Saturday, March 23, 2019

Eagle Butte
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FEMA trailer found to be toxic surplus from Katrina

Carmelita Eagle Chasing lives in a small two-bedroom FEMA trailer in Eagle Butte, which she says has caused her health decline and thinks may be located on top of a sinkhole.

The “sinkhole” that has caused much of her worry is a deeply-settled depression in the ground under her trailer.

“I called the water company but they said it was not under their jurisdiction. I’ve asked for help moving the trailer back, but no one has come to help,” Eagle Chasing said.

Earlier this year, Eagle Chasing said that she became extremely sick and was diagnosed with a respiratory infection, which she believes was caused by strong fumes and toxic gas coming into her home.

It is well-documented that the FEMA trailers, which were manufactured after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, emitted toxic fumes and led to an investigation revealing alarmingly high levels of formaldehyde.

These toxic levels led to thousands of reported cases of health and respiratory issues in FEMA home recipients in the Gulf Coast region.

In 2012, a $42 million class-action lawsuit was settled with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita plaintiffs. The federal government was left with a surplus of over 50,000 trailers which were rendered “not suitable for housing”.

In 2010, several Indian reservations received the formaldehyde-lace trailers, including Cheyenne River, which was under the administration of then-chairman Kevin Keckler.

Galen Means, who was the Director of Property and Supply, remembers traveling to Louisiana to haul back an estimated 30 FEMA trailers to Eagle Butte.

“To qualify for a trailer, people had to meet income and need guidelines. The trailers were passed out to people because the winter had knocked out electricity for months. Then the tornadoes came. It was a bad time,” Means said.

Eagle Chasing said she has lived in the trailer for years, but when she became hospitalized earlier this year, her doctor advised her not to return to the home until it was gutted, renovated and the sewage line was fixed.

“He said, ‘You’re living in a trailer that is making you sick.’ Fix it before you move in,” Eagle Chasing said.

That renovation started a month ago with the help of Eagle Chasing’s nephew. Upon removing the trailer skirting, a large pool of water was found under the trailer. This startled Eagle Chasing, who was then able to see the extent of damage under the trailer.

Sewer lines were exposed and spilling sewage on the ground. The water line from the trailer was smaller than the water line coming out of the ground– instead of a fitted joining of these two pipes, the water line from the trailer rests in the too-big pipe from the ground.

Eagle Chasing says the sewage fumes and smell were unbearable.

The trailer sat on cinder blocks and pieces of roughly cut wooden logs- there was no foundation for the home. Eagle Chasing says this caused the trailer to be unlevel and vulnerable to high winds.

Parts of the exterior panels were missing, leaving interior plywood exposed, and the insulation compromised. Windows are shattered and covered with plastic.

Fearing the risks of living on a possible sinkhole and doctor’s orders for complete renovations to improve her health, Eagle Chasing said she was overwhelmed and stressed with the lack of support and financial resources to help her accomplish her goals.

Carmelita Eagle Chasing sits outside her FEMA trailer in Eagle Butte. Photos by Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle

Exposed pipes under Eagle Chasing’s trailer.

“I need help moving my trailer a few feet back, away from the sinkhole. It’s been close to two months since I’ve been in my home. I miss my home. I want to be home,” Eagle Chasing said.

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