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Sales weather nature

Mobile home salesman Allan Derkack keeps the photograph in his desk, along with some others, in a drawer where he can get to it quickly.

He took it in Dade County, shortly after Hurricane Andrew struck.

In the photo is a white mobile home, weather-beaten but apparently barely damaged. Next to the mobile home is a bigger block-and-sheet metal building with half of its roof and part of a wall missing.

"Look at that," Derkack said, pointing to mobile home in the picture. "Structurally, there should be no reason for people to bad mouth them (mobile homes). They're built just the same as stick-built houses."

I stopped in Wester Homes in Hudson, where Derkack is general manager, and some other mobile home lots along the North Suncoast last week to see how business is.

After Hurricane Andrew and the Suncoast's tornadoes recently devastated so many mobile home parks, I figured selling mobile homes around here would be a lot like trying to sell Tampa Bay Giants shirts in San Francisco these days.

"I certainly don't think it's going to help us for at least a short period of time," Bob Meadows, owner of Meadowood Mobile Home Sales & Service in Hernando and Pasco counties, said of the storms.

The peak season for mobile home sales in this area doesn't start for another month or so, when out-of-staters begin their annual migration.

But so far, the recent beatings Mother Nature gave the mobile home industry apparently haven't hurt the business as much as might be expected, sales representatives say.

"I would have expected some problems after people looked at all those pictures with mobile homes without roofs and what have you," said Ellis Houck, of Americas Discount Mobile Home Center in Hudson. "But in all honesty, it really hasn't affected us one way or another."

Houck said he got a few extra sales by way of other mobile home dealers in the Miami area who ran out of stock after Hurricane Andrew.

Hurricane experts told a congressional subcommittee recently that about 97 percent of mobile homes in areas of South Florida hit by Hurricane Andrew were destroyed or badly damaged. By comparison, about 54 percent of houses in areas hit hard by the hurricane were destroyed or badly damaged.

Closer to home, an estimated 150 to 300 local mobile homes were destroyed or badly damaged by the tornadoes that swept through the Suncoast earlier this month.

The devastation has federal officials calling for tougher building codes for mobile homes, and local officials placing moratoriums on new mobile homes in some areas.

Part of the reason mobile home dealers aren't reeling more from the increased scrutiny is probably because they're doing a good job countering with pictures and other public relations materials.

Michael Wnek is the vice president of sales and marketing for Palm Harbor Homes, which by its own estimate sells about 25 or 30 percent of all mobile homes in Pasco and Hernando counties.

Wnek has been on the road almost every day since Hurricane Andrew slammed into Florida. He is meeting with every mobile home dealer who sells Palm Harbor Homes, any building official, county commissioner and city council member, he can find.

What he is sharing with them are pictures of Palm Harbor Homes that withstood the hurricane, testimonials from customers and from others who said they plan on buying Palm Harbor Homes because they withstood the winds so well.

"All I'm telling them is: "Gentlemen, let's look at the truth,' " Wnek said. "We'll agree with you that maybe the (building) standards should be improved . . . and we'll build to any standard you want, all day long.

"But let's face it, no matter how well you build the stuff, if it just so happens that you're in the path of a hurricane . . . there isn't much that's going to be left," he said.