In the hardest-hit sector, Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson's 12th District, 86% of the nearly 2,600 mobile homes were significantly damaged, according to state records. By way of rough comparison, 38% of the 55,000 conventional single-family homes in the district have been issued building permits to repair quake-related damage.
At the 600-lot Oakridge park in Sylmar, eight fires raged, triggered by mobile homes that smashed into gas meters and supply lines. Fifty-seven homes burned, another 12 were so badly twisted that they were rendered total losses, and most of the rest were tossed off the piers they were perched on.
It could have been worse, said manager Ginny Harmon. "I thought we'd lose the whole park."
After such disasters, taxpayers must shoulder much of the burden.
Take the cost of renovating mobile homes after the Northridge quake. Although comprehensive aid figures are not available, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has spent more than $100 million to repair mobile homes and equip many with quake-resistant bracing systems. The agency also has spent more than $5 million to help California mobile home residents affected by this year's floods.
Along with siphoning off tax dollars, the safety problems undermine what a report from the congressionally appointed National Commission on Manufactured Housing last year called the industry's "enormous potential" to provide quality housing for people with "very modest incomes." A 1993 survey put the median income of mobile home residents at $22,300 and found that more than half of manufactured housing had a market value of less than $15,000.
But it is not only the poor or near-poor who are drawn to manufactured housing. Many people, particularly retirees, come to mobile home parks for amenities such as swimming pools, social activities and a neighborly atmosphere--an atmosphere that, statistics show, is also overwhelmingly white.
"They are looking for more of a sense of community," said Allan Wallis, author of a 1991 book on social and economic issues shaping the mobile home industry.
Or as Bailey, 77, who in her working days operated a restaurant, put it: "Mobile home living to me is just a big family."
Safety advocates and industry officials have plenty of disagreements, but there is consensus that the average mobile home being built today is a good product. "If properly installed, the modern manufactured home is as safe as any other dwelling," said Hadley of the Manufactured Housing Institute.
The trouble is, as he conceded, "we have an installation problem that must be solved."
Techniques to solve, or at least mitigate, that problem certainly exist. New, double-wide homes can be more securely installed, engineers and safety advocates say, for $400 to $1,200, depending on regional conditions. These tie-down systems, normally designed as a safeguard against high winds, use metal straps to secure a home to anchors sunk into the ground.
(The Los Angeles Unified School District, which like other school systems sets its own installation standards for mobile home-like temporary classrooms, requires tie-downs. In the Northridge earthquake, that paid off: The district says only one of its 200 "relocatable" classrooms slipped, and it sustained only minor damage.)
For the typical mobile home in California, state officials say, earthquake-resistant bracing costing around $2,600 can reduce seismic hazards. The devices, when they work properly, "catch" homes before they can move far enough to cut gas lines or tip over.
Increasingly, manufactured homes are being put on private lots. In some cases, these residences are securely bolted to poured concrete footings, much like conventional homes.
In traditional mobile home parks, though, that kind of permanent installation is almost unheard of.
That's largely because of the relatively high cost and the availability of cheaper options, such as the tie-down and earthquake-bracing systems. But another reason is that current laws, regulations and practices were devised with trailers in mind rather than today's mobile homes, which often are moved only once--when they are transported from the factory.
Where they are employed, the latest installation equipment and techniques are a comfort to residents. Hazel McAlister and her husband of 50 years, Jack, decided to move back to Oakridge even after their previous home was incinerated in a gas-fed fire sparked by the earthquake. She feels that her new, 2,100-square-foot home with its improved bracing system--paid for with $125,000 in insurance money--is secure.
"We know the danger that can happen without bracing, or with minimal bracing," she said. "Prevention is always better than having a tragedy."