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Oct 11, 2005

Bush City

"The idea that — in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society — we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of.

"If they [the federal officials]  do it, they will look back on it six months from now as the greatest disaster of this administration."

-- Newt Gingrich (
L.A. Times  9/23/05)


Sometimes a problem in tackling these issues is that they are a little hard to visualize. 

Certainly, that's not the case for thousands of Floridians still living in "FEMA cities."  Shortly, it will also be an all-too-vivid reality for thousands more throughout isolated Louisiana and Mississippi.

The FEMA city set up in Punta Gorda, Florida (actually called Fema City ), was originally slated to close by this coming February  -- 18 months after the storm. The revised estimate, however, has residents slated to be there for at least five more years.

(Note: Not all photos relate to the same location.  All, however, depict FEMA or Katrina-related trailer city activity.)

(related links: leftcoaster; sayanythingblog; wapo 1; wapo 2)

(image 1 & 2: Mark Saltz/A.P. Sept. 21, 2005. 60 acre tract of land. Groom Road/Baker, Louisiana.  Via YahooNews.  Allen Fredrickson/Reuters.  September 15, 2005.  Sugarville (Shell Sugarland facility in St. James, Louisiana).  Via YahooNews.  image 4: Mark Saltz/A.P. Sept. 21, 2005. 60 acre tract of land. Groom Road/Baker, Louisiana.  image 5: independent photo. reader/commentator 2Hotel9.; image 6: Allen Fredrickson/Reuters.  September 15, 2005.  Sugarville (Shell Sugarland facility in St. James, Louisiana).  Via YahooNews. image 7: Susan Walsh/A.P.  Bush, Vice Admiral Thad Allen, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Folgers Coffee plant in New Orleans, Louisiana .September 20, 2005.  image 8: Lori Waselchuk for The New York Times. October 7, 2005. At FEMA's First Big Trailer Park, 'Gold' for One Evacuee. 10 Miles Outside Baton Rouge. image 9: Marc S. Kaufman for The Washington Post.  FEMA's City of Anxiety in Florida. September 17, 2005. page A01.  Caption: About 1,500 people who lost their homes or were already homeless still live in a makeshift mobile home/trailer park run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Charlotte County, Fla., since Hurricane Charley struck last year.)


... then hurricane Yolanda, Zak, or Aaron comes through and they do it all over again.

Perhaps they could attach strings to them so the residents could fly them like kites in the next storm.

I really, really don't like to agree with Newt.

Interesting new direction you've been taking recently--going beyond the semiotics of the single picture to the visual narrative. That's a harder story to tell, and I'm impressed you have taken it on: So we see rather sterile snapshots of action by the feds (effective government gets things done), blessed by the POTUS, happy beneficiaries. The story has a happy ending! We don't see the epilogue...that people are still there years later.

I was also surprised that I agree with Newt. Newt must have been thinking about the conservative worship of free market miracles and forgetting the often observed conservative hostility to the needs of the poor. As Barbara Bush would say, "this *chuckle* has worked out pretty well for them." Nice shiny new trailers on the public dime...what's not to like???

Only one of these pictures jumped out at me: the Waselchuk photo of the young woman happily reacting to her new trailor digs. You have to read the article to hear her comment--""This place is not like my old house in New Orleans, where I had all the amenities and two bedrooms," she said, checking out the new microwave in the small kitchen area. "But when it comes to having peace of mind and privacy, this is a blessing."

I wonder if the casual viewer seeing the image of the young African-American woman rejoicing in her new FEMA place will think this young woman used to live in a bigger house with all the amenities. Or if they will imagine that this trailer arrangement is a step up for her? Why do more?

Fema City? The whole presentation, especially the last pic, screams City of God.

As a fan of the "Whole Earth Catalog," occasional reader of "alternative" magazines, a worker under greenhouses in winter on archaeology sites, and once having a friend who helped design "instant structures" for the military, I am a little upset that many of the designs for exactly this kind of situation have not been implemented. One design for India, for example was a building with a large bladder in the roof (built with rammed earth, or hay bales and some steel) which uncovered in the day warmed up and covered at night kept the building warm at night, also supplying gravity fed water for drinking and washing. I have seen other proposals for emergency shelters that are designed with amazing innovation (i.e. made from plastic coated cardboard). Apparently, the "response" (500 millions (?) for Haliburton clean-up contracts on Federal property storm cleanups, previously arranged down there before the hurricanes) is the least "creative" anyway, using whatever can be had practically.

