HAMMOND, La. – Being forced to vacate his FEMA trailer — even if the reason was to safeguard his health — struck Allsee Tobias as yet another failure of the federal government to help Hurricane Katrina victims.
"They know how to put me out, but they don't know how to help me out. That's how I look at it," said Tobias, who lost his New Orleans home in post-Katrina flooding and then was told to leave his trailer over the weekend.
"Pack and pray. That's what they told us," he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency abruptly closed down the mobile home park where Tobias and other displaced hurricane victims were living because of ongoing problems with raw sewage and periodic power outages.
"This is a very quick, decisive move because of concern for the residents," FEMA spokesman Manuel Broussard said.
A 48-hour deadline to leave fell on Sunday night, and FEMA scrambled to find new places for the 58 households.
About 20 of members of Tobias' family, including 10 children, lived in four trailers, and they were anxious about FEMA splitting them up.
By late Sunday, 48 of the 58 households had places to go to, with many of those households moving on to other FEMA sites, the agency said. The 10 remaining were still in search of housing, Broussard said.
Monday morning, Broussard said that Catholic Charities, a Catholic social work outreach program, had offered to temporarily house the 10 remaining households.
The site on this town's edge in the loblolly pine country north of New Orleans was one of the dozens of compounds the government rushed to establish for the tens of thousands of displaced hurricane victims.
Residents said they questioned the genuineness of the sudden concern for their health because the stink of sewage has been a nuisance for about a year.
"It's very unhealthy. The question is why did it take a year?" said Ron Harrell.
He lived next to the site's sewage treatment system with his family, and the stink of sewage filled the air as he spoke. He said his two sons have repeatedly complained of health problems, which he said could be related to the sewage.
FEMA personnel swarmed over the bustling site Sunday, trying to help wherever they could. The agency moved residents' belongings in rental vans and agreed to pay to put some people's boxes and bags in storage, especially those residents moving into tighter quarters.
"We have 150 people working on site today to make this as easy as possible. But it is a difficult situation," Broussard said. He said the agency will do what it can to keep families together.
Besides the sewage that pours onto the grass, FEMA said electricity was cut off last week for the third time since Oct. 12. Broussard said the landowners had not paid the bills on time. Frank Bonner, a co-owner of the site, said FEMA has not paid on time.