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FEMA plans to sell hurricane trailers

March 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — A year and a half after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is auctioning off -- at fire-sale prices -- thousands of trailers used by storm victims, raising fears among mobile home dealers that the government will flood the market and depress prices.

Mobile home dealers are finding that some potential customers would rather wait to make a deal on a used FEMA trailer than spend $25,000 to $40,000 for a new one.

"People think they're just going to get to buy them for nothing," said Gale Crews, owner of Diamond State Mobile Home Sales in Hope, Ark., where FEMA is storing 20,000 trailers at the city's airport. Some trailers will sell for less than half of what they cost new.

Some FEMA critics said the sale was emblematic of the way the agency botched its response to Katrina. It ordered more trailers than it needed, and some people fear the agency is about to double-cross trailer dealers.

FEMA spokeswoman Debbie Wing defended the agency, saying it "wanted to be prepared to house as many victims as possible" when it bought the trailers. She said the agency was trying to lower its storage costs by reducing the number it was holding in reserve for the next disaster.

"We're being cautious not to flood the market," she said.

FEMA spent $2.7 billion to buy 145,000 mobile homes and trailers after Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in August and September 2005, paying a bulk-rate price of about $19,000 per trailer, on average. FEMA has 60,000 trailers in storage nationwide; several thousand of them were never used.

The agency said it would sell the ones that had a lot of wear and tear. FEMA has no plans to sell the trailers that were never used, Wing said.

"Our efforts were not perfect. However, we created an emergency sheltering program that, with all its faults, provided shelter for unparalleled numbers of displaced evacuees," she said.

Hope has the largest stock of trailers. Others are stored in Selma, Ala.; Madison, Ind.; Cumberland and Frostburg, Md.; Carnes and Purvis, Miss.; Edison, N.J.; Jasper and Texarkana, Texas; and Fort Pickett, Va.

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