FEMA Grants Waiver for Mobile Homes in Louisiana’s Cameron Parish

January 13, 2009

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced it would allow mobile homes for hurricane victims in areas that new maps indicate are at risk of future flooding in Cameron Parish. But the occupants must be out of the units by June 1, the start of the next hurricane season.

The decision, urged by state officials and congressional members, came months after FEMA had said placing units in areas considered at high risk for flooding may jeopardize families’ health and safety.

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison said the agency, as a matter of policy, considers the information in preliminary digital flood insurance rate maps the best available data.

But with a number of residents of the southwest Louisiana parish facing “great, undue hardship,” Paulison wrote, “I believe it is appropriate to allow Cameron Parish additional opportunity for public comment.”

State officials maintained the temporary housing was needed due to limited local rental options and long commutes to work for residents affected by Hurricane Ike last September. They also said local officials hadn’t had time to review or appeal the maps that increased the portion of the parish considered at significant risk.

The limited waiver essentially keeps the existing advisory base flood elevations and flood zones in effect until a final resolution on the maps is reached.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said the waiver will help residents trying to rebuild their storm-damaged houses and allow officials time to appeal preliminary maps “we believe erroneously place much of the parish in a high velocity flood zone.”

Andrew Thomas, a FEMA spokesman, said the agency stands behind the science that went into creating the maps but said the circumstances in Cameron Parish are unusual.

“We try to provide emergency shelter, and we’re doing that to the best of our ability,” he said.

Those moving into mobile homes will have to sign agreements saying they’ll be out of them by June 1. Thomas estimated about 150 households will benefit.

Thomas said FEMA has teams ready to begin installing units but couldn’t say how quickly families might occupy them, noting factors like local permitting rules.

Clifton Hebert, Cameron Parish’s emergency preparedness director, hopes placement can begin soon but is skeptical it will, citing the pace of the bureaucracy in the past.

He still called the announcement “a blessing for our residents looking to get back and rebuild.”

U.S. Sen. David Vitter called FEMA’s decision a “major breakthrough,” but said he planned to continue working on the issue, saying he assumes some residents will continue to have some level of need past the June 1 deadline.

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