Post Katrina FEMA trailers still being sold?

Opelousas, LA - Ten years ago, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast causing the deaths of hundreds and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

The response to this critical need was slow in coming, but help did arrive in the form of housing units, locals named "FEMA" trailers.

Those trailers were given to families across the Gulf Coast and many were happy to get them.

Then the circumstances changed.

August 29th 2005, millions of gallons of water overtook the city of New Orleans forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives only to be victimized again by Rita.

Hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and people were living on the streets.

Reacting to this critical need, FEMA ordered more than 140,000 trailers to be built at a cost of some $2.7 billion dollars and that's where the problem began.

Contractors were hired to build the trailers quickly, short cuts were taken, and building materials used may have contained toxic levels of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is often found in building materials and it's said to be a carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer.

"Initially if the levels are very high, you would have some nose, eye, throat irritation," said Toxicologist LuAnn White.

Many living in the trailers began to complain of those symptoms, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed. I

In spot-checking trailers, hundreds were found to have higher than normal levels of formaldehyde.

In 2009 FEMA began evicting people living in the trailers, and those units were left empty.

FEMA decided not to sell the trailers to the public in an attempt to avoid additional lawsuits.

Instead to recoup some of it's investment, the government sold the trailers at auctions.

The General Services Administration sold 9 of 13 lots of trailers, and made buyers sign a form that says the trailer may have formaldehyde and are not to be used for housing.

Stickers with the same warning were also placed on the trailers, but stickers fall off.

The majority of the FEMA trailers have been sold to RV dealers around the country, and in turn to consumers who may not be aware of the warning.

Several hundred remain in sitting in a lot in Opelousas.

"When I first saw those trailers there I was like 'oh my god no.’ I mean they are so gross looking, and they sinking in the ground,"said Opelousas resident Jeanell Tyler.

At some point, these trailers too may be sold.

For potential buyers, the warning is clear, live in them at your own risk, under the law these trailers are to be used for storage and recreational use only.

FEMA settled a class action lawsuit in 2012 by former residents of those trailers who alleged they were sickened by living in them.

FEMA agreed to pay $42.6 million to roughly 55,000 people.

More than two-dozen manufacturers were included in the suit.


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