone areas, they say, that could make mobile homes everywhere safer if they were applied nationwide.
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