Mobile home residents fear they will be the forgotten victims of Hurricane Irma

The huge pine tree that tumbled from Hurricane Irma’s strong gusts and crushed part of a mobile home in Sweetwater, landed above the room where four little sisters sleep.

“They would have been in there,” said a neighbor. “These girls are between 3 and 6 years old.”

Fortunately, the family decided to heed the warnings from authorities and sought shelter in a safer place just before the storm passed through.

The few neighbors who risked waiting for the powerful hurricane at Lil Abner Mobil Homes Park on Flagler Street and Northwest 12th Avenue said the rumble after the tree fell on Sunday was felt by “almost the whole trailer park”.

“It was like a piece of the sky fell off. Boom!” said Ana Morales, who stayed in the park because she didn’t want to leave her sick mother alone, even though Miami-Dade County ordered the evacuation of all mobile homes.

“We did not have time to evacuate, when I convinced her it was late and I do not have a car,” Morales said.

Miami-Dade did not experience the worst of Irma, which hit the west coast of Florida whipping areas like Naples and Tampa, after devastating the Keys. But it still wreaked havoc in South Florida. And in the trailer parks, the most vulnerable homes, the winds destroyed some roofs, leaving floods and leaks.

Do not focus first on the residential areas and forget about the trailer parks.

Carolina Rodríguez, trailer park resident

In Florida, there are almost 54,000 mobile homes, whose owners or renters are tourists and retirees, many of them low-income, who are looking for affordable housing. In Miami-Dade, there are about 13,000 mobile homes; in Palm Beach, about 19,000; and in Broward approximately 21,500, according to the Census of the United States.

Trailer parks are not all alike.

In the more affluent areas mobile homes come in the form of large prefabricated, customized houses. But those in working-class neighborhood are filled with precarious metal dwellings. During Hurricane Andrew in 1992, entire communities of mobile home parks were destroyed in South Miami-Dade.

After Irma, the most obvious damage reported so far is the tree that crushed the trailer home at 11003 NW Flagler Terr. But many suffered damages. El Nuevo Herald could not contact the owners of home destroyed by the pine tree, but neighbors said they are a Central American family. Sweetwater authorities went to the scene Monday afternoon to assess the damage.

Residents of this type of housing — from Homestead to Miami — said they are fortunate that Irma did not hit Miami-Dade as a Category 5 hurricane, as originally forecast. In motor home parks in the Florida Keys and in Immokalee, a rural area near Naples, the storm destroyed dozens of homes and left many families homeless.

Figúrate tu (just imagine), everything we have would have disappeared,” said Tomás Rodríguez, who has lived in Lil Abner for 22 years and evacuates every time a storm is coming. “It took part of the roof and poured water through the holes in the floor, but we were not here; we arrived yesterday (Monday).”

On Tuesday, the main concern of mobile home residents in Sweetwater, was when electricity would be restored. They also wondered if the government will help them with the repairs of their homes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

About 3 p.m., Carolina Rodríguez, Tomás’ wife, began to cook some food on a gas grill that is now filled with coal.

“We ran out of gas and there is no money to buy more,” said Carolina, who is Nicaraguan. “We are desperate, these houses are an oven, a microwave, and we have many older people suffering from high blood pressure who live here.”

The neighbors called the authorities, the electricity company FPL, and “whoever wants to listen to us.”

“The people who live here, it is because we are poor, we have no where to go or how to cope with this,” Carolina Rodríguez said, as neighbors nodded in agreement. “Do not focus first on the residential areas and forget about the trailer parks, please restore the electricity here.”

Reporter Monique O. Madan contributed this information.