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Monday, June 11, 2007
FEMA finds trailers trashed
FEMA site manager Josh Davis and I were soaked with sweat from the east Texas heat. Too bad the FEMA trailer we were standing in didn't have an air conditioner. The people who used to live there stole it. They also took all the lights, every appliance, all the locks and door knobs. They even took the toilet.

Turns out, almost one out of every ten FEMA trailers loaned rent-free to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita are returned so badly trashed they can't be used again, according to FEMA. The government then tries to get what it can at auction. Trailers (what's left of them) that cost taxpayers upwards of $20,000 sometimes sell for just pennies on the dollar.

And what happens to the former trailer occupants who trashed them? So far, not much. FEMA has the authority to send a letter demanding payment for damages, that is, if the offending residents can be found. FEMA doesn't have the authority to prosecute and officials say trying to punish someone for ruining a trailer may cost more than it's worth.

-- By David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 4:04 PM ET
  42 Comments
Those who leave the trashed trailers should not be given government assistance ever again and their wages should be garnished to repay us tax payers.
Posted By Missy, Los Angeles, CA : 4:16 PM ET
David,
It seems to me that these people should have been more appreciative for the free help they recieved! Some people didn't even get any help. But I guess some people take everything for granted and want something for nothing. And now once again we are stuck with the bill!

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Cindy : 4:24 PM ET
So when are we supposed to stop feeling sorry for these people. Nothing in life is free. Why should people assume that they are entitled to something for nothing. They should be held responsible for some kind of reimbursement or at least return the property the way they got it.
Posted By Barb Kozlowski, Phoenix AZ : 4:34 PM ET
It's really disgusting that the scroungers that left those trailers in that condition leave the really honest and needy people in a bad light. I'm betting a lot of innocent and tax-paying citizens will be taking the fall for this one. What a shame!!
Posted By Bev Ontario Canada : 5:00 PM ET
In the military we are instructed to take care of gov't property or it comes out of our wages. Since FEMA is a gov't agency, FEMA should not even have to ask before garnishing these peoples paychecks and if they have no paycheck they are simply put on a list that will never receive gov't aid again, period. My parents taught me to respect all things that belong to others, even the gov't. So when I see low class welfare snotballs trashing things like these trailers, I see a direct reflection of their parents.
Posted By Mark, Kingsburg, CA : 5:19 PM ET
Not to make any excuses for this type of criminal and thankless behavior, but why shouldn't the "little people" feel entitled to get what they can, when they are so shamelessly outdone by their government? As long as our elected officials are getting away with wasting taxpayer money by the millions or billions, the "little people" won't have any incentive to be honest and thankful.
Posted By Monika, Eagar, Arizona : 5:22 PM ET
This is a true outrage. You try to help people out with trailers, especially when they need it, and then they show their appreciation by stealing and trashing it. That just makes me so angry. As a tax payer, I hope those people are found. They will one day leave a paper trail and charge their behinds for everything they stole and broke! Some people out there are truly pitiful.
Posted By Maddie Parker, Atlanta, Georgia : 5:26 PM ET
David, I guess if you look on the bright side it means that nine of ten trailers are not destroyed and those people do appreciate what is given to them.
Posted By Judy Stage/Brooklyn MI : 5:28 PM ET
Hi David,
Well, this is dissappointing but you know, the same thing happens to rental property. If people don't own it, they don't seem to care.
I am still a lot more worried about all those thousands of trailers that are of no use to anyone because they are rotting in Hope, Arkansas !!!
It really is HOT AS HELL here in East Texas, isn't it? All that humidity stinks!
Thanks,
Sweaty~Betty. . . Ann
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 5:30 PM ET
Maybe FEMA can't collect the money and/or it would be too expensive anyways. Why try? Simply place these people on a list that received NO government assistance of any sort, for any reason, foever. No food stamps, no welfare, no unemployment, no Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid, no educational or training assistance, no more diaster relief of any sort, nothing. If they think so little of the taxpayers that provided for them, then we owe them nothing ever again.
Posted By mike Brooks, Eugene, Oregon : 5:52 PM ET
I can only echo the thoughts posted by Bev. It is really a sad thing because the people that read this article and watch the news are the ones that are innocent and really need the assistance. The offenders probably only had one regret and that being, how they wished that they'd pulled the carpet up too.
Posted By Jemaul, Savannah Ga : 6:05 PM ET
so, where are these families going to live after they leave the FEMA "loaner" trailers?? do they have permanent housing/residences to move into from the trialers? if not, and they are being "kicked/forced out", then they are probably acting out of "retribution" and anger for being tossed out into the humidity homeless again...?? whaddyall think?!?
Posted By Sven, Madison, WI : 6:08 PM ET
i don't know...i'm gonna play the "Devil's Advocate" here--->> can you imagine what some of those people/families have suffered through since Katrina?!? live and families, dreams, communities destroyed and displaced and a failed, slugghish response from the government. why shouldn't they be full of anger and resentment?!? who wouldn''t?? maybe we should give them a break!! besides, are they leaving the trailers to be homelss and displaced further again?!? (There! and i've posted some pretty *negative* anti-Katrina refugees posts here in my time! It's good to always be able to see and feel the other side of the argument!)
Posted By Mark, Sacramento, CA : 6:13 PM ET
What a pity. More FEMA money wasted, this time by the folks it was intended to help. It's been almost 2 years since these Hurricane's hit. When do we stop propping up people who have no respect for others or probably themselves. I have some relatives who went, at their own cost, to help immediately after the levy's failed, but due to people being shot at they were turned away. From that point on, I had to wonder what type of people are these? It also makes the general population less likely to reach out & help when the next disaster comes along. A few bad apples can spoil the whole barrel.
Posted By Katie, Garland Tx : 6:14 PM ET
Hi David,
What's the saying? Don't bite the hand that feeds you? It is a lack of respect for the taxpayers,and yes,FEMA should try to get compensation from them. But I'm with Judy on that one,9 out of 10 are left in good condition.
Those leaving the trailers in good state shouldn't take the fall for the others. There will always be ungrateful,disrespectful human beings.
What bothers me the most is that I'm sure most of them have children,who are learning it's allright to behave that way. And they will grow up thinking that. It's always history repeating itself.

