FLORIDA CITY, Fla. -- Questions about the vulnerability of mobile homes to hurricane winds rile Mel Riff, who with his wife Sue owns three mobile home parks ravaged by Hurricane Andrew.
'It wasn't the sustained winds that did this,' he said, gesturing at the acres of smashed wood and twisted metal that had been 547 mobile homes at the Goldcoaster Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park.
'There's no type of housing that can withstand the tornadoes that we had through here,' he said.
B fore the storm arrived early Aug. 24, some 400 people had been living in the park. Nearly all were evacuated e fore it hit and there were no injuries.
Saturday night, about 40 people were able to spend the night, Riff said.
One of those who stayed in the park through the storm was Dan Tabbot, 55, of Jacksonville, who was staying with his brother, Bill Tabbot, 61, in Bill's RV. Dan said both are itinerant valve technicians who had been working at the nearby Turkey Point nuclear power plant.
As the storm built up, both fled to the park's concrete-and-stone recreation building and took refuge in the showers. When they were in the calm eye of the storm, Dan said he went outside.
'The damage wasn't half as bad,' he said. As the storm worsened they went back inside.
'We heard these whistling noises, we heard the steady rush and we heard this banging noise and these loud freight train noises,' he said. 'We came outside again and there was devastation everywhere.'
Riff and his wife also own Sunrise Village by Naranja Lakes and Parkview Mobile Home Park in Florida City.
Riff said he was planning to rebuild or offer new mobile home housing at only a small percentage above cost to help people in the area rebuild. And he said 90 percent of those living in the Goldcoaster did plan to rebuild.
At various homesites around the park, residents sorted through their soggy belongings.
Many of the residents lived in mobile homes for the winter and live in the North the rest of the year.
'We're lucky. We lost everything in here, but we didn't lose any life, and we didn't have to find a place to stay,' said Doris Filliger, 77, of Barnegat, N.J., standing in the ruins of her living room. The ceiling had collapsed, all the windows had shattered, and pieces of ceiling, glass and soggy carpet covered what was left of the furniture. However, her collection of fine china vases and figurines was not even chipped.
Filliger's husband, Elmer, 80, stood outside, surveying the debris.
Mrs. Filliger said they came to Florida after seeing the hurricane damage on television.
'We could not believe it was as bad as this even from the pictures,' she said. 'I couldn't believe there was this much damage. We hate losing the place, but I was much more worried about the people who live here permanently.'
About a hundred yards up the road, Karen Margolis, 48, helped pick through the ruins of her parents' trailer as they sat watching from the air-conditioned relief of a parked car.
Margolis's own mobile home also was destroyed. During the storm, she stayed in Homestead at her son's two-story house, which had the second floor and roof ripped away, and now she said she was living with friends in Kendall while her parents stayed in North Miami Beach with another relative.
'It's unfathomable, desolate -- all those big words,' she said. 'You cry the first five or six days, but now we're starting to get tough.'
She said it was difficult trying to figure out what to salvage out of the wreckage.
'What do you take? My kids have no toys, we have no television, no VCR. I lost five boxes of VCR tapes. We're wearing borrowed clothes. All of our furniture is gone.'
They managed to salvage a bathtub out of the ruins, and after filling it with a hose, stood in the water periodically to cool off from the 90- degree heat until the afternoon rains came.
'Every day it pours. You just dry something off and it's soaked again,' she said. 'It's just devastating. The people who were smart didn't even come back to look.'