- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

PASCAGOULA, Miss. — Jerry Garner lives in a mobile home now, a brand new one the federal government set up on the lawn outside his storm-ravaged house. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently sent a crew to drop it off, and it’s not bad, for a mobile home, Mr. Garner said. It’s 32 feet long, and it’s got air conditioning, a microwave and a stereo with a CD player. It’s a little cramped for five, he said, — for his wife, two grown granddaughters and a friend of the family in addition to himself. But it’s better than sleeping on the porch, which is rarely comfortable, especially when you’re 69 years old and diabetic. “It’ll be home for a while, I guess,” Mr. Garner said. Behind him on the lawn was a pile of debris — plaster wallboard, warped furniture, moldy carpeting — pulled from his home after Hurricane Katrina. “I really do appreciate it. My health like it is, well, I’m just trying to survive.” Mr. Garner is the beneficiary of what some housing specialists have called the largest resettlement plan the federal government has ever attempted. The scale of the effort is immense. Hurricane Andrew, at the time considered one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States, destroyed 27,000 homes when it struck Florida in 1992. Congress had set aside $3.6 billion as of last week to house those whose homes were damaged or swept away entirely. FEMA has ordered 115,000 mobile homes and 80,000 travel trailers like the one sitting in Mr. Garner’s yard. They’re arriving at a rate of more than 500 a day in four cities throughout the South. They sit there, row after row of them, waiting to be sent on to places such as Pascagoula. Some people will stay put, with FEMA setting up mobile homes or campers in their yards or communities. Others will have to move — across town, or across the state — to impromptu communities. Critics of the plan worry that the government will create “trailer ghettos” that will hurt property values and tax the infrastructure of surrounding towns. They say it would be faster and easier for the government to distribute rental vouchers. Such vouchers allowed the first of 22,000 low-income families displaced by the 1994 Northridge, Calif., earthquake to move into new apartments within a week of the quake. Critics of the trailer plan also point out that there are more than 1.1 million rental units available throughout the South, with an average rent of less than $700 a month. Katrina showed no mercy as it tore through the Gulf Coast, and almost a month later, the 26,000 people who live in Pascagoula still are trying to get back on their feet. “This is my eighth hurricane, but I’ve never understood the force of water until I saw this on Sunday,” John Sykes said. The roof, nearly perfectly intact, is all that remains of his two-story brick home, which covered 6,100 square feet and sat about 100 yards from the gulf. “The storm surge was like Sherman going through Georgia,” he said, referring to Civil War Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. c Distributed by Scripps Howard

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