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Old 03-13-2007, 12:09 AM   #1
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Hurricane FEMA

The locals referred to FEMA as Fix Everything My Ass

We called it Hurricane FEMA
Trailer park in Louisiana quickly emptied by federal agents

HAMMOND, La. - Shortly after noon, FEMA agents began rapping on the trailer doors, their knocks resounding inside the tinny white homes. Everyone in the park, the agents announced without warning, would have to pack and leave within 48 hours.

Where do we go now?


What about school?

To the residents of the Yorkshire Mobile Home Park, all of them families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency crews offered answers that were uncertain and sometimes contradictory. As residents spilled out of their homes to meet their similarly bewildered neighbors, the adults wondered where they would be sent next, and how far they might wind up from their jobs. Some began sobbing. Then the children, seeing their parents' tears, began crying, too. A woman fainted, and an ambulance came.

"It was like shock and awe," recalled Ron Harrell, 40, a tenant. "We called it Hurricane FEMA."

The Yorkshire residents were eventually scattered to other FEMA parks. But their sudden evacuation last weekend illustrates the upheavals that still accompany life in a government trailer park 18 months after the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

About 12,000 households in Louisiana live in such settlements, temporary arrangements that only out of desperation are being stretched out indefinitely.

Almost all of the trailers' occupants were renters before the storm; unlike homeowners, they received no direct rebuilding assistance from the federal government. Some parks are rife with crime. Others are in isolated rural areas, far from schools and bus routes. Some trailers are in poor condition.

Park tenants are keenly aware that they are not particularly welcome where they have ended up. Fearing blight, many local communities have tried to block FEMA trailer parks, and several are trying to enact deadlines for the removal of trailers.

FEMA itself seems torn between closing the parks and serving the poor evacuees squeezed out by the scarcity of housing since the hurricane. Several times since Katrina, the agency has threatened to close the parks, only to grant an extension. Under the latest deadlines, tenants have until August to find other homes, but many seem unsure what they will do then.

"People say we shouldn't still be living in a FEMA park," said one former Yorkshire tenant, a Wal-Mart worker who wanted to be identified only as "P." "But take a look at the rents people have to pay in New Orleans now -- who can afford that?"

Unwelcome visitors
The evacuation of Yorkshire March 3-4 had its roots in the three-way political and legal wrangling among the site's owners, local officials and FEMA. That tension is mirrored across Louisiana and Mississippi, where scores of trailer parks have opened since Katrina.

Before it was emptied, 58 families lived at the Yorkshire park. Their trailers were arranged on either side of a gravel road in a rural area about an hour north of New Orleans.

Under a contract initiated the month after Katrina, owners Frank Bonner and Ken Albin were to get $42,700 per month in rent from FEMA.

The residents began arriving about six weeks after the storm.

Eventually, some found jobs as aides for the elderly or the mentally retarded, some as workers at Wal-Mart, and some as housekeepers. Some are disabled. Many are single mothers.

The appearance of such parks in Tangipahoa Parish, as elsewhere, was not entirely welcome. For months, Tangipahoa officials sought to slow the growth of FEMA trailer camps. At one point, parish President Gordon Burgess called on Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) to intervene with FEMA.

Trailers "were moved in the middle of the night," Burgess explained. "People woke up and they'd have a FEMA site next door."

At about the same time FEMA and the property owners were fighting over the terms of the contract, the owners clashed with the parish over approval for their trailer parks.

A newspaper article appears to have precipitated the mass evacuation. Two days before the evacuation, the Daily Star of Hammond published a story about the latest power outage at Yorkshire. It was the third in recent months, the newspaper reported, and it happened because the electric bill had not been paid.

Owners Bonner and Albin, who are responsible for the bill, which ran about $15,000 a month, blamed FEMA for not paying rent on time; FEMA officials have said they paid promptly after they were invoiced.

"Quite frankly, we received press earlier that week that pointed the finger at FEMA for not paying the bills. We were getting beaten up," said Jim Stark, director of FEMA's Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office. "At this point, we said, 'Enough is enough.' "

The park would be evacuated, and quickly, FEMA officials decided. Officials began telling tenants to pack up even before the agency had decided where they would go.

'We just wanted to be out'
FEMA told residents and reporters that the people had to be moved for their own protection: The agency feared another power outage, officials said, and the trailer park's sewage system, which sometimes smelled, posed a health hazard.

But at the time of the evacuation, the power was on, the bill paid. State health officials deemed the sewage plant, for which the owners are responsible, free of violations, according to Brian Mistich, who oversees state inspections in the area. Although some complained of the stench from the plant, state officials said some odors from the facility are unavoidable -- and legal.

In an interview Friday, Stark said he made the decision to vacate the park based largely on the possibility of more power outages. Although many residents said they were told they had to leave within 48 hours, Stark said it was not meant as a deadline.

