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Hurricane season is no time to tempt fate

Like everyone in Florida, we are weary of hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. It seems like forever that we have been under a watch or warning for hurricanes, tornadoes and severe weather. In my nine years in Florida, I have not experienced anything like this flurry of hurricanes so close together hitting or threatening Florida.

We stayed in our factory-built home in north Lakeland for Charley and Frances. In the past, when hurricanes came close, I always hunkered down in our home and waited them out. But Charley and Frances were different: much more dangerous. If Ivan had come our way, it could have been devastating.

We have had our hurricane kit, food, flashlights, water, safety stuff, propane lantern, first aid kit, etc., prepared in a closet, ready at a moment's notice. Each hurricane season we go through the kit to make sure we have everything we need and to see that the "use by" dates on canned goods haven't passed. We have a propane grill, so I make sure our tank is full. We have a small charcoal grill, a bag of charcoal and lighter fluid.

Evacuation to an approved shelter has never been an option for us. We have a 14-year-old poodle who is part of the family. No way is she going to be left behind. We are fortunate that my brother (a winter resident) owns a site-built house in Sebring that we can use if we need to evacuate. But arrangements have to be made in advance to have utilities turned on. We have never used it. Charley and Frances passed closer to Sebring than to north Lakeland.

We rode out both hurricanes in our home. Charley passed 35 miles south of us and came and went quickly. Frances was different. It was a huge storm, and we were warned that winds could exceed 100 mph. Since the center appeared to be passing over Sebring, we decided to remain in our home. Good friends came and stayed with us. The companionship was great: We could sit here and tell each other lies about how safe we were.

We cleared the clothes out of a walk-in closet (about 7 by 4 feet) and placed a daybed mattress inside, along with our hurricane supplies. Fortunately, we never had to use that interior, windowless room.

Frances seemed to last forever as the winds howled and rain lashed against the windows. My wife and the neighbor's wife swear they felt the house vibrate a few times. Neither of us guys admitted to any vibration. We never lost electricity. We did lose water for about 10 hours during Frances. We were very lucky when we think of the thousands who were without electricity and/or water for days on end.

Neither of our houses sustained any damage, despite predictions from TV reporters that every mobile home in the state was going to be blown away. In our community of more than 1,200 homes only a few lost carports, some lost gutters and roof shingles, all minor damage considering the severity of these storms.

One manufacturer of factory-built homes shared with me e-mails from homeowners. They were pleased to have had no damage in either storm. Many of them were in the direct path of either Charley or Frances. Every one of them owned a home built since 1995.

I'm weary of hearing manufactured housing referred to as mobile homes and of hearing that every factory-built home will be flattened.

As strong as I believe these homes are, I do not recommend that you stay in your home, factory-built or site-built, if the center of a hurricane is headed your way. Better to be safe than sorry. We seem to have escaped the wrath of Ivan, but there's always next time.

Send comments or questions to Len Bonifield at elbgate.net, or fax to (863) 853-8023, or phone (863) 858-1557. Please include your e-mail and mailing address. Because of the volume of mail and phone calls, he can't respond personally to every query. Bonifield is a manufactured-home resident and a past HOA president and former officer of the FMO District 1 board of directors.

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