Officials say FEMA 'insensitive' after Ike

October 27, 2008 3:18:22 PM PDT
Texas officials are angry with FEMA's response Hurricane Ike victims in southeast Texas, accusing the agency Monday of insensitivity and foot-dragging in providing trailers and money. ROAD TO RECOVERY: How you can help | Person locator | Important phone numbers | Assistance from FEMA | Filing a claim

"It's a tragedy, what's going on down there," Jack Colley, the state's director of emergency management, told the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on hurricane recovery.

Colley said he believes FEMA should be removed from the federal Department of Homeland Security and placed under the president.

"They have been extremely insensitive, in our opinion, to the concept that somebody cannot drive 100 miles a day to keep their job," said Kevin Hamby, general counsel of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. "They don't seem to care much if we lose these communities down there."

He said that more than six weeks after the hurricane, less than 200 trailers are available for people to live in on their property while their homes are being repaired. Hamby said that Federal Emergency Management Administration officials had promised 300 trailers a week. The state agency estimates that 3,000 to 6,000 trailers are needed.

While the federal agency has offered to pay for displaced residents to stay in hotels and motels, few rooms are available in the hard-hit area.

FEMA spokesman Simon Chabel disagreed with the assertions made at the hearing, saying the agency is acting quickly and responding "in a way that's compassionate."

"We've put out more than $250 million paid to help people find temporary housing," he said.

He said that there are 262 mobile homes currently occupied and another 350 are awaiting connections like sewer and power hookups. He said FEMA is continuing to do interviews with people to find out if they need a mobile home.

Nearly 19,000 people have been interviewed so far in Texas, and of those more than 6,000 have found housing, he said. FEMA helped 1,600 find a rental and 1,723 were approved for a mobile home.

"We're working as quickly as we can to help them put their lives back together," he said.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said a FEMA official said last week that anyone living in a tent or a car is there by choice, the Houston Chronicle reported in its Monday online editions.

"(That remark) just flies in the face of hundreds of families, working families, that are down there trying to save their only asset -- and everything they own was in that home -- and work that job and protect what is left of their lives," Williams said.

"It's amazing to me that a federal official could be so uninformed and so insensitive."

Williams said the lack of transitional housing in Orange County and other parts of the Golden Triangle threatens $15 billion worth of refinery and chemical plant expansion.

Williams also accused FEMA of "running out the clock" on deciding whether it will continue reimbursements for debris removal. He said the agency's practice of granting 30-day extensions leaves local officials in limbo as they wait to hear if they can continue to pay contractors to clear debris.

Chabel said FEMA is evaluating a request that came last week from the governor for an 18-month extension of FEMA offering 100 percent reimbursement for debris removal instead of the standard 75 percent.

"The question is whether FEMA will extend the 100 percent reimbursement," he said. "I wouldn't say that they're being left in limbo."

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