Some of the thousands of trailers purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2005 after hurricanes tore through the Gulf Coast may finally be put to use to help victims of last week's tornadoes, officials said Tuesday.
The 7,200 trailers stored at the Hope airport will "definitely" be used in Arkansas and Tennessee, where the twisters left many homeless, officials said.
The decision comes after requests by state officials and Arkansas' congressional delegation, which has criticized the trailers in the past as a sign of federal ineptitude after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said David Maxwell, head of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.
Maxwell said his office told FEMA immediately after the storms that victims would need some of the trailers. FEMA administrator R. David Paulison said Friday on a tour of the damage that the agency would prefer putting storm victims in rental property, although he acknowledged that could be difficult in rural communities.
"Knowing rural Arkansas and the areas that were hit, there's not a lot of rental property," Maxwell said. "Then you're stuck with mobile homes."
Maxwell said the number of trailers released would depend on the number of people that called FEMA and requested help, as opposed to simply releasing a blanket number. He said FEMA already hired a contractor to prepare and possibly transport the trailers to those in need.
A FEMA spokesman in Little Rock said the agency would be releasing more information about the trailers Tuesday afternoon.
After Katrina hit in 2005, FEMA purchased 25,000 manufactured homes built at a cost of more than $850 million. Many of them went unused while many hurricane victims remained homeless.
All together, FEMA has about 75,000 trailers and mobile home in various locations across the country. Congress ordered FEMA to stop selling or donating the property last year after discovering problems with formaldehyde.
In November, FEMA spokesman James McIntyre said the agency determined its mobile homes were safe to use but was still testing its travel trailers stored at Hope.
Twelve people were killed along one Arkansas tornado's 120-mile path on Feb. 5. In all, 59 people died in storms that lashed across five states.