NEW ORLEANS – A Congressional panel heard testimony Friday on the plight of homeless victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with one lawmaker scolding a Federal Emergency Management Agency official for not making enough temporary trailers available.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., also took FEMA to task over energy problems.
"When 9-11 happened, you had people from all over the world come in and do what needed to be done. This is shameful that areas here still don't have electricity. ... You've got to come in here and get this work done," Waters told FEMA representative Scott Wells.
Wells said the agency is working through problems with Entergy Corp., the bankrupt New Orleans-based private utility responsible for final electrical inspections.
Mayor Ray Nagin told the subcommittee he has 21,000 people who are authorized for trailers but have not received them. Wells said FEMA has contracts with four companies to provide the crews to install and set up the trailers.
"We're putting 500 on site per day," he said. "We're doing everything we can as fast as we can, with what we've got."
"That's not good enough," countered Waters.
"I know it's not good enough," Wells responded.
He said FEMA is working on alternatives, such as leasing entire apartment complexes to supplement the trailer program. He also encouraged Louisiana residents who are now living outside the state to consider moving temporarily to in-state locations where trailers and the infrastructure needed to operate them are already available.
In other testimony to the Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson said hurricane victims in Louisiana should get one-year deferments on mortgage payments as they try to rebuild their homes.
"It's critical for the homeowners to receive deferments so they can get the breathing room that they need to recover," said Jefferson, a Democrat whose home is in New Orleans.
Jefferson made it clear he does not agree with a key suggestion of Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission, which recommended this week that no rebuilding work be done in neighborhoods hardest hit by Katrina until the areas prove they'll be viable.
Even Nagin has said he is not comfortable with the idea and has not decided whether to accept it.
"It's not whether we can build sustainable communities in every neighborhood but whether we have the vision to do so," Jefferson said.
Nagin made a broad appeal for federal help for his city, large swaths of which have few signs of bouncing back more than four months after Katrina hit.
"I sit here frustrated because I'm in a city without a revenue stream. We have no or very little money. I've had to fly between here and Washington and here and the state to beg and grovel for money and I don't appreciate it," Nagin said.
"I implore you. I beg you. I'm getting on my knees, I'm puckering up. Help us. Help us today," he said.