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 6:32 PM ET
David/AC360:

I believe a new culture has evolved from the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and the neglectful response of local and federal government for the citizens of the Gulf. It is called "despair poverty."

The reaction of this new poverty is the desecration of its symbol of loss and anger; the FEMA trailer.

As a returning volunteer working in Mississippi and New Orleans for the past two years, I have come to one conclusion; no one, and I mean no one, should be treated like animals by housing families, children, the elderly, or the disabled in mass produced FEMA boxes for any extended period of time. (The FEMA trailers were designed only to be used for 6 months.)

I am not condoning the theft or destruction of US property, but by the time most individuals or families left the trailers for other housing, the depreciation and condition of the short-term trailer made the trailer unusable again anyway.

This country is facing the two year anniversary of the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in just over three months. PLENTY of work to rebuild the Gulf Coast still needs to be done TODAY and TOMORROW and years to come. Call a faith-based organization or a non-profit organization to see how to volunteer in the continuing recovery process.
Posted By Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 6:36 PM ET
FEMA should have simply had the occupants sign a contract that as long as they had the trailer they were responsible to maintain it and return it in good condition for future use or they shall be charged for any damages like what you would do when renting a car.Personally I dont feel bad as a tax payer. God knows these money pays for lots more things that are unnecessary and we dont know about it. Im just glad these people got some help whether they were grateful or not Im not going to judge them. I just hope that, should we be faced with another catastrophy such us this that politics would take the back sit and people should be helped unconditonally and be treated like human beings.Let us not forget New Orleans is still in terrible shape and they still need our support and please do not refer to them as these people, they are our fellow citizens and unless you have walked in their shoes and gone through what they have been through, I dont think we have any right to judge them and remember the tables could be turned and it maybe you or me in their position.
Posted By Valerie, Hesston KS : 7:02 PM ET
There has been so much waste associated with the recovery of Hurricane Katrina from the federal government on down to the people receiving these trailers as direct aid. It's all wrong.

