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Housing issues nagging at tornado victims

Days after tornadoes devastated swaths of the southeastern U.S., officials are weighing options for quickly providing shelter to thousands left homeless. FEMA is on the scene.

May 01, 2011|By Esmeralda Bermudez, Kate Linthicum and Richard Fausset

Baumhowers Wings, a restaurant in Birmingham, had sent a truck. Volunteers from the nearby Mercedes-Benz dealership could be seen helping out around town.

But there was also frustration and fear.

On Saturday afternoon, a mother walked to a medical station with a wailing baby and was swarmed by volunteers, who offered medical attention, diapers and formula. The baby was soon calmed.

But the mother was not. She said she had been without power and gas for days in her apartment, feeding her family with Burger King and living by candlelight. She declined to give her name because she is an illegal immigrant.

"The kids are so scared," she said in Spanish.

Sixty miles away in downtown Birmingham, Kendra Coleman, 27, and her husband and three young boys were holed up in an auditorium that had been converted into a shelter.

The family's apartment collapsed in nearby Pratt City, forcing them to walk away with just their coats and Coleman's purse. They'd spent three nights in the cold, cavernous building, and they'd had enough.

But Coleman said that when she called FEMA on Friday, she was told she would have to wait 10 to 14 days.

"They said, 'We'll call you and set up and appointment,' " she said. "I said, 'That's fine, but what am I supposed to do until then? I need beds. I need water.' "

The family tried to return to its neighborhood to collect a few belongings, but was turned away by police. At the shelter, Coleman said, they were not permitted to shower. Her boys were beginning to tire out.

"They tell me, 'Momma, I wanna go home,' and I just want to cry," she said. "Because I have no idea where home is anymore."

Bermudez reported from Birmingham and Linthicum and Fausset from Tuscaloosa. Times staff writer Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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