In a 2017 hurricane season that has already seen two monster storms, Harvey and Irma, manufactured homes are turning out to be just a small fraction of the federal government’s plan to deal with displaced people, with only 1,700 trailers available.
Where exactly the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to send those trailers, Texas or Florida, is not yet clear. But what is clear is they will only be used as a last resort.
That’s in stark contrast to 2005, when 144,000 FEMA trailers became symbols of the troubled federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita after lawsuits accused some of those units of being riddled with high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde.
FEMA’s new model for monster storms honed in the wake of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy puts the emphasis on paying for hotels and apartments for temporary housing. That, along with money for super-fast fixes that allow people to move back into their own homes as quickly as possible, even before all the repairs are done.
“Our role is to provide sort of the bridge to get through the disaster,” FEMA spokesman Kurt Pickering said Saturday. “We are not intended to make people or households back the way they were before, to make them whole. We’re designed to get them through the emergency.”
A joint state and federal housing task force in Austin is working with FEMA on the best way to allocate resources. But those affected are far more likely to get government support by way of a few weeks at a hotel, a couple of months of rent in an apartment or a check for repairs, than a FEMA trailer.
“To put a mobile home or travel trailer out there is a significant expense — it really is the option of last resort,” said Mark Miscak, an emergency management consultant and former director in FEMA’s recovery division.
That’s the way it’s playing out so far after Harvey, which damaged or destroyed more than 210,000 homes across southeast Texas, mostly from the effects of floodwaters from an epic downpour of nearly 52 inches.
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