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I-Team: FEMA Still Has Shortage Of Trailers Reporting

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Inside The National Hurricane Center One day after the CBS4 I-Team revealed details from an investigation of FEMA that showed the government agency is still unprepared in the event of a major disaster like a hurricane; the GAO, the investigation arm of the US Congress came out with its own report and it echoed what the I-Team first reported.

The GAO, or General Accountability Office, blasted FEMA for failing to actually implement and make clear disaster policies and procedures…and insists the agency must do a better job preparing the nation for a large hurricane.

The GAO says FEMA has yet to implement 68% percent of its plans including how to handle a catastrophic storm such as Hurricane Katrina…and that should a similar storm hit we could see a similar disjointed response.

So If there was a big one, something like a Hurricane Wilma or Andrew, would our community be prepared for widespread damage?

Some South Florida Federal lawmakers told the CBS4 I-Team the answer is “No. Not even close.”

They said storm victims could end up in a situation much like the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Homestead and Florida City where they ended up in huge tent cities. Only, this time, federal officials say it could be worse.

The CBS4 I-Team discovered the Federal Emergency Management Agency still does not have enough long term temporary housing on standby in the event of a massive disaster.

CBS4 I-Team investigator Stephen Stock uncovered new information on the story he first broke two years ago. If a huge category four or five hurricane hit the United States mainland anytime soon, it would quickly become policy planners’ worst nightmare.

“It scares me immensely,” US Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of West Miami-Dade County said.

It’s not the wind nor the rain nor even the storm surge of a major category four or five hurricane that worries planners. But it’s what happens after the big one hits that worries policy makers on both sides of the political aisle.

“We’re not where we should be (in planning for a large hurricane), said US Senator Bill Nelson.

The CBS4 I-Team has learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, still does not have enough available, safe long term temporary housing to put a roof over storm victims’ heads after a major storm hits.

“We wanted a plan and we haven’t been able to get the administration for the last several years to come up with a plan for housing,” said Bill Nelson, Florida’s Democratic US Senator.

“If that were to hit right now we’d have a serious problem with a lack of temporary housing,” said Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart.

That’s right.

The I-Team learned that more than two years after being warned in several letters from Senator Nelson as well as letters from Democratic South Florida Congressmen Alcee Hastings and Tim Mahoney, then warned again in similar letters from the same congressmen last year; FEMA still doesn’t have enough safe trailers, mobile homes, or modular homes nearby and ready to go should another large hurricane hit anywhere on the Gulf Coast or East Coast of the United States.

I-Team Related Links
Congressional Letter To FEMA
Second Congressional Letter To FEMA
FEMA’s 2009 Housing Plan
FEMA’s Acceptable Housing Policy
FEMA GAO Report

“The fact that FEMA still does not have adequate housing is not acceptable to me,” Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of South Florida said.

The lack of adequate long term temporary housing was on the mind of these Miami-Dade emergency planners who met Wednesday with Congressman Diaz-Balart. During the meeting officials ended up stressing, that for now, many storm victims will be on their own.

“Local governments only have a certain amount of resources,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said. “And that’s why we ask people that have to be prepared to be self-sufficient for the first 72 hours.”

That’s the minimum preparations emergency management officials always want citizens to have in place for any hurricane. But local officials also want more from FEMA.

I-Team reporter Michael Williams put the question to Florida Governor Charlie Crist “(Are) you all lighting a bit more of a fire under them (FEMA)?”

“Do you want to see even more in terms of FEMA temporary housing availability?” Williams asked.

“Yea we do,” Florida Governor Charlie Crist answered. “And I’ll tell you what’s really good news for Florida the new head of FEMA, Craig Fugate, is a Floridian so we’re going to be in better shape.”

As Senator Bill Nelson put it “If the big one hits” there’s a fear of tens of thousands of storm victims, living not in trailers, but in tents for a long time.

“If a big one hits in the next two months we’ll have a problem on housing,” Florida Senator Nelson said.

“But that’s going to change (with former Florida Emergency Management Director now as FEMA Director.)”

Don’t think this isn’t a huge issue either.

After hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, more than one and a half million people sought help from FEMA to find or pay for temporary housing.

More than 120 thousand people ended up in the infamous FEMA trailers or mobile homes after the hurricanes of 2005.

Congressional staffers told CBS4’s I-Team there aren’t that many safe mobile homes available.

I-Team Related Links
Congressional Letter To FEMA
Second Congressional Letter To FEMA
FEMA’s 2009 Housing Plan
FEMA’s Acceptable Housing Policy
FEMA GAO Report

A FEMA spokesman says they have “several thousand” but staff from South Florida Congressmen say there are less than 10,000 ready-to-go temporary units on standby in any location.

FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said orders have already been placed by FEMA for several hundred new units to be built.

And Stevens said that there are contracts in place with FEMA and private vendors to build thousands of temporary homes in the event of a massive disaster.

Stevens admits that would take some time to build and those temporary homes are not ready now.

All the South Florida congressmen who spoke to the CBS4 I-Team did say they expect improvements in the situation soon with former Florida Emergency Management director Craig Fugate now in place at FEMA. Fugate took the helm at FEMA in mid-May and as of late May, has been on the job only two weeks.
(© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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