A Look At FEMA Today

| Fri Sep. 22, 2006 7:04 PM EDT

Elva Galadas is a resident of Lacombe, Louisiana, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Her house was as good as destroyed by Katrina, leaving her with rotten wood, mold, and "tin roof rusted." Galatas, who is 73, has a son who is paralyzed from the waist down and who has epilepsy. He also has a broken ankle, an injured arm, and allergies that require him to get daily oxygen treatments.

Galatas applied for a FEMA trailer, but didn't get one, so she moved back into her moldy, structurally unsound house, and her son went to live in a hospital in Winnfield, Louisiana, which is nowhere near Lacombe. Finally, after months of phone calls and frustration, FEMA sent Galatas a trailer in June of this year. The trailer was designated as handicap accessible, but it was not big enough for both Galatis and her son. According to FEMA, since there were only two people who planned to live in it, there could be only one bedroom.

So Galatis began going down the trail of red tape, phone calls and frustration a second time. And this month, FEMA removed the first trailer and replaced it with a second. The problem is that the second trailer is the same size as the first. On top of that, FEMA subcontractors dismantled the handicap ramp of the first trailer but failed to build one for the second. Galatas is still living in her moldy house, and her son is still in the hospital.

A FEMA spokesman says "We want to make it happen for her."

FEMA has agreed to reimburse $217 million of $394 million worth of claims filed by the city of New Orleans alone. So far, only $117 million has reached the city. One of the most dramatic examples of loss in New Orleans is that of City Park, which sustained $43 million worth of damage. So far, FEMA has authorized only $2.6 million for repairs, and the park has actually received only $250,000.

Aside from the obvious fact that the city of New Orleans needs federal aid badly is the ugly fact that the damage within the city was not caused by a force of nature, but by the Army Corps of Engineers, who designed and built levees its engineers knew were not adequate.