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Trailers are supposed to be a bearable solution

By M. Susanne Hinkle -   Feb 09, 2006

FEMA trailer resident, Dawn Matherne, poses for a picture outside her trailer in Des Allemands.
Photo taken by: Susanne Hinkle
FEMA trailer resident, Dawn Matherne, poses for a picture outside her trailer in Des Allemands.

"It took them four months to even have the water heater in working order," says local resident.

Last summer's series of hurricanes left thousands of people on the gulf coast homeless. FEMA promised trailers, and slowly but surely residents have received these trailers and made them their homes, well not really.

Trailers are supposed to be a bearable solution to what most hope will be a temporary problem. But when the trailer a displaced resident receives has essential appliances not in proper working order, that temporary stay could become unbearable fairly quickly.

Dawn Matherne and her husband Alvin of Des Allemands, knew their trailer experience was going to be a burden for their family. But when subcontractors for CH 2 M Hill, the company that installed the trailer and had failed to fix a leaky water heater for over four months, Matherne's trailer experience became a nightmare.

The disgruntled trailer resident first became aware of the leaky water heater when it began to leak small amounts of water under the trailer. Over time large puddles formed, a weeping trickle of water became a spewing mess and eventually no hot water at all. "I started calling the company in late October, right after we spotted the leak," said the FEMA resident. "I am staying on my mom's property and she runs a daycare in her home. Children are in danger around an appliance that is spewing hot water." She went on to say, "When you mix water and steel you get rust. And we plan on being in this trailer for quite a while. Rust can lead to even bigger problems."

Several workers came out to inspect the malfunctioning water heater but were unable or unwilling to fix the problem correctly. "After several attempts to fix the water heater failed I began to call the company more and more. They told me that if I were to complain one more time that they would take my trailer away from my family. They also said that it costs money to keep coming out to my residence and fix the water heater. If they would have done it right the first time, money would have been saved," Matherne said as she stood by her trailer's water heater compartment. "They actually locked me out of the water heater compartment. They thought we were breaking the heater on purpose." Matherne says those allegations are preposterous.

Matherne stated that her family was out of hot water for at least two days. “If the water heater was in working condition, then they would have nothing to fix, and we would have had hot water available.”

“We are unaware of how often Mrs. Matherne called the maintenance contractors but they responded promptly to her Feb. 1st call. They replaced the water heater even though it was working properly according to manufacturer’s standards. We believe that she is satisfied with the recent repairs, as she has not contacted us since,” said Rachel Rhodi, a representative from FEMA. The representative went on to say that “workers continued to educate Mrs. Matherne on the proper use of the trailer,” as the carbon monoxide detector repeatedly goes off.

Although the Matherne family's water heater has been replaced, Matherne says it was a long time coming. “I don’t like being called a liar. It was leaking. We just wanted it fixed so that we could make the best of our stay in the trailer.”

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