But as for these people who trashed the trailers, I agree with the post from Mike Brooks in Eugene, Oregon. It may be too expensive or too time consuming to go after these people, but surely, FEMA got their social security numbers before assigning a trailer to them. Until these people reimburse taxpayers for destroying their trailer, they should remain ineligible for all types of government assistance.

As a nation, we should come together in tragedy to help our fellow citizens in need, but those who abuse the help given to them should be forced to pay back all of the costs their abuse has cost taxpayers.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 7:19 PM ET
How wonderful! A minority of disrespectful ingrates get to once again become the face of the survivors of Katrina and Rita. These people don't represent the Louisiana and Mississippi I know and love. I just hope other people realize that we are not this lowlife scum and continue to help in the recovery efforts for areas that are still struggling almost two years after the fact. I also hope the feds can find these former occupants and make them pay for the losses we the taxpayers will incur due to their outright negligence.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 7:46 PM ET
What a shame that people cant take care of property. They make it bad for the ones who really need help. It sets a very bad example..
Posted By sherry,cleveland,ohio : 8:30 PM ET
I don't think anyone has the right to judge what people do in extreme circumstances until they've actually lived through the kind of hell Katrina survivors have. What this government gave these victims, they gave grudgingly.
Posted By Debbie, Denham Springs, LA : 9:53 PM ET
These people shouldn't have ruined these trailers and stolen the items from them, but they could have taken the items to use in whatever place they were going to live in next - especially if they were trying to rebuild. Doesn't make it right but it may be a reason for some. Others - well I agree some people don't have respect for things that are not their own and sometimes for their own things. Its hard to understand but it exists. Lets just hope that FEMA kept good records (probably not) and won't help these people again.
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 10:24 PM ET
This doesn't come as a surprise; people who don't have the good sense to have insurance are probably going to think nothing of stealing, trashing, wasting, being vengeful...
Posted By Steve - Peoria , IL : 10:53 PM ET
"can you imagine what some of those people/families have suffered through since Katrina?!? live and families, dreams, communities destroyed and displaced and a failed, slugghish response from the government. why shouldn't they be full of anger and resentment?!? who wouldn''t??"

I would have to disagree with Mark (see above). Since when does being unhappy with government aid give you the right to vandalize and preform outright criminal behavior? Or, use taxpayer money (besides the welfare checks most living in these trailers were recieving) aka the debit cards at strip clubs after looting your own city? I understand not everyone in N.O. or these trailers did loot or spend that debit card on frivilous (sp) things. However, let's face it. We gave a boatload of money to an impoverished community who was already committing most of the violent crime in the city (as is with most impoverished in most cities). An expectation that model middle-class educated citizens would rise up out of this is an odd notion to me. Just my 2cp.
Posted By Pat, 18, from Chicago : 11:07 PM ET
As my mind plays back the coverage of Katrina during the first week and longer, of people sitting on roofs, in homes completely devastated for days, no assistance in site. I see bodies water, devastated homes, one in a wheel chair a blanket cast over them, no assistance in sight. I get flash backs of hundreds crowded like sardines in Huge Dome, being accosted, raped, even killed, with little food, water, no bathroom facilities or air conditioning in heat wave temps no sign of assistance to end their nightmare. I hear reports of no way of reaching many and some will die. I wondered,still wonder why helicopters weren't provided? Why not more row boats? Why the Mayor, Bush didn't provide aid to their people? I hear reports many celebs donated thousands to Katrina, months go, little changes!

How can Bush find Millions to finance a War initiated on lies but nothing to rebuild New Orleans and assist those who lost everything?

