September 13, 2018 / 10:49 PM / 8 days ago

FEMA faces Hurricane Florence with range of housing options from 2017 storms

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has thousands of modular homes on hand along with other temporary housing options tested by last year’s spate of storms, as Hurricane Florence bears down on the U.S. Southeast, the agency said on Thursday.

Water from Neuse River floods houses as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Over 1 million residents of coastal states including North Carolina and South Carolina were ordered to evacuate as of Thursday afternoon, ahead of the expected landfall of Hurricane Florence on Friday.

If their homes are damaged, FEMA has options beyond standard temporary trailers for housing, agency officials said. People displaced in hurricanes may receive short-term rental assistance, access to federal programs that fix houses while residents remain in them, and programs that repair homes to a habitable level without completely restoring them.

The storms in 2017 tested the agency’s resources, with 472,000 housing units destroyed or severely damaged in Puerto Rico alone by Hurricane Maria. Among other storms last year, Hurricane Irma caused destruction in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, while Hurricane Harvey resulted in severe flooding in parts of Texas.

Last year “was a banner year for the agency where we really had to think about all the different options,” said Alex Amparo, deputy assistant administrator of FEMA’s National Preparedness Directorate.

“There was a variety of menu options of housing that kept people in their housing, in their communities, in their schools, in their houses of worship, that we had not had before.”

Amparo did not specify how many modular units were on hand to respond to Hurricane Florence, but said it was “more than 2,000.”

After Hurricane Harvey, the agency provided so-called temporary sheltering assistance (TSA) to more than 54,500 people in Texas, with some of them staying in the TSA program - one of several options in the state - for nearly a year.

Puerto Rico’s recovery director told Reuters on Thursday that work still needed to be completed under at least one other FEMA program for short-term housing.

The Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program, known as STEP, which was created in 2015 and tested in four jurisdictions last year, has over 100,000 orders for home repairs, more than half of which are not yet done, said Omar Marrero.

Puerto Rico’s government has asked for additional federal support to conclude the repairs, according to an appeal the U.S. island territory submitted to FEMA on Aug. 30.

Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Peter Cooney

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