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FEMA Trailers Headed for Indian Reservation

June 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) travel trailers going to tribal members on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota are intended for recreational use and not for housing purposes, according to U.S. General Services Administration officials in Washington, D.C.

GSA officials also said representatives of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa were alerted about the formaldehyde warning and the limitation of the use of the trailers, the Minot (N.D.) Daily News reported.

Questions have been raised by some tribal members about whether FEMA travel trailers are safe for the health of tribal members who have obtained the trailers. Tribal member Delvin Cree of Dunseith has sent letters to various media including the Minot Daily News, which have been published about concerns over the travel trailers. He said tribal members received the travel trailers for free but had to travel to Mississippi to pick them up or pay someone else to make the trip.

He said he has reports that tribal members on the reservation are living in the travel trailers and also in FEMA mobile homes which have also gone to tribal members.

Going to the oil fields

He said he also has reports of tribal members from Turtle Mountain Reservation renting the travel trailers to people in the oil fields in the New Town and Williston areas.

It is well known that there is a dire need for housing in western North Dakota because of the oil boom.

Richard Marcellais, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said Cree’s letter of concerns has been turned over to Sen. Byron Dorgan’s office in Minot.

Jennifer Bronson, a spokeswoman for Dorgan in his Washington, D.C., office, said Friday (June 25) that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has received a copy of Cree’s letter asking for an investigation. She said Dorgan’s staff members are looking into the matter. Dorgan is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Cree said he was contacted by a Dorgan staff member Friday afternoon.

Cree, who has been researching the concerns with the FEMA travel trailers and FEMA mobile homes for about two months, said he recently accompanied relatives to a lot in Purvis, Miss. He said the lot had about 60 trailers designated for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, where his relatives obtained a travel trailer and brought it back to the reservation. When his relatives picked up the travel trailer at the lot, he said no documents were presented stating there were possible health concerns and/or health hazards. He said a sticker taped on the side window stated the trailer is not to be used for living in but because of the rain the sticker could easily have fallen off. He said only a few of the trailers had such stickers.

He said he observed travel trailers in the lot with mold problems and extensive water damage. “In a few of the trailers, you could fall through the floor,” Cree said. He said tribal representatives had picked out the trailers for tribal members to have.

“The impression I got from these trailers is that they were abandoned by the government and the upkeep was not there. All of these trailers did have some kind of old mildew on the outside. The smell in some were unbearable,” Cree said.

Cree said some of the trailers going to tribal members are “brand new” and others are used. He said reports are that some of the trailers were used by victims of Hurricane Katrina.

GSA on trailers for tribes

The Minot Daily News contacted the administrator’s office of GSA in Washington, D.C., June 18 and queries about the North Dakota tribal members’ concerns about the travel trailers were forwarded to the GSA Public Affairs office.

GSA officials said the travel trailers were made available for federal transfer under GSA’s utilization and donation program. Working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Turtle Mountain Reservation participated in two GSA events in Mississippi where there was an opportunity for them to acquire travel trailers.

“The tribal representatives were alerted about the formaldehyde warning and the limitation on the use of the trailers, and signed the certification statement regarding potential presence of formaldehyde and that they were not to be used for housing,” said GSA officials in a prepared statement provided to The News.

“These trailers are travel trailers and are not manufactured housing units also known as mobile homes. The travel trailers are intended for recreational use, not for housing purposes,” the statement said.

They said GSA and FEMA have been working closely to ensure that potential buyers and users of temporary housing units are made aware of all air quality testing that has taken place.

The statement from GSA to The News also said:

“To make sure that trailers are used in a safe manner and in accordance with the manufacturers’ intended purpose, we have taken the necessary steps to educate and inform potential buyers and users of travel trailers and ensure that the trailers aren’t used or sold as housing. Buyers are required to read documentation prepared by the CDC, FEMA and EPA about formaldehyde and indoor air quality standards related to the purchased travel trailer, and to provide the documentation to any subsequent purchasers. Buyers are also required to sign an agreement that they will not use the trailer for housing, they will not sell the trailer for housing, and they will inform any subsequent purchasers not to use or sell the trailer as housing.”

CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and EPA is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

FEMA on tribal trailers

Jerome DeFelice, external affairs specialist with the Department of Homeland Security FEMA Region VIII in Denver, this month also provided The News with a statement regarding the disposition of temporary housing units to tribes in North Dakota.

To those who qualify, FEMA is disposing of excess temporary housing units (i.e. travel trailers and mobile homes) and offering the remainder for sale to the public through GSA auctions, the FEMA statement said.

