Residents frustrated after mobile home park closes storm shelter

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HAYS, Kan. -- Residents of one mobile home community in Hays are concerned after their park suddenly closed its storm shelter.

A KAKE News viewer contacted us to investigate what was happening on the property and if its actions are legal.

CHANGING OWNERSHIP
The park, Countryside Estates, is owned by Saddleback Valley Communities, which has owned the property for about three years. The area has gone through a few owners in the past 10 years, according to Van Witthuhn, a former owner of the property and current owner of Countryside Homes.

The shelter is located on Witthuhn’s business property, which is next to Countryside Estates. It is not a part of the mobile home park. Due to liability and insurance costs, Witthuhn would rent out the storm shelter to the park. He said he’s offered to rent the property out to SVC, but it’s never taken his offer.

“I guess in the switch, there wasn’t an agreement on any of the stuff, so that’s why we’re not able to use the shelter,” said resident Shelby Ramirez.

Ramirez currently lives at Countryside Estates with her husband and five kids. She’s frustrated that they don’t have access to a shelter.

“I’m surprised they aren’t providing it anymore. It’s frustrating,” she said.

IS IT LEGAL?
There is no state requirement for mobile home parks to provide a storm shelter to residents, said Sharon Watson with the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department. However, there may be requirements for businesses on a city level.

Hays does not require that parks provide residents a shelter, and public shelters do not exist in the community, said Bill Ring, director of Ellis County Emergency Management.

Residents like Ramirez would like SVC to reconsider a shelter, so families can have a dependable place to go to during a storm.

“I would love for a shelter out here, because I’d rather it be near my home if there was bad weather,” she said. “And it’s frustrating that there isn’t a shelter for us and that we do have to go somewhere else, which my destination is across town.”

PREPARING FOR THE STORM
Ring recommends that people do not rely on public buildings, like a courthouse or a church because they could be closed. He said in the case of the storm in Baxter Springs this past weekend, some residents were locked out of a storm shelter.

Instead, he recommends that people go to a family or friend who has a basement or shelter. In addition, he said people do three things: have an emergency preparedness kit packed, including food, flashlights, a first-aid kit and other essentials; develop a plan for fire, floods, tornadoes and other storms; and stay informed by having a weather radio and access to media, if possible. He said more resources are available at www.ready.gov.


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