George Myers,

Can you provide some kind of link to the housing you gave examples of in your post? That sounds very interesting.

Yesterday I read a comment on a blog from a woman in Baton Rouge. She said FEMA is setting up huge trailer parks in the vicinity of black neighborhoods in the city. She said there was already housing available, but the evacuees were unable to rent it. This re-settlement of evacuees by FEMA has a whiff of apartheid about it. Are we looking at America's new Soweto?

Sidenote -- not sure what it means. After the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, the government provided some number (a lot) of 15x20 foot wood "houses" in Golden Gate Park to the newly homeless. After a while, their residents were allowed to move them (by sledge) if they could acquire a lot to put them on. Many of these "earthquake cottages" have survived to this day, usually with extensive additions in all directions.

Somehow I don't think contemporary trailers are going to prove so durable. But I wonder if a program could be developed to allow current residents the opportunity to take their new "houses" away to a piece of land, if they could acquire one. Imagine the recipient communities would make all sorts of problems.

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality."

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this is working very well for them."

-Barbara Bush

Camping, anyone?

We have a small (24ft.) travel trailer that we use twice a year for Experiencing the Great Outdoors. Fortunately it has a slide-out which gives us enough room to move around in without killing each other with our boney elbows.

After a week of "roughing it", we are ready to kill each other, whether by boney elbows or laser-sharp irritabilities. The cage is simply too small for these two rats. (Oh, and there is only one bathroom, and believe me, it's not much more than a Jiffy Johnny when you really think about it.)

I do not see how a family can live in an aluminum/plastic box in a situation that is not the "Yippee! It's Vacation Time! A whole week of S'Mores and campfires and hiking!" Nope, that ain't what these people will be enjoying. For them, it will be one uncertain day after another, and the trailer will seem smaller and smaller as each day passes.

I really feel sad for them.

And Marycz's comment about Soweto really hit the mark. I agree absolutely with her comparison.

I don't recall exactly "Mother Earth News" and the other was a designer, Italian I think on line. The woman in the trailer reminded me of the contracts "whistleblower" who flagged the lack of review of long term contracts with the government that Haliburton was involved with. Improper reviews I think, longer term contracts, over a certain period are supposed to be subject to re-review? And they weren't, more magna carte blank check, than government oversight. Which leads this all back to the GAO suing for the "energy committee" minutes in the first year of the previous four years of George Walker Bush's presidency, and the White House's refusal to cooperate with its own executive branch of accounting administration, the GAO, the Government Accounting Office, which prepares the President's budget for the Congress. I hope there are enough safeguards to keep that woman around.

I saw a book reading on C-Span over the weekend by an author named damali ayo. Her book is 'How to Rent a Negro'. She was great.

I couldn't keep from thinking about Bush's photo ops from the last few weeks and seeing this one again is just too much to take.

Here's a piece from the website

"Why rent-a-negro? Why not buy?

As we all know, the purchase of African Americans was outlawed many years ago. As times have changed the need for black people in your life has changed but not diminished. The presence of black people in your life can advance business and social reputation. These days those who claim black friends and colleagues are on the cutting edge of social and political trends. As our country strives to incorporate the faces of African Americans, you have to keep up. rent-a-negro offers you the chance to capitalize on your connection with a black person. At any gathering our service can bring a freshness and tension that will keep things lively. This adds currency to your image and events. We all go out for ethnic food every once in a while, why not bring some new flavor to your home or office...for all your friends and colleagues to enjoy!"

"I wonder if the casual viewer seeing the image of the young African-American woman rejoicing in her new FEMA place will think this young woman used to live in a bigger house with all the amenities."

PTate, I'm glad you included that comment, because I have to admit that my first reaction was that maybe this is nicer than what she was used to...

Why are those two women wearing the same clothes? Maybe these are clothes that were given to them to replace what they lost... but it looks like a uniform.

Oh Yeah, Its township construction -South Africa style alright!