It also said: “FEMA works closely with the GSA to ensure that potential buyers are made aware of all air quality testing that has taken place. In the case of the travel trailers, buyers must sign a waiver agreeing that the unit will not be used for housing with a notice to this effect placed on the unit itself. Additionally, the units may not be sold by the purchaser for housing in the future.”

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FEMA Trailers for Austin Homeless RV Park

June 22, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Click here to watch a video on this project.

Austin, Texas, could soon create an RV park that houses hundreds of homeless people. The land sits near the airport. It was found unfit to live in because of the noise from airplanes taking off and landing, according to KXAN-TV, Austin.

“We’re now asking the FAA can we use this land for a homeless RV park the sight is ideal because it is not adjacent to a neighborhood and closely connected to mass transit,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez.

However, some are against the proposal saying it could hurt the city. A similar proposal, at a different location, was rejected by the council two years ago.

“I feel like it will promote more homeless people to come to Austin which I wouldn’t prefer,” said Brenna Sura, an Austin resident.

Still, proponents of the homeless RV park say the city has to do something and soon.

“There’s not enough beds each night in the current shelters and there’s not enough affordable housing,” said Martinez.

Mobile Loaves and Fishes would fund the project through private donations and is purchasing some of the FEMA trailers used after Hurricane Katrina.

“The proposal is about 100 trailers and then about 50 fixed cottages,” said Martinez.

Karl James has been homeless the last year and is all for the idea but against the location.

“A lot of people won’t give us bus passes; it’s far to walk out there especially in the day heat of summer,” said James.

The city of Austin owns the land and would lease it to the non-profit organization but would not allow children to live there due to safety concerns. They will also have to consider security, whether to allow alcohol on site and possible surveillance cameras and is just in the early planning phases.

The resolution is expected to pass the city council Thursday.

“It just asks staff to determine whether or not we can use this site,” said Martinez. “We’re not trying to create five star living conditions we are literally trying to get them off of the street.”

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FEMA Trailers Spark Debate in Washington

April 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The title of  hearings Wednesday (April 28)  before the House Energy Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection  was, “The Public Sales of Hurricane Katrina/Rita FEMA Trailers: Are they Safe or Environmental Time Bombs?”

The bipartisan consensus on the committee seemed to be leaning heavily toward “environmental time bombs,” but now that the General Services Administration has completed the sale of more than 100,000 of the trailers, it is not clear what Congress can do about it, according to NOLA.com

“We’ve seen that there is an unsafe level of formaldehyde in some of these trailers and I don’t think it’s the wisest thing for the federal government to be selling those and having people live in them and experience more health problems,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a member of the subcommittee. “We’ve got to figure out a better way to handle this … to see if we can unravel this.”

“Unbelievably, these are the same trailers that made thousands of people ill, some severely ill, from exposure to formaldehyde gases and vapors; young children, elderly people and those with serious respiratory conditions, from asthma to bronchitis, inhaled these vapors over long, extended periods of time,” said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who chairs the subcommittee. “Am I the only one left scratching his head at this outcome?”

But David Garratt, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) associate administrator for mission support, defended the sales. He said that the mobile homes, park models and travel trailers returned to FEMA after their use along the Gulf Coast and auctioned off this year at bargain prices, met existing industry standards. And, he said, buyers of the travel trailers — which are the ones that posed the most danger and were never intended to provide long-term housing — had to certify that they understood the formaldehyde risk and that the travel trailers “are not intended to be used as housing.”

“Subsequent owners must continue to similarly inform subsequent buyers for the life of the unit,” said Garratt, though some members of the committee seemed dubious that would always happen.

Garratt estimated the cost to the government of storing and maintaining the previously used units had run close to $130 million a year.

While filmmaker Gabe Chasnoff, who produced and directed “Renaissance Village,”  a documentary about the formaldehyde trailers, played a clip Wednesday that included then Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s declaration at a congressional hearing in 2008 that, “we are out of the trailer business,” Garratt said that is not the case.

Travel trailers are the only models small enough to be placed on people’s properties while they rebuild and, in future disasters, Garratt said, FEMA will rely on a new inventory of trailers built for FEMA to new higher air-quality standards. And, they will only be placed on properties where the repairs can be completed in a about six months.

At the beginning of the hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the formaldehyde fiasco highlighted the inadequacy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to “assess and restrict dangerous chemicals,” power that might have averted “this problem in the first place.”

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator James Jones testified that EPA’s draft assessment on the dangers of formaldehyde should be released in the next month or so.

