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More Gulf Coast residents spend Thanksgiving in FEMA trailers

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CHALMETTE, La. — Cradling an 18-pound turkey, Hurricane Katrina victim Nancy Prattini hauled groceries from her minivan, preparing for her family’s first Thanksgiving dinner in their cramped FEMA-issued trailer.
    ‘‘It won’t be the same, but nothing will be the same anymore,’’ said Prattini, who is making dinner for 12 on Thursday.
    Nearly 15 months after the hurricane struck, the number of Katrina victims who will be spending Thanksgiving in FEMA trailers this year will paradoxically be far higher — roughly three times greater — than it was last year.
    The reason: Many people who were living with family members or staying in hotels at government expense last year have since moved out or been evicted. But they have been unable to return to their homes because they are still waiting for their houses to be repaired, their insurance to come through, or the water and electricity to be turned back on. Or they have yet to decide whether to rebuild at all.
    More than 99,000 families in Louisiana and Mississippi are living in FEMA trailers, compared with about 34,000 last November, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
    Biloxi, Miss., resident Jessica Lessard and her family are spending their second Thanksgiving in a FEMA trailer, but things will be different this time: FEMA just sent her family a spacious three-bedroom mobile home to replace the tiny camper they have been in for the past year.
    ‘‘Thank God,’’ Lessard said. ‘‘We can actually walk around, and we have a dining room table. It’s really nice. It has six chairs.’’
    Lessard said her family is looking forward to having room for company this Thanksgiving. ‘‘Last year, it was really rough,’’ she said. ‘‘It was just us. We couldn’t cook our turkey in the stove. It wouldn’t fit. We had to take it outside and fry it.’’
    Many of those who spent Thanksgiving in trailers last year blew the fuses while cooking or had to eat in shifts around the tiny tables. So some are making different arrangements this year.
    ‘‘We’re going to Disney World,’’ said Jeff Howard, who is rebuilding his flooded St. Bernard, La., home. ‘‘We’re not dealing with this again.’’
    James Gonzales, a St. Bernard Parish firefighter who also has a bigger trailer than last year, said his wife and two children are bringing their Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings to the Chalmette firehouse, which has a full-size kitchen.
    ‘‘I’ll be on duty, and it’s easier to cook there than in a trailer,’’ Gonzales said.
    His FEMA trailer is in a park with more than 100 others. Over the past year, he has watched families move in and out as they renovate their homes.
    Even though his family is facing another holiday season in a trailer, they are in good spirits because they know this will be the last, Gonzales said. His family is scheduled to move into their newly rebuilt house by February, he said.
    ‘‘I’m just grateful that I have a house to fix up,’’ he said. ‘‘It could be worse.’’
    Prattini, whose trailer is on the lot next to her flooded Chalmette home, agreed she has much to be grateful for despite the tight living quarters: ‘‘My kids will be here, and my grand-baby. It’ll be small, but it’ll be nice.’’
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