FEMA Sets up Initial Temporary Housing for Evacuees
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
More than a month after Hurricane Katrina, more than 40,000 people here in Louisiana are still in shelters. They're waiting for temporary housing. This week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency hopes to begin moving the first group of shelter residents into trailers in the town of Baker, Louisiana. NPR's Greg Allen visited Baker to get a look at the town's newest subdivision.
GREG ALLEN reporting:
Until just a few weeks ago, this was a cow pasture. Now there are nearly 600 travel trailers arranged in rows, each with its own power and water hookup. About the only thing missing is people. FEMA says it won't be ready to start transferring evacuees here from shelters for another few days. One person checking out the trailers, though, was Larry Beasley. He was there to see what he could do to make sure that among the first ones moved in would be evacuees staying at a shelter in Baker that's operated by his church, Faith Baptist.
Mr. LARRY BEASLEY: Our concern right now is these people are still--a lot of them, there's nowhere for them to go. And we're in a temporary situation sleeping on a gym floor, and we're concerned about trying to get them into some semblance of a privacy until such time as they can go back to where they were from, which some of them it's going to be a long time.
ALLEN: There are four shelters in Baker holding a few hundred people. And at each shelter, people are asking the same question: When will they be moved? Since Hurricane Katrina, Antoinette Lewis Jones(ph), her husband and her two kids have all been calling Baker's Municipal Auditorium home. Jones says she's wonders why, when people in other states have long since moved into temporary housing, she and others in Louisiana are still sleeping in auditoriums and in church basements.
Ms. ANTOINETTE LEWIS JONES: I know my family members, some of them went to Texas and they got four and five bedroom houses and stuff like that. They've been in their homes and here I am still in a shelter ...(unintelligible) after the storm.
ALLEN: FEMA concedes that its efforts to transfer people from shelters to temporary housing in Louisiana is going slower than expected. James McIntyre, a FEMA spokesperson, says the agency has had a hard time finding space in southern Louisiana suitable for hundreds of trailers.
Mr. JAMES McINTYRE (FEMA Spokesperson): A lot of times, in states and communities that we go in, there are facilities and space available that have existing pads and parks that have existing pads that we can use and place very quickly. Well, we didn't find that here in Louisiana. So that meant that we had to find green space and turn that into parks, which means the pads have to be developed.
ALLEN: McIntyre says FEMA is negotiating for the use of several sites in the New Orleans area, each of which will accommodate 500 trailers or fewer. Once the contracts and permits are signed, McIntyre says FEMA and its contractors can have a temporary trailer park up and running within two weeks.
(Soundbite of high school football game)
Children: (In unison) Two bit, four bit, six bits a dollar. All for the cause; stand up and holler.
ALLEN: At the Baker High School football stadium, the stands are full, the crowds are cheering, the players and cheerleaders are six, seven and eight years old. At the refreshment stand, Ramsey Seagrist(ph) is cooking hotdogs and sausages on the grill. He's also the football league's director. He says like all of Louisiana, Baker has been changed by Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. RAMSEY SEAGRIST (Baker's Football League Director): We've got a lot more traffic than what we ever had. Our schools and everything has grown and everything. I know for a fact, for the high school here, has taken in almost 200 kids just from the New Orleans area.
ALLEN: People in Baker say after Katrina, the town welcomed the evacuees with open arms. There were a few questions, though, when people learned that for the indefinite future, Baker is now going to be home to some 600 trailers. Harold Rideau is Baker's mayor.
Mayor HAROLD RIDEAU (Baker): They heard all the rumors that were coming out of New Orleans, and as we're discovering, most of those were rumors. When I think if you walked out and then talked to the people in the shelter, they might have some reservations about us, and I think they do. They don't know us and we don't know them, but as we come together and we communicate, we'll get to learn each other and realize that we pretty much have the same values.
ALLEN: Rideau's office, as it happens, is next door to the Municipal Auditorium where 220 of his town's newest residents are currently making their home. He's doing all he can to make sure that those who want to can move from the auditorium to the town's newest subdivision of travel trailers just down the street. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.
RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): You are listening to NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.