But in his testimony, Dr. Corey Hebert, an associate professor of pediatrics at Tulane University Medical Center and the chief medical officer of the Recovery School District, said that in its broadest strokes, the verdict on formaldehyde is already in.

“We know it’s a carcinogen,” said Hebert, who said that the market fails to heed that fact because “this is America, this is capitalism, this is what we do.” Hebert said no trailers should have been resold until any formaldehyde peril was remediated.

 

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112 FEMA Trailers Slated for Today’s Auction

April 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Eddie Mercer says he has a deal on wheels.

On Saturday (April 10) at the Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds in Pensacola, Fla., Mercer will auction off 112 travel trailers that he bought from the government, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

But there is one caveat: The trailers are among the suspected formaldehyde-tainted trailers the federal government bought for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Nationally, environmentalists and consumer advocates are criticizing the government for making the trailers available to the public.

That’s because formaldehyde, a colorless, strong-smelling gas used in the trailer cabinets, walls and furniture, is known to cause sore throats, nosebleeds, scratchy eyes, coughing and even nose and throat cancer.

Mercer, 50, a former car dealer, said there’s nothing wrong with the trailers, and participants in the auction will receive information about formaldehyde.

“They are absolutely fine,” he said. “I bought one for myself for my family.”

Mercer said the trailers he’s auctioning were sitting in Columbia, Miss.

They are up to 32 feet long and include beds, a small bathroom and a small kitchen with a stove, sink and refrigerator.

The government paid between $15,000 and $30,000 for each of them, and they should sell for less than half of that, Mercer said. He wouldn’t say what he paid for them.

Jan Jenkens said she will be looking for the best bargain possible.

“I know I will get a fair deal if I make a decent offer,” she said.

Jenkens wants to take her two grandchildren camping.

“A tent is not going to work for me,” the Cantonment grandmother said. “That is not going to happen.”

Randy Bricker, 45, of Pensacola said he wants a travel trailer to take his 11-, 12- and 14-year-old daughters camping.

He said he went to a travel trailer auction last weekend but didn’t get anything and is hoping to have better luck this weekend.

“Me putting up a tent and sleeping on a cot, that’s not going to happen,” he said.

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FEMA Units Appear on Canadian Dealers’ Lots

April 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Ontario RVDA has reported that some dealers have purchased U.S. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) units at auction and are selling them as RVs. Customers may think they are getting a 30-ft travel trailer for $8,995, rather than a below-standard shelter, according to the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada (RVDA of Canada) Bulletin.

“This could impact your marketplace. Make your customers aware of the difference,” RVDA of Canada advised.

The FEMA units are not intended for ongoing use and are not equipped to be used recreationally as regular RVs; nor do they meet standards for such use. They are stripped down units that were purchased by the U.S. government for temporary emergency housing after Hurricane Katrina.

These units are not approved by Ontario standards monitoring agencies:

  • Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) —Propane.
  • Electrical Safety Authority ESA.
  • Agency of Hydro 1.

And on a general basis, they do not comply with manufacturer compliance through Transport Canada.

“Dealers who do not sell them but who are aware of such practices should report offenders to your local standards agencies who monitor safety, and to your local RVDA,” the association advised.

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FEMA Trailers Selling Well in Arkansas Market

April 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Click here to watch a TV video broadcast of this story.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers bought after Hurricane Katrina and stored in Hope, Ark., are now finding homes across Arkansas. The government put the RVs up for auction after determining it had no need for them.

Winning bidders are selling the trailers to the public at discount prices. This comes at a perfect time when most families are planning camping trips and other outdoor activities.

But while, the deep discounts on the trailers are certainly a draw, there are some things interested buyers need to be aware of before making the investment, according to todaysthv.com, Little Rock.

Shawn Light spent Friday (April 2) going in and out of stores looking for parts for his new $4,000 trailer.

He says he’s generally happy with his purchase, but minor repairs could make the deal less of a bargain.

“Now what I’m having to do is what you would call, ‘red-necking it,’ and get me a separate tank and hook the hoses up to it,” Light says about plumbing repairs he needs to do on the RV.

Jan Davie of Fred and Jack Trailers says the parts and labor could cost consumers up to $5,000.

“They don’t have the tanks and they don’t have a lot of the equipments that a normal travel trailer would have,” she says.

But Ron Campbell, who purchased and is selling about 1,700 of the FEMA trailers, disagrees.

“When we are talking about parts, we are really not talking about parts that people necessarily need. It depends on whether you want one that’s self-contained,” Campbell said.

