- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) — It has been 11 months since Hurricane Katrina hit, and Janice Tambrella still does not have a home. She doesn’t even have a trailer of her own.

Miss Tambrella is jammed in with 10 other relatives in a single trailer delivered to a luckier relative. Sleeping on the floor, living out of cars surrounded by overgrown grass and storm-felled trees, she sighs, “I need a place to stay.”

Nearly 1,200 St. Bernard Parish families are still waiting to get into trailers that sit locked on their home sites but need utilities or other services, and 400 families waiting for trailers have none at all, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The families say countless calls to FEMA have failed to help.

“The trailer situation is ridiculous,” said St. Bernard Parish President Henry “Junior” Rodriguez, who is often is asked to help but doesn’t have the authority to do so.

FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said that he understands people are frustrated with the wait, but that workers are filling requests as fast as they can. He notes the agency has provided housing assistance to more than 900,000 people regionwide since Katrina hit. Most years, the agency handles only 2,000 to 3,000 people.

“If you look at the sheer numbers, we’ve been very successful,” he said.

In this parish adjoining New Orleans, virtually no one was spared massive flooding from the storm surge and breaks in the flood-control system; all but a handful of the 27,000 homes were inundated with water. Almost none has been repaired.

Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune reported yesterday that St. Bernard had fewer pre-Katrina residents in June than in March. The paper’s analysis of change-of-address forms filed with the U.S. Postal Service showed that about 1.1 million of the region’s 1.5 million pre-Katrina population, 73 percent, had returned.

In New Orleans, 37 percent, or 171,000, residents had returned, the paper said, far fewer than official claims, which include temporary workers.

People in the parish and region say they’re also having trouble getting rid of trailers they no longer need.

Kathie Acosta lived in a trailer while fixing up a house that got 2 feet of water. Now, she can’t seem to get it taken away. She keeps refusing inspections and covering the FEMA identification numbers, hoping the government will confiscate it.

“They keep calling and want to inspect propane lines, and I say, ‘No. Don’t come on my property. Take it away,’” Miss Acosta said.

Mr. Walker said it takes time to remove trailers because the same workers setting them up are the ones taking them away. He said workers can’t simply haul an unused trailer to another site.

But in some cases, Mr. Rodriguez is doing just that, even though it’s illegal. When warned by a FEMA official that he could get in trouble, the blunt, profanity-prone leader challenged the agency to jail him.

He said he has no choice.

“We’re not like New Orleans. We don’t have alternate places for them to live,” said Mr. Rodriguez, noting that at least 20 percent of New Orleans was spared flooding while none of his parish was.

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