Moving out? Hurricane evacuees could face change

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 31, 2006

For the second time since Hurricane Katrina destroyed her Mississippi home in late August, Katie Nguyen is not sure what to do next.

Originally told she could stay in a FEMA trailer at Oak Mountain State Park for as long as a year and a half, Nguyen said she&8217;s now being told she should be out no later than April 1.

&8220;We all weren&8217;t preparing to stay the whole 18 months,&8221; Nguyen said. &8220;But it would be hard for us to pick up and move right now.&8221;

Nguyen said she was just beginning to get her family back on track.

She is receiving manicure and pedicure training at a local nail school, and a school bus picks up two of her three children and takes them to Valley Elementary School each day.

The single mother has even applied for temporary housing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) but says she hasn&8217;t heard back since turning in her paperwork.

&8220;If I couldn&8217;t get a HUD home, me and my kids would have nowhere to go,&8221; Nguyen said.

FEMA spokesman Jay Eaker said no specific date has been set for Oak Mountain State Park but said the agency was sending in caseworkers early this week to help evacuees there make the transition from emergency housing to temporary housing.

Evacuees at Wind Creek State Park in Alexander City were recently notified by FEMA that they must be out by March 1.

Fliers passed out there said the park was being closed to evacuees at the request of the Alabama State Park Service.

But Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley insists that the park service has not imposed deadlines at any of its state parks, including Oak Mountain.

&8220;We&8217;re not evicting anybody,&8221; Lawley said.

Eaker said the recent push by FEMA is meant to help evacuees move into temporary housing.

He said the agency was doing everything it could to help people take the next step in the recovery process.

Meanwhile, Nguyen and the 162 other evacuees at Oak Mountain must decide what to do next &8212; and quickly.

Linda Gable, who heads the volunteer efforts at the park, said community support remains strong there, even five months after the disaster.

A &8220;community store&8221; stocked with donated items was recently shut down at FEMA&8217;s request, but area church groups and businesses continue to bring cooked meals to the campsite, Gable said.

Commissioner Lawley said he was particularly impressed with the efforts at the Shelby County park.

&8220;I think it&8217;s been a very positive relationship,&8221; he said. &8220;You can tell a lot about the community from the attitude of the evacuees out there. We&8217;re proud to be able to help.&8221;