The emergency housing that provided shelter for so many for so long – ubiquitous homes on wheels commonly called FEMA trailers – became as much a symbol of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath locally as blue-tarped roofs.

Now the acres of trailers that sprung up in staging areas across the Pine Belt are beginning to be gleaned in large swaths at a time.

The U.S. General Services Administration is conducting a public, online auction of 483 travel trailers from the 2,708 trailers in the Carnes staging area near Brooklyn. The sale of the travel trailers will close Friday, according to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion Ledger.

It is believed to be the largest, single lot to be sold at one time in Mississippi.

“We’re trying it out to see how it goes,” said Alicia Paris, an administrative assistant who transferred from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Gulfport office to help with trailer sales. “We’re hoping that things run smoothly, that they’re sold and gone.

“The faster we do, the more we save the government.”

The trailers, mobile homes and later, cottages, were used as temporary housing for those whose homes were ravaged by the storm. At the peak, more than 43,000 households in Mississippi required housing assistance from FEMA.

That program officially ended in May, and according to the agency’s figures in late August, the number of Mississippi households still in temporary housing had dwindled to 441.

Mississippi is home to five staging areas, where trailers were first brought for distribution after the storm and then became storage areas as people found permanent housing and no longer needed them.

A 70-acre stretch in Purvis served as the hub, before spokes were added in Lumberton and Hickory Grove in Lamar County, Carnes in Forrest County and Columbia in Marion County.

Most were sold in small lots the first few years, usually fewer than 100 at a time. But sales stalled in the summer of 2007 when health concerns were raised because of formaldehyde used in the trailers’ construction.

The sales resumed in earnest this year.

Paris described the lot being sold at Carnes as “7’s,” which means all are repairable and can be used as temporary housing.

An estimated 33,000 to 35,000 trailers or mobile homes remain in the five staging areas, including about 12,000 near Columbia.