In part one I introduced you to the wicked world that awaits a hurricane victim after they have survived the initial onslaught. The TV folks lose interest faster than a speeding bullet, hurricanes become yesterdays news in a heartbeat. But what about the people that lived through the disaster?

My wife Jan lost her house on Katrina. Houses can be replaced, but memorabilia and memories can not. Although her house was inland from Lake Pontchartrain, it still ended up with a six foot storm swell. Washers, Dryers, Refrigerators can be replaced, but what about those priceless photographs, or the drawings that your children brought home from school? No insurance policy can cover those.

Many people have a misconception on what happens after a natural disaster. We see the TV coverage of food, water, and other necessities being distributed. We see the the shots taken from afar of the electric, gas, water, and phone employees working around the clock to re-establish some of the classic infrastructure that we have become so used to.

For obvious reasons I have changed some names, but the stories are very, very real ones.

An older couple, lets call them Ralph and Delores, they had a home that they loved, Katrina decimated it, not from the wind, the sheer volume of water was the problem. FEMA stepped in and supplied them with a travel trailer to live in. I would be telling lies if I was to say that this couple was in the picture of health, they were not. However the FEMA trailer seemed to bring them to knees. I had heard of the formaldehyde problem in some of the FEMA trailers, but had dismissed it as yet another get rich quick scheme by some ambulance chasing lawyers.

I did not get to meet Ralph, he was dead by the time I moved to the area. I did however get to meet Delores, it was clear that she was failing fast. But why? Delores actually came to stay with us for a couple of days. They were sad, and yet very revealing days. How much did the FEMA supplied trailer have to do with the deaths? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. But, and this is an important factor, it was not FEMA that supplied the trailer, it was a subcontractor. Did this trailer contribute to their deaths? I do not know for sure!

What I do know is that Delores was a wonderful lady, she took time out to explain to me the joys of fried catfish for dinner and grits for breakfast.

Would Ralph and Delores still be with us had Katrina not occurred? I can not answer that. I have no idea.

My wife Jan had become driven in the urge to move back to the area, her argument was simple, her parents are getting older. What if something happened to them? With that we relocated to the wilds of Mississippi and I saw firsthand the devastation that Katrina had left. My first introduction occurred the morning following our arrival. For the sake of anonymity lets call this person Jeff.

Several years ago he had come into a minor windfall of money and decided that this was his one chance to purchase a house and land. Far inland the chances of flooding were non existent, however Katrina had caused enough wind and rain damage to actually move a very sturdy structure from its foundations. The damage was enough to make the home uninhabitable. With a significant other and three children this was a desperate situation.

FEMA came through with some emergency supplies, and also a large mobile home for the family to use. This was not the travel trailer variety that many people had to endure, but a full blown mobile home. Life was good.

As so many people discovered though, having home owners insurance is often not what it is cracked up to be when you actually make a claim. Jeff’s house sits as a stark reminder of the sheer power that the destructive forces of a hurricane can have.

He and his family are still in that FEMA mobile home, they all seem to be sick most of the time, mainly with respiratory problems.

To add insult to injury, during the installation of the mobile home the FEMA subcontractors damaged the septic system. Repeated calls and letters have still not resulted in the problem being fixed. Nor will it ever be.

In fact FEMA’s response was to try and evict the family rather than address the problem.

This particular story is not unique, it is but one of many that I have heard. They are all different, yet they are all the same. The question though is who is to blame. Is it FEMA or is it one of their subcontractors? It was not FEMA that damaged Jeff’s septic system, it was not FEMA that built the the mobile home that most likely has toxins in it that are causing the health issues. It was subcontractors doing a poor job, and shirking their responsibilities.

In part one I talked about fraud, specifically the fraud discussed in Keifer Bonvillain’s new book The Broken Road To Disaster Recovery. The two stories I have included in this article are not fraud in the classic sense of the word, yet to me they still represent fraud. The FEMA recovery effort was funded by the Federal Government, in simple terms, it was ultimately funded by the taxpayer. Ralph and Delores did not deserve the fates that awaited them, Jeff and his family are in a dire situation, and there seems little chance that some gaurdian angel will come to their rescue.

I have a great deal of respect for FEMA, without this organization whole comunities would not exist today. However FEMA does need to rethink some of its opperating procedures. In particular the relationship between FEMA and the actual contractors doing the work.

I am sometimes asked if anything is actually happening on this front. The answer is yes. I can not discuss the information that I am privy to. But after a very long battle it does seem that some government agencies are beginning to recognize the problem. Both the FBI and DHS are now taking an interest.

I do plan on having a radio program about the subject in the near future, I already have my panel selected. This will be a shocking program, and one you will not want to miss.

Simon Barrett

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