Unless time or experience has changed the perceptions of East Coast residents over the course of the past four years, a 2008 study (less than three years after Hurricane Katrina) commissioned by Allstate Insurance Company found cause for evacuation concerns.
These last few weeks have been painful. Besides a “computer arm” (a cousin of tennis elbow, I guess) not being able to write about all the Katrina-related news that’s been popping up, and watching our economy suffer has been painful, too. And then to watch our government try to bail out Wall Street was enough to cause more pain.
To get back on track, some things are better NOT left alone, and hurricane recovery is never far from the mind of anyone who’s rebuilding. Just because Hurricane Katrina is not at the top of the media food chain doesn’t mean the issues are not just as important now as they were three years ago.
As recently as Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, issues known to exist in the aftermath of Katrina are apparently still stumbling blocks for hurricane survivors.
Things like unfit Red Cross shelters, hotel room shortages, re-entry problems, housing, FEMA problems, and the expense of evacuating are among the issues that still haunt hurricane survivors.
As another hurricane season winds to a close, let’s not let our guard down. Because the pain (or the karma) could come back to haunt us, also.
Certain guests at Daniel Yeh’s hotel in Galveston after Hurricane Katrina had rooms paid for by FEMA, and Yeh probably thought he’d latched onto an easy way to guaranteed guests and payments. Problem was, the guests weren’t really guests or Katrina evacuees, or the rooms were unoccupied, or were even occupied with paying guests.
Yeh, 55, of Sugarland, Texas, an owner of the Flagship Hotel (a Galveston landmark which sits on piers over Gulf of Mexico waters and suffered damages from Hurricane Ike) was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $30,000 in fines on September 26 because of his scheme.
Yeh has already repaid about $232,000 to the government in restitution, not long after search warrants were served on him in December, 2005. He had faced a maximum of five years in prison without parole and fines of up to $250,000. His sentencing originally had been set for Feb. 1, 2008.
His attorneys had filed a defense motion for a lower sentence because of a claim that diminished mental capacity due to a brain tumor caused him to hatch the scheme. The federal judge rightfully called the medical testimony comparable to “Alice in Wonderland”.
A 39-count 2006 indictment alleged that between October 1, 2005, and December 15, 2005, Yeh knowingly devised a scheme to defraud the federal disaster relief programs of at least $232,000.
In October 2005, Yeh gave a desk clerk about 30 names to put into the hotel’s reservation system at the “FEMA rate” of $84.99 a night. He then picked up the room cards for the rooms and started billing FEMA. An investigation found a number of those people were Yeh’s employees, relatives and friends and were not hurricane evacuees
Yeh pled guilty in 2007 and admitted he submitted a false claim to FEMA for Room 701 at the Flagship from Oct. 28 through Nov. 11, 2005. Based on that claim, FEMA paid the hotel $1,189.
The investigation started when agents got a tip saying the hotel records showed it as full when, in fact, a significant number of rooms were unoccupied. Federal agents say they interviewed a man whose name was listed on Yeh’s claims as the guest, but the man (a contractor who submitted bids in 2004 and 2005 for remodeling jobs at the Flagship and another hotel Yeh is associated with) said he didn’t have a room at the Flagship then.
As part of the alleged scheme, Yeh took over the job of billing the federal lodging programs online after Hurricane Rita, filing false claims for reimbursement for rooms in the names of hotel employees who had stayed at the Flagship free as part of their employment arrangement; rooms in the name of supposed hurricane evacuees on dates when the rooms were occupied by paying hotel guests with different names; rooms occupied by friends, relatives, and employees of his wife’s business, who were recruited to stay at the hotel, but were not evacuees; rooms in the names of supposed hurricane evacuees who never had rooms; rooms in the name of supposed hurricane evacuees on dates when those rooms were unoccupied; and for multiple rooms in the names of a single guest when, in fact, the guest didn’t occupy as many rooms.
Yeh has been free on bond and a date hasn’t yet been set for him to report to prison.
