Friday, December 01, 2006
Hot sauce for FEMA

















We first got wind of more problems with FEMA's Gulf Coast reconstruction effort from the office of Lousiana Senator Mary Landrieu. What her people told us was depressingly familiar -- that beset by mistakes and indecision, FEMA was trying to back out of commitments it had made to relocate some flood-damaged schools to higher ground.

When we got down to Iberia and Vermillion parishes, about two hours west of New Orleans in bayou country, we got an earful from local school officials.

Turns out FEMA had spent the last year assuring them that they'd get new schools, then turned around and took it back. Apparently the schools weren't damaged enough to satisfy one of FEMA's rules. Rather than relocate, they'd have to rebuild in the flood zones.

The problem is at least one district, taking FEMA's original promise at face value, had already bought some land. Another district was well into the planning stages when FEMA put the brakes on.

As you can see by our report, the locals weren't about to let FEMA off the hook, and neither was Landrieu. The upshot -- FEMA is now looking for ways to make good, and those kids, who have been basically camping out in foster schools for a year, may end up wth their new schools after all.

Take a look at our report (viewable above), and if you know of any other instances where FEMA is trying to pull out of commitments made, let us know. We'd also love to get your tips for other "Keeping them honest" stories we should chase ... on any subject. We'll check them out.

Posted By Steve Turnham, CNN Producer: 1:22 PM ET
  26 Comments
Great reporting!! This is the kind of news I really appreciate hearing! Whistle blowers!
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 1:36 PM ET
What an awesome idea! I do have to say tho that putting your name on the Ireport page is hardly "confidential".
Maybe you could offer a place where people could post tips that were truly anonymous.
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 1:50 PM ET
One would think that FEMA has had enough bad press but obviously they must have thought Anderson Cooper & CNN wasn't watching them anymore. They've just sunk to a new low. You never promise children that you'll do something and then renege on it. Isn't that just a great way to teach the children to respect their Government!
Posted By Anonymous Bev Ontario Canada : 2:04 PM ET
Please, keep on this story, as well as the non-processing of funds for other reconstruction. The fly-over, fly-in photo op promise has to stop. Not to keep harping on the HIV/AIDS day, but I wonder how much of the Billions of the Bush pledge will be delivered to that Fight. How sincere can this administration be about fighting HIV/AIDS when Eric Keroack is an appointee to HHS? Keeping them honest is more than a full time job. And a big thank you to those on the 'front lines' and in the 'trenches' trying to make things better.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 2:07 PM ET
I'm grateful to Senator Landreieu, but it's also been over a year now since Hurricane Rita hit Louisiana. I was born in Iberia Parish-it's a small community and so I'm glad to see it get this very necessary attention. Hurricane Katrina was so devastating to the Gulf Coast, that most of the attention centered around it so there wasn't a lot of focus on the devastation brought on by Rita. FEMA is a comedy of errors and incompetence. It's pathetic that they have had to basically be shamed into making good on their promise. But this is another example of why good media is so important. I can't help but believe that Anderson's conversation with Landreiu last year had some impact on her attitude. I don't think she's congratulating the government now.
Posted By Anonymous Debbie Darby, Denham Springs, LA : 2:12 PM ET
That's a great idea, Steve. "Keeping them honest" stories can be a full time job for you guys. It's time we all started paying attention to what's going on. The government works for us and we need to hold their feet to the fire at all times. Our reporters and media are our last line of defense especially with any administration that wants to operate behind closed doors. Maybe, if we had been keeping them honest six years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today. If our media can't or won't ask the tough questions and demand answers instead of spin or just letting an answer slid by, we are lost, because then we, the people have lost our voice in the grand scheme of our democracy.
Posted By Anonymous Lee Fairfield Iowa : 3:32 PM ET
I wanted to ask if you could put some national press coverage on the insurance crisis that homeowners and businesses are facing on the Gulf Coast, specifically New Orleans.

The insurance companies have collected billions of dollars in premiums, posted over $40 profit even after paying hurricane claims, are expected to post even higher profits this year.

And what have we received in exchange for paying all those premiums? They've doubled and sometimes tripled renewal premiums after having to pay out claims that the government and reinsurance companies paid for most of anyway, and are refusing to write new policies along the gulf coast.