Apart from the plumbing concerns, Campbell believes there’s nothing wrong with the trailers. In fact, he says the discount trailers have been selling off his lot very quickly.

“There are a lot of dealers, camper dealers that I know this is going to hurt their business,” said Campbell.

Traveling trailer dealers say the market was hurt back in 2005 when most RV manufacturers were tied up with FEMA orders for Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve had some part sales for them but it didn’t bother us so much this time as it did a few years ago,” Davie said.

Back on Campbell’s lot, customers like Keith Slaten say the purchase is well worth it.

“It’s in good enough condition that it’s ready to go,” Slaten said.

Campbell says there’s a company that is selling the parts for the trailers without holding tanks for about $60 but that doesn’t include labor costs.

Consumers have also brought up concerns about formaldehyde, mold and mildew building up in the trailers since they sat in Hope for years, unused before being auctioned off.

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Forest River FEMA Trailer Trial Begins Monday

March 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Forest River Inc. logoThe second of five “bellwether” trials on the environmental safety of travel trailers built for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2005 hurricane victims is scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

Forest River Inc. is the defendant in this case, along with environmental testing firm Shaw Environmental Inc. and FEMA, brought by Lyndon T. Wright.

The suit, filed March 2, 2009, claims Forest River supplied trailers to FEMA that were contaminated with toxic levels of formaldehyde.

Forest River and other RV manufacturers supplied tens of thousands of trailers for emergency use following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The trailer makers subsequently faced lawsuits from hurricane victims claiming that the formaldehyde caused their health to deteriorate. Company lawyers say the trailers were safe.

Forest River, represented by New Orleans attorneys Jason D. Bone and Ernest P. Gieger Jr., has identified more than 60 witnesses by name that it could call during the trial before Judge Kurt Englehardt. The U.S. government has named 33 witnesses it plans to call in its defense.

On Sept. 24, a jury took just four hours to find Gulf Stream Coach Inc. innocent of similar accusations from a family that occupied a trailer made by the Nappanee, Ind.-based company.

Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and Keystone RV Co. Inc. also were sued in the same court. The case against Fleetwood, the predecessor company to the current Fleetwood RV Inc., was settled out of court in a confidential agreement, which was approved on Wednesday by the court in Riverside, Calif., overseeing Fleetwood’s bankruptcy, according to Fleetwood attorney Richard Hines.

The Keystone trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 11, has been rescheduled to a later date.

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FEMA Actions Peeve Arkansas U.S. Rep. Ross

February 23, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark.

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark.

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark, has written the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seeking answers to questions which the federal agency has previously ignored regarding the single lot sale of some 15,000 mobile homes and trailers warehoused here, and Ross now has a state ally in Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, according to the Hope (Ark.) Star.

Ross said his questions concerning the Jan. 29 auction have gone unanswered.

“Prior to this auction I, along with the entire Arkansas congressional delegation, sent a letter to GSA (General Services Administration) and FEMA requesting the immediate suspension of this auction until an appropriate disposal plan could be developed,” Ross wrote. “However, this request was ignored and the units sold for $27.4 million, or approximately $1,825 each.”

Ross said he wanted to know why FEMA departed from its typical sale of lots of 200, or individually.

“In comparison to the $1,825 per unit received during the recent auction, I would like to know how much these units were sold for on average when they were sold individually,” he wrote. “Given the current economic climate, I would also like to know the justification for this auction’s immediacy when it could negatively affect manufacturers and consumers in this state and potentially flood the market and collapse an important industry on which many jobs depend.”

Ross also sought the current status of the sale and whether the high bidder, which FEMA has not named, has complied with all the terms of the sale. Ross said last week that he would send the letter before considering other steps he might take, based upon the agency’s response.

Ross’ Feb. 12 letter to W. Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, comes on the heels of an advisory by McDaniel that Arkansans who purchase mobile homes or travel trailers from dealers who acquired them as a result of the bulk sale should be aware of their condition and potential hazards.

“The attorney general predicts that the retail market may soon be flooded with these surplus units which have been stored by FEMA at several locations across the south since shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” McDaniel’s advisory notes.

The attorney general warned of getting something that was not necessarily a “good deal.”

“We expect that these units will be offered to the public in various venues, including the Internet, and at prices which may appear to be deeply discounted,” McDaniel said. “However, a discounted price does not necessarily mean the buyer is getting a good deal, and buyers interested in acquiring a surplus manufactured home or travel trailer need to proceed with caution.”

McDaniel warned about possible lack of maintenance to the units, mold, mildew and water damage which might have occurred, and the possibility of lingering formaldehyde fumes inside the units. He advised retail buyers to ask questions concerning the source of any unit they purchase, and warned that questions of property title, registration and state sales tax payment on the units may be unresolved.

