Residents of trailer parks set up by the Federal Emergency Management
Agency to house hurricane victims in Louisiana aren't allowed to talk to the
press without an official escort, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate reported.
In one instance, a security guard ordered an Advocate reporter out
of a trailer during an interview in Morgan City. Similar FEMA rules were enforced
in Davant, in Plaquemines Parish.
FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Rodi wouldn't say whether the security guards' actions
complied with FEMA policy, saying the matter was being reviewed. But she confirmed
that FEMA does not allow the news media to speak alone to residents in their
"If a resident invites the media to the trailer, they have to be escorted
by a FEMA representative who sits in on the interview," Rodi told the newspaper
for its July 15 report. "That's just a policy."
Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom
of the Press, said FEMA's refusal to allow trailer-park residents to invite
news media into their homes unescorted was unconstitutional.
Morgan City Mayor Timothy Matte told The Advocate that he was surprised residents
were being barred from talking to reporters.
"I would think anyone who lives there would be allowed to have any visitor
they wanted," he said.
FEMA leases the land for the trailer park from the city, Matte said. "It's
public property. There's no question about that. You would think the people
would have the same freedom there as everyone else has," he told the newspaper.
Hundreds of trailers at FEMA parks sit empty and unused in Louisiana, according
to The Advocate.
Officials in Morgan City estimate that FEMA has spent about $7.5 million to
build the trailer park but that only about 15 of the 198 trailers are being
"We all wonder why no one lives there," Matte said.
FEMA officials refuse to say how much was spent to build the park or why 183
of the trailers are vacant.
"We're not going to talk about cost," Rodi told the newspaper.
As in Morgan City, the 334-trailer FEMA park in Davant in Plaquemines Parish
is greatly underused.
The north side of the park is empty, and 92 families live in the south side,
Rodi said, adding that the empty trailers would be removed.
"We put them there at the parish's request," she said. "Now
we've found that the need is not as great there or that people don't want to
The trailers are going to be put on private property or in private parks in
the parish as needed, Rodi said. She refused to disclose how much the park cost
Meanwhile, Plaquemines Parish President Benny Rousselle blamed FEMA, in part,
for the slow return of residents to the parish.
Rousselle said FEMA knows where many evacuees relocated after the storm but
won't give that information to parish officials.
"FEMA told us because of privacy issues, they can't give us the addresses
of our residents who are spread out in all 50 states. And no one but FEMA has
that information," Rousselle said. "If we could contact them, I think
a lot of them would come back if they knew we had places for them to live."
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