By MARY FOSTER
Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS- The city's police officers and other first-responders will continue to have federally sponsored housing after they vacate the cruise ships they have called home since Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
About 1,500 families have been living and eating for free on two ships FEMA rented after the storm devastated the city Aug. 29. It's time for the ships to return to private service and the residents must leave by March 1 _ the same cutoff for civilian evacuees still living in FEMA-sponsored hotels.
FEMA said Sunday it would provide trailers, either at the person's house or in a group site, or pay for them to stay at 117-unit apartment complex in the eastern part of the city for up to 18 months.
Tracie Washington, an attorney who has been working with evacuees being evicted from hotels, said the agency should do the same for all storm victims, many who have been left to live in shelters or even in their automobiles.
"If you can provide for first responders, I'm happy," Washington said. "But what about the city's residents, who have been waiting as long or longer than the people on the ships for housing and are still without it? This is just another sign of FEMA's inefficiency."
Lt. Tony Robinson, deputy federal coordinating officer for FEMA, defended the different assistance for housing, saying it's "because the folks on the cruise ships provide critical services to the city."
FEMA has scheduled meetings for residents of both ships in New Orleans to make sure they know who has alternative housing and who still needs it.
The majority of the first responders will be placed in travel trailers. FEMA will check each one to make sure it has electricity, water and sewerage, Robinson said.
Police Superintendent Warren Riley said that FEMA trailers, which provide about 250 square feet of space, will be inadequate for the workers _ and could result in many officers taking positions with other departments.
Robinson said he was aware of the dissatisfaction, but said no alternative had been worked out.