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Hurricane Evacuees Head to Court Over Cruise Ship Housing

The federal government is working on a settlement with about two dozen hurricane evacuees who sued to keep their rooms aboard a cruise ship, which is slated to leave this week, an attorney for the evacuees said Monday.

U.S. District Judge Peter Beer continued the hearing to Wednesday to give lawyers time to work out a compromise.

The evacuees' lawsuit claims the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to provide alternative housing and had shown no evidence it would by Wednesday, FEMA's deadline for releasing the cruise ships it rented.

"FEMA has bungled its assignment," the lawsuit alleges. "FEMA acted incompetently before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina struck, and failed to heed warnings and take preventive actions that could have saved lived and alleviated suffering."

Evacuees' attorney Michael Ginart Jr. said he would work to keep the evacuees on the ship as long as possible but declined to say what exactly what the settlement might entail.

After the lawsuit was filed last week, FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews emphasized that FEMA had done everything it could to help those who lost their homes.

"We've been working around the clock sending FEMA personnel to the Scotia Prince and other cruise ships to make sure that every single family staying on board has received long-term housing assistance, or if they haven't, to get them signed up right away," Andrews said.

About 300 residents from devastated St. Bernard Parish have been living on the Scotia Prince ship, docked on the Mississippi River at Violet, 12 miles downriver from New Orleans.

The plaintiffs include a disabled woman, a commercial fisherman whose FEMA trailer is not yet hooked up, a couple who describes their FEMA trailer as "not livable," and a high-school senior who hopes to graduate in May.

In Pascagoula, Miss., a Carnival Cruise Lines ship housing about 60 people was also scheduled to be released Wednesday. Carnival had signed a $236 million deal with the government to provide temporary housing on three ships for up to six months.

In New Orleans, cruise ships housing police officers, other first-responders and their families are also to be released Wednesday. FEMA said it would provide trailers for the first-responders or pay for units at an apartment complex for up to 18 months.

March 1 is also the latest cutoff for civilian evacuees who have been living in about 3,000 FEMA-sponsored hotel rooms since the Aug. 29 hurricane devastated the region. For those in about 7,400 Louisiana and Mississippi hotels, FEMA last week extended the deadline for direct hotel payments to March 15.