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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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Click 'Play' to see and hear Curt Dunstan, a Bechtel engineer, describe the appointments of a FEMA-issued travel trailer.

If pictures of the wholesale devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast are what the American public remembers most about this disaster, then the bright white, 35-foot aluminum breadbox known as a "FEMA trailer" is a close second for Katrina's most iconic image.

These FEMA trailers dot the landscape here like metallic dominos, strewn along the Gulf Coast in patterns as random as the hurricane winds that took the dwellings they now replace. In other areas the trailers sit in neat tight rows, as if aligned by some control freak construction foreman.  Such areas are known as "emergency group"  sites -- or "egg" sites as FEMA personnel call them. They amount to aluminum subdivisions, complete with their own water, sewer and electric hook-ups; they have roads and even centralized laundry facilities in some cases.

Each 280-square-foot trailer is a self-contained study in pure economy class. The trailers are set up to sleep six -- a double bed in the “master” bedroom, bunk beds in the other bedroom and two on a sleeper sofa in the main living area. One adult might be able to ride out the maximum 18 months the trailers are on loan from FEMA, but toss in two adults and a couple of kids and perhaps a grandparent and you “have to live your life in shifts,” as one Bay St. Louis resident put it.

The units soak up outside cold and heat with fiendish efficiency, making them unbearable to live in without constantly running the heater or air conditioner, neither of which was meant to operate full time. Thankfully the trailers are hooked right into the local water and sewer system, alleviating the need for storage tanks or septic systems. And if you thought the hot water ran out fast at your house (which probably has a standard 60 gallon water heater), the water heater in a standard FEMA trailer has an almost cruel 10 gallon capacity. The one “luxury” provided is a microwave; however, the standard 1.4 cubic ft. capacity of the appliances would make even a student at state college turn up his or her nose.

In order to get into a FEMA trailer, you have to qualify as having lived in a house that is either no longer there or is uninhabitable. In order to prove you lived in the area, you need to show FEMA some verifying documentation.

"Proving you're a resident here, with all the documentation wiped out, has been a problem," says Sam Lamport, FEMA's division supervisor for Hancock County.
The process of applying and occupying a FEMA trailer can take "nearly 4-6 weeks," according to an agency fact sheet dated Dec. 5. The displaced must call FEMA and apply, then prove eligibility and then wait until a trailer comes available.

However, when MSNBC.com spoke to Lamport, there were 60-plus trailers ready to be moved into at a moment's notice, all located at "egg" sites. That seems to be at odds with one of the most common complaints one still hears around Waveland and Bay St. Louis: FEMA hasn't come up with the trailer they've promised to provide.

Lamport says it takes "three and four hours" to roll a trailer out of its staging area, set it at a home site, connect water, sewer and power lines and be ready for someone to move in. Bechtel, the private construction company that is under FEMA contract to install the trailers here, has been hooking up 150 trailers a day, Lamport says. But that number has dwindled significantly -- to about 50 per day -- because most of the need for trailer placements has now been filled, says Yogi Howell, FEMA's field supervisor in Hancock County.

'A lack of communication'

So why so many complaints? "It’s a lack of communication between the people that lost their homes and FEMA, because they didn’t call and say 'I need a travel trailer,'" says Lamport.

Howell, who is something of a disaster professional, having been in charge of installing FEMA trailers and other temporary housing for most of the country's major disasters of the last decade, including the Northridge earthquake in California, says "the travel trailer part of it is getting close to the end," and that soon FEMA will be concentrating on installing mobile homes.


In the end, Howell figures there will be about 9,000 travel trailers in Hancock County. But that's just a guess, he says.

"You’ll never know that until the last application is taken, and all the systems are weeded through," Howell says. "That’s a hard number to always get. There used to be a theory behind it, a kind of formula, to figure out how many travel trailers you might need, except that (theory) sort of went away these last few disasters."