Maybe trashing trailers was their revenge? I'd have to say, I can't blame them.

Rent free trailers with no job, income, vehicle, clothing and nowhere to find work is a blessing but a long way from restoring normalcy.

For New Orleans and the White House the cost of damaged trailers is getting away cheap. Cut Aid to these people! They've been through enough. I say, "Walk a mile in my shoes," and "But For The Grace Of God, Go I."
Posted By TM Chtown PEI Canada : 11:17 PM ET
Mr. Mattingly-

Question for you: In your post, you said that people took the air conditioners, toilets, etc. and even the doorknobs and locks. Hmmm... How exactly do they know that the people actually living in the trailer are the ones who took these items, especially as the locks were broken? And what percentage of the 10 percent of trashed trailers were definitely/most likely ruined by the actual inhabitants?

Not that I am saying every incidence of trailer trashing was likely Goldilocks or another invader, but WHAT ARE THE FACTS HERE?

It seems awfully inflammatory to imply that 1 in 10 people trashed the trailers in which they themesleves lived if the facts do not conclusively support that. If there is some legal/economic recourse, then I hope innocent people who have suffered so much over the last 21 months will not have the additional indignity of receiving a bill for damage they did not cause.

Your blog post does not seem to address how we can tell which trailers trashed by those living in them or by other people.

Mind you, even one person taking such action agaisnt a place that sheltered them is wrong, but I think Sharon D. of IN is onto something in her post about "despair property," although I am unclear about how we know the class of those who lived in the trailers.

And I absolutely agree with the calls to not lump all of the survivors together and stereotype them because of the actions of some.

What is the status of things in the Gulf, in terms of many of the tangible indicators like unemployment, healthcare availability, and reliability of utilities? FYI: For anyone who is interested, there was an interesting chart on similar indicators in Iraq (as well as the sad and meteoric rise in the death tolls of American troops -123 killed last month-- and innocent Iraqis- 2,750 innocents killed last month alone!), check out the "Op-Chart" in yesterday's "Week in Review" section of the New York Times.

Peace in both Gulfs.
Posted By Norah, West Chester, PA : 11:24 PM ET
It sounds like they have given up and moved on, taking everything that they think is owed to them. I'm starting to think that NO will never recover from this tragedy. Thanks for your continued reports.
Posted By Kathy chicago,Il : 12:09 AM ET
It sounds like they have given up and moved on, taking everything that they think is owed to them. I'm starting to think that NO will never recover from this tragedy. Thanks for your continued reports.
Posted By Kathy chicago,Il : 12:11 AM ET
For those sympathetic to these 'poor' people, so very poorly treated by FEMA and our government - they've just had free room and board for quite awhile - I don't buy that they've got anything to complain about. They're thieves and vandals, and should be treated as such. You don't just present a bill to a thief, you arrest them!


But it's also worth noting that this is 1 out of 10. A bad ratio, although perhaps not so surprising coming from America's most corrupt and criminal laden city, but still that leaves 9 out of 10 who are not doing so.

Still, it's about time to close Katrina. We should do what needed to be done from the beginning. Stop playing around, stop lying to people, and say what parts of the city are not safe to live in, will NOT be reconstructed. Rebuild the highest ground first, and tell the refugees the truth - that it's time to settle where they're going to live, and we're not going to rebuild their homes in low ground that will just flood again.
Posted By Lisa, Bothell, WA : 1:50 AM ET
This is the same "class" of people that lived in trashed out apartments that the government was probably paying for before the hurricane. Why would they suddenly change just because the money shifted to another department? This is a cultural problem and doesn't have anything to do with FEMA except that they happen to be the ones doling out the U.S. taxpayers' dollars now.
Posted By Gypsy, an American in Mexico : 3:00 AM ET
The next time a disaster occurs and donations are needed, what people are going to most remember will be the stories such as this, when the aid given was abused, as well as the billion dollars paid by FEMA to fraudulent claims.

As for myself, I know I will be hesitant to donate next time.

