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FEMA trailers are lined up in New Orleans in August 2006, a year after Katrina. Elevated formaldehyde levels were found in many trailers, but a judge ruled that lawsuits filed by residents are too varied to justify a class action.
FEMA trailers are lined up in New Orleans in August 2006, a year after Katrina. Elevated formaldehyde levels were found in many trailers, but a judge ruled that lawsuits filed by residents are too varied to justify a class action. (By Mario Tama -- Getty Images)

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Class Action Denied For FEMA Trailer Suits

NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge declined Monday to grant class-action status to lawsuits asserting that thousands of Gulf Coast hurricane victims were exposed to potentially toxic fumes while living in trailers issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ruled that a batch of lawsuits on behalf of hundreds of plaintiffs against the federal government and several trailer manufacturers cannot be handled as a class action because each person's claim is unique and must be examined individually.

Government tests found elevated levels of formaldehyde in many of the trailers that housed victims of Katrina and Rita after those powerful hurricanes clobbered the Gulf Coast in 2005. Formaldehyde is a preservative that can cause breathing problems and is classified as a carcinogen.

Attorneys for the storm victims accuse trailer makers of using shoddy materials and building methods in a rush to meet the government's demand for emergency housing for the displaced. The lawyers had argued that a class-action lawsuit would efficiently resolve all the cases from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama that Engelhardt is presiding over in New Orleans.

But the judge said the cases involve hundreds of trailer models made by dozens of companies and occupied by people with varying medical histories and symptoms.

Underground Blast in Savannah

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Crews were waiting for an area to cool off under the streets of downtown Savannah before they could start determining what caused an electrical explosion that blew off manhole covers and knocked out power for hours to many stores, restaurants and homes. By late Monday, almost all streets had reopened, as had stores and restaurants evacuated after the blast, said police spokesman Gene Harley. Also, crews had restored power to about 95 percent of the homes and businesses that had gone dark, said a Georgia Power spokeswoman. No injuries were reported and there was minimal property damage, officials said.

Suicide Suspected on Ship

MIAMI -- The family of a missing cruise ship passenger said that they suspect the woman "chose an unfortunate ending to her life" and jumped from a cruise ship's balcony into the waters off Mexico's coast on Christmas night. The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for Jennifer Ellis Seitz, a Florida journalist, after combing more than 4,200 square miles off the coast of the popular resort area of Cancun, where the ship had just visited. Mexican authorities said they would continue their search for 48 hours. Seitz and her husband, Raymond, were celebrating their first wedding anniversary on the ship.


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