And while emergency group sites may have empty trailers "right now," it's often the case that people want a trailer on their own property. "But in order to install a trailer on a person's property, there needs to be water, sewer and electricity," Lamport says. And space; if there is too much debris, a trailer won't be hooked up until a space can be cleared, Lamport says. If those criteria aren't met, no trailer gets installed. However, Lamport did say that someone living in a trailer at an "egg" site can eventually have that same trailer moved onto their property whenever the utilities and debris issues are resolved.

The process of setting up the trailers in the aftermath of Katrina has been more daunting than any previous disaster worked by Howell, who said, "it was a damn mind-boggling deal to even start with."

'A total wipeout'

There was just nothing to work with, Howell says. "Normally you go into a disaster, but your infrastructure and stuff is intact. You got water, sewer, electric ... or something that’s easily fixed," he says. "And here it was a total wipeout and all of your infrastructure being gone. It’s been a challenge from day one. Everywhere you turned there was another obstacle."

Howell said FEMA is now looking at developing mobile home sites, a much more permanent solution than travel trailers. But mobile home parks require more finesse; more permitting, more approval from city and local officials.

But that's needed because the clock on the little aluminum trailers is already ticking. Eighteen months after occupation, everyone is supposed to be out and moving into more permanent housing, Lamport says. That deadline started the day after Katrina hit, despite the fact that not a single FEMA trailer had yet been installed.

When asked about the fairness of the timing Lamport purses his mouth, hesitates for a long while and finally says, "That’s what the policy says. That’s how the program goes.” And then, in a quick, almost exasperated addendum he says, "I’m sure FEMA isn't going to kick anyone out after 18 months ... given the magnitude of this disaster."

And what happens if, after 18 months with the trailer, someone finds they really love the trailer life, can they buy it from FEMA? "No," Lamport says. "The trailers all go back the General Services Administration where they are auctioned off," he says.

So, if someone wants the trailer they've been living in for a year and a half, they have give it away, figure out how to bid for it, instead of being allowed to buy it outright from the government, and then figure out how to transport it back to the area  Lamport is silent when asked about the practicality of such a policy.

And just because the occupants of a FEMA trailer get to stay in it rent free doesn't mean they don't have obligations.

Occupants "are supposed to keep the trailers clean," Lamport says. "There’s a move-in inspection that is performed, noting any damages," he says. "And any damages they cause they are responsible for when there’s a move-out inspection."

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PUHLEASE!!!!!!!!! 3 or 4 HOURS to move and connect an RV trailer!! We have 35 ft 5th wheel RV with rooms that slide out. Once we get it to where we want it to be, it takes about 15-30 MINUTES to (1)level it; (2) pull out the electric cord and plug it in, (3) pull out the water hose, screw it on to the connection on the trailer and hook the other end to a water faucet, and (4) pullout the sewer pipe hose, attach it to the RV on one end and attach the other end to the sewer connection (and sometimes we get fancy and screw together PVC pipe or a more stable sewer line that drains better instead of just using the flexible hose.) Oh yeah - and add 5 minutes to unroll the awning. The crew who work at the RV campground where we store and primarily use our RV would fall down laughing at the idea of taking 3-4 hours to move and set up one RV. They bring the RV's out of storage, slap them in place and hook them up at the rate of 3 an HOUR!

Since FEMA won't bring the RV until the connections are in place on the site and useable, what in the world are they DOING that it takes 3-4 hours??

it's much better than a tent...looks nice ...but would not like to know a whole family has to live in one ...for very long

PUHLEASEEE!!!! keep in mind that the people involved are only doing their jobs and are even more worried about making a mistake than many of their clients. Most of them are hoping for a career that will be cut short or sidetreacked by an investigation into why they did or didn't do or not do something. Mr. Lamport actually made several potentually lifestyle changing statements depending on which congressional committee or Investgator General wants to look. There are numerable cases of government employees being lauded for a fine job responding to a situation one day and having a punitive letter placed in their file the next for the same action, because they didn't follow precedure.
As for the time spent setting up an RV trailler I can only point out that the number of man hours (people hours) to fetch the trailer, hook it up, do the paperwork, and manage the whole action through two or three levels, and inspect the work, could easily take 3 - 4 man hours. How many people actually work on that trailer of yours. Don't forget the park manager, the gate guard, etc. There are a lot of thing that get covered up by membership dues etc.
Last but not least. The job of FEMA is not to "make you whole again". FEMA is there to help you get by until other resources can kick in and this may take a while. In the case of the hurricane Isobel disaster in my area, there are many people just getting back into their homes after over two years. In some cases thje FEMA trailer was better than what they were flooded out of.

