Storm-weary Curtis Jefferson is homeless. Again.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood more than 17 months ago. Hurricane Rita chased him from a friend's place in Lake Charles a month later. Now he's looking for yet another place to live after a tornado ripped holes in his government-issued trailer early Tuesday.
"It's just bad luck, man," Jefferson, 60, said as he waited in his battered car for a Federal Emergency Management Agency worker to inspect his Uptown trailer, his home for the last eight months.
FEMA workers fanned out across the area Tuesday to assess the latest damage to the thousands of trailers that have been sheltering displaced residents since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. The agency had counted at least 50 damaged trailers by early Tuesday afternoon, but the number was expected to grow. An 85-year-old woman was killed and at least 29 people were injured.
After Katrina, many questioned the wisdom of placing so many flimsy trailers along the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast. Tuesday's tornadoes confirmed many occupants' fears.
"Don't get one. They're no good," said Chris Usea, a 38-year-old insulation installer who miraculously came out nearly unscathed when the tornado tossed and crushed his FEMA trailer in Westwego like a soda can. "I came out with underwear, a T-shirt, no shoes."
Residents whose trailers were rendered uninhabitable by the latest storm will be provided with a hotel room or another trailer, according to FEMA.
Firefighters went door to door, once again searching for victims. They spray-painted bright orange rectangles on the buildings and trailers and, as with the circles searchers used after Hurricane Katrina, they listed the date of the search and whether bodies were found.
"Some of these houses still have the circle on them from the last search," resident Patrick Clementine said. "Now we're doing it again."
Gov. Kathleen Blanco issued a disaster declaration, a necessary step for Louisiana to seek aid from the federal government. She said the state would send in National Guard troops for security.
Valencia Williams has no clue where she, her 8-month-old baby and her fiance will be living. But she does know one place where they will not be staying: their FEMA trailer in Gretna.
Williams, who was asleep when the tornado drove a large board through the trailer only a few feet from her head, said she doesn't want to live in a trailer any more.
"It's just too scary," she said. "I keep thinking about what could have happened. I think, what if we made it through Katrina and got killed like that."
Gwendolyn Armstrong, 77, who walks with a cane after having her hip replaced, was sleeping in her Gretna trailer when she felt it starting to shake. By the time the storm had roared past, she had windows broken out, siding missing and one side of the trailer bashed in.
"I wasn't hurt, but I sure was scared," Armstrong said. "I had heart surgery and I have high blood pressure. I can't take much more of this, but what am I going to do?"
She's trying to repair her house, next to the trailer, but didn't get as much insurance money as she expected and hasn't received any government grant money to fix her home.
A FEMA employee couldn't tell her much.
"She said they have to go back and have meetings on it. We all know about those meetings," Armstrong said.
Help from another source was on the way, though, for trailer residents and others.
Late Tuesday morning, a group of volunteers from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana gathered in Uptown to pass out food and water. Bishop Charles Jenkins said workers gutting homes and providing free medical care in the Lower Ninth Ward -- one of the areas hardest hit by Katrina -- would be diverted to help the latest batch of storm victims.
"It's absolutely a flashback," said Jenkins, whose Uptown home escaped damage. "It's not Katrina, but it is a catastrophe for those who are involved."
Story courtesy of the Associated Press.