2 Million Displaced By Storms

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 13, 2006

The Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday increased its count of people displaced from the Gulf Coast by hurricanes Katrina and Rita by nearly a third, to about 2 million people. A FEMA spokeswoman attributed the sharp rise to a reporting error.

According to a news release, FEMA is paying rental assistance to 685,635 families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the Aug. 29 and Sept. 24 storms, an increase of 167,000, or 32 percent, over a month ago. FEMA officials generally estimate three people per household as a rule of thumb.

In December, the agency counted only recipients of a transitional housing assistance program created Sept. 23, FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said. Shortly before Christmas, FEMA discovered that it had not counted families receiving rental assistance under a traditional disaster aid program, she said.

"We've never had a situation where an entire American city was evacuated, and they weren't able to go home," she said. "These numbers represent that phenomenon."

The figure exceeds initial post-hurricane estimate of 300,000 displaced families and an October estimate by FEMA to Congress of 450,000 to 600,000 households.

The estimate of 2 million displaced also dwarfs the number of people forced from their homes by past U.S. natural disasters, such as hurricanes Andrew, Charley, Ivan or Hugo, as well as the Dust Bowl migration.

Also yesterday, a federal judge in New Orleans ordered FEMA to allow hurricane evacuees in that city to stay in subsidized hotel rooms until March 1, extending a Feb. 27 deadline FEMA set Monday. FEMA also was required to continue providing lodging for at least two weeks for occupants nationwide whose eligibility for rental housing assistance is determined after Jan. 30, whenever that occurs.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company