"Could we have done a better job on this? Absolutely," he said. "We just wanted to be out of there."

Nearly all tenants interviewed said there was no reason to have moved, or at least no reason to have moved so suddenly.

'From bad to worse'
Several tenants fought back tears last week as they explained why they would rather be back at Yorkshire. Even those who said the park did at times stink preferred it to their new location.

Shametha LaFrance and her five children were moved from Yorkshire into another FEMA mobile home, where, on the second day, the toilet backed up and the water stopped running.

Darcelin Turner, 49, was relocated to a trailer in Belle Chasse, more than an hour away. She commutes every morning to bring her children to their school in Hammond; she does not want to transfer them again.

Several others who moved to a site near the Hammond airport said that the new park is crime-ridden and that they would prefer to be back at Yorkshire. Out of fear, they said, they venture outside less and keep a close watch on their children.

"They took us from bad to worse," said Lekesha Vernon, 27, a mother of two, one of those moved to the site near the airport. "But when you have no other place to go, you have no choice."

The tenants said the sense of rootlessness that comes with the trailer life is affecting their children.

"I'm tired of tossing my kids around like a bouncing ball," LaFrance said. "And I hate waking up every day wondering what's going to happen next."

When she brought her 5-year-old to school last week, he would not let go of her and began crying.

He asked her: "Mama, are you going to be there when I get home?"

This is absolutely disgusting. I just returned from NOLA, so this is fresh in my mind and scratching at my heart. These people have lost everything, and are being neglected and mistreated. I couldn't imagine feeling abandoned by my own gov't after such a tragedy. I saw a graffiti when I was there, somebody spray painted on the wall: Our government cares more about foreign countries than it does its own people.

It is a damn shame.

Also, I don't want to say that it is false, but I saw something there completely contradictory to this article. Regarding the trailers, at least in the ninth ward, I only saw 2 or 3 of them in the entire place, and those were for the pastors living at the churches. There were no trailers for the other residents. When I asked why, I was told because they were renters, and not homeowners. That only homeowners got trailers. Everyone else got nothing. The Ninth Ward is now a ghost town, all that are left are memories. I think it is a shame that they were displaced and left to fend for themselves. This article isn't about the Ninth Ward though, so maybe things were done differently in different cities. If so, that makes it even worse. Here's some pictures I took:

where a barge crashed through and floated into town. it was too large to pick up with a crane, so it had to be dismantled.

a political statement and a cry for help

the entire time I was there I saw loads of volunteers helping out. but i didn't see a single gov't employee or military lift a finger. i only saw the nat'l guard drive through in their hummer...twice. i know i'm naive about a lot of things, but i just don't see why this type of work is being left in the hands of volunteers. i'm glad people wanna help, it is obvious that we care...however the officiais we elected into local and federal governments aren't paralleling this.

i wish these presidential hopefuls would speak more about revising the strategy to help these people here. i hear a lot about Iraq which is definitely a hot issue, but, unless I've missed something, I've heard nothing about rebuilding the gulf coast. I don't even think I've heard something about one of these candidates visiting this place since they have thrown their hats into the race. if someone has, PLEASE direct me, because it would really lift my spirits right now. from all that i've seen i just feel like the gov't doesn't really care.

what do you all think about this? i don't think we've discussed this issue in awhile.

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Old 03-13-2007, 06:35 AM   #2
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It's hard to believe that these pictures are just a few hours or days old

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Old 03-13-2007, 08:46 AM   #3
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That Baghdad picture says it all in so many ways. Apparently our government believes that the people in NOLA have to fix their situation themselves (and our govt seemed to believe that even when the hurricane was happening), but the Iraqi people in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq just can't. Not now and not in any time in the foreseeable future.
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Old 03-13-2007, 11:20 AM   #4
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Very true. It's a shame these conditions remain the same more than a year later. You know, MrsS, I was thinking that I'd hate to be living in that area, and knowing that my taxes are mostly going to other things than helping my own neighbor getting back into his home.

I can't help but think that if it had happen anywhere else or to anyone else other than the poor black people, the response would've been different.
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Old 03-13-2007, 11:37 AM   #5
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It is so disgusting making these people pack up and leave when they have nothing. Shame on our goverment.
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Old 03-13-2007, 01:03 PM   #6
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This is shameful.
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Old 03-13-2007, 04:03 PM   #7
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I feel that the local gov't there wants these poeple to leave.This way they can build homes that they could not afford.
On the other hand if you rent what would make you think the gov't must do something for you ,for this long?Don't get me wrong,I think it was disgusting the way the gov't dragged their feet.Spike Lee's movie spoke volumes about our Government.
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Old 03-13-2007, 04:10 PM   #8
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Mr. Blu & I are on board for a mission trip w/our church for Biloxi in May. I've been mentally trying to prepare myself for it for about a month now. I mean, not to distract from NOLA, but Biloxi, Gulfport - there are other towns still trying to get back on their feet as well. I guess, though, it makes sense that you would keep hearing about NOLA - I think everyone can agree that was the epicenter of Katrina and therefore more prevalent in the minds of reporters, the media, etc.

