Saturday, October 29, 2005

Travel Trailer City

In a former cow pasture owned by the Louisania Corrections department, a town of 2,000 people rose in one month. It's not an official town. It's one of FEMA's travel trailer cities built to house evacuees until they can find permanent homes.

Wonda Bouffine has stuck fake flowers into the ground in front of her trailer. Don't plant real ones, she was told. She understands. No one is supposed to put down roots here. "We're only here temporarily 'til we get settled," she says.

Wonda was not the only resident to bend my ear today. Nevermind that I'm only a contractor working as a reporter for FEMA's new Recovery Channel, carrying a microphone and everything. Because I have a FEMA credential, someone thinks it's my fault that their heater doesn't work.

One woman had a posterboard with what she said was a partial list of unit numbers plagued by malfunctioning heaters or septic systems. Later a snaggle-toothed bleach blonde, who might have been attractive if only she had ever learned the value of flossing, accosted me to complain that FEMA had yet to pay off on her application for aid.

What do you do? I stood there and tried to listen sympathetically, figuring I would wear them down with non-commital nods.

Most people we met weren't angry. Why would they be. Two weeks ago, most were still sleeping on a floor somewhere with hundreds of their closest strangers. A private trailer with working water, heat and appliances must have seemed like paradise to some of them. Evacuees staying at travel trailer shelters FEMA has set up.

Unfortunately I spent so much time trying to extricate myself from conversations unsuccessfully that I didn't have time to stop and take any pictures. I've got to make a point of keeping my camera ready.

Shock of shocks, the FEMA PIO leader signed off on the script I wrote about Disaster Recovery Centers. I was sure that she'd want to suck every bit of the human-interest out of it but she only asked me to add a few details about the program.

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