Saturday, July 29, 2006

The 50% Solution

I am astounded at the misinformation being spread about insurance and rebuilding.

New Orleans will be rebuilt one house at a time. What matters is whether a house can be rebuilt, economically and then insured. While I might not be 100% correct I think I have a pretty good handle on the rules.

This all hinges on the concept of "Substantially Damaged", as determined by the City of New Orleans. Under the Federal Flood Insurance Program rules, and the new state building code "Substantially Damaged" means damage equal to more than 50% of the pre-loss value of the structure, as determined by the City of New Orleans. The City of New Orleans has made a damage assessment for virtually all single family residences in the city.

Most of the damage is from flooding and was for the most part a limited kind of flood damage. The damage was simply an inundation by slowly rising and slowly receding flood waters. In spite of lot of scare stories these waters generally caused little structural damage. In a few cases structures near the breaches suffered damage due to rapidly flowing water, but that was relatively rare, even near the 17th Street Canal breach. My observation is that raised houses are more susceptible to that kind of damage because they were not anchored to their foundations as well as slab on grade houses.

The most common other types of damages are a limited amount of roof damage or damage due to falling trees. Many houses had little or no wind damage. The wind damage was greatly aggravated by the "chicken little" response of government at all levels which tended to present the most dramatic, most pessimistic interpretation of events. Had people been able to get back and take action sooner much of the actual loss could have been mitigated. Just opening the doors and windows in houses and throwing out the furniture as soon as possible would have helped a lot.

The City assessments are interesting. Virtually all flooded two story homes are assessed at less that 50% damage and are eligible to rebuild immediately and qualify for flood insurance as pre-existing structures. Virtually all single story homes which were only flooded and not otherwise damaged were assessed at just over 50%. In effect this gives the Owner a choice. They can appeal the assessment or they can accept it and apply for the additional benefits available for mitigation.

Here is the actual FEMA recommendation which has not yet been adopted in New Orleans (Although it has been adopted in Jefferson Parish).

FEMA recommends the following: new construction and substantially damaged homes and businesses within a designated FEMA floodplain should be elevated to either the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) shown on the current effective Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) or at least 3 feet above the highest adjacent existing ground elevation at the building site, whichever is higher;
A typical Damage Assessment is recreated below.

Damage Assessment

Estimated Flood Depth:Unavailable
Flood Duration (days):Unavailable
Damage Report:52.13%

Report Detail:


% Breakdown

% Damage

Superstructure (Framing/Masonry)






Interior Finish (Plaster/Drywall)






Exterior Finish









Floor Covering









Lumber Finished









Insulation & Weather Stripping



Built-in Appliances






A typical house should be able to get this reduced. If for example, as many houses in Gentilly or Lakeview have, there was terrazzo flooring which needs only be cleaned and polished (bathroom tile floors can also usually be saved), or if the windows are operable, as are virtually all aluminum windows, even wood windows handled properly can be saved.

If you take those two items and reduce them to 50% damaged you have reduced the overall damage percentage by 4.75% to 48.95% and you can now obtain a permit to rebuild.

If someone were to decide that certain areas of the City cannot be rebuilt or should not be rebuilt the question of who will compensate the existing Owners of the existing property will become central. The result is likely to be massive long term litigation which would stall any progress.

Since I am stating an opinion that might have significant concequences if anyone should read and act on it I think it is necessary to caution everyone that each situation is different and each case must be evaluated on is merits.

Why do they need to know that?

Have you noticed that every time you call anyone to get information they want more information than they give you? I wonder if there is some kind of required quid pro quo. I don't understand.

When I have a problem with my cable TV(rarely) or Internet(more often) I call Cox. They want my phone number (haven't they heard of caller ID?). They also want the last four digits of the social security number on the account and my address (don't they have computers?). The last question is "Can I access your account?". Why do they need access to my confidential account information anyway? Why do they think I called? What if someone was staying in my house trailer and I wasn't home and they didn't know my social security number? Aren't they allowed to call for service? Isn't the address enough, why do they even need the address the have the phone number?

I had an occasion to call for service on my trailer. I looked on the FEMA website to see if there was a directory for such things. No such luck. I called the FEMA toll free number 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to ask for the trailer service number for New Orleans. That lead to a 20 minute hold on the phone and question and answer session primarily designed to fill out a form on the screen so that my call could be tracked in their system. They wanted my name, file number and Social Security Number. Why do they need all of that information to provide a single phone number which should be public anyway?

Even though I prefaced my call with a statement that I was living in a FEMA trailer and needed service. The operator did not immediately offer to give me the FEMA trailer hotline 1-888-294-2822 or ask my zip code which would have identified the correct maintenance contractor as Smith Research Corporation. Their number is 1-866-476-7329.

Can you imagine how much less time you would spend on hold if they didn't require so much unnecessary information?

Friday, July 28, 2006


I like to cook. I cook for relaxation and enjoyment. Cooking anything very complicated in the trailer is challenging. First there is the kitchen.

The kitchen counter is really just about five feet of counter featuring a miniature two compartment sink and a miniature three burner propane range, with about one foot between them. There are two partial cabinets below the counter and two large drawers. Overhead is a decent sized microwave, a very loud vent and a single cabinet. The "entertainment center" is also up there. One of the biggest problems is lack of space.

My Kitchen is very much like this

The trailer came with very little in the way of cooling implements. Basically a Coleman Camp Cookware set, suitable for a Boy Scout camping trip and a few plastic dishes. I had to supplement that but all most all of our stuff which survived was in storage. I did manage to salvage some Stainless Steel table ware. After soaking it in bleach, running it through her mothers dish washer three times She decided they could be used again.

