Little Time Left for Evacuees in Hotels - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

11/18/05

Little Time Left for Evacuees in Hotels

Nova Thriffiley lives in a Savannah hotel, for now. Nova Thriffiley lives in a Savannah hotel, for now.

Do you have federal flood insurance? We have some bad news. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is out of insurance money. After huge losses from Gulf Coast storms this hurricane season, FEMA's not paying claims anymore. Not just to Hurricane Katrina victims, but any claims.

FEMA already borrowed its $3.5 billion limit and still has more than $20 billion in claims. Congress is coming to the rescue, with $8 billion dollars, and if the Senate signs off, FEMA can start writing checks again.

Another big problem facing FEMA: tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees still in hotels. The organization's giving them just a few weeks to find a place to live. After that, no more money. 

We met with a couple evacuees living in Savannah, who think it's a bad sign. First they're kicked out of their homes because of the hurricanes, and now they're being kicked out by the group that's supposed to help them get back on their feet.

For the last few months, Don Hamm has called an Abercorn Street motel room home. It's not much. "Got a bed, TV and chair," he said. "That's it."

But he won't have it for much longer. Earlier this week, FEMA announced all evacuees are getting cut off from funding for temporary housing.

"It was traumatic to hear that," said evacuee Nova Thriffiley. "My experience with FEMA has not been good."

She is in the same situation as Hamm and thousands of other people.

"A lot of people from New Orleans stay in this motel, and they're in the same shape," said Hamm.

A lot of people who've been displaced by Hurricane Katrina have had trouble finding jobs, and can't afford to just pick up and move.

"It's been expensive," said Thriffiley. "I've been living on savings and debt and everything else."

For a lot of the transplants, it's more than just the fact of having to move. It's the lack of advance notice that's most frustrating. They knew they wouldn't be in hotels forever, but hoped for a more organized move out.

"Just more shock, more trauma," Thriffiley told us. "It's like adding insult to injury, and of course with the holidays coming up."

Thriffiley says for the short term, she'll move back to New Orleans, but wants to come back to Savannah permanently. Hamm isn't sure what he's going to do yet.

So far, FEMA's spent more than $270 million on rooms for more than 150,000 evacuees. FEMA also says some of the families they move out of motel rooms to apartments will qualify for another $2,300 for three months' rent assistance.

With all the devastation, families now living in Louisiana and Mississippi can also ask for two-week extensions on their hotel stays, up to January 7.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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