Jack Milton, owner of the local shooting range, said he has been "snowed under" with business in the last month, ....
-NY times

But this is much more Illuminating:

-Not surprisingly, some advocates of a whiter, safer city see a divine plan in Katrina. “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans,” a leading Louisiana Republican confined to Washington lobbyists. “We couldn’t do it, but God did”. Nagin boasted of his empty streets and ruined neighbourhoods: “This city is for the first time free of drugs and violence, and we intend to keep it that way.”

Le Monde Diplomatique (

It is no secret that New Orleans business elites and their allies in City Hall would like to push the poorest segment of the population, blamed for high crime rates, out of the city. Historic public-housing projects have been razed to make room for upper-income townhouses and a Wal-Mart. In other housing projects, residents are routinely evicted for offences as trivial as their children’s curfew violations. The ultimate goal seems to be a tourist theme-park New Orleans, Las Vegas on the Mississippi, with chronic poverty hidden away in bayous, trailer parks and prisons outside the city limits.

FEMA City/Bush City, meet Container City in Iraq:

If you scroll down in this article, you'll see some strikingly similiar-looking photos of housing for troops in Iraq. Soon we'll be reading articles in the NYT about how Katrina victims (like soldiers overseas) are "customizing" their containers, I mean, homes.

Being a person who lost my home in a natural disaster (wildfire), who couldn't return to my community for 2 weeks post disaster, I have an idea of what the woman is feeling regarding her new "digs". She's happy to finally be out of the transient state of moving from one place to another to another (possibly, since we don't know the actual circumstances she's endured post-evacuation), and she finally has a place to call home. No, it may not be pretty, and it may not be ideal, but at least she can close the blinds at the end of the day, take a nice hot shower, and kick back and try to regain some semblance of "where do we go from here."

"I wonder if the casual viewer seeing the image of the young African-American woman rejoicing in her new FEMA place will think this young woman used to live in a bigger house with all the amenities. Or if they will imagine that this trailer arrangement is a step up for her? Why do more?"

I am certain that many people will assume this, and that many of the more liberal folks will assume that this is what the right (Read Barbara Bush) is assuming.

There is no doubt that these "temporary" housing facilities will NOT be temporary by any means. In my community, where 800 families lost their homes, the FEMA-ville (as dubbed by the residents) trailers were finally removed 4.5 years after the disaster. Given the magnitude of the loss in NO, I imagine it would be closer to a decade or more for these to be dismantled.

Termporarily, for good, is probably a sure-bet reality in some areas.

Appalling, the conditions that Americans are subjected to. Electricity, hot water, toilets, appliances, parking spaces. Outrageous, unheard of!

From another POV:

You find a flat spot to build on.

You lay in water and sewer lines.

You haul in a few supplies.

You throw up some temporary walls.

You move the wife and kids in.

And, finally, you settle down for a good night's rest.

50,000 of New Orleans' households could be gone for good

I don't know how many people are in the average household, but it looks like a lot of people are settling in somewhere else and then won't see any reason to go back.

have you been to groom road?

i have. I spent three weeks living with the evacuees in baker, living in the shelter with them. i got to come back to my apartment, out of the nightmare caused by katrina. they didn't. many are thrilled to be in a space of their own. the previous six weeks had them living in one large gym with about a foot around their mattress for their "personal space".

yes, it is filled with trailers. many people in that part of the country live in housing that is of similar quality and construction permanently.

yes, it is dusty and not at all beautiful. i drove a trailer into new orleans and helped my friend load up her 50 plants to bring back to her trailer, making it more like home.

yes, it is close quarters. the folks who came from desire street projects and other places are seeing the upside of not having to share a wall with anyone, parking next to your house, and the beautifully clean and new living space they are in.

yes, it is a step up for some and a step down for others. Some lost their two homes they owned in New Orleans. They are still happy.

So, for all the challenges they will have, many of these families recognize that with the efforts being made to employ them, the free rent, utilities, food and laundry being given to them, and the money from FEMA and others, they have the opportunity to save a significant amount of money by the time they leave. Some won't return to New Orleans. They said that the hurricane freed them from the projects and they were never looking back.

These are the things they said. The truth of the corruption, racism, and class war found in America, Louisiana, and especially New Orleans is true and has come to light. But don't denigrate the chance that these folks have to start fresh from your comfortable and non-moldy computer desk.

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