United States hurricane evacuees to sue government over cruise ship departure

About two dozen hurricane evacuees living on a cruise ship south of New Orleans were taking the federal government to court Monday in a bid to keep the ship docked and the government paying for it.

Their lawsuit claims the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to provide alternative housing and had shown no evidence it would by Wednesday, FEMA's deadline for releasing the cruise ships it had rented.

"FEMA has bungled its assignment," the lawsuit alleges. "FEMA acted incompetently before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina struck, and failed to heed warnings and take preventive actions that could have saved lived and alleviated suffering."

FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews declined to comment on the lawsuit after it was filed Friday, but she emphasized that FEMA had done everything it could to help those who lost their homes.

"We've been working around the clock sending FEMA personnel to the Scotia Prince and other cruise ships to make sure that every single family staying on board has received long-term housing assistance, or if they haven't, to get them signed up right away," Andrews said.

About 300 residents from devastated St. Bernard Parish have been living on the Scotia Prince ship, docked on the Mississippi River downriver from New Orleans .

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a disabled woman, a commercial fisherman whose FEMA trailer is not yet hooked up, a couple who describes their FEMA trailer as "not livable," and a high-school senior who hopes to graduate in May.

In Pascagoula , Mississippi , a Carnival Cruise Lines ship housing about 60 people is also scheduled to be released after Wednesday. Carnival had signed a controversial $236 million (199.12 million euros) deal to provide temporary housing on three ships for up to six months.

In New Orleans , cruise ships that have been housing police officers, other first-responders and their families are also to be released. FEMA said it would provide trailers for the first-responders or pay for units at an apartment complex for up to 18 months.

March 1 is also the latest cutoff for civilian evacuees who have been living in about 3,000 FEMA-sponsored hotel rooms since the Aug. 29 hurricane devastated the region. For those in about 7,400 Louisiana and Mississippi hotels, FEMA last week extended the deadline for direct hotel payments to March 15, reports the AP.


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