Image: shelter
Lm Otero / Ap
The Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, La., is one of the shelters still housing a total of about 22,000 people.
updated 10/12/2005 10:35:51 PM ET 2005-10-13T02:35:51

Three days before the federal government’s self-imposed deadline for emptying shelters of Hurricane Katrina victims, more than 22,000 people are still waiting to get out, the head of the relief effort said Wednesday.

The number in shelters across the nation peaked at more than 270,000 on Sept. 8, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen said. President Bush set a mid-October goal for getting everyone out, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been shooting for Oct. 15.

It’s now doubtful that that deadline will be met, in part because Hurricane Rita swept the region just days after Katrina, Allen said.

He stressed that nobody would be forced out of any shelter on Saturday. In the meantime, staff from FEMA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration will visit the remaining evacuees to help them find more permanent housing, he said.

‘We're on the right path’
“We are on track to get all of the Katrina evacuees out of temporary shelters, into a more permanent housing solution, pending their long-term housing goals,” Allen said. “We think we’re on the right path, we’re headed that way.”

Long-term temporary housing still must be found for at least 400,000 other Katrina victims now living in hotels or with friends or family. FEMA is working to put them in travel trailers, mobile homes or apartments until they find permanent homes.

“Right now, being in a shelter or being in a hotel is somewhat a bridge to nowhere,” Allen said.

As of Wednesday, the American Red Cross had 161 shelters for hurricane victims housing 17,837 people, most of them in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Millian.

“As long as there’s a need for emergency shelters, we’re there to provide them,” Millian said.

A FEMA program reimbursing the Red Cross expires Oct. 24, but Allen said that could be extended.

Unexpected delays
Moving Katrina victims into longer-term housing has been fraught with delays that FEMA has attributed in part to the unprecedented scope of Katrina’s destruction and to Rita hitting southwestern Louisiana and Texas in late September.

One of Louisiana’s largest shelters is set to close Friday. Baton Rouge’s River Center held as many as 6,000 people just after Katrina hit on Aug. 29. On Wednesday, it had fewer than 500.

Many residents were being moved to a FEMA trailer park near Baker, La., which opened a week ago. The park holds more than 570 small vacation trailers and is laid out with street lights, gravel roads and sewer service. It is a prototype for what FEMA hopes to do at other sites under construction or being planned.

The red tape involved with acquiring land, getting local permits and sometimes overcoming local residents’ and governments’ concerns have been hurdles, though, as has transporting the temporary homes to people with private property.

9,000 mobile homes sit empty
The federal government ordered 125,000 campers and mobile homes as housing for hurricane victims. But only about 6,700 are now occupied, while more than 9,000 others sit unused at government staging sites in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, said FEMA spokesman James McIntyre.

In some case, campers have been sent back because no one came to claim them. In Alabama, 200 unoccupied travel trailers were returned to the staging areas by state parks because not enough people were interested.

Ben Truong, meanwhile, has been waiting, living with his parents, aunt and a couple of dogs on their shrimp boat near Biloxi, Miss., and running the boat’s engine to power a generator.

“What’s killing us is we’re burning the diesel that makes our living,” the 34-year-old said. “If something doesn’t happen ... we are going to lose everything.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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