Mobile Homes Tweaked For Twisters

miami beach water spout becomes tornado
Mobile homes are the cliches of catastrophe; magnets for Mother Nature's worst.

In 1999, a monster twister chewed neighborhoods near Oklahoma City to bits. But as CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports, it was mobile homes that it swallowed whole.

Don and Stacey Neuhauser's trailer simply evaporated.

"It was just total destruction," says Stacey Neuhauser.

Had they stayed inside, "We would have died," she says.

In the last five years, 282 people were killed by tornados, about half of them died in mobile homes.

"Manufactured housing residents are killed at a rate 15 times that of permanent home residents," says Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The mobile home industry claims those numbers are skewed. Tornados, they say, often hit in rural areas where there are more manufactured homes to begin with.

Their design over the years has improved too, they say.

And at Texas Tech University, where they put those claims to the test, researchers found some surprising results.

They backed a C-130 right up to the front door of a manufactured home and blasted it with winds of 110 miles an hour.

It survived.

A blown out window and some lost roofing tiles was about all the damage.

"You really can't say that this home is not a safe home," says Chad Morris, an associate director at Texas Tech's Wind Science and Engineering Research Center. "It's a very safe home."

But forecasters worry tests like these may give residents false hope. this home was anchored to the ground the way the mobile homes industry recommends, but the way few homes really are.

Plus, when it comes to tornados, forecasters still warn it's flying debris that is more of a threat than just the winds alone.

"It isn't necessarily that living in manufactured housing is a bad thing, it's just that there is a risk associated with being in there when a tornado occurs," says Brooks.

Which is why even though the Neuhausers bought another mobile home to replace the one they lost, they also live within 100 feet of a storm shelter. Because in tornado alley, history always repeats itself.

"If it looks bad, I'm ready to get out," says Stacey Neuhauser.