2,700 FEMA trailers still being staged in Purvis

Published 11:46 pm Saturday, July 29, 2006

Temporary housing has been a household word in Mississippi since the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived to the Gulf Coast with small travel trailers. Now they are on their way back to the agency for re-use.

Most temporary housing units for the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana were staged at the 172 acre site in Purvis. Through the site more than 44,000 travel trailers were deployed throughout Mississippi, according to a press release from FEMA. Currently about 6,300 travel trailers have been deactivated and processed at the Purvis site and 1,600 are still in varying stages of deactivation, the release states.

A major complaint Hurricane Katrina victims had after the storm was the long wait to get a travel trailer while so many were staged at the Purvis site. Mike Miller of FEMA said the problem was not that the units were not being moved from the Purvis site fast enough it was the application process that held some victims back. Most application hold ups were attributed to the lack of complete application information on the part of the applicant, Miller said. Miller said the Purvis location fulfilled every request for a travel trailer promptly with 500 trailers leaving the site a day. Another hold up for some victims could be they were some of the last to apply for assistance, Miller said.

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“If you’re standing at the end of the line when it’s chow time you’re going to be the last one to eat,” Miller said.

The trailers could not be moved faster from the site since all available contracted movers were already working, Miller said. In other instances FEMA had to wait for utilities to be installed before the trailers could be occupied, said FEMA representative Crystal Payton.

“It can never be fast enough for a family that is still waiting,” Payton said.

While Payton said that overall response was fast in the last disaster it could have probably been better. Miller said FEMA is conducting training to increase efficiency of overall response.

“So the next time around we should be able to do the job,” Miller said.

Now about 100 units a day are being picked up for refurbishment or sale after occupants move to new locations, such as rebuilt homes or new places of residence, Miller said. When trailers are brought in they are inspected for defects of functionality in electrical, propane, and general maintenance, Miller said.

There are three types of classifications for reuse of the travel trailers as they arrive, refurbish for the damaged units still within cost range, clean and make really for the units that require little more than a sprucing, and the ones that are auctioned off on the Internet, Miller said. Those units that are auctioned off are units that require more than $1,500 in repairs and so deemed not economically viable, Miller said. Units that can be restored are used again for this disaster event or saved for future events, Miller said.

“They are not just for hurricane victims, we have flooding and tornadoes (as well),” Miller said.

Units that are not economically viable for repairs are sold on an online auction held by General Services Administration, Miller said. So far 40 units have been sold in preliminary auctions, Miller said. The agency plans to start with about 18 units per auction then hopes to reach 50 units per week, Miller said. Residents who lived in a damaged unit are usually not held responsible for damages since most damages arise from normal wear and tear, said FEMA representative Sid Melton. If damage to the unit is extreme then the resident could be held responsible, Melton said.

FEMA still urges travel trailer residents not to move their FEMA temporary housing in the instance of another storm, Miller said.

“We do not need to have travel trailers out on the road,” Miller said, “They do not need to be moving those trailers.”

However FEMA has plans to evacuate as many of the travel trailers housed at the Purvis site as they can in the instance of a storm. Beginning 86 hours prior to projected landfall as many as 500 trailers a day can be moved until 24 hours before landfall to give residents proper time to evacuate, according to the press release issued at the tour.