Congressional Panel Probes Delay in Getting Trailers to Katrina Victims

A lack of coordination among utility companies is one of the reasons why thousands of Mississippi families are still waiting for trailers more than four months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes, a federal official told a congressional subcommittee Saturday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided travel trailers for around 31,000 families on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, but roughly 5,000 others are still waiting.

Nick Russo, FEMA's coordinating officer for Mississippi, told subcommittee members that FEMA had wanted to set up a task force to coordinate the installation of electricity, water and sewer service at trailer sites and speed the work.

However, the process has been slower than anticipated because local utilities are "beyond our control," he said.

"We could request it, but we couldn't mandate it. That's what is holding that process up," he told members of the Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.

No representative of the utilities spoke at the hearing, but Mississippi Power spokesman Kurt Brautigam said in a telephone interview that he was not aware of any delays in hooking up electricity for the trailers.

"We have responded to all requests to establish service," he said. "We are not able to come in and do that until city and local inspections have been (completed)."

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said "bureaucratic nonsense" and a lack of manpower also appear to be contributing to the delays.

"Five months later, there should not be children living in cars. There should not be people without trailers," she told Russo.

The subcommittee also met in New Orleans on Friday. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told the committee that 21,000 homeowners in his city are still waiting for trailers.

Around 25,000 of the trailers set up in Mississippi are on private property. Russo said it has been difficult to identify private property that can be safe sites for trailers.