Temporary FEMA housing units expected to return to Louisiana

AP News
|
Posted: Aug 24, 2016 3:06 PM

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Thousands of south Louisiana residents remain stuck in shelters, living in hotels or staying in the spare bedrooms of family and friends after flooding ravaged their homes, creating a housing crunch that may bring back temporary housing units like those that dotted the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

Just don't call it a FEMA trailer.

The much-maligned travel trailer that filled front yards and miles of vacant property in south Louisiana and Mississippi a decade ago became a symbol of everything that had gone wrong with the federal disaster response to the destructive 2005 hurricane. Families were crammed into tiny trailers that drew health worries after toxic levels of formaldehyde were found.

Gov. John Bel Edwards stressed that he prefers a quick way to make homes habitable to get residents back inside, though he acknowledged some sort of modular housing could be needed that people can set up in their yards while repairing flood-damaged property.

The Democratic governor plans to unveil a package of transitional housing programs Wednesday afternoon that his administration and the federal government have developed as an alternative for Louisiana's latest residents displaced by disaster.

The housing problems are widespread. Entire neighborhoods were inundated with water, making homes uninhabitable, filled with mildewed carpets and warped cabinets. People have spent days gutting houses, stripping out furniture, walls and flooring. But some houses still could take days or weeks to dry out — and repairs could take even longer.

Described as the worst disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a storm that started Aug. 12 dumped as much as 2 feet of rain in some areas over two days, blamed for 13 deaths. Edwards estimated the flooding damaged more than 100,000 homes. About 2,600 people remained in shelters Wednesday, and more than 119,000 people have registered for federal aid.

Displaced by the flooding, Margaret Krumholt would welcome a trailer — or whatever type of mobile housing FEMA and the state want to offer — so her family could move back to their damaged property.

Krumholt, 46, and two of her children have been staying at a hotel in Hammond since their Denham Springs house flooded. Her husband is staying with his mother and the family's two dogs.

"We barely see each other. Our family is just kind of scattered right now," said Krumholt, in line at an aid distribution center outside of a flooded church where food, clothing and other supplies were being distributed.

President Obama toured the flood damage Tuesday and promised an effective and rapid federal response. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro will travel Thursday to Baton Rouge to meet staff working on recovery and survey flood damage. HUD has 24 disaster recovery and housing experts on the ground in the region.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate has pledged that any temporary housing units that will be offered are "much improved models" and "not the FEMA travel trailers" of old.

Earlier this year, FEMA unveiled what it described as "new and improved" trailers, eschewing the term trailer in favor of "manufactured housing units." The agency says the temporary housing — used in California after wildfires last year — meets tougher federal standards and is built to house storm victims much longer than the travel trailer used after Katrina.

Jessica Jones, 39, greeted the idea of a FEMA trailer without objection Wednesday. The single mother of three has been staying at her boss' home in Baton Rouge, with no long-term plans of where she'll go since her Livingston Parish home was damaged in the flooding.

"It's very important that we stay where we're at. I don't have a lot of family down here," she said.

Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry said he would appreciate the FEMA mobile homes in his city, where he estimates 90 percent of homes were damaged in the flooding. Landry said it will be crucial to get these mobile homes in place before schools begin to reopen.

"If we can put a family in some sort of a housing facility in their yard, at least it would give the children some sense of normalcy," he said. "I'm looking for every option where we can keep everybody here, keep our community together as much as we possibly can."

___

Kunzelman contributed to this story from Denham Springs.