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Info-free zone on FEMA news conference call

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News,Richard Pollock,Watchdog Blog

Nine days after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said today his agency has disbursed $320 million in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, but he doesn't know how many people have been helped or still need assistance.

In a telephone conference call today with reporters, Fugate was unable to say how many storm victims are in hotels or motels, how many are in transitional housing, or how many people are receiving renters assistance from FEMA.

"We have to get that. I don't have that in front of me" he said.

FEMA was vilified in the news media and elsewhere for its poor performance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. President Obama vowed his administration would not take "no" for an answer to pleas for help.

"If they're getting 'no' for an answer somewhere in the federal government, they can call me personally at the White House," Obama said last week as Sandy made landfall on the New Jersey shore.

Fugate was also unable to tell reporters how many temporary manufactured housing units are in FEMA's inventory, where those the agency has are coming from or where they will be set up to help homeless residents.

He said the manufactured housing was about to be moved to the stricken region but that "we don't have specific locations yet. We don't have sites that they are to go to, for people to move into."

Federal rules allow displaced residents to live in the temporary housing units up to18 months.

If FEMA projections for the manufactured housing - commonly known as trailer homes -- falls short, "we have looked at our ability to contract for additional, which would come from new manufacturing or come from existing housing stock," adding "we're still not getting yet what total demand would be for additional, manufactured housing."

He also sidestepped the issue about whether the temporary units had formaldehyde in their materials. After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of FEMA trailers were condemned as health hazards because of the presence of the carcinogen.

Richard Pollock is a member of The Washington Examiner's special reporting team.

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