FEMA and their trailers are absolutely asinine. They are calling people up and practically forcing trailers on them in New Orleans--we had a summer home in Waveland and we were supposed to get a trailer for that house, which was wiped out--but we certainly didn't need it as we are all high and dry at home! So FEMA calls up homeowners in the Gulf Coast and tells them to take a trailer when, if someone can answer their home phone, they are probably living at home and thus not in need of a trailer at all. But FEMA is persistent. Why? Probably because their subcontractors are making a killing off of each trailer they pass off and install.

But that isn't helping anyone, especially those who need the trailers most. CALL FEMA?! If your house is gone, how can you call FEMA?!

The idiocy abounds.

A. Carr, Michigan: Why do you care (or not care) so much about us? Are you up there getting your rocks off thinking about how miserable we are? Up to now, I was just reading all the hate email, but I noticed your name so many times I had to comment. Please feel free to enjoy my misery as well. Here's a few thoughts for you--I lost 40 years worth of memories, from my first trophy to my childrens first teeth to my wedding dress, and everything before and after and in between. I've now lost many friends, several family members, and all of my neighbors. I have to drive 30 minutes to buy baby formula for my 6 week old baby who has no bed because one won't fit in the fema beamer. My two oldest children sleep on the kitchen table and the living room sofa bed in the fema beamer because they are too big to fit in the 30 inch wide bunks. We get diarrhea if we drink the water or even brush our teeth with it. And if you can imagine anything worse, I'm sure it is true for some unfortunate people who are worse off than I.

Actually Highland Dragon from Yorktown Virgina, the times I quoted of 20-30 miutes to set it up and hook it up are when 2 of us move it and park it - my husband and myself using our own pickup. We often take it on trips and then return it to its home campground. The campground staff is even faster.

These are brand new trailers straight from the dealers who did the delivery prep and checks to make sure everything worked before the trailers left their lots. The campground where we keep our RV trailer also has an RV dealership where FEMA bought 20 trailers in September. Not only did the staff tell me that had to prep and check the trailers, I saw them doing it.

3-4 hours less 25 minutes leaves 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. That is enough time to haul one from over 150 miles away.

Claiming it takes 3-4 hours to set one up and check it out will make any fulltime RVer (the ones who travel year round in their RVs) fall down laughing.

LOST TWO HOMES: What hate mail? The fact that I disapprove of people not getting flood insurance even when living on a penninsula surrounded by water? The fact that money is being handed out left and right as grants rather than loans with the repayments calculated in a ratio to income? The fact that FEMA is wasting money by its inefficencies? Why do I care BECAUSE THE REST OF US ARE STUCK PAYING THE BILL!!

Help is fine. Wasting money, wasting time and making everyone else pay for the irresponsility of not having insurance is not - that should be a loan, not a grant. The people I know in the Biloxi-Gulfport area don't understand why so mnay of you didn't have flood insurance - they did and were not considered to be in a "flood zone."

If someone loses their home due a fire, and couldn't afford insurance since they were disabled, they don't get grants from the government (the rest of us) to rebuild the house. That happened in my village and a year later we are still raising a little money here, a little there to try to help the man whose home burned. He is no less deserving of help - in fact probably deserves it more since getting by on SSI of $565 a month is tough and only had a home because he had inherited down through the family.

The sense of entitlement because a hurricane hit in an area that has hurricanes is bit hard to swallow. In fact, why don't all of you in Mississippi and Losuisana send back the money I donated in September?

You should see the HATE email I have gotten for saying that flood insurance only makes sense when surrounded by water. It seems the only people who think not having it was jsutified were those who got flooded and didn't have it.