Like I said - not trying to distract from the problems in NOLA. I just hate to think of the other coastal towns being forgotten.
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Old 03-13-2007, 05:18 PM   #9
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No you're right, there are loads of other areas along the Gulf Coast that are still in the same shape as NOLA. I'm only speaking from personal experience because I've been to NOLA. I hadn't been anywhere else, and this article was relevant to my experience. I'm sure FEMA is treating many other residents all over like shit too. Actually, I think Pax Christian was the city that was the hardest often do we hear of them?

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Old 03-14-2007, 11:31 AM   #10
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I go to Gulf Shores, Alabama every April and last year, they were still very much recovering from Hurricane Ivan, which destroyed (as in, never to be rebuilt) probably half of the properties in the area and caused damage to every single one. The storm surge was greater than Katrina. I took this picture last year, they were still working on sifting the beach sand to clear out smaller debris.

But the difference is, most of these properties were sufficiently insured, and many of them are not permanent homes for actual residents. Many are/were owned by real estate companies that were able to quickly sort of triage on their own which could be fixed quickly and which would be total losses.

I cannot fathom NOLA just being left to rot, literally. Many residence did not have flood insurance, or any kind of insurance. My brother lives there now and is able to make a lot of money rebuilding homes, since the gov't is not going to help. The few who can afford it hire private contractors.

It's like a wasteland, completely abandoned. That "Baghdad" picture says it all.

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Old 03-19-2007, 08:25 AM   #11
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By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 17, 2007; A07

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has suggested that the slow recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina -- which has prevented many black former residents from returning -- is part of a plan to change the racial makeup and political leadership of his and other cities.

"Ladies and gentlemen, what happened in New Orleans could happen anywhere," Nagin said at a dinner sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group for newspapers that target black readers. "They are studying this model of natural disasters, dispersing the community and changing the electoral process in that community."

Nagin's remarks Thursday night recalled the controversy stirred up by his prediction in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech in 2006 that, despite the evacuation of thousands of black people in the wake of Katrina, New Orleans would once again become a "chocolate city." The mayor later apologized for the comment, which had infuriated many whites and African Americans.

Nagin, who won reelection last May over Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, referred obliquely to the "chocolate city" comment at the dinner and suggested that his assertion that New Orleans would once again be a majority-black city had made him a political target.

"Everybody in America started to wake up and say: 'Wait a minute. What is he doing? What is he saying? We have to make sure that this man doesn't go any further,' " Nagin told a room full of black newspaper publishers and editors at the Capital Hilton.

Referring to Landrieu, who is white, as "the golden boy," Nagin suggested his chance at reelection in the mayoral race had seemed slim because "they dispersed all of our people across 44 states with one-way tickets."

"They thought they were talking about a different kind of New Orleans," Nagin said. "They didn't realize that folks were awake, that they were paying attention."
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Old 03-19-2007, 02:05 PM   #12
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Thanks so much for the photos and observations Mia, I was wondering how your trip had gone. We took in a Katrina evacuee family for a few months at the time and the renters-vs.-owners thing you mentioned was part of why it ultimately proved unfeasible for them to move back. At least they were 'lucky' enough to have had (just) enough money to get themselves out of there and have a little left over, which enabled them to rent a place here after working and saving up for a couple months. And yeah, Pass Christian is still a near-total loss; Biloxi at least benefits *somewhat* from having the casino industry to lean on. I have talked to a couple people from my hometown (too far north to be seriously damaged, though like all Mississippi counties there was enough of it to qualify them for public aid) who've been involved with various private relief efforts, and they report that much of southern MS remains in bad shape. Basically, most everywhere in the affected region, the perception seems to be: private 'disaster relief' available for those who can afford it, otherwise expect to keep scrabbling by with whatever faltering, poorly managed and woefully-through-to-shockingly inadequate public assistance you can get.

That said, I don't fully understand the mentality of those who do have the money to rebuild and go about doing it, on the apparent reasoning that the returns will keep justifying the costs, even though the longterm economic prospects for many of these areas remain deeply in doubt and it's a given that more Category-4s-and-5s will continue to occur. Of course you could argue that most any area in the coastal South is ultimately taking the same gamble, but especially in a place like New Orleans which already lies below sea level and continues to sink (a problem which the levee system ironically aggravates), it's hard for me to see the 'wisdom' in doing this in the absence of a comprehensive, very generously federally funded plan to both overhaul the outdated levee system and get an intensive wetlands remediation project going, neither of which are clearly in the offing as of yet.

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