Florida Storm Victims Still in Temporary Housing

About 29,000 Florida residents still reside in temporary FEMA trailers, having lost their homes to last year's hurricanes. Lori Gillen of Gulf Breeze talks about life in a tiny trailer and preparations for the new hurricane season.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Hurricane season began this week and will last until November. Many residents of the Florida Panhandle are still devastated by the effects of last year's storms. Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne cost that state billions of dollars and displaced whole populations. About 29,000 people are reportedly still living in mobile homes in temporary FEMA trailer parks. Lori Gillen is one such resident. She joins us now from the studios of WUWF in Pensacola.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. LORI GILLEN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So you and your husband live in a trailer?

Ms. GILLEN: Yes, we do, in our front yard, where our magnolia tree used to be.

SIMON: Could you tell us what happened on the day of the hurricane?

Ms. GILLEN: Well, we were not staying in the house during the hurricane. We had gone to stay with family and friends. But when we came back the next morning, we had about four feet of storm surge that had come through, knocked down a door and just taken out our belongings in different directions down the street.

SIMON: What hurricane was this, Ms. Gillen?

Ms. GILLEN: This was Hurricane Ivan.

SIMON: So you more or less effectively--everything you had was destroyed?

Ms. GILLEN: Yes, just about. If you think about where the light switch is on your wall, everything below the light switch was damaged or destroyed.

SIMON: FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was there within hours, and do you feel that FEMA has been as helpful as it could be? Were they as quick as they could have been with aid?

Ms. GILLEN: The reaction time was amazing. I know we were all in shock and they responded very quickly.

SIMON: How long did it take for FEMA to get you a trailer?

Ms. GILLEN: The hurricane was September 16th. And we received our trailer on Thanksgiving Eve, so it was a very thankful Thanksgiving.

SIMON: Well, that's a little more than two months, wasn't it, that...

Ms. GILLEN: Yes.

SIMON: How did you live?

Ms. GILLEN: Well, fortunately, my sister-in-law lives down the road from us, and their house was not damaged, so we stayed in my niece's room with our two cats, and then my parents have a motor home, so when the bridges were passable we lived in their motor home. So there was a time, you know, before we received our trailer that it was exasperating.

SIMON: And how big is your trailer?

Ms. GILLEN: It is 30-by-8.

SIMON: Air-conditioned?

Ms. GILLEN: Yes, we do have air-conditioning. We've gotten to know a lot of things that we never knew about propane. It's a lot easier to run the air-conditioning than the heating unit. But then, of course, there's the water line and sewage line, and so a lot of things go into creating this little home in the front yards.

SIMON: May I ask what kind of insurance you had?

Ms. GILLEN: We have USAA insurance, and we did not have flood insurance because we weren't required to. We don't live in a flood zone, or didn't live in a flood zone. Now we do.

SIMON: You're going to rebuild a house on your property?

Ms. GILLEN: Fortunately, because we did not have any damage to our roof, we're able to rebuild our existing structure.

SIMON: How long will rebuilding take? Do you have any idea?

Ms. GILLEN: Ironically, we'll probably be finished about the time hurricane season is in full swing.

SIMON: This year then?

Ms. GILLEN: Yes, we're hoping this year.

SIMON: Do you mind if I ask--of all the things in your house, among your possessions that disappeared, what's been the hardest to bear?

Ms. GILLEN: Photos. Definitely. I love doing scrapbooking, so I had done our honeymoon and we had our wedding pictures and such, and, of course, my husband, yes, he did have a very large TV. It was one of the last things that he put on the street. We were actually eating lunch in the motor home at the time, and so we saw the people come and pick it up and he just kind of had to turn around and `I just don't want to see it.'

SIMON: And who says men have no emotion.

Ms. GILLEN: Exactly. Exactly. So I've learned that I can live without quite a lot, but what's most important is being with the people and the animals that you love.

SIMON: Thank you so much, Ms. Gillen.

Ms. GILLEN: You're welcome.

SIMON: Lori Gillen of Gulf Breeze, Florida.

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SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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