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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 13:06 GMT
Trailer towns' uncertain future
By Matthew Davis
BBC News in Baker, Louisiana

Some 70,000 people in Louisiana and Mississippi are now living in trailer parks, three months after Hurricane Katrina forced them to abandon their homes.

Trailer camp in Baker, Louisiana
For some, trailer camps are a new beginning

The cheap, makeshift abodes are synonymous with poverty in the US.

Yet for many storm victims they are the only option for the next 18 months at least, while the slow process of rebuilding winds on. For some they are a new beginning, a step up from sharing a motel room.

But there are fears for the long-term social consequences of the wave of construction that has seen "trailer towns" springing up all along the Gulf Coast.

The BBC visited one such site in Baker, Louisiana, a small town just north of Baton Rouge and about 90 miles from New Orleans.

Just outside the town limits, some 60 acres of treeless scrubland owned by the Louisiana State Corrections Department has been turned into a 600-trailer park, housing more than 1,600 people.

Casterry Reddick was one of the first people to move to the park after she was evacuated from Pointe a La Hache on the east bank of the Mississippi River.

"It is better than a shelter at least. It's me and my kids. At the river centre I was with 1,000 other people," she said.

The mother-of-two is working as a security guard, patrolling the trailers and is making plans to stay. Her children are in a local school.

"Right now I am working, I am kinda confused, I don't know where to go," she says.

"Once I get paid off [by the Federal Emergency Management Agency] I will decide from there - but I kinda like it out here, not in Baker - but Baton Rouge. Yeah I would buy a house in Baton Rouge."

'Pleasure resort'

Yet some at the park find it hard to escape a sense of being in limbo.

Annie Ford is 97, a New Orleans resident since 1934. She now lives in a trailer with her cousin and her son. She seems amazingly resilient to the upheaval, but is missing home.

"I like it is nice, the people are nice. But when I leave here I want to go back to New Orleans.

Glen Morgan
We just need someone in authority to come down and listen to people
Glen Morgan

"I don't have nobody to take me back there - but if I ever do go I will be going back to New Orleans, if I live to see it."

Glen Morgan is helping out at the camp's tented nursery, where children are playing with toys and games donated by well-wishers.

He says some see the site as a "pleasure resort" because evacuees pay no rent to Fema and get all their water, electricity and gas for free.

But there is little to do he says, and for those waiting for a payout and to move on, it feels like a "bureaucratic nightmare".

"We really appreciate what people have done for us," Mr Morgan says. "But there are a lot of issues still outstanding. We just need someone in authority to come down and listen to people."

Several of the trailer parks built in Florida after four major hurricanes in 2004 experienced widespread lawlessness.

New Orleans was infamous for its violent gangs and there were fears that history might repeat itself.

Security guards at the trailer camp in Baker, Louisiana

Yet Fema has acted to stop that happening. The trailer parks have their own security and Baker's is policed by the local sheriff's department. Residents must sign a good- conduct agreement and abide by Fema rules.

Baker's police force says there has been a small increase in shoplifting and petty crime, but nothing serious.

The town's mayor, Harold Rideau, says Baker has "opened its arms" to evacuees, but he is more concerned at the mounting costs of supporting the camp - and cleaning up after the hurricanes - which he puts at more than $800,000 and counting.

"It is a tremendous financial burden because we not only had to do the clean up, but also all the extra infrastructure, additional police protection - you're looking at additional firemen, health services and also public works," he told the BBC.

He thinks half of people in the park will ultimately stay - a big challenge for a small town.

Urban development

In surveys since Katrina, about 50% of the 500,000 people evacuated from the affected area into other states have also indicated an unwillingness to return.

Some say such shifting demographics will herald political changes.

National guard troops help evacuate a family in New Orleans
Katrina devastated New Orleans and thousands were forced to flee

Experts in urban development warn that those planning for the ongoing housing needs of hundreds of thousands must be careful to not create communities that are so dense and sterile that no one wants to live in them.

Ruth Steiner, an associate professor at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Florida, has described the post-Katrina construction as "a milestone of urban planning" without precedent in US history.

She says the key is in striking a balance between making somewhere comfortable for people, but not so comfortable as to stop them wanting to leave.

Fema - which has already provided more than $4.4bn to 1.4 million families affected by the Gulf Coast hurricanes - sees trailer parks as a low-cost solution to the current housing problem.

But only time will measure the social costs - or rewards - they will bring to the people that live in them, and the communities that house them.


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