JOPLIN, Mo. - Some of the people left homeless by the Joplin tornado could be placed in rental homes nearly an hour's drive away, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Monday that it would consider bringing in trailers, as it did for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, if enough homes are not available.
FEMA's first option for housing the thousands of displaced is to find them rental housing within 55 miles of Joplin, because not much housing is left in the city of nearly 50,000 residents that was badly damaged by the May 22 tornado, spokeswoman Susie Stonner said.
Nearly a third of the city was damaged by the violent storm, which killed more than 130 people. Twenty-nine people remained unaccounted for Monday.
Stonner said that despite the distance, putting people in permanent housing was preferable to trailers - especially in an area prone to tornadoes and severe weather.
"Wouldn't you prefer to be in a stable building over a mobile home?" she asked. Stonner also noted that getting items such as water and sewer lines, and developing pads for trailers would take substantial time.
Temporary housing will be made available for up to 18 months. Some people along the Gulf Coast still live in FEMA trailers nearly six years after Katrina.
Another FEMA spokesman, Bob Josephson, said the agency would consider bringing trailers to Joplin if enough housing was not available. Every effort will be made to find existing rental units closest to Joplin, he said, and many residents may simply choose to find their own housing.
People who lived in the 8,000 structures smashed in the storm have scattered to the homes of friends and relatives or camped out in emergency shelters. Some may leave town; New Orleans lost nearly one-third of its population after Katrina.
Penny Musgraves is happy - and almost surprised - to be alive. But for Musgraves, whose low-income townhouse was ripped away above her head as she protected her cowering 6-year-old daughter, the joy of surviving is beginning to give way to confusion and anxiety about the future.
"I'm kind of scared," said Musgraves, 45, who is unemployed and living with her daughter at a Red Cross shelter set up at Missouri Southern State University. "There isn't much low-income housing. I can't rent a place. I don't know what I'm going to do."