PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) – As people made homeless by Hurricane Charley began another week living in makeshift shelters, federal officials pledged Sunday that more substantial temporary housing was on the way but gave conflicting information about the scope of what would be available.

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dick Gifford told reporters the agency already had spaces for about 200 to 300 mobile homes at a trailer park in an undisclosed location. But an hour later, another FEMA spokesman, James McIntyre, said no such trailer park existed.

FEMA officials said as many as 5,000 mobile homes were on their way to the devastated area, and Gifford said the agency could bring in as many as 10,000 trailers depending on the need.

Some hurricane victims who had taken refuge in Red Cross shelters found themselves on the move during the weekend. Shelters had been set up in schools here in hard-hit Charlotte County and neighboring areas, but school officials needed to get the facilities ready before students return Aug. 30.

FEMA has doled out nearly $20 million in housing assistance to the 41,200 families who have sought aid.

But what wasn’t clear on Sunday, much to the frustration of those in the shelters, is when all of their housing needs would be met. FEMA officials appearing at a Sunday news briefing had few answers. Top FEMA housing officials were en route to Punta Gorda and were not available for comment.

Hurricane refugee Gretchen Ward-Martin said she tried to call FEMA without success. She and two of her children, daughters ages 4 and 5, were staying at Pilgrims United Church of Christ in Port Charlotte, while four other children had been sent to stay with relatives in Michigan and North Carolina.

“I’m basically straight-up homeless,” Ward-Martin said.

To make matters worse, she totaled her car Saturday and now has no way to get to her job at a local restaurant. But she said she was trying to remain patient because people all around her are in similar circumstances.

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself, everyone else is going through it too,” she said.

It wasn’t clear when the FEMA trailers would be arriving, how the agency would determine which victims are placed first or where the trailers would be installed.

“It’s all based on need,” Gifford said. “The most severely affected will be our first priority.”

Gifford said not everyone displaced by the storm needs a new home. Some only need their roofs repaired or tarps installed to keep out the elements until the home is permanently repaired.

The Red Cross said that while some storm victims are finding new places to live, others who had been trying to stay in their damaged homes were giving up and seeking shelter. The Red Cross has provided shelter to more than 100,000 people since the hurricane hit.

Hot weather and thunderstorms are beginning to make living in some houses a health risk, warned emergency management officials.

Some storm victims aren’t waiting for the government to act, Red Cross spokeswoman Susan Campbell said.

At the charity’s 19 shelters in Charlotte and DeSoto counties, most people who had sought shelter were moving in with relatives, renting apartments or leaving the area.

At L.A. Ainger Middle School in Charlotte County, which had been one of the largest shelters with daily censuses around 400, there were just 72 people left when the Red Cross moved to close the shelter this weekend.

Campbell said the Red Cross will keep shelters open as long as people need a place to say.

“It’s for as long as it’s needed until FEMA’s housing picks up,” Campbell said.

AP-ES-08-22-04 1630EDT



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