Katrina Victims Have No Faith in FEMA's Promises

About 20,000 people still live in FEMA trailers that the CDC says are toxic.

ByABC News
February 14, 2008, 6:45 PM

Feb. 15, 2008 — -- The last three years have been hell for the Huckabees.

After their apartment was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi family lived in two trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, both of which contained high levels of formaldehyde.

Since moving into their first trailer after the 2005 hurricane, Lindsay and Steve Huckabee and their five children have endured a variety of illnesses asthma, headaches, sore throats and respiratory illnesses that read like a toxicologist's list of likely symptoms for exposure to the carcinogen.

Six-year-old Laila has had two surgeries for sinus problems, and father Steve has now developed mouth tumors.

"The ENT [ears, nose and throat doctor] said in his 23 years of practice he had never seen a tumor in that spot before," Lindsay Huckabee, coughing with a screaming child in the background, told ABCNews.

"He said it was extremely rare and could have been from the fumes, because he breathes through his mouth," she said.

Now the family, whose children range in age from 2 to 13, has learned the government will move them, along with thousands of other people, into a hotel or other temporary housing.

"We've been through this before," said Huckabee. "They offered us 30 days in a hotel, and it had two double beds in one room and no kitchenette," Huckabee said.

That's hardly enough room for a family of seven, and housing isn't the family's only concern. The Huckabees are now spending $300 a month on steroids for Laila's sinuses in addition to multiple medical co-payments and money lost from missing days of work to take care of their sickly brood.

After health complaints in 2006, about 1,000 families in Louisiana asked FEMA to move them to new quarters, and lawyers for a group of victims asked a federal judge to order FEMA to test for fumes.

The Centers for Disease Control, working with FEMA, tested the air for formaldehyde fumes in 519 trailer- and mobile homes between Dec. 21 and Jan. 23. The testing revealed that some trailers contained fumes at levels nearly 40 times the customary exposure level.

The CDC and FEMA announced Thursday that Gulf Coast hurricane victims will be moved out of their government-issued, formaldehyde-laden trailers as quickly as possible.

Of the 143,000 people who were originally given trailers, about 105,000 have since been moved, FEMA said Thursday, leaving about 38,000 people still living in trailers.

"This is really about people," CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding said at a press conference. "They have great faith and courage in us, and I hope we can help them relocate."

FEMA has promised an array of short-term benefits in addition to housing, including moving benefits, storage and even consultation with specialists to keep families near schools and work. Pet care is also included.