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The Daily Tar Heel

Undaunted by Florence, some mobile home residents choose not to evacuate

Hurricane Shelter
The American Red Cross, in partnership with the state of North Carolina, set up a hurricane shelter at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill.

Letting out a laugh, 39-year-old Olimpia Godoy looked at the walls of her mobile home.

“This is just cardboard,” she said. 

Pointing at a winding crack in her ceiling — damage left over from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — she said even the buildings in her native Guatemala were built better.

“In Guatemala we use steel. We put a column of steel here and another there, but here everything is just little sticks,” she said referring to the fragile walls of her mobile home.

Five and a half inches of rain fell in Chapel Hill during Hurricane Matthew, causing about $5,000 worth of damage to Godoy’s $60,000 mobile home. Two years later, she said her husband hasn’t finished repairs, and she is worried about the additional damage Hurricane Florence will cause.

The News and Observer reported Hurricane Florence will bring about 3 to 10 inches of rain to the Triangle area, but Godoy, like many others in Tar Heel Mobile Court off of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., is waiting for the storm to reach the Triangle before she, her husband and her two children leave their home.

“If we leave, we’ll come back when everything is better, but we’re going to wait,” Godoy said Wednesday. “If we see things are getting much worse, we will leave. Many friends have told us we can stay with them at their apartments.”

But when Chapel Hill feels Florence’s strength as the storm makes landfall in the Carolinas Friday, it may be too dangerous for the family to seek other shelter.

Gavin Smith, a UNC professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning who worked at the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management during Hurricanes Fran and Floyd, said mobile homes are especially prone to storm damage. 

“If you have tropical storm winds — even less than tropical storm winds — or greater, a mobile home is not a good place to be, even those that are tied down,” he said. “It is certainly advisable for people to go to a shelter or go to a more substantial building, whether it’s a hotel or a neighbor who has what we would call a stick-built house.”

Though many in the trailer park said they would like to leave, some said their family live in areas that will also be affected by Hurricane Florence.

Marvin Cruz, 30, said his only relatives live in Virginia and fears the damage there will probably be the same.

“I am pretty scared, but at the same time, I think God will help us,” he said. “If I had family in other places, I would have already left. If I see that the air is very strong, I will leave.”

Cruz said he is worried a big tree located only feet from his front porch will crush his house. About a year ago, he said, a storm knocked over a tree and destroyed a home a few units down the road from his house.

“The tree that was there fell on the trailer, and two people lived there,” he said. “One of them was in a wheelchair, and he said he got out of there because it fell on top and everything was crushed together. The windows were knocked out of place. It was really bad.”

Smith said those living in mobile homes should stay informed on the hurricane and make a decision soon about whether they will leave.

“It’s really important for citizens to listen to their local emergency manager,” he said. “They are the ones that are providing information about expected impacts, location of shelters and other things.”

Another mobile home resident, Lesly Ventura, 35, said she has not heard much about the hurricane.

“I don’t watch the news,” she said. “I have only heard about the hurricane from work, but I don’t watch the news because people sometimes exaggerate or panic.”

Ventura said she has not heard anything from the owner of the property and would like to hear what he recommends the residents do.

“We are his tenants but he hasn’t sent anything,” she said. “It’s his responsibility to say, ‘Oh, these people are in trouble, I’m going to send them a note so they know, and they can be safe.’”

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As of Wednesday, Grey Moody, owner of Tar Heel Mobile Court, hadn’t sent a message to his residents. Messages about the hurricane will spread by word of mouth, he said. 

“If they ask me about something, I remind them if there’s loose articles outside the units that can become a missile in a storm, naturally that needs to be taken care of,” he said. “There’s a recycling thing out front here. We’re going to remove that from that area and put it in a secure place during the storm. Anywhere else in the park there’s something like that, that will be done. We do what we can.”

Brad Moody, Grey’s son and manager of the trailer park, said they haven’t told their residents to evacuate.

“I don’t think we have the knowledge to tell somebody to evacuate,” he said. “We leave that up to the local authorities, and everybody here, they have their own comfort zones, and nobody around town has been told to evacuate so we would never supersede those rules and regulations.”

Ventura said she is scared but ready to brave the storm — no matter what it brings.

“My husband told me it’s not going to be that bad, but since I heard, I have been nervous, and my son has also been nervous because he says, ‘Oh, there’s going to be a hurricane,’ but I tell him we need to be prepared for whatever, whether it happens or not.”