You have to wonder how many other hotels took advantage of the system back then. And that corruption is shamefully greater than that done by any Katrina evacuee or undeserving individual.
Anyone suspecting criminal activity involving disaster assistance programs can make an anonymous report by calling the toll-free Hurricane Relief Fraud Hotline, 1-866-720-5721 or 1-800-CALL-FBI, 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.
Information can also be emailed to the inspector general at dhso...@dhs.gov or sent by snail mail, with as many details as possible, to:
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC. 20528
Attn: Office of Inspector General, Hotline
“Thank You, Houston” which had been planned for September 13 as a commemoration of the hospitality Houstonians showed Katrina and Rita survivors in 2005, is set to celebrate Gulf Coast traditions through music, food and survivors’ stories. Because of Hurricane Ike, the original program was changed to reflect Houstonians’ recent support for their neighbors.
The event takes place today from 6:30 – 9 pm at Discovery Green, just outside the George R. Brown Convention Center, where thousands of Katrina survivors were welcomed and housed in September 2005 and many first responders to Hurricane Ike worked throughout last week.
In the park’s Houston Public Library Express, a video version of a photo/audio exhibition, “Who we Are” , will be playing. In addition, you can check out headsets loaded with podcasts featuring recorded stories of thanks and gratitude from Katrina and Rita survivors.
KPFT 90.1 FM will be on hand to record Hurricane Ike narratives. Service organizations and computer access/support will be available. Members of the public are encouraged to bring non-perishable “ready-to-eat” food items for the Houston Food Bank, to assist with their hurricane relief efforts.
At 7pm, the music starts, featuring Al “Carnival Time” Johnson as well as the Voodoo Brass Band, comprised of N.O. and H-Town-bred members.
“Thank You, Houston” is sponsored by the Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston project, Houston Institute for Culture and Discovery Green, and funded in part with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast, Discovery Green, Houston Arts Alliance and the Houston Endowment.
Government leaders from throughout the Gulf Coast were in D.C. today to ask Congress for money. FEMA said the agency would provide some temporary housing in Houston, but willl not allow its dreaded deathtrap trailers there, while New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin wants his city reimbursed for the recent hurricane evacuations.
Check out the full story here
In 2005, thousands of us Katrina evacuees from New Orleans who were in Lake Charles became Rita evacuees, escorted non-stop by state police through sleepy southwestern Louisiana towns in a special, joyous bus and car caravan.
I would have let the Canty family know a little about what they could possibly face in the Red Cross shelter from hell – a dilapidated, old, musky domed coliseum built in 1965 that eeks of stench after thousands of long-gone fans abandoned it.
“It turned into a horror movie, said Ms Canty. The sewage backed up to where we slept at. It was awful!”
Sure, I would have told Ms. Canty and her family about the moist sleeping arrangements and the humiliation of stepping off a police-escorted evacuation bus and being scanned with metal detectors for weapons, as police dogs stand close by.
But, maybe I could have also told them “good luck” in finding their luggage (scattered on different buses), and warned the ladies not to head for the ladies room expecting a “very nice, very clean” spot to squat, and to watch for stray cats running wild about the complex.
Worse than that, mosquitoes and gnats drawn to bad plumbing that leaks, runs over, and floods the restrooms make it almost unbearable in a complex fit to be used only as a prison camp for work release inmates running a horse stable.
The food served after Katrina and Rita in 2005 wasn’t all that bad, I guess (though I only ate there a couple of times), but the cafeteria building was a seperate disaster, waiting to happen, as it did when Hurricane Gustav blew through, causing power outages and street flooding like they’d probably never seen before in Alexandria.
Oh – and the MREs? Well, you got ‘em! Morning, day, and night – anytime you want ‘em. I prefer to spend my hard-earned cash on something a little more decent – like at least a Big Mac and a Motel 6 if there’s a room, until my last paycheck runs out.