I lost everything I had in Hurricane Katrina and I sit here and read all the stories that keep coming up. The FEMA help is not at all the way it should be, why not just gave a lump sum to the people that FEMA has gave the ok to get housing asst. and let it be. If they are having so many problems and have so much cash in hand that they are getting yelled at about. Just take the money and let the people buy a house instead of have them keep calling FEMA every two months to get more housing funds taking up the time. And the worst of all paying $140,000.00 each for a small trailer and setup when the money can go to a new house to live in an own. Does this make any sense what so ever?


My heart and prayers continue to go out to those on the Miss. Gulf Coast. I spent some time in Biloxi in the summers of 2004 and 2005 and despite the heat, found it a very friendly place. I live in Pennsylvania and have seen and continue to see first-hand how good people can be at reaching out to those so far away. The local newspaper in Doylestown, PA has adopted Waveland and Bay St. Louis, delivered truckloads of Christmas presents and is continuing to raise money (heading towards a million dollars at present), and invest in the rebuilding of these towns. My Air Force reserve unit adopted a unit at Keesler AFB and through fundraisers and donations from the local community, we sent over $8000 to them in gift cards for Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes plus some sheets that were desperately needed. The Red Cross and Salvation Army continue to take donations and apply them directly to ongoing relief efforts. My suggestion to ANYONE who was not immediately affected by Katrina is to get up off your duff and do something good from someone else! Sharing God's love and His abundance is what it's all about!

The FEMA trailers don't have sceptic systems and must be plumbed into the sewer mains. They also have to have be hard-wired into direct electric power such as a utility pole and they have to be plumbed into the water supply. Also, they are set up on cinder blocks and leveled. I think other regulations require a solid (wooden or concrete) set of steps that meet some other gov't requirement and they have to have certain accessibility features. It's a little more complicated than a normal 5th wheel.

My husband and I lived in our 25 foot travel trailer, (10 feet shorter that Katrina victims are being provided) for months while our house was being built in upstate NY. The only reason we had to move out of it was because it was mid November and the fear that the water lines would freeze forced us to move in with friends and shut the camper down for the winter. Oh, did I mention that I have a 6 1/2 year old and my youngest was born in May of this year. We all fit, tightly, but we all fit. It was a roof over our head, a quick, but hot shower, a flush toilet, a microwave to heat water for bottles, a cook stove with oven to cook, a double kitchen sink, an air conditioner and a heater. We dealt, frustrated at times, but we dealt. So, for those who have been fortunate enough to have a FEMA trailer, BE THANKFUL. I realize we made the choice to live in our camper and you did not make that choice. However, when you really think about it, you do have many of the amenities of a real home, just a very small home.

I just returned from the Waveland area. If FEMA has taken care of everyone who needs trailers then why are people still having to live in tents?!?!

Lost TWO Homes, nothing in the world right now is more on a lot of peoples minds than you and people in your situation. A.Carr is stating the obvious truth about people, like the people setting up the trailers in the first place, milking the government and us for setting up the trailers. No one should begrudge you or any one the trailers and should in fact pity the people stuck in them for any lenth of time. If I could lend you my house to stay in I would do it in a second. I'm sorry. I don't know how it's like in those trailers, but i've seen the area. Looks just like the tsunami hit areas of Indonesia. That bad.

FEMA's contractors DO NOT set up the trailers on blocks - they had my sister's on the scissors-legs all the way up - and if you sneezed in it the whole trailer rocked...that is not where the time is being spent - trust me!

A. Carr: you seem to be so versed in the woes of this area. However, let me enlighten you. Many people in this are did not have flood insurance simply because they were told they were not in a flood zone. That being said they did not qualify to purchase flood insurance from the government flood program (the only place it can be purchased from).

Fema trailers: The majority of us down here don't want a handout. Yes, my apartment made it thru fine. However, many people I work with are in FEMA trailers. They are the lucky ones. There are still many, many people down here living in hunting tents. It's not summer and 90 degrees anymore. The temp at night has been around 30. Some of those in tents have small children. There is no shelter, no hotels, nothing. What more would you suggest to these people? The trailers are wonderful and welcomed. Yes, many of them have problems: non-working heaters, small water tanks, loose windows, leaking windows. That just goes to show you how grateful people are.

