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Katrina victims: 'Living in barns'

Parish president blasts FEMA over temporary homes

Programming Note: St. Bernard Parish president Henry Rodriguez takes CNN's Alina Cho on a tour of where he says FEMA should put trailers for Katrina victims, American Morning, Wednesday, 6 a.m. ET.

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St. Bernard Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez says residents need 12,000 trailers.

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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Disasters (General)

(CNN) -- More than three months after thousands of people lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina, local and federal officials are trading blame over the slow delivery of trailer housing.

"We got a serious situation in St. Bernard Parish," its president, Henry "Junior" Rodriguez, told CNN on Tuesday.

"We got people living in tents and automobiles. We got people living in barns. We got people living in their houses -- in tents," he said on "American Morning."

"This is the beginning of winter. This is unacceptable."

Tuesday morning, it was 41 degrees in New Orleans.

A site with 50 to 55 trailers is operational, Rodriguez said, and another may be able to handle 45 trailers within a couple days. But the 100 or so trailers fall far short of the 12,000 trailers needed for the number of people estimated to return home, he added.

Adding to Rodriguez's frustration is the fact that 1,400 trailers are sitting unused in St. Bernard Parish. The parish ordered them from a private contractor days after the hurricane hit on August 29, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not agreed to pay for them.

There are also more than 5,000 FEMA mobile homes in Arkansas sitting unused, CNN has learned.

FEMA responded Tuesday, telling CNN it is ready to deliver 125,000 trailers to the area but that parish officials "still have to identify places to put them."

The agency said that St. Bernard Parish "has identified 1,000 sites for trailers ... 500 of them have already been installed, and the rest are in the works."

"It is understandable that the process can be frustrating, given that basic services, including electricity, were just recently restored," FEMA's statement read.

"While most of the housing stock in St. Bernard's was decimated by Katrina, several options exist to ensure that people have a safe, warm place to stay."

The dispute over the trailers is the latest in a long line of bitter battles between local, state and federal officials over who bears responsibility for a breakdown in services that left people stranded, homeless and sometimes dying in the wake of the storm.

St. Bernard Homeland Security Chief Larry Ingargiola said he calls FEMA representatives three to four times a day and cannot persuade the agency to move faster in paying for the trailers. "If they don't pay for the trailers, I can't put the trailers out," he said.

Rodriguez said he and other parish officials identified 6,500 trailers, each at a price $1,500 less than what FEMA is paying for trailers of the same type. Another list he provided had 4,500 trailers that are $3,000 cheaper than what FEMA pays, Rodriguez said. And FEMA hasn't talked with the contractor in charge of the cheaper trailers, Rodriguez added.

Meanwhile Jim Maguire, the private contractor whose unused trailers haven't been paid for, told CNN that they can't stay in St. Bernard forever.

Returnees pitch tents

A couple from St. Bernard, Wayne and Charlene Conrad, have decided not to wait any longer and bought a tent to pitch in what is left of their living room. A couple of longtime friends have pitched a tent there, too.

"You call, and you call, and you call, and you call -- and it's busy," said Charlene Conrad. "And finally when somebody does answer, it's a recording. You gotta push this button. I don't know what to do. All we ask is to get a trailer."

A FEMA spokeswoman in Washington said the agency is not to blame. "So far, FEMA has provided rental assistance for more than 500,000 families and housed more than 40,000 in travel trailers," Nicol Andrews said.

On Monday a federal judge in New Orleans extended until February 7 a FEMA deadline on Katrina evacuees to leave hotels. Judge Stanwood Duval's temporary restraining order prevented FEMA from ending on January 7 the program that pays for evacuees' hotel rooms. (Full story)

His ruling skewered the agency's actions concerning the program, describing them "notoriously erratic and bumbling."

CNN's Susan Roesgen contributed to this report.

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