About the comment that these people are angry at the government for not doing more for them, isn't there a point where the government can safely assume that people will get jobs and no longer need government assistance? Welfare, as well as FEMA trailers, are temporary crutches only, not meant to be a way of life or permanent housing. Alot of the Katrina victims were poor and living off of government assistance already. Shouldn't they do what the rest of us have to do, and get a job?
Posted By Tammy S., Pensacola, FL : 5:22 AM ET
I have to disagree with Tammy, Pensacola. I don't understand why some are so upset over Katrina Victims.

The next time a disaster occurs, and donations are needed, maybe people should remember that State Officials knew for years New Orleans was on the brink of disaster but did nothing. Isn't that abuse of citizens on a state level?

As far as fraudulent claims, one can't paint all with same brush and many in reports that I viewed definitely had legit claims due to Katrina. Pictures are proof of that. The culprits were Insurance Companies who wouldn't cover claims.

As far the comment that alot of Katrina victims were poor and living off government assistance, I remember that being brought up during the disaster but in another light. It was suggested then, that because those sitting on roof tops crying for help were from the poorer areas of city not much effort was made to assist them!
Had they been in a more upscale area a larger effort would have been made!

And not all have the opportunity or economic feasibility to secure an education which in turn results in very few opportunities for jobs.
And puts ones in competition with the (cheap labour scam).

In my mind, wouldn't it be more beneficial to assist American citizens than refugees and illegals? Seems the US Government puts more $$ into assisting the former vs their own. And wouldn't it be more feesible to donate your tax dollars toward assisting US citizens in need (Katrina Victims et al) vs. donating dollars to third world countries for the purpose of killing more innocent people and devastating nations under the guise of democracy and peace? I am not wealthy, but I donated to Katrina Victims and I don't regret a dime. I only wish I could have given more.
Posted By Tricia M Chtown PEI Canada : 8:46 AM ET
Reply to Tricia's comments-

Those in the U.S. have something people in third world countries dont' have: freedom, and opportunity.

According to the proponents of the Amnesty Bill, there's millions of jobs that must be done by unskilled, uneducated Mexicans! Why aren't Katrina victims grabbing those millions of "jobs Americans won't do" ?
Posted By xtina - chicago IL : 11:05 AM ET
Tricia says "State Officials knew" New Orleans had unacceptable levees.

True, but even if the Governor screwed up; even if you blame FEMA at the federal level; even if we taxpayers pony up the money to rebuild eveyone a home who lost theirs in New Orleans, THESE PEOPLE STILL HAVE TO EVENTUALLY GET A JOB ! WE ARE NOT GOING TO SUPPORT THEM FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES !
Posted By Steve - Peoria, IL : 11:11 AM ET
So ten percent of the people who were given free housing after Katrina were looting pigs? This sounds about right - I suspect ten percent of the general population, if given the opportunity, would be looting pigs.

What percent of trailers given to Hurricane Andrewo or Hugo victims were returned in pristine and reusable condition?

Just ask someone who owns a vacation place and rents it out when they're not using it - some people simply don't have any respect for other people's property.

I'm kind of surprised this was considered a 'story'. Being a victim of a natural disaster doesn't change a person's whole personality. I expect there were looters at Pompeii.
Posted By Arachnae, Sterling VA : 11:40 AM ET
As someone who lost their home and everything they owned in Hurricane Andrew, as someone who had both Hurricane coverage on their homeowner’s insurance and federal flood insurance with neither paying after the hurricane, as someone who only ever received one bag of ice from FEMA (the FEMA that never showed up until 5 days after the hurricane) ; I do think I can relate to the anger and frustration. I also think that yes people are entitled to judge the actions of others whether or not they have had a similar experience. Trashing usable equipment is wrong. Period. Even if you do own it, you should not trash the equipment but give it to someone who can use it. It you do not own it, treat the equipment with respect and return it to the owner in good working order. Anything less is wrong. Hurricane or no hurricane, personal integrity matters.
Posted By Cassie Dallas, PA : 1:08 PM ET
In my opinion, this isn't that big of a deal. This is a cross section of humanity who do not care or have respect for what was done for them. The government helped them they used and abused the assistance. Seen it all the time. Next?? Start at the top of New Orleans government and start replacing them with capable persons. That should have been done long ago!
Posted By Robbi, Houston Tx : 1:12 PM ET
Most of these people were probably moved from public housing in the ghetto to public housing on wheels.