My only question/concern is this: Why are so many people coming down so hard on us. It's really the government inefficiency that has most people upset.

As far as us living in a 'hurricane zone'. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the country. Where would you have everyone move? California (earthquakes), Florida (hurricanes), New York or other parts north (flooding, blizzards, tornados), or the midwest (again that pesky tornado). You then have the threat of terrorism. I just want to say I'm very happy you feel as though our disaster here is so low on the totem of diserving disasters. As far as the gentleman in your village: you did what a COMMUNITY does. You are pulling together to help one another. I thank God everyday that is what the community known as OUR COUNTRY (mostly private citizens) did for all of us. God bless all those that have been kind enough to be patient, charitable of time and money, and tolerant with us on the Coast. To the rest of you, God help you if you ever experience an event even a quarter as traumatic as this.

Nobody owes anybody a thing--not a trailer or an apartment or anything else. Get a life, people!

These trailers are another colossal waste of effort and (our tax) money. If they are treated like the trailers from other hurricanes, there won't be anything left worth "buying" after 18 months anyway, they'll just be turned into Coke cans.

Get the government OUT of the disaster recovery effort and people will recover much faster--my relatives included! They are so tired of the government telling them what they HAVE to do to restart their own lives.

Oh, and Merry Christmas.

For years we lived in Chalmette, LA and had flood insurance. When my Mom moved to Diamondhead,MS she was told she could not get flood insurance. We argued with the mortgage company and National Flood Insurance people because we wanted to be safe than sorry. Well now that she has lost everything in her home and State Farm will not pay because of flood/surge damage what is she to do? Should she turn down the FEMA trailer and aid that she has been offered? She isn't looking for handouts, just what she needs to survive. She refuses what she doesn't need and is truly grateful what what she receives. She's 70 years old, worked all her life for this home and still has mortgage to pay on it. We've done what we can to help including buying her a vehicle and putting ourselves into debt. There may be people who are taking advantage of the system but, for the most part, people are still struggling to survive and doing the best they can to help themselves and their neighbors. The ironic part of this is my Mom is now again demanding flood insurance and she is told that until the new flood maps come out she can't get it.

If the government gives trialers they get complained about. If the government doesn't give trailers they get complained about.

Make up your mind guys, at leats they are putting a roof over the heads of the needy.

Well I feel so bad for all who have suffered through these hurricanes and for all of the pure torture they have been through and are still enduring. My heart goes out to each and every one of them. I just wish there was a way I could help just one family but I have done all I can do. I have given cash, given 10 trash bags full of clothes. People need to understand that yes our tax dollars are helping to pay for this but at least we have that option. As for the people who didn't have insurance, I can't even afford insurance on my mobile home and God forbid a fire or a high wind I would lose everything. For the lower and low middle class families a disaster is much more devistating than the upper class people. Our society seems to not to recongnize the lower class people. It's like we are just stepping stones and are a major pain in situations like this. Those of you that have the luxury of having a roof over your head in one tin cans well it is better than nothing. I have to look at that when I go home each night. Things will get better but it will take time, patience and lots of work. May God bless each and every one of you!!! And all of you hatefull people out there, put yourself in their shoes. Open up your heart, listen to their complaints I'm sure they are real. And remember these are depressed people with real problems. These are people who live in this country and have the same rights as you and I do. And I am sure they have paid their taxes and will continue to do so just like you and I. This was not their fault, it was a disaster. We need to take care of them. They are our brother and sisters!!!!

what i would like to know is when they auction off the trailer is the public informed? i would love to be able to purchase one so i could quit paying rent. due to an accident involving one of my children i had to file a bankrupcy on medical(over150 thousand) and as a single mom i can not get a loan. but i am in the petal area who is in the disaster area and still have a child at home and while these are small if it was mine it would be better than continuing to pay someone elses house payment. and if something happened to me at least my daughter would have a roof over her head. so if anyone could give me this information i would appreciate it. my prayers are with you all, while i did not lose everything i still am having trouble recovering personal loses like grocerys and i live in a town that our mayor said we did not need the help so it has not been adopted. but enough of the pity party, i just keep working and with Gods help maybe in time i will get back on my feet. but i do know how you feel as i lost everything in a house fire in 1993 and it is the personal memories that are the hardest. like pictures of your children as babies . SO MAY YOU ALL MAKE IT THROUGH THE CHRISTMAS HOILDAY AND MAY NEXT YEAR BE BRIGHTER.

