RVs built for adventure are now providing basic shelter to hurricane victims

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Dozens of new travel trailers line an old auxiliary runway at the N.C. Global TransPark, and with brand names such as Sportsmen, Wilderness, Prowler and Imagine, it’s clear they were made for people seeking adventure.

But in the coming months, these recreational vehicles will be home to hundreds of people whose own houses were left uninhabitable by Hurricane Florence. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is using the Global TransPark as a staging area for RVs and mobile homes that will be loaned to people who can’t find a place to stay while their homes are being repaired.

The trailers and mobile homes will be moved to where they’re needed, mostly adjacent to the houses that are being repaired. The exception is that FEMA won’t put a trailer or manufactured home in a flood plain; in those cases, the FEMA home will be put in a mobile home park with concrete pads and utility hookups.

“The goal is to put you on your property,” said Keith Acree, spokesman for the state Division of Emergency Management. “That way you can live and work and go to school in your community.”

FEMA had delivered and set up eight of these temporary homes by Thursday, with another 18 being installed this week, said agency spokesman Mike Wade. Tracy McCauley, who is overseeing this temporary housing program for FEMA, said about 780 families in North Carolina have indicated that they will need this kind of housing help, though that number will fluctuate as circumstances change.

Wade said most of these families are now living in hotels or with family or friends, but not all of them. The first trailer was delivered Sunday to a couple in Pender County who had been living on their second floor for nearly a month, after Florence sent more than 8 feet of water into their home, said Linda Labadorf, an RV inspector who helped set up the trailer.

‘They were just thrilled’

The couple had no electricity or running water and had been cooking on a gas grill outside, Labadorf said. Their grown daughter, who had also lost her house, was planning to join them now that the FEMA trailer had arrived.

“They liked that they had power and they could get cool finally; they had been sweating it out, with the mosquitoes,” Labadorf said. “And they could absolutely take a warm shower for the first time in a very, very long time. So they were just thrilled.”

FEMA will provide housing assistance to people in 31 counties hit hardest by hurricanes Florence and Michael. If a homeowner or renter’s primary residence is deemed uninhabitable and their housing needs aren’t covered by insurance, FEMA will help with temporary rent while repairs take place.

Trailers and mobile homes are available only to residents of 10 counties where FEMA has determined that there is not enough rental housing available. Those counties are Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender and Robeson.

FEMA buys the travel trailers, more than 100 so far, from local dealers, so they’re all new, Wade said. Families can live in the trailers for six months to a year, after which FEMA will put them up for auction.

The manufactured homes are available in cases where repairs will take longer, up to 18 months, or for people who may have trouble getting in and out of an RV. FEMA owns these homes and has begun shipping them in from storage areas in Alabama, Louisiana and Maryland, Wade said.

“All of our housing options are temporary,” he said. “They are not long-term.”

Each of the FEMA trailers and mobile homes comes with a “living kit,” that includes household items that people likely lost in the flood, such as bedding, pots, pans, a coffeemaker and a broom, McCauley said.

“It’s very basic,” she said. “But it does get you through about the first week of adjusting and living in the units.”