Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hurricane Survivors: Stay or Go? ; Florida Emergency Officials Are Increasingly Concerned about Vulnerable Seniors Living in Mobile Home Parks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hurricane Survivors: Stay or Go? ; Florida Emergency Officials Are Increasingly Concerned about Vulnerable Seniors Living in Mobile Home Parks

Article excerpt

Emergency-management officials consider it a worst case scenario - a major hurricane bearing down on an area with a high volume of mobile home parks packed with senior citizens.

In anticipation, Florida officials routinely order all residents of trailer parks and prefabricated homes to evacuate to safer shelter whenever hurricane-force winds threaten.

But what storm experts didn't anticipate last Friday when hurricane Charley slammed ashore were Everett Cowan's wobbly legs, and Mary Bendus's fearless sense of adventure.

Mr. Cowan, 91, rode out the worst of the storm in his mobile home because he says he just didn't feel up to attempting the trip to a safer place.

Mrs. Bendus, his 81-year-old neighbor at the Slip Knot Mobile Home Park, planned from the start to stay in her trailer with her orange and white cat and $132 in newly purchased hurricane provisions.

"Me and Kitty-Kitty, we decided to stay and if the trailer takes off, we figured we would just take a long trip in the air," she says, explaining her decision.

What neither Cowan nor Bendus knew, was that the most destructive portion of hurricane Charley - the eye wall - was headed directly for the Slip Knot Mobile Home Park.

Longtime residents see such mobile home parks as their own tiny piece of paradise in the Florida sun. For seniors living on a fixed income, trailer-park living is relatively inexpensive and often comes with friendly neighbors and frequent social activities. But in the aftermath of hurricane Charley, emergency-management officials are growing increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of Florida's substantial population of retired seniors living in trailers or prefabricated houses.

It is still too soon to gauge the storm's impact on what has become a favored residential option for many Florida seniors. Some are already vowing to move to stronger structures or even to far away places where hurricanes never threaten. But many, many others - including Cowan and Bendus - say they plan to stay put even though their neighborhood now resembles a war zone more than a comfortable retirement community. "I have no other place to go," Cowan says.

While only a few of the 20 individuals killed during the storm lost their lives in mobile home parks (in part because of substantial evacuations), hurricane Charley offers a vivid illustration of how a fast-moving, somewhat unpredictable hurricane can hit hardest those least able to cope with disaster.

Rubble is all that greeted Jean Owens, 79, when she returned to her trailer home of 27 years at the Slip Knot Mobile Home Park. She says she had wanted to ride out the storm in her trailer but her son insisted that she stay with him in Orlando.

It's been a difficult year for Mrs. Owens. Her husband, Harry, passed away in April. And in June her insurance company refused to renew her policy. …

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