SCHRIEVER, La. (AP) — More than four months after Hurricane Ida destroyed or did major damage to their houses, some Louisiana residents are just now moving from tent camps to government-supplied mobile homes and RV trailers.
Shantell Campbell of Houma and her three school-aged children moved last week from a camp to one of dozens of RV trailers provided through a state test program and paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at a field in Schriever, about 11 miles (18 kilometers) away.
“I’m grateful,” Campbell told The Courier. “There’s still people trying just to get here.”
Tent camps in Dulac and Montegut have closed, and occupants have moved from camps under single huge tents to one in Chauvin, featuring multiple small tents, said Terrebonne planning and zoning director Chris Pulaski.
“It’s better in the event anybody tests positive for COVID,” Pulaski said.
The state test program is starting to reduce the backlog, the newspaper reported.
FEMA suggested the program because regulations for state-run shelters are less restrictive than those for mobile homes provided by the federal agency, Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Protection, said Monday.
In addition, he noted, the RV trailers are easier to haul onto property.
Hurricane Ida left many of the residents' homes unlivable. The storm roared ashore Aug. 29, 2021, at Port Fourchon, 47 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of Houma, as a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150-mph (240-kph) winds.
As of Monday, Steele said, the state has deployed 3,101 RV trailers across south Louisiana, including 1,272 in Terrebonne Parish and 580 in Lafourche Parish. Nearly 7,500 people from more than 2,600 households are living in them, he said.
Steele said the program started in some of the worst-hit coastal areas and moved inland. The first RV trailers were set out in mid-October, two weeks after FEMA's approval, he said.
Kentucky officials have talked to their counterparts in Louisiana about emulating the program to house people whose homes were hit by December's deadly tornadoes, and Louisiana is considering the purchase of more trailers, Steele added.
“We're talking to FEMA about having this as a regular option” after disasters, he said.
Pulaski said FEMA had approved nearly 1,500 households for housing but had only 70 mobile homes occupied.
The move to trailers frees up needed space in the tent camps, Terrebonne Parish Councilman Carl Harding said.
Alexis Amacker lived for a while in a tent camp near his home in Houma. He has now moved into an RV trailer.
“It took a while, but it’s a blessing,” Amacker said.
Parish officials have repeatedly criticized the slow response by FEMA at getting mobile homes set up across the two parishes.
Harding said residents living in the RV trailers told him last week that their needs include getting a school bus stop and Wi-Fi access.
Those housed in the campers are chosen at random from residents who have applied for temporary housing after the storm. In addition to tent camps, some lived in hotel rooms paid for by FEMA.
Two tent camps in Terrebonne Parish are still full, according to Pulaski, who said he's also worried that COVID-19 is delaying progress. He said he tested positive over the holidays. He’s feeling better, and has been staggering shifts and letting staffers work from home to cause as little disruption as possible.
“We can’t afford to have the permit office go down because of a COVID outbreak,” he said. “There’s too much at stake.”
In Chauvin, Carolyn Marcel and Kenneth Scott Jr. have had a FEMA mobile home on their property since Dec. 12, but couldn't move in because inspection and licensing weren't complete. Marcel and Scott said they haven’t been given a timeline. For now, they are staying in a small camper that they’ve parked in their son’s driveway.
Both have heart problems and joked that once they move into the FEMA trailer with all of their equipment, it’ll look like a hospital unit. Both have been responsible for taking care of family members and say they need their own space after being stretched thinly.
“We need rest,” Marcel said. ___
Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.