US takes more heat over Katrina as state fumes over refugee plight - Yahoo! News

BATON ROUGE, United States (AFP) - Louisiana disaster chiefs blasted the US government for alleged foot-dragging in providing temporary housing for hundreds of thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

The storm-battered state urgently wants its citizens out of refugee shelters across 10 US states and into longer-term accommodations, because some may not be able to return home for months, if ever.

But the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) -- already facing furious criticism over its handling of the disaster -- is not moving fast enough, charged Colonel Jeff Smith, deputy head of Louisiana's Department of
Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

"We have real concerns right now with the assistance we are getting from FEMA on temporary housing," fumed Smith.

"We have raised this issue now for days. We do not feel this process is working fast enough," he told reporters in Louisiana's capital Baton Rouge, in an unusually direct official attack on the embattled agency.

"We feel like there needs to be trailers rolling and things happening that are not happening as quickly as they should at this point," Smith said, adding that state officials had complained of the problem to US Vice President
Dick Cheney when he visited Baton Rouge last week. "We want our citizens back here."

But FEMA spokesman David Passey dismissed the claim, saying the agency was doing everything it could to offer temporary accommodation to refugees and that the first 10 families were moving into FEMA-supplied trailers.

"We believe that the effort is progressing very well," he said. "We have more than 1,000 manufactured homes and trailers moving in this direction," he said in Baton Rouge.

The criticism came as the administration of US
President George W. Bush came under intense fire from politicians and victims over a lack of official preparedness and the grindingly slow pace of the relief effort.

FEMA chief Michael Brown was removed two days ago as the government point man on the Katrina crisis as he became the focus of a public and political firestorm that has put a severe strain on the administration.

Around one million people were forced to flee after Katrina struck the US Gulf Coast with a vengeance two weeks ago, laying waste to New Orleans and leaving thousands feared dead. Many of the evacuees were homeless after the storm.

Smith said it was critical to get at least 150,000 Louisianans out of emergency shelters and into temporary apartments or trailers, because many of their homes may not be habitable for the long haul.

"Many areas are not going to be accessible for months, if not indefinitely," he said of deluged and hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, which has been turned into a corpse-strewn swamp, deserted by all but a few thousand of its residents.

But FEMA so far has failed to come up with a clear plan for supplying trailers or alternative accommodation, he said, just hours before Bush was due to fly into the disaster zone to survey the devastation in New Orleans.

"This is massive," Smith said. "No one has dealt with this before, but we need to get some housing on the ground.

"Right now we are not talking about shelters per se, what we are looking for is temporary housing. I don't want to slam it too hard, but we've got to get it moving."

FEMA is besieged with claims that it misjudged the severity of the storm and then only managed to get the first relief and evacuation convoys to tens of thousands of stranded New Orleans residents five days after Katrina hit.

Federal, state and local officials have become locked in a "blame game" of pointing fingers at each other over the failures of the effort to relieve epic suffering in the world's richest and most powerful nation.

US takes more heat over Katrina as state fumes over refugee plight - Yahoo! News


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