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.