More than 96,000 people driven from their Louisiana homes by Hurricane Katrina are spread out among 1,042 shelters in more than 25 states, according to a report in The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants to find by Oct. 15 more-permanent housing for the evacuees, including 55,000 who are living in Louisiana shelters.
While progress has been made, the agency is running into resistance from communities already taxed by refugees or simply fearful of an influx of newcomers.
FEMA has already evaluated more than 300 locations in the state for travel-trailer and manufactured-home communities. So far, only 33 of them meet FEMA criteria, said Ron Sherman, who leads the agency’s housing efforts.
Now the search is on for more places to put the temporary housing. Locations must include utilities such as water, sewer and electricity and enough open space to accommodate the trailers and mobile homes easily.
“Anything less than 10 acres, at this point we probably wouldn’t even look at,” Sherman said.
FEMA also wants to keep people fairly near where they’ve been staying since the storm because they may already have enrolled their children in schools and should be familiar with the area, Sherman said.
But the prospect of large trailer-park communities isn’t sitting well with many officials in outlying parishes.
The Ascension Parish Council has flatly told FEMA not to put temporary trailers in the parish. In a pointed resolution adopted with no opposition, the council noted its Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Up to 1,800 evacuees have stayed at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, a closed Winn-Dixie store was converted into a food distribution center, and more than 2,000 students have been added to the public school system.
Councilman Martin McConnell said the number of people in a FEMA trailer city would strain a parish already taxed by its Katrina response and the demands of already being the among the fastest growing parishes in the state.
“To instantly take on a disproportionately new number of people would just strain us beyond our means,” he said.
In Denham Springs’ Livingston Parish, Mayor Jimmy Durbin said he is opposed to FEMA setting up mobile homes on parking lots in the city. And Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer has said he doesn’t want any trailer cities set up in the parish at all.
At the Tangipahoa Parish in Hammond, the City Council appropriated $27,000 as seed money to encourage victims of Hurricane Katrina to make that city their new home. But after talking about FEMA moving mobile homes into the parish, the Parish Council passed measures to prohibit more than eight mobile homes per acre and to require privacy fences around new mobile-home parks.
West Baton Rouge Parish officials have said talks with FEMA for land for a large trailer park were halted after sharp public objections.
As for how long the trailer communities will exist, current law allows people to live in them for up to 18 months, Sherman said. But that timeline can be extended.
“I have no doubt it will be extended here,” Sherman said.