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Katrina victims sue FEMA over slow response

Thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors are still waiting for help from the federal government.  On Thursday,  more than a dozen of them filed a lawsuit.   NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

For 66 days now, 62-year-old Florence Jackson has been waiting for help from FEMA.

"I worked all my life," she says. "Where is my government? I'm so disappointed."

Since Katrina devastated her apartment in New Orleans, Jackson and her disabled son have been on an odyssey through temporary shelters. She's now in an apartment in San Antonio, provided by a church group.

Ever since she applied for housing assistance days after the storm, she has called FEMA day and night and is told her application is still pending.

"I want somebody to know that I'm suffering," Jackson says, her voice breaking, "and I shouldn't have to suffer."

Jackson is one of 13 Katrina victims who sued FEMA Thursday, hoping to get the agency's attention. Legal scholars say it's a tough case to win. Still, it shows how desperate some victims are.

"I'm angry, I'm mad and I'm upset," said Arthur Williams at a New Orleans town hall meeting with FEMA recently. "And I have the right to be, because I'm gonna sleep in my car at night and go to work in the morning."

Part of the problem is, so far, FEMA has cleared only 6,423 trailers for survivors to live in — in all of Louisiana — tens of thousands fewer than needed.

Paul Gonzalez was inspecting trailers for FEMA until last month. Finally, he quit in disgust after hundreds of trailers stayed vacant for weeks because FEMA didn't complete the paperwork.

"I felt like I was being paid an exorbitant amount of money," says Gonzalez, "and I saw nothing being done."

Thursday, FEMA would not comment on the lawsuit, but says 1 million households have received financial aid and eventually everyone will get what they are due.

However, a former senior FEMA official says she's flabbergasted by just how far behind this recovery still is.

Lisa Myers is NBC’s senior investigative correspondent.