Thursday, June 29, 2006

On FEMA trailers

(Written June 22 in New Orleans) I am having the privilege of staying in an official FEMA trailer. My cousin, whose house was damaged, but not in any major way, has a FEMA trailer, which they are using as a storage place (until they can get all parts of their house usable) and guest room. The trailer is great for me – I have a nice double bed to sleep in, my own kitchenette and a toilet sink and even a shower, if I could squeeze into it. The toilet space is equivalent to those on airplanes. The air conditioning works well, which is a must in this humidly hot climate. The FEMA guys hook the trailer up to electric, water and sewer, so it is fully functioning. For one person staying a few days, this is luxury, bet when I think of whole families trying to live here, I don’t see how they do it. There technically is room to sleep 6 – the double, one couch-bed, the kitchen table/benches can become a bed, and then there are two bunk beds tucked away in a corner. We couldn’t figure out how even a kid would get up into the upper bunk as there is no ladder or footholds. The feel is much more RV than trailer (I lived in a trailer for three years in the back woods of SE Ohio.)
But when ones home has been destroyed, this is a roof over your head – clean, cool (up north we’d be more concerned with warm), a place to get out of the elements and to store a few essential items – not much. As I drove around New Orleans, especially the devastated parts of it, I realized the sight of a FEMA trailer was a sign of hope. If a FEMA trailer was set up in someone’s yard, it meant someone was working on fixing up their house. FEMA trailers were found in front of large beautiful homes as well as small modest houses. But most of the houses in the devastated neighborhoods were just deserted. Some were boarded up, some, you could see that they had been gutted – wall studs were visible through the often broken windows. In many places there were still piles of junk – everything cleared out of the homes – furniture, rugs, clothing - everything people owned. Wonder how much they could salvage?
My cousin’s book store was a total loss – it had been in a couple of feet of water, and other than the money in the safe (which had gotten wet and needed to be laundered) everything was removed and disposed of by the haz-mat team. I keep forgetting how foul the water was – full of sewage and dead materials dangerous to everyone’s health.(Individuals were taught to wear masks, gloves, boots, etc. when cleaning out their houses.) My cousin’s store was also totally gutted, the only thing remaining was the old, somewhat rusty safe. The bookstore has new fixtures, carpet, walls, ceiling tiles, wiring – everything. My cousin is working hard getting all the new stock up on the shelves for opening on July 3 – over 10 months after the disaster. There was no use in opening it any sooner, as the med students were still in Houston.
Another interesting word around here is “compromised.” Can you imagine the nightmare of insurance claims around here? The items listed for insurance don’t need to necessarily be “ruined” or “destroyed”, but just “compromised.” So if your VCR isn’t working quite right after the storm, you can claim it as “compromised,” and get money for a new one. But other interesting things are happening. With all the repair work going on, building inspectors are coming out to look at properties, and they are not always up to code. So before the insurance company is willing to insure my cousin’s house again, they have to bring the electrical wiring up to code. In a sense this is a good thing, but they have to pay for this themselves. The garage is being rebuilt with insurance money, but much of the other things come out of their own pocket. With the incredibly high demand for building materials, the price of them has skyrocketed. I got the sense that they have spent their life savings in getting things back to normal, and are now starting to go into debt. All the paperwork and financial stress on top of all the losses is incredibly hard on people. I just saw a microcosm of it in my cousin’s house. I didn’t feel much like partying after being with them.

No comments:

Post a Comment