Governor Blanco and other Louisiana legislators seem afraid to say anything out of fear that more insurance companies will leave the state. The insurance crisis is crippling our recovery down south. Please help. Thanks.
Posted By Anonymous Katrina Survivor, New Orleans, LA : 4:23 PM ET
Hi Steve~
What the hell? Everytime I hear about FEMA I have this visualization of Pres. Bush saying,"Good job Brownie." That about says it all. If Pres. Bush would stop trying to get a so called victory in Iraq ( also known as Beating that old dead horse) and concentrate on issues at home, we might as a country look like something other than giant laugh to the rest of the world. Ahh, thank goodness we have 360 to keep them honest. I also think the confidential tip site is cool. You guys will have the government scared! GOOD!
Now if you have any suggestions or tips as to how I can run a spell check on this little comment box (geez, I need it) or how to enlarge the font so I can proof read it more efficiently~let me know! Isn't it the pits when you can't enlarge your font? Ok Steve~ You all do a great job of reporting and helping.Thanks so much for ALL you do!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 4:44 PM ET
Why do people pile on a government agency without looking at the full picture? Do you realize where the money will come from for the rebuilding? Look in your pocket. Why are people not open to less costly ways such as renovating? Im sorry the school flooded, but that's not a reason to demand razing it and rebuilding. Maybe these schools will be renovated.

And what's with people being surprised that FEMA is inefficient? The day a government employee is honest, credible or follows through will be the day h*ll freezes over.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 7:26 PM ET
Hi Steve,
I would like to see some reports on the contractor fraud that is going on in New Orleans. Friends of mine have been trying to renovate for the past 15 months. After the first electrician finished his work, and was paid, the house failed inspection by the city and another contractor had to be hired. They are still not in their house.
Also, French Quarter businesses are really having a hard time, due to lack of local support and tourism. It is about time for CNN to do an update on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We do appreciate all that CNN has done to keep the spotlight on NOLA.
Posted By Anonymous Barbara, LaPlace, LA. : 10:01 PM ET
Why are heads not rollling for their incompitency.
Posted By Anonymous Angel Piedad@Chula Vista, CA. : 10:51 PM ET
Hi Steve,
How about an in depth interview with Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Nagin. Does keeping them honest only apply to Republicans? How about Insurance companies? How about a town hall meeting, broadcast live, with a list of all that still needs to be done and who exactly is the agency that will solve this or that issue. I don't think you'll need to "chase down" a single Keeping them honest segment when you've got more than a liftimes worth right there in the Gulf Coast. Good Luck
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 12:08 AM ET
FEMA is, at this point in time, a joke. Unfortunately, a lot of people have suffered due to FEMA'S mismanagement...yea..."Good job Brownie." Even President Bush has not followed through with his promises...why am I not surprised? I hear people talking about where the money is coming from to rebuild our American disaster zones but, I hear no complaints about the BILLIONS of dollars leaving our country and being sent to other countries that do not even care about the American way. Wake up people....let's take care of our own.
Posted By Anonymous Moe, Liverpool NY : 2:04 AM ET
FEMA has the power to change that situation nobody should have to remind them.
Posted By Anonymous israel, raleigh, nc : 2:46 AM ET
hell froze over - as a hardworking, honest and ethical govt employee - I take REAL offense to that remark. NOT ALL GOVT workers are useless.

The schools should be rebuilt out of the flood plain so that this doesn't happen again. Unless you as a tax payer would like to pay for category 5 hurricane protection or the rebuilding of the school the next time.
Posted By Anonymous Ann, New Orleans, LA : 6:29 AM ET
There is Camp Polk with lots of empty barracks and space the refugees could have been taken to people who wanted to work could have then been bussed down to New orleans on a rotational basis. I bet Brown & Root and lots of Lobbyists would have nixed that Idea.
Posted By Anonymous Dave Houston Texas : 9:21 AM ET
I am so tired of people just acccepting corruption. Or trying to rationalize it, or trying to point the finger at the other political party not involved in the scandal du jour. Saying "the Dems do it to" is the way a kindergartner argues his or her point, NOT a grown adult posting their thoughts on this blog or anywhere else. Im sure Fox news has a blog you can post on if that is the way you like to debate matters. It isn't about dem or republican, or about "where the money is coming from" to rebuild the places the leaders of this country will go to get an education. It's about saying one thing and then doing the opposite. If just one one hundredth of the money poured into this "war on terror" was allocated to help the victims of katrina, we wouldnt even be discussing this. Wake up Xtina and all the rest of the finger pointing, grade school level Bushies. Thank you!
Posted By Anonymous Nathan Karczewski, Junction city KS : 3:18 PM ET
I'm glad the media has put a bright light on FEMA's attempt to yank its funding for housing Katrina evacuees in Houston, Texas. FEMA has agreed to extend the funding for another few months.

