The last FEMA trailer in New Orleans has left the city, closing a brutal chapter in New Orleans' history more than six years after Hurricane Katrina stormed through the region and the levee system failed.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday announced that the trailer, officially known as a temporary housing unit, had departed Sunday. The announcement described the event as "a significant Hurricane Katrina recovery milestone."
The temporary housing units, which included travel trailers and mobile homes, became a symbol of the scale of the 2005 Katrina disaster. Television coverage mesmerized the nation, showing people trapped on rooftops to avoid floodwater, long lines of vehicles packed with people forced to flee inland and people who sought safety in the Louisiana Superdome. Meanwhile, the National Guard was patrolling the streets in an attempt to restore order.
“For more than six years, temporary housing units were located on private properties, group and industrial sites, and in commercial mobile home/RV parks across New Orleans while her residents recovered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina,” Andre Cadogan, FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office deputy director of programs, said in a statement. “The transition of this final household is a huge success for our agency, the state, the city, local nonprofits, and all others who contributed to helping return normalcy to New Orleans and those who live here.”
That upbeat tone was echoed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
“At the end of the day, FEMA trailers were never meant to be permanent housing units, so I’m glad that our code enforcement efforts coupled with FEMA case work has helped individuals transition to permanent housing,” Landrieu stated. He replaced C. Ray Nagin, who served eight years as mayor and was in office when the hurricane hit and the levees failed.
“Another page has turned in New Orleans’ post-Katrina history,” Landrieu said.
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in U.S. history, and Katrina ranks as the costliest and one of the most deadly hurricanes. Property damage has been estimated at more than $81 billion, and at least 1,830 people were killed in the storm.
Katrina was followed a few weeks later by Hurricane Rita. Ultimately, the season seemed to be never-ending, producing 15 hurricanes, four of which were rated at the top Category 5.
Katrina formed over the Bahamas on Aug. 23, 2005, crossed southern Florida and became stronger as it moved through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm surge caused major damage along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.
In New Orleans, the levee system, designed to protect the city from flooding, failed hours after the storm had passed. At one point, more than 80% of the city and neighboring areas were flooded.
Officials had warned residents to leave the area, but many ignored their pleas. After the storm, relief efforts became bogged down because supplies could not be moved to areas in need. Civil order seemed to collapse amid the looting. The poor emergency response became a political blot on the Bush administration.
According to FEMA, the response to Katrina and Rita was the “largest housing operation in the history of the country, providing THUs (travel trailers, mobile homes and park models) to approximately 92,000 families throughout Louisiana. Approximately 25 percent of these THUs were in service at the peak of the housing program in Orleans Parish.”
FEMA said it has provided about $5.8 billion to assist 915,884 individuals and families in Louisiana for Katrina and Rita, including $4.2 billion in housing assistance for rent, repairs and replacement housing and $1.6 billion in other needs for such things as furniture, clothing and replacement vehicles.
Three trailers from the 2005 season are still in use elsewhere in Louisiana, according to FEMA.
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Photo: A FEMA trailer sits in front of a home in New Orleans' Lakeview section in this photo from 2009. The last trailer left the city Sunday. Credit: Bill Haber/Associated Press