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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ordered a total of 70,000 Emergency Living Units (ELU) through the end of 2005 for Gulf Coast hurricane victims, according to Robert M. “Mac” Bryan, vice president of administration for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Another 30,000 to 35,000 traditional RVs were sold – mostly from dealers’ inventories – for hurricane-related purposes, according to Bryan.
FEMA spokesmen were unavailable for comment regarding this unofficial total of 100,000-plus units shipped to American’s hurricane zone.
“I’ve tried to interview everyone who knows anything about contracts with FEMA, including looking at some of the contracts themselves,” Bryan said.
Trailers were distributed, he said, primarily through third parties although some manufacturers had contracts directly with FEMA.
RVIA in November created the ELU designation to distinguish units built without holding tanks for emergency housing to FEMA’s specifications. Those units were exempted from the Go RVing assessment on the RVIA seal that is applied by manufacturers to each RV they ship. Of those ELUs, only about half had been built by the end of December, Bryan said.
Two manufacturers currently have FEMA contracts with April deadlines. Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind., received an order for 50,000 units, and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Riverside, Calif., has a supplemental contract to provide 3,100 trailers.
Fleetwood pressed eight factories in Oregon, California, Texas, Indiana, Maryland, Kentucky and Ontario, Canada, into service to build 7,500 travel trailers and 3,000 manufactured homes FEMA ordered soon after Hurricane Katrina. The last of those units shipped in December.
By far the largest FEMA contract for emergency housing – estimated at $500 million to $600 million – went to privately held Gulf Stream, which through January had shipped 32,000 of the 50,000 units ordered by FEMA in Katrina’s aftermath.
“FEMA is indicating that our last 18,000 is about what they think they will need to finish up the project,” said Dan Shea, Gulf Stream president of towable product.
The FEMA order for 50,000 trailers more than triples the 16,000 trailers Gulf Stream built in 2004, according to Shea, who declined to verify the value of the FEMA contract “because the number depends on freight and where they are delivered and so forth.”
Indiana dealer Tom Stinnett, owner of Tom Stinnett RV Freedom Center, Clarksville, Ind., and one of the dealers serving as a middleman in FEMA acquisitions, was the conduit for about 5,500 trailers from several manufacturers that were distributed through Gulf Coast-area dealers.
In late January, Stinnett said that FEMA had halted orders for additional trailers, primarily because thousands of units shipped south remained to be sited.
“They are regrouping down there,” said Stinnett. “For right now, purchasing by FEMA has come to a stop. We don’t know if it’s going to crank back up, but there are a lot of orders that are still being filled.
“The biggest problem is even if they are going to put a trailer in someone’s driveway who plans to rebuild their home, usually there’s no infrastructure – no electricity, water or sewer.”
Stinnett said that beyond the order for 2,000 small travel trailers from his dealership, he was the conduit for about 3,500 RVs built by about six smaller manufacturers that were distributed to Gulf Coast dealers who signed FEMA contracts to provide units.
“We acquired the units and worked with the dealers who had the contracts,” he said.
Donald J. Walter, president of Starcraft RV Inc., Topeka, Ind., said his company shipped the last of about 1,000 traditional 30-foot travel trailers through Stinnett to southern dealers the first week in February.
Walter, who serves with Stinnett as co-chairman of the Go RVing Coalition, said he didn’t build more hurricane-related units because of the need to supply his own dealer base.
“There was a lot more that we were asked to do, but there was no way we could do it and still keep our regular dealership network supplied,” Walter said.
While Bryan said he’s pretty confident about the 70,000 estimate on ELUs, he’s less certain about the estimate of 30,000 to 35,000 traditional RVs that were sold primarily from dealer inventory for hurricane-related duty.
“Identifying that community is difficult,” Bryan said. “The traditional self-contained vehicles that RVIA members sold to government agencies and private companies is going to be a tough number to determine.”