Sunday, July 19, 2009

RVs Become Home for Many Hit by Ike in Texas

BOLIVAR PENINSULA, Texas -- Hundreds of recreational vehicles fill the holes in this rough-and-tumble beachside community after the devastating tides and 110-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Ike destroyed 61% of the homes here last September.

RVs, the homes-on-wheels that are an indelible symbol of the American family vacation, have become a fixture of post-hurricane landscapes along the Gulf Coast. For many coastal residents, the RVs represent a temporary fix to their housing problems while they work on rebuilding. For others the vehicles offer a permanent solution to the threat of hurricanes: Rather than invest in another house that could be washed away, residents can simply drive their homes to higher ground when needed.

The RVs are the heirs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile homes that dotted the landscape after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when about 140,000 people found shelter in government-issued trailers. Some of those trailers became notorious when they were found to be emitting harmful chemical fumes; after Hurricane Ike, FEMA turned for emergency housing more to subsidized apartments and hotel rooms.

FEMA did install a 50-unit mobile-home park on Bolivar Peninsula to house victims of Ike, and 400 more agency trailers are scattered throughout Galveston County. The trailers are generally provided for maximum 18-month stays.

But many residents prefer the flexibility of buying or renting their own RVs. RVs are more easily moved than mobile homes, and there is no looming deadline that would force residents to move out.

The surge in RVs has been so great here since last fall's hurricane that homeowners' associations are revising their rules to allow RVs. County officials have issued several hundred new six-month permits that verify the road-worthiness of the RVs, so that they can be driven away from the path of a future storm.

Some local residents are uneasy with the RV invasion, worrying about a potential RV traffic jam during an evacuation. Others fear that RVs will be left behind and be tossed around during a storm, adding to the destruction. (Because they aren't attached to the ground, through pilings for example, they are much more vulnerable to storm winds.)
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