Katrina resettling Gulf Coast
BATON ROUGE, LA.
It was their dream home. What Cendy Crownover called her "little dollhouse."Skip to next paragraph
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But last weekend, she and her husband Kelly put away thoughts of their lovingly remodeled crown molding and oak flooring, now submerged, so they could start anew: with a realtor 80 miles away, in Baton Rouge.
"It's going to be a tough two years," says Ms. Crownover, estimating the time it might take to rebuild their house, which sat just 11 blocks from the breached levee in New Orleans's Lakeview district.
The Crownovers are joining a real estate frenzy that has hit Baton Rouge and beyond - a flurry of down payments, all-cash home sales, and contracts signed before the house is seen. Yet in many ways, these are the lucky ones. More than 100,000 evacuees are still displaced in shelters throughout the region. Others are crowding in with families and strangers, some sharing one bathroom with 20 others.
As rescuers remove the last stranded Katrina victims, and federal and private groups begin recovery efforts for America's worst natural disaster in a century, evacuees who have lost everything are scrambling for a place to call home - for a few months, a few years, or forever. FEMA has estimated there may be as many as 1 million displaced people from Katrina.
"The complexity is an order of magnitude greater [than any past disasters], simply because we're looking at a regional catastropohe," says Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, noting that many victims have been moved hundreds or thousands of miles away.
"It is far far worse than 9/11 was, and the challenges are unprecedented owing both to the scope and the complexity of this particular event. We don't have a historic example that would give us the answers to what ought to be done," she added.
Governments, nonprofits, and private citizens are working to find solutions to the housing issue. FEMA has contracted three luxury cruise ships, which can each house several thousand people, and has placed rush orders for tens of thousands of trailers and mobile homes. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has asked lenders to provide foreclosure relief to affected families and is working to identify available housing stock and accelerate various grants and housing-assistance programs.
As of Monday, the Red Cross was caring for more than 135,000 people in shelters in 12 states. Habitat for Humanity unveiled a plan to deliver pre-assembled "homes in a box" to hurricane victims. And thousands of private citizens offered evacuees free rooms - and often job opportunities or airfare - on websites like hurricanehousing.org, katrinahousing.org, and craigslist.org.
Still, the scope of the problem is enormous. No one knows for sure how many houses were destroyed by Katrina in New Orleans and along the coast, but officials have estimated that it may be many months before residents are allowed back. While many buildings in New Orleans suffered only minor damage from the hurricane itself, prolonged flooding by contaminated waters means a high likelihood of serious structural damage to more than 200,000 New Orleans homes.
By comparison, Hurricane Andrew destroyed just under 30,000 homes, as did the combined forces of four 2004 hurricanes according to the National Association of Home Builders.
In Baton Rouge, at least, it wasn't long before those evacuees who could took housing matters into their own hands.
"The phone starting to ring [last] Tuesday," says Connie Kyle, a residential sales manager at CJ Brown Realtors in Baton Rouge. "By Wednesday everything that could be rented was rented."
Now she says that a house listed in the morning is gone by the afternoon, a process that previously took 45 to 60 days.
Surrounding cities have braced for the migration of humanity from storm-ravished areas.