“Proceed with caution, extreme caution, if your are tempted to respond to what appears to be an attractive offer for a travel trailer or manufactured home,” he said.

McDaniel said complaints may be filed with the Public Protection Department of the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (501) 682-2341 or (800) 482-8982, or at www.ArkansasAG.gov online.

FEMA has warehousd he units at the Hope Municipal Airport since shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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Arkansas Consumers Warned on FEMA Trailers

February 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is warning the state’s consumers about predicted efforts to resell the more than 100,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) surplus manufactured homes and travel trailers which are being auctioned by lot to brokers and other resellers, according to KARK News, Little Rock.

McDaniel predicts that the retail market may soon be flooded with these surplus units which have been stored by FEMA  at several locations across the South since shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We expect that these units will be offered to the public in various venues, including the Internet, and at prices which may appear to be deeply discounted,” McDaniel said. “However, a discounted price does not necessarily mean the buyer is getting a good deal, and buyers interested in acquiring a surplus manufactured home or travel trailer need to proceed with caution.”

Over 90,000 of the surplus units being auctioned are travel trailers. The buyer will not know how long the travel trailer has been stored, or the conditions of storage. Many of these units may suffer from a lack of maintenance, and may have mold, mildew, or other water damage. There may also be issues with possible formaldehyde giving off gas and possible leaks in any LP gas equipment. Rules adopted by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which is overseeing the auctions, prohibit the resale of the travel trailers for use as housing.

While resllers are required to provide prospective buyers with disclosure information received from FEMA regarding the condition of the unit, McDaniel urged Arkansas consumers who may be interested in purchasing any travel trailer or manufactured home to ask questions about the source of the unit and its condition before buying. He also suggested that potential buyers not rely solely upon the information provided by the seller, but also obtain an independent inspection of the unit before buying.

Finally, the attorney general noted that buyers may be faced with issues regarding titling and registration of a purchased unit, and questions regarding the payment of sales tax on the purchase. “Proceed with caution, extreme caution, if you are tempted to respond to what appears to be an attractive offer for a travel trailer or manufactured home,” McDaniel said.

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Public Protection Department of the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (501) 682-2341 or toll-free statewide, at (800) 482-8982.

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Haiti Unlikely to Accept Stored FEMA Trailers

February 1, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Editor’s Note: The following story contains excerpts from a longer story filed by the Courthouse News Service.

Days after Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake left up to 200,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, Mississippi State Sen Billy Hewes III, R-Gulfport, was among the first to say the 100,000 trailers, bought by the government after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, could be shipped to Haiti for shelter.

If the trailers are “being staged in Mississippi and there is no apparent use for them,” Hewes told the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald, “there’s a great need for them down in Haiti and there’s no need for them to sit here in Mississippi. If these trailers were good enough for Mississippians, I would think they were good enough for folks down in Haiti as well.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), which is coordinating U.S. assistance in Haiti, has expressed no interest in sending the trailers to the earthquake-stricken country, the Associated Press reported. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesman Clark Stevens declined to comment on the idea.

Haitian Culture and Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said she hadn’t heard of the idea and added: “I don’t think we would use them. I don’t think we would accept them.”

In a Jan. 15 letter to FEMA, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the trailers could be used as temporary shelter or emergency clinics.

“While I continue to believe that these units should not be used for human habitation, I do believe that they could be of some benefit on a short-term, limited basis if the appropriate safeguards are provided,” he wrote.

Bidding is under way in an online government-run auction to sell the trailers in large lots at bargain prices. The RV industry fears the sales will reduce demand for new products. Some of the bids so far work out to less than $500 for trailers that ordinarily sell for about $20,000 new.

Lobbyists for the industry, much of which is based in Indiana, have been talking to members of Congress and disaster relief agencies to see if it would be possible to send the trailers to Haiti.

“This isn’t really the best time for the RV Industry to have very low-priced trailers put out onto the market,” the group’s spokesman, Kevin Broom of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), told AP.

Officials with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said Mississippi does not have authority on the matter because the trailers belong to FEMA.

Hewes told the Sun Herald that he spoke with officials from the Port of Gulfport who are planning to send supplies to Haiti. In case the trailers are released by FEMA, the officials have looked into transportation. One container company at the Port of Gulfport, Crowley, has facilities in Haiti, although Haiti’s main port has been severely damaged.

Hewes said it might be possible to ship a few trailers in military cargo planes.

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