Recovery Is Slow for FEMA Trailer Park Residents

A dispatch from Noah Adams, blogging from the Gulf Coast:

The Bay Village FEMA trailer park in Bay St. Louis is blinding white. At 3:00 in the afternoon there's just an edge of shade on the east sides of 168 trailers. All white, on gravel that's light gray. No trees.

The trailers have incongruous brand names for their present use: Cavalier, Coachman, Palomino, Jaguar. I checked at the security gate and they said they weren't letting reporters in, but at the nearby office the manager said, "Sure, we've got nothing to hide. Just don't knock on doors." He added, "I'll just make a courtesy call to FEMA to let them know what you're doing. (NPR's Kathy Lohr had a story back in July about drugs, robberies and abuse in some of the trailer parks in Mississippi.)

The trailers have plenty of room between them to park a car or a truck, but they are in close, uniform ranks. A few potted plants, some cooking grills. Everyone I meet is friendly. Lora Necaise is on her daughter's front steps sorting through some cans and boxes of food. "They cleaned out a trailer and put this stuff in the dumpster. Most of it's good and there's some disabled people over here I'll take it to. Lora is a single mom working at Wendy's. She has a trailer of her own in another part of the county.

Could she afford to move out? "I just spent $400 to get my 5-year-old daughter ready for kindergarten. Uniforms and supplies. They want $1100 at least for a house to rent in this county — if you could find one. No way I could do it." Her right arm was in a sling. She hurt her shoulder in the hurricane during the eight hours she spent in a boat. She thinks she'll need an operation to fix it.

I talked with Shea Kelley and Rachel Rollins, side-by-side trailer neighbors. Their husbands work in construction and the two women have just started a lawn care company called "Cutters 2." Today they'd been trimming trees and tearing off siding. I ask them how long they think they'll be living in the trailers. "That's what we want to do: get out," one replies, and the other adds, "I think we'll be out in a year, with the money from this company."

People who lost their homes are supposed to leave the FEMA trailers within 18 months dating from the storm. This park is under a management contract that expires next April. But it's clear there's no place to go, especially for lower income renters.

Before I went to Bay Village I stopped by the offices of The Sea Coast Echo, the local paper, to pick up back issues and meet Goeff Belcher, the news editor (a FEMA trailer resident himself). We talked about how long the trailers would be here and he said something that startled me: "The last trailer from Hurricane Camille in 1969 in Hancock County was washed away in the tidal surge from Hurricane Katrina."

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