Temporary trailer town: Victims get FEMA help

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

To date, 14 units have been distributed and some 300 more will soon be made available.

CARUTHERSVILLE, Mo.-- Much of Caruthersville is still in ruins, but with the help of federal money, temporary housing is now dotting devastated neighborhoods and giving shelter to those hardest hit by the tornado.

Two days ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency distributed the first temporary trailers and mobile home units to qualified applicants. To date, 14 units have been distributed and some 300 more will soon be made available.

Gov. Matt Blunt on Monday toured the area and came away pleased with the progress.

"I'm impressed by the pace of the recovery," he said. "There's a lot more order than when I first got here; at that time a lot of people were just glad to be alive. And there is still a sense of thanksgiving, but people now are very focused on the future. ... FEMA seems to have an orderly method for moving these trailers out to those who need them and that can't happen quickly enough."

The trailers are one part of what has so far been a $1.77 million federal assistance project authorized by President Bush April 4.

One beneficiary of a temporary home is Billy Cobb, a cook at the local elementary school. Cobb fled his home and rode out the April 3 tornado in his neighbor's closet along with other frightened relatives.

It was the right decision, he said, because he returned to find his house teetering on the brink of collapse. "I'm over the shock now, but I'll tell you it was quite a shock," said Cobb. "It's like it took something out of you, like you're not complete."

Cobb's house was not insured. But after registering with FEMA he was told his situation made him eligible for 18 months in a new trailer. During that time, he'll only have to pay for utilities.

Cobb said he's grateful for the assistance, but uncertain about the future. "I don't think too far ahead. I'm just going to keep cleaning up my yard, I'm just going to work," said Cobb with rake in hand. "I'm one of those that can't never stand still so I'll be out here working."

As of April 21, 250 people had applied for temporary housing.

FEMA officials say the solution is not ideal, but it's the best they can offer. "We are not an insurance company. FEMA is not designed to make people whole again," said Butch DuCote of FEMA. "What we do is pick people up and help them move on."

DuCote said FEMA will help the displaced victims move into permanent housing by "making phone calls, telling them what's available in the area and hopefully, in not too long, the infrastructure will catch up with the demand."

For those needing more help than FEMA can provide, the U.S. Small Business Administration has also set up shop temporarily in Caruthersville. The SBA is authorizing disaster loans to home and business owners.

One hundred forty-four homeowners and 18 businesses have taken advantage of the SBA loan authority. The neediest homeowners can get loans at under 3 percent interest with installment payments stretching out as much as 30 years.

But with all the rebuilding, some areas may be beyond salvation. "A sizable number of homes will have to be demolished because of the extent of the damage," said Mayor Diane Sayre "It's a difficult decision, and we're hopeful that as many residents who can rebuild will do so and choose to start over. We hope we won't have too much loss of population."

Sayre said the city will use FEMA Category "A" grants to fund the demotion. She also said that debris removal will be ongoing for the next 45 days.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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