As Hurricane Gustav approached, I was stupid enough to evacuate to Alexandria again, in the hopes I’d find a motel room as comforting as the one I found there for a few of those weeks after Rita. What I went through this time is another story. One thread that binds it together is that I again spent time staying in a car outside the same shelter.
You can bet the Canty family or mine won’t be among the next evacuees sleeping in the shelter from hell!
Thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the devastation from Hurricane Ike. While Ike was no Katrina, the death, pain, hurt, suffering, and damages left behind from the Carribean Ocean to Louisiana and Texas is especially heartfelt in our Katrina-ravaged communities. May you be blessed with a speedy recovery.
Did HE say that? In yet another slip of the tongue, New Orleans unbeloved Mayor Ray Nagin did it again. He was trying to emphasize that Houston and Texas Hurricane Ike evacuees are welcome in his city, just as they welcomed Katrina evacuees. He said they could ask for a “Ray Nagin Special“. Just as I thought, the problem is in his mouth. He put his foot in it again.
According to reports, hotel front desk clerks were perplexed at Houston evacuees arriving at New Orleans hotels and asking for the “Ray Nagin Special”. But it’s against federal law and wouldn’t be prudent (with different types of accomodations) for hotels to have across the board rates.
In what could be another round of embarassing “Nagin-humor”, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Houston’s Hurricane Ike evacuees can get the “Ray Nagin Special” at hotels in New Orleans: New Orleans says Houston welcome during Ike.
While Houston welcomed Katrina evacuees in 2005, even opening its Astrodome as a shelter, New Orleans reportedly has no plans to open the Superdome for Houston’s Hurricane Ike evacuees.
In a press conference today, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said six houses had collapsed – five within one hour, and that 28 others are in danger of collapsing today, presumably as a result of Hurricane Gustav. He urged hurricane survivors returning home to avoid any buildings that appear dangerous.
Hurricane Katrina began a blight assault on the city, and many homes and other buildings – as many as 400 – have been slated for demolition, with many others already demolished as a result.
The homes that fell down today were all unoccupied, and there were no injuries reported.
Many Louisiana Hurricane Gustav evacuees who ventured north this week to escape the wrath of whatever was coming were out of luck and in harm’s way, thanks to practices of hotel chains that, for whatever reasons, are putting them out on the street. They are finding their cash money is no good.
Whether for lack of preparation or lack of planning, many evacuees seeking shelter from the storm are running into a familiar echo among hoteliers in north Louisiana, particularly the Alexandria area, where stores were closing and gas was in short supply. Those who were smart enough to anticipate where the safest part of the state would be may have made hotel reservations when the storm was still around Haiti or Cuba.
Now that it’s here, those who evacuated as late as Friday or Saturday and tried to get a room ran into the old “no room at the inn” – “no vacancy” – signs.
Then, to add to the hurt, Alexandria’s convention center, used as a Red Cross shelter after Hurricane Katrina, was set up only for special needs evacuees. And the Rapides Coliseum, a blighted, old, circa 1960′s drafty, leaky, stadium dump of a Red Cross shelter, had “no new registrations” signs posted as early as the Saturday before Gustav made landfall in Louisiana.
It was only housing evacuees bussed in from several places around the state. Also, local shelters (schools, etc.) were only accepting local residents, said one evacuee who was turned down.
That left Monroe and Shreveport as the only two closest other cities with Red Cross shelters for evacuees, according to the state’s emergency info operators.
At hotels like Super 8, Ramada Inn, and others in Alexandria, those who got rooms were being told they had to leave “due to reservations”.
Now, who would get on highways and evacuate AFTER a hurricane heads their way? And the hotels wouldn’t accept money from guests already in rooms, so guests could not pay in advance for one day or one week and were forced to checkout. Most, if not all evacuees, had no relatives or friends in the area.
A call to FEMA got the response of “Louisiana hasn’t been declared a disaster yet”, so FEMA wouldn’t help. Also, FEMA was giving the city of New Orleans’ 311 info number or the state’s 211 or the Red Cross as the only further assistance, even for those outside the city of New Orleans.