You can take the people out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the people. Did anybody really expect different behavior?
Posted By Perry, Dallas, Texas : 3:52 PM ET
My apologies for apparently upsetting a few commenters on this blog site. It wasn't my intention.

I'd like to clarify:
I didn't say it was right to trash the trailers nor do I believe it was it right.

However, I can understand the utter frustration, and emotional trauma of the victims of Katrina. And it was weeks and months before Fema or State Authorities earnestly endeavoured to supply any form of support to those in need. And Katrina was certainly a disaster on a large scale.

There certainly didn't look to be many business locations operating where victims might secure a job on the televised reports I viewed. And for most I would imagine transportation would have to be found along with a job opportunity for those needing employment. I doubt there was city bus service operating or at least not for a long time if even now.

As far as the trailers, one in every ten trashed says nine in every ten remained intact. So the cost to the Government and/or taxpayers is 10% of the total value. But what about all the donations the New Orleans Relief Funds have received? Shouldn't that money have aided in the cost of supplying homes and other necessities for the victims? So why doesn't the state use those funds instead of burdening tax payers? Celebrities alone donated thousands if not more.

I also don't think it's fair to suggest that the trashing was carried out by the Poor or Ghetto population unless that fact can be proven. At this point, apparently nobody knows who trashed the trailers. I can't help but feel it's theoretical statements of that nature that cause most of the dissention, division, and racism problems in our world.

My intentions certainly weren't and aren't to offend anyone. This is just my view and opinion from where I sit. And I admit, I sit on the outside looking in.
Posted By Tricia M Chtown PEI : 8:44 PM ET
I'm sorry, but I think some of these posts reiterate in a very "politically correct" way of saying minorities are lazy, uneducated, incapable, but mostly lazy. People sit here and get upset over some trailors, get upset at those millions of dollars earmarked into legislation! Grown, educated and financially capable people trash apartments, cars, homes that are rented, it just doesn't make the news. I'm so tired of the character boxing of the underprivaledged, mostly minorities. Some of these responses sound really self servng and downright stereotypical, basically agreeing with those who say that Katrina survivors aren't worth the effort.
Tell big business to STOP hiring these "illegals" and starts giving Americans thier jobs back!"
Posted By Neesh, Sugar Land TX : 2:00 AM ET
Question: Is there proof that the occupants of the Fema Trailers are guilty of damage and pilfering?

As, why would those having keys to the trailers have to break in to damage property and pilfer?

I believe there should be proof before fingers are pointed and sentencing is established.

Previous Post: "there's millions of jobs that must be done by unskilled, uneducated Mexicans! Why aren't Katrina victims grabbing those millions of "jobs Americans won't do" ?

Suggestion: They would need transportation, and/or a place to live in the job vincinity before securing work outside the area. As these victims were living in Fema Trailers. And I doubt there was city bus service to outlying areas.

Previous Post: "Most of these people were probably moved from public housing in the ghetto to public housing on wheels. You can take the people out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the people."

Sadly, I think the above comment by a previous poster maybe lends insight to the anger and hostilities expressed by many on this blog site.

And that is truly unfortunate. We have many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds in our Nation. Thankfully we respect all and treat all equally in spite of our differences.
Posted By Tricia Chtn PEI Canada : 9:15 AM ET
I 110% agree with Tricia M. Those comments are exactly a mirror into the biased minds of many of Americans.
It's really sad, and yet, also not uncommon.
Posted By Neesh from Sugar Land, TX : 3:40 PM ET
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