The problem isn't which disaster is the worst, it is that this is a DISASTER. Not just the actual weather but the response from FEMA too. I beleive that the government has enough resources and money to BUY a new house for everyone who lost their home. It may not be in the same state that they were living but when in need...... I know that there are enough houses country wide to buy every family that was affected in these hurricanes, a new home. They may be moved away from the state that they grew up in but what would be better, living in a little tin can (which is what those trailers really are) or living in a nice comfortable home. Think about it, how much money is the government spending on those tin cans and how much does a new house cost???? I am not talking building new houses, that would take too long, I am talking about the government buying that cute house that is for sale just down the road, or that other house for sale on the other side of town. What can everyone be thinking??? When something this big and horrible happens it will take YEARS to fix. No one is going to be able to rebuild your house on your lot until all the utilities, ect... can be replaced. I know people will say that they would never move away but you waite and see what next year brings or the year after. I would rather have a nice new home where my family can be warm and comfortable and maybe even make new friends in a new community. I am very sorry that the government can't take the time to think clearly. (Or is it because they are too busy not thinking at all?) I wish everyone who was affected by this tragity a hopeful and happy new year. Peace.

I feel bad for all of the folks in N.O. The gov't and these insurance companies always try to get out of helping those that need it the most. Insurance companies are frauds...My brother lives in Miami and is still waiting to get some help for the roof of his house after a hurricane went through Florida.

He has begun to rebuild w/help from his neighbors. They are all helping each other. We are all human beings and Americans. We can not judge until we've lived in another's shoes.

BTW: I read in another article that FEMA is putting up folks on 3-4 cruise ships at $250 a person, per night until March. FEMA should either give people $140K to purchase a house or apt. instead of wasting it on keeping people on a cruise ship. Some of these trailers are sitting empty and not being used!

We need to get FEMA to answer for this!

A. Carr, if you really had your facts straight, then you would know that not everyone was able to purchase flood insurance because it was not offered to them in their areas. Generally, if an area is not considered to be in a flood zone, then flood insurance is not offered.

The thing that bothers me most about the cruel remarks made by so many people about the hurricane victims is that they are made in complete total ignorance. My advice is that if you don't know the true facts in a situation, then keep your remarks to yourself.

I read these messages with sadness, disgust and yet hope. I spent three weeks in New Orleans helping with the Disaster relief effort and travelled to all areas of New Orleans and had a chance to work with the locals. I know first hand the vast magority of the folks I met just want to get on with their lives and rebuild, they just want a chance to fix the damage, they dont want handouts. Dont let the few who demand help but wont help themselves color your judgement of the wonderful folks that have gone through this disaster with their pride, persaverance and love of community intact who only want to make their communities better then before. There is enough blame to go around for decades to come from the local, state and federal levels. Having seen the distruction first hand it was simply overwhelming for any agency (no matter how much they boast they can handle everything) to cope with. There is no way planning for a disaster of this magnitude could have been done, it was just too big. I just hope that we can put the negativity aside and work with all our combined effort to get the Gulf back on it's feet and give those wonderful folks a second chance, those that camplain will never be satisfied. Lets put the name calling and finger pointing aside, we can do that later after the problems are fixed. I wish each and everyone of you a Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and may the New Year bring much more progress.
I cannot wait to get back to New Orleans when is is back on it's feet.

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Temporary Housing Each 280-square-foot trailer is a self-contained study in pure economy class. The trailers are set up to sleep six a double bed in the “master” bedroom, bunk beds in the other bedroom and two on a sleeper sofa in the main living area. One ...

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