April 26, 2006

New Orleans mayor mends fences with FEMA

By Jeffrey Jones

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said on
Wednesday he had settled a fight with U.S. disaster officials
over trailer parks in the city, giving hope to people still
seeking temporary housing months after Hurricane Katrina.

Earlier this month, Nagin ordered a halt to all new trailer
sites around town after a contractor working for the Federal
Emergency Management Agency clashed with residents opposed to
one development. He also urged Homeland Security chief Michael
Chertoff to fire the FEMA team in charge of the program.

But Nagin said he rescinded the order following a meeting
with Chertoff in New Orleans last week, where the two sides
agreed on alternative sites and standards of conduct, allowing
more people displaced by Katrina to find housing.

"People criticize me about being too strong about issues,
but I felt very passionately about this one," said the mayor,
who is running for re-election. "And I knew that I had to take
a very aggressive act to get people's attention."

He also took back his demand that the FEMA team in charge
of setting up alternative housing, led by Gil Jamieson, deputy
director for Gulf Coast recovery, be replaced.

"He's my buddy now," Nagin said, referring to Jamieson.

In the mayoral campaign, Nagin was criticized by his
opponents as being too antagonistic with federal and state
recovery agencies. He faces Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu
in a May 20 runoff.

FEMA has been called on to provide travel trailers for
about 30,000 city residents displaced by the storm and floods
eight months ago, and nearly 12,000 are now occupied. About
18,000 people are waiting for trailers to be delivered.

Of those, 8,000 are destined for group sites that will be
used mainly by people who previously rented homes. The city
still needs to find sites for 1,500 of them.

The trailers, which dot the urban landscape, are seen as
one solution to get badly needed workers back into the city to
help rebuild the economy.

All requested trailers should be in place within two
months, Nagin said.

The mayor first halted all new group trailer sites after a
fracas in which security guards working for a FEMA contractor
threatened to arrest neighbors who complained that trailers
were being placed too close to their homes.