Gulf Evacuees Speak Up at FEMA Events

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This weekend, FEMA and the Louisiana Recovery Authority held "open houses" for evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In 30 locations across the country, people could come and make suggestions for how their communities should be rebuilt. In Baton Rouge and elsewhere, evacuees came by various stationsto write their suggestions for long-term planning.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This weekend, people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had a chance to say how their communities should be rebuilt. FEMA and the Louisiana Recovery Authority held more than 30 open houses for evacuees across the country.

NPR's Ben Bergman attended the meeting in Baton Rouge and filed this report.

BEN BERGMAN reporting:

Forums for evacuees are usually set up with rows of chairs and microphones for people to loudly vent their frustrations.

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This room looks more like a science fair. There are booths all around with colorful posters inviting evacuees to write down how they would rebuild. One of the displays is called Visions. It asks, When you think about your community in five or 10 years, what do you want to see?

Margie Guillar(ph) is scribbling her suggestions on a pad of paper. She got to Baton Rouge two weeks ago, after being in Houston since the storm. Her house in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood had eight feet of water in it for weeks.

Ms. MARGIE GUILLAR (Resident, New Orleans): And I would like to see better streets. I'd like to see better schools. I'd like to see a solution to the crime problem in general. I don't know if there's a catch-all, fix-all for all of these things but it would be very nice. It would be nice if I could go back to it just like it was. Considering the places that I've been.

BERGMAN: Guillar is one of the few people in her area who have gotten a trailer from FEMA. But there's still no power to plug it into and Guillar worries about going back to a dark deserted neighborhood. Still, she's glad to have a trailer to at least go back to during the daytime.

Ms. GUILLAR: It may not seem like much, but to people who have been displaced for five months, it's a lot.

BERGMAN: With such pressing worries like just figuring out where she's going to live, Guillar says she doesn't mind taking a step back and looking at the long term. But her niece, Veronica Guillar (ph) sitting next to her at the Vision station, wonders if anyone is listening.

Ms. VERONICA GUILLAR (Resident, New Orleans): A lot of times what we say really don't matter seem like. And, it seem like the politicians and the other people really have all of the say.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Democrat, Louisiana): Our voice, our plan, our future is all about your voice, your plan, your future. And we ...

BERGMAN: Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco assures people she is listening. She's here, continuously looped on a video monitor while attending the open house in Atlanta in person. Blanco plans to compile all of the pages of suggestions from these events into a report. It's part of the process that will help decide how to use the billions of dollars that will be spent to rebuild southern Louisiana.

At times, the workers here outnumber the evacuees.

Rose Bourgeois (ph), whose Uptown New Orleans house was flooded, appreciates that there's so many people to listen to her suggestions.

Ms. ROSE BOURGEOIS (Resident, New Orleans): I'd like to see the levys at least rebuilt up to standard. I'd like to see a better clean up effort. And I just think everything's moving at such a snail's pace.

BERGMAN: Bourgeois is at the Guiding Principles for Recovery station. She's given three red dots to put next to the principles she sees as most important to rebuilding.

Ms. BOURGEOIS: Home ownership opportunities must be provided for people of every income, race and ethnicity.

BERGMAN: Bourgeois is here with her husband August, a postal worker who still works in New Orleans and drives the hour's commute to Baton Rouge. He has a much more immediate concern, building strong levys that could withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

Mr. AUGUST BOURGEOIS (Resident, New Orleans): A lot of people right now are on the fence about whether to come back and start even repairing houses, because we have hurricane season coming up in May.

BERGMAN: After putting their red dots on the wall the Bourgeois skipped the rest of the booths. They have to spend the rest of the day moving the few belongings they have left into a new temporary apartment in Baton Rouge.

Ben Bergman, NPR News, New Orleans.

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