The Entertainment Center

Luckily to have already developed a sort of shorthand cooking. For years we have taken trips to the Gulf Coast. We usually rented a Condos there and did a lot of our own cooking, so we had kind of a drill. I cut spices to the minimum, substituted butter for cooking oil and used only green onions, among other streamlining techniques. Spice were the most interesting. We eventually arrived at only two, garlic salt and Jerk Seasonings (usually McCormick's Jerk Seasoning in a glass bottle, but sometimes their cheaper, redder Caribbean Seasonings, with the Jerk was not available).

One of my early excursions was to Target to get some kitchen stuff, I didn't do very well. I bought a knife set in a wood Lazy Susan that contained some basic kitchen gadgets. It's too big and takes up too much space. I also discovered that a 4 cup coffee pot costs more than a 12 cup pot, but space is at a minimum so I splurged and paid the extra $2.00. I did better at K-Mart. I scored a nylon bag of cooking utensils for $5.00.

I tried using the FEMA pans and actually cooked on them for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately they were not up the challenge and I never could get used to them. She came to the rescue. She remembered a set of pots and pans we had recovered and stashed at her mothers. She ran them through the dishwasher three times and brought them to me as a surprise one afternoon.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Construction Infrastructure

For a long time the New Orleans market has lacked a significant residential construction infrastructure, especially in the area of volume construction. With the challenges of Post-Katrina New Orleans no one is ready to rebuild the many thousands of modest residences that sheltered the core of the productive population of New Orleans.

New Orleans may be unique in the extent of damage and the lack of associated infrastructure to repair it. The closest analogy, South Florida has a significantly higher total population, and a lower loss/population ratio. The result is that there was already a large, high volume construction infrastructure , undamaged by the storm. They were able to mobilize and effect repairs largely by redirecting existing resources.

In New Orleans there is no infrastructure for large scale residential construction. All residential construction has been on a small scale for at least twenty years. There is no infrastructure in place which can be redirected towards repair. The scope simply overwhelms the existing local resources.

Many individuals are racing to serve the high income, well insured residents of the "sliver by the river", many companies are rushing to serve the government guaranteed needs of the disadvantaged. No one, as far as I can tell, is moving to address the needs of the vast middle.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Where is Glenda?

As everybody knows Glenda was the good witch. She made everything alright. I thought that is what Insurance Companies were supposed to do.

I actually have good companies, they seem perfectly willing to pay the actual amount of the damage. They don't however seem to be willing to assist in actually replacing damaged property, for pretty good legal reasons I guess. I might be willing to pay an excess fee if the Insurance Company were agreed to provide a wrap around policy which would include a assurance that in a catastrophy, all coordination and facilitation was covered, including finding temporary housing, flood and storm damage hiring and paying the contractors. A sort of life interruption policy.

The Insurance Company would coordinate coverage with FEMA and I'd bet Congress would offer some incentives for this kind of arrangement. If the policy included reasonable mandatory alternate dispute resolution (by the Insurance Commissioner?) on a expedited basis, that would be a positive.


She loves to barbecue. Unusual since burning meat outside is usually viewed as a male predilection. She's one of the few women I know who likes to cook on the barbecue grill. We are barbecue purists, we believe in charcoal under a simple grill.

One of the first things we recovered when we got back home was our Weber grill. We had moved it inside as precaution against wind damage. Unfortunately we failed to anticipate the three and one half feet of water in our house. It survived the flood, without apparent damage except for some minor rust. The Weber seemed just fine to me but She was initially concerned it was 'contaminated'. Since it was a cherished object of veneration, complete with burnt offerings we set it aside to contemplate later.

After I moved into the trailer I decided that I could clean it off and try to use it again. I hosed it down inside and out. I think that got all of the seriously bad stuff out of it (if there actually was any to begin with). I decided that since "cooking it kills it" if I set fire to the thing with lots of charcoal and lighter fluid, I'd be OK.

It's worked so far.

Every time She comes to town we burn some ribs usually with sausage and occasionally chicken breasts. Our repertoire is a little limited because we like ribs so much, and there is no better way to fix them than to smoke them slowly over a covered charcoal fire until the meat separates from the bone, almost by itself.

Another advantage to cooking outside is it dramatically increases the living area we have available. An eight by thirty by seven foot high box is just a little confining. Fortunately we were able to set our trailer in the back yard, so we aren't out on the street when we cook out.

Last weekend we discovered a new living area. We have finally cleaned out out the carport enough so that we can park our cars in it. With all of the thundershowers Saturday and Sunday we moved the Weber into the carport and fired it up. As it turns out the weather cleared and we had a very pleasant afternoon/evening.

Now if I could only figure out how to work the awning on the trailer.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


I originally started blogging as an impulse, a lark. I thought I might record our story and relieve the boredom of lonely evenings in an eight foot by thirty foot tin box.

My reaction to reader comments came as a surprise. Each day and for each new post I wait eagerly for comments. So far none have been negative or hurtful. I don't know how I will react if someday one is, as it eventually must be.

I now know each comment is a connection with someone else who is interested enough in my subject to respond. It is an interesting feeling, the more or less direct connection to an individual. In my previous work the connection has been far more distant and less sure.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Before and After

More than just a Wheel of Fortune puzzle title it represents the change in all of our lives. The more I talk to people from Outside the more I understand they don't have a clue. They may think they do but they don't.

No one who hasn't seen the situation can begin to understand and even then they don't, if they haven't lived it.

They can't understand why we just don't call a roofer/plumber/contractor or why our insurance company