Please stay on top of FEMA's continuing attempts to renege on its promises to last year's hurricane victims. These men, women and children fled both a natural and a human disaster, and found themselves stranded in unfamiliar cities. They needed all the help their hosts can give them. Now their housing funds are running out, and FEMA tries to pull its funding. Heckuva job, FEMA!
Posted By Anonymous Wendy King, New Orleans, Louisiana : 9:05 PM ET
I think it's sad for the kids especially. Education is on the top of my list. And for children, school is like their little society. To loose their homes, friends, schools, everything that makes sense to them is sad. I hope those schools will be rebuilt as soon as possible. But, what about the homes???

As for the anonymous tips, in the province of Quebec, we have a tv program that's called "J.E."(in english it would be "I.J." for Inquiry Journalism. You tip them off about individuals or companies(even the government) doing somethin illegal and they send their team of journalists to inquire. And it works. It's a one hour show every week. It as given great results, have helped many people and it informs you on who's trying to screw you! It's always good to know!

Joanne Ranzell
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne Ranzell Laval Quebec : 2:37 PM ET
I would like you to show everyone what is happening to renters, we are being ignored. Maybe we can't afford to buy a house but we were affected just like everyone else. I have been given a different excuse everytime as to why I didn't get help from Fema and I have sent all documentation they have asked for time and time again but they lose it and we are back to square 1 so why bother, I just quit trying, I'm sure that is what they wanted to happen with a lot of people so they don't have to give you any help.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy saraland,Al : 9:55 PM ET
State Farm insurance has no problem taking our money. I have a message for them! I will not insure my house or truck with State Farm anymore. After watching that Family talk about how they were cover from neck to toe, and they recieved a check to remove a tree. What does that have to do with rebuilding your house?
Posted By Anonymous Claude Calgary AB Canada : 12:10 AM ET
FEMA, Mayor Nagin, nor Govenor Blanco have done much to help people like us to rebuild. Our house was on Canal Boulevard and it was destroyed by 17 days of flood waters ten feet deep in the house. All the billions of dollars from the federal government and donations have been wasted and misspent by Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin and FEMA. We went to 'see' the house a few days ago. We stayed until it got dark in Lakeview. There were no lights in any of the houses for blocks around. If you want to see the lack of rebuilding and the devastation in Lakeview, go there are night and you will see no people and block after block of no lights. It is terrible! We live now in Shreveport.
Posted By Anonymous Steve Kirkikis; Shreveport, LA : 1:00 PM ET
Blogger Steve said:

"All the billions of dollars from the federal government and donations have been wasted and misspent by Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin and FEMA."

Sounds like a job for Anderson Cooper, star reporter ! Please, Anderson do a story to expose this travesty.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 12:18 AM ET
I lived in Baton Rouge last year and viewed the flood sites seven months after the flood. They were all still a mess and at that time, nothing had been rebuilt.
Despite all of the publicity that FEMA's lack of action received initially, it would seem by this report that FEMA is still not doing their job. Children and schools should take priority if rebuilding is ever going to take place. If FEMA will not support building the new schools, the future of the area is dim.The most effective voice in bringing attention to these deficiencies is probably that of the people in the flooded area, but the voice of the poor is often not heard.
Stories like this need to be reported!
Posted By Anonymous Nick Villanueva Irvine, Ca : 1:58 PM ET
It's prob. way too late to add a comment to this thread, but I felt terrible having made a hasty generalization about federal government employees, in relation to the mention of FEMA in this post. Of course there are "good apples" in every work group.

Thanks to CNN and AC360 for this forum.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 3:34 PM ET
I believe there is too much red tape. Look at some of the surrounding communities of New Orleans that have had homes and other buildings repaired or rebuilt by a religious organization, ON A VOLUNTARY BASIS,BY VOLUNTARY DONATIONS imagin that. Stop looking at dollars signs and start looking at what these people need and just do it.
Posted By Anonymous Shelley, De Kalb, Texas : 11:26 AM ET
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