Amid Progress, Thousands Remain in Gulf Shelters

An estimated 95 percent of the people evacuated to shelters during hurricane Katrina have now moved into other housing. But federal officials did not meet Saturday's deadline to close all remaining shelters. They say scarce hotel rooms and delays in suppling trailers mean thousands of people are still living in shelters six weeks after the storm hit.

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Seven weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, American Red Cross officials say more than 14,000 people remain in emergency shelters. That's despite a deadline of yesterday for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to provide more permanent housing for all storm victims who need it. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.


Ever since the hurricane destroyed their home in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Dionne Thompson(ph) and her five children have been sleeping on cots with hundreds of other evacuees in the small town of Gonzales--communal living, no privacy, waiting for a real place to call home.

Ms. DIONNE THOMPSON (Evacuee): Comfortable place to lay your head, roof over your head, but it's starting to wear out, and I've been here seven and a half weeks. What's the holdup? What's the problem?

DEL BARCO: The number of people remaining at shelters has dropped dramatically in the past few weeks from a peak of about 273,000 around the country to just 15,000. But still, hundreds like Thompson are waiting for an available apartment or home, hopefully in or near New Orleans. But emergency officials say the enormous scope of hurricane damage has slowed down the process of getting them out of the shelters. Red Cross spokesperson Alisa Feldman says the agency couldn't meet the October 15th goal to empty all the shelters.

Ms. ALISA FELDMAN (American Red Cross Spokesperson): We're not about to shut our doors when there are people who still need help.

DEL BARCO: FEMA is expected to spend more than $400 million to put up evacuees in hotel rooms across the country. Many have moved out of shelters and into new mobile homes at new FEMA trailer parks. But housing is scarce throughout the hurricane-damaged South, and FEMA officials say getting land and permits to place new trailers is taking time. Red Cross spokesperson Denine Cooper(ph) adds that many of those still in shelters have special needs that make it more difficult to place them.

Ms. DENINE COOPER (American Red Cross Spokesperson): The focus right now on FEMA is to be sure that they identify all the people that need to be housed and get them into the appropriate housing, because obviously someone who lives in a wheelchair is not going to be able to get into a trailer.

DEL BARCO: Emergency officials in Louisiana say they're also frustrated by the slow pace of moving hurricane survivors through their next phase of recovery. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, New Orleans.

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