Cruise ship relocation plan on hold

FEMA finds storm victims reluctant to leave shelters

Katrina's Wake

September 07, 2005|By Tony Perry | Tony Perry,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON - A plan by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to relocate storm victims from the Astrodome and other shelters to luxury cruise ships hit a snag yesterday: The residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina don't want to move again.

"We had no immediate takers for the option," Ed Conley, head of FEMA operations in Houston, said of the proposal to turn cruise ships in Mobile, Ala., and Galveston, Texas, into temporary storm shelters.

FEMA announced Sunday that it had leased three ships for six months as a way to move up to 6,000 people out of shelters and provide them with beds, private rooms and hot meals.

The agency was so confident that the cruise liners would prove popular that it established a priority system to determine who could go aboard Ecstasy, Sensation and Holiday, leased from Carnival Cruise Lines.

But FEMA workers found that people were reluctant to move and further risk not finding relatives, jobs and schools. Officials said the computer networks established by the Red Cross and other agencies to reunite families would be available aboard ship.

"It's not a perfect solution," Conley said of the idea, "but it's a better solution than we have today."

Psychiatrist Stuart A. Yudofsky said he was not surprised that the evacuees did not immediately like the idea of moving to a cruise ship. "They have a level of certainty in their lives now," he said. "They've been through a lot of change."

The first storm victims from Louisiana arrived at the Astrodome a week ago, but the facility was never intended as a long-term solution. The official mantra is that the shelters are "transitional facilities" until the victims can find better accommodations either by themselves or with the help of public and private relief agencies.

As the largest shelter for victims of Katrina, the Astrodome has become a reluctant symbol of the nation's relief effort.

A stream of politicians and celebrities have visited. On Monday, it was former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil; yesterday, actor Jamie Foxx and a top official from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were here.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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