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Katrina victims sue FEMA for failing to provide more assistance

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Victims of Hurricane Katrina filed a class-action lawsuit Nov. 10 to force the Federal Emergency Management Agency to do more to help them.

The suit, filed in New Orleans federal court, seeks an order requiring FEMA to provide more housing assistance, including trailers to replace the tents and other makeshift shelters people who lost their homes have been living in since the storm battered the U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

FEMA has been criticized for its response to Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 people in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana and left tens of thousands homeless. The case is the first filed against the agency over its response to the storm.

"There is no excuse for this failure by FEMA or for its refusal to fulfill its mandate," said John C. Brittain of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, representing the plaintiffs. Without judicial oversight, "there is little chance that the victimization will cease, or that FEMA will come through with the services it is legally obligated to provide," he said in a statement.

The suit was brought by 14 named plaintiffs on the behalf of a class of people who lived in areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that were declared federal disaster areas, or were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and sought housing assistance.

Nicole Andrews, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said she has not seen the complaint and could not respond to its allegations, though the agency is doing all it can to help storm victims.

Largest mobilization

"`During the nine weeks since Katrina hit, FEMA has disbursed $3.4 billion directly to thousands of families" in an effort to provide them with assistance as quickly as possible, Andrews said. "This is by far our largest mobilization ever."

The suit asks the court to require FEMA to establish application guidelines under which victims can obtain continued financial assistance beyond a three-month period, and receive adjustments based on family size and other factors.

The plaintiffs also want the court to eliminate certain rules regarding the use of funds victims have already received and to cease a policy whereby FEMA makes room for its housing by evicting and destroying the homes of residents of trailer parks.

Hurricane Katrina will probably be the costliest U.S. natural disaster ever, with insured damages of as much as $60 billion. Other hurricanes this season, including Rita and Wilma, may cost the insurance industry $22 billion more, according to Risk Management Solutions Inc.

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