FEMA Trailer Residents Hope Deadline Is Soon Extended

According to FEMA, more than 31,000 government owned trailers are being used in South Mississippi. Residents have until February 28 to find other housing, unless President Bush extends the deadline. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has already requested a one-year extension.

Ritchie LaGabed moved into his FEMA trailer on Popp's Ferry Road about three months ago. He had been living in Florida for nearly a year, seeking refuge after Katrina wiped out his D'Iberville home.

"Everybody said there's money back home for rebuilding and I wanted to try to come back and start over," LaGabed said.

LaGabed has made the most of his new life back here in South Mississippi, befriending his new neighbors and even fostering a cat in the trailer park. He considers himself fortunate for getting a FEMA trailer, but his hunt for more permanent housing has been a struggle.

"The rental situation, it's too difficult to try to get a house. FEMA's talking about pulling our trailer park, all of the trailers out of here at the end of February, and I don't see how we can make it. The rent's just tripled in value around here, and I don't know how they expect common people to make it," LaGabed said.

Thousands of people are still seeking more permanent housing, waiting for homeowner grants, and wrangling with their insurance companies. In the meantime, the clock is ticking down to the February 28 deadline for residents to vacate their FEMA trailers.

"Everybody's on edge, thinking they're going to get thrown out of what has become their home. I think everyone's holding their breath to see what happens," LaGabed said.

LaGabed says he and his neighbors are hoping the President will extend the FEMA deadline.

"Right now, that would be a blessing. It would be a sign from God that there's someone out there who actually cares," he said.

If the extension is granted, it will then be up to local governments to decide if and for how long FEMA trailer parks and individual trailers on private property can be maintained.