Some Left Homeless By Hurricane Katrina Still Waiting for FEMA Trailers

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It has been 11 months since Hurricane Katrina hit and Janice Tambrella still does not have a home. She doesn't even have a trailer of her own.

Tambrella is currently jammed in with 10 other relatives in a single trailer delivered to a luckier relative. Sleeping on the floor, living out of cars surrounded by overgrown grass and storm-felled trees, she sighs, "I need a place to stay."

Nearly 1,200 St. Bernard Parish families are still waiting to get into trailers that sit locked on their home sites but need utilities or other services; another 400 families waiting for trailers have none at all, FEMA said.

St. Bernard Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez is often the one people ask for help. While he doesn't have the authority to get them trailers, they figure it's worth asking him since countless calls to the Federal Emergency Management Agency have failed to help.

"The trailer situation is ridiculous," he said.

In this parish adjoining New Orleans, virtually no one was spared massive flooding from storm surge and breaks in the flood control system; all but a handful of the 27,000 homes belonging to mostly working-class residents were inundated with water. Almost none are yet repaired.

FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said he understands people are frustrated with the wait but workers are filling requests as fast as they can. He notes the agency has provided housing assistance to more than 900,000 people regionwide since Katrina. Most years, the agency handles only 2,000 to 3,000 people.

"If you look at the sheer numbers, we've been very successful," he said.

For others, the stress is overwhelming.

Clarence and Rosemary Balgio, an elderly disabled couple, can no longer afford the rent for an apartment in another town where they've been living.

Their son, Donald Balgio, and his sister have tried to help the Social Security-dependent couple navigate the paperwork needed to keep rental aid and get a trailer. So far, they've either received conflicting advice or have been promised help that never materializes.

"They don't know what's going to happen day to day," said Donald Balgio. "Nobody knows what to do."

Meanwhile, other people in the parish and region say they're having trouble getting rid of trailers they no longer need.

Kathie Acosta lived in a trailer while fixing up a house that got 2 feet of water. Now, she can't seem to get it taken away. She keeps refusing inspections and covering the FEMA identification numbers, hoping the government will confiscate it.

"They keep calling and want to inspect propane lines, and I say, 'No. Don't come on my property. Take it away,'" Acosta said.

Walker said it takes time to remove trailers because the same workers setting them up are the ones taking them away. He said workers can't simply haul an unused trailer to another site.

But in some cases, Rodriguez is doing just that, even though it's illegal. When warned by a FEMA official that he could get in trouble, the blunt, profanity-prone leader challenged the agency to jail him.

He said he has no choice.

"We're not like New Orleans. We don't have alternate places for them to live," said Rodriguez, noting that at least 20 percent of New Orleans was spared flooding while none of his parish was.

He recently had an unused trailer picked up from the property of someone who no longer wanted it and had it taken to Jack and Mary Badinger's home.

The disabled couple — she's blind and he lost part of a foot in an industrial accident — had been trying to get a trailer since shortly after the storm so they could begin working on their house, which was flooded and slicked by oil.

"I called probably every week," said Mary Badinger. "Everybody you talked to, no one knew nothing."