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Doug Anderson, county administrator in St. Lucie, Fla., is trying to figure out what the county should do if a hurricane displaces residents.
“At this point, St. Lucie County has not been informed of what type of temporary housing will be made available for our residents should it be needed in lieu of not being able to use the trailers,” Anderson said. “This raises a major concern for us.”
According to the Vero Beach Press-Journal, federal forecasters upgraded their outook for the Atlantic hurricane season last week to include two more named storms – 14 to 18 – than previously predicted. Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
After hurricanes Frances and Jeanne hit in 2004, the county successfully used travel trailers and mobile homes now stored on the St. Lucie County Fairgrounds – an option Anderson was counting on because the trailers are convenient and battle-tested. The homes are used when people have housing damage that cannot be repaired by tarps or other short-term options.
But when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released its 2008 Disaster Housing Plan in June, the plan called for using the trailers only as a last resort because of health concerns that cropped up when the trailers were used for Hurricane Katrina victims. Some had high levels of formaldehyde.
FEMA recommended finding unused apartments and hotel rooms, but Anderson said that’s not an option because the inventory spared by a hurricane often is filled up with contractors immediately after a storm.
On July 31, Anderson sent a letter with his concerns to Craig Fugate, director of the state Division of Emergency Management. FEMA officials said they hadn’t yet seen the letter.
Roy Dunn, the agency’s regional coordinator and county liaison, said the state plans to apply for trailer use in case of a natural disaster, mainly because it has worked before.
“As we learned in 2004 and 2005, an RV travel trailer is certainly an option for the state of Florida,” Dunn said. “We’re going to be requesting travel trailers.”
FEMA spokeswoman Alexandra Kirin said the use of trailers must be approved by FEMA, but the organization is looking to states to provide plans that best fit their needs.
“We’ve asked the state to take the lead in developing a housing task force,” she said.
Kirin said she did not know off-hand whether the trailers in St. Lucie County are useable, but FEMA or the state could pull housing units from other areas.
With the peak of hurricane season coming soon, “we need to know what the plan is,” Anderson said.