Gulf Coast Update

‘Right to return’ Dec. 10 protest

“Just as the government failed to get folks out and people were left to die, they are failing right now to give survivors decent shelter and an opportunity to return,” said William Quigley, law professor at Loyola University New Orleans Law School.

“Our experience in New York City is that FEMA is impeding the process to getting long-term housing,” said Dana Montana of the Atlantis Coalition, an organization of survivors living in hotels in Queens, N.Y.

The coalition is a member of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. PHRF is organizing a Right to Return March in New Orleans on Dec. 10.

John O’Neal, New Orleans artist and member of the PHRF coordinating committee, said the Dec. 10 march is about rallying the nation’s conscience. “We deserve a place to live and the redevelopment of our communities should not be in the interests of convention centers, petrochemical corporations and gambling that will take all the money out.”

FEMA forced to postpone evictions

Stung by protests charging it was pushing hurricane victims out before the holidays, FEMA extended its hotel housing program by one month for homeless Katrina and Rita evacuees.

An estimated 150,000 people still live in hotel rooms. They have until Jan. 7 to find other housing before the federal government evicts them from the hotels. The deadline is Dec. 15 for 3,700 other households scattered nationwide.

Local officials back the charge that FEMA has been a hindrance in guaranteeing survivors housing. FEMA has been blocking cities like Houston from signing apartment leases on behalf of hurricane victims. Houston has been moving about 400 people a day into apartments from hotels, offering government-financed housing with one-year leases.

Katrina victims caught in insurance nightmare

Silvia I. Cosenza, who lived in Gretna, La., until Hurricane Katrina roared through, says she’s been caught in an insurance nightmare: An insurance adjuster ruled that her neighborhood was not flooded and denied her flood claim.

That came as a surprise to Melmary Matheny, who lives across the street and has already received partial payment on her flood claim and has been told to expect another check soon.

Some 1.6 million people filed insurance claims from Katrina, another 1 million from hurricanes Rita and Wilma. In many cases, homeowners living in areas that were equally flooded have had drastically different experiences.

The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is operated by FEMA, ultimately pays the claims. Insurance companies are contracted by FEMA to sell and process claims.

Secrecy shrouds claim handling in the $1.3 trillion insurance industry. Insurance companies, which are regulated by the states, are not required to disclose their claims practices, including how quickly claims are processed, how many are denied and for what reasons.

Mold poses serious health risk

Mold is everywhere in flood-ravaged New Orleans and it poses a serious health risk, according to a nonprofit environmental organization.

Citing extremely high mold spore counts gathered in mid-October — both indoors and outdoors — the National Resources Defense Council called on the federal government to provide residents cleaning out their moldy homes with respirators and protective gear. It also urged the government to create an effective mold monitoring system.

Gulf Coast Update is compiled by Terrie Albano (talbano at pww.org).