LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Some of the thousands of trailers sitting unused since they were purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2005 for Gulf Coast hurricane victims may finally be put to use – to help victims of last week’s tornadoes, officials said Tuesday.
Some members of Congress have accused FEMA of playing down the danger of possible formaldehyde contamination in the trailers – more than 6,300 of them stored at the Hope airport – but an agency spokesman said Tuesday that the trailers are safe.
The decision to use some of the trailers for Arkansas and Tennessee twister victims comes after requests by state officials and members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation, who have criticized the trailers in the past as a sign of federal ineptitude after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
David Maxwell, head of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said his office told FEMA immediately after the tornadoes that the victims would need some of the trailers.
FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison said Friday on a tour of the damage that the agency would prefer putting storm victims in rental property, although he acknowledged that could be difficult in rural areas.
“Knowing rural Arkansas and the areas that were hit, there’s not a lot of rental property,” Maxwell said. “Then you’re stuck with mobile homes.”
Maxwell said the number of trailers released would depend on the number of people who called FEMA and requested help, as opposed to simply releasing a blanket number. FEMA already hired a contractor to prepare and possibly move the trailers to people in need, he said.