Evacuees in Dallas Waiting on FEMA

FEMA says the federal government will pay for a 30-day hotel stay for qualified evacuees who fled Hurricane Ike. But Dallas' emergency management director says evacuees at the city's convention center will have to stay there instead, because FEMA hasn't provided enough assistance. Shelley Kofler reports from Dallas.
At the Dallas Convention Center Wednesday, the Texas Rangers and Salvation Army teamed up to serve an All-American lunch to some 200 evacuee children.

"You like coke or sprite baby."

Players in uniform delivered hot dogs and sodas, then pulled out baseballs, and posters and signed their autographs.

"You want cards. I do have cards."

Richard Foreman of Beaumont watched his son and daughter clutching their new souvenirs.

"I want to take the opportunity to express our appreciate to the people of Dallas. They've done everything they can to give the children some distractions."

But as grateful as the Foreman's are for the hospitality, living with almost 1,000 other evacuees is a strain. While he watches the kids, his wife and in-laws are standing in a FEMA line, signing up for federal housing assistance. A 30-day, government-paid stay at an area hotel.

What they are learning, however, is that FEMA is not offering debit cards or vouchers to pay for food and transportation, something FEMA did following Katrina and Rita. Without that, Foreman says the housing assistance is almost worthless for his family.

"We evacuated for Hurricane Gustav two weeks ago and we spent everything we had trying to take care of our family for Hurricane Gustav. Then we come back, and have to evacuate for Ike and we have nothing left. We made it here on fumes. We can't make it to a hotel without something."
Shelley Kofler: "So if you don't get assistance for food and gas can you move to a hotel?" "Probably not."

Several tables away Jocelyn Oliver tells a similar story.

"We traveled all night Thursday and got her around 6 o'clock Friday morning."

Oliver, her husband and their five children hastily boarded a bus as the hurricane threatened their Baytown home.

"We thought it would only last for maybe a weekend and they said you could only bring one bag, so we brought a few little clothes We are broke you know." "If I go to a hotel I still don't have any money for transportation to get back and forth and how would I eat."

At least in the shelter I have food for my kids. Dallas Emergency Management Director Kenny Shaw says FEMA workers have handled so many evacuations they should have been ready for this.

"I am surprised. I thought the voucher system where they would support people who couldn't go home would be an easy thing. That's something that ought to already be in place. Why that's not being done is a mystery to me."

Shaw says Dallas is prepared to shelter evacuees as long as there's a need, but the stress on families might lessen if they had the privacy a hotel would provide. Shaw says he's asked FEMA for the meal and transportation assistance but has received no reply. KERA [Dallas radio sation] contacted FEMA, but a spokesman said he had no information about that sort of help. In spite of the fun his kids are having at the Rangers autograph party, Richard Foreman is struggling on this sixth day at the shelter. His father in Vidor is missing.

"We haven't heard word from him yet. And we're just praying every day."
" You don't know what happened to him."
"(crying) No we haven't."
 
As he beings to cry, he says just not knowing- about his father, his home, about whether there will be financial assistance is what makes this tough.

"If they would just tell us 'hey, we are trying to procure the funds, we are running into this problem or that problem'. Just let us know something. It's the lack of information that is causing the most distress for the people who are staying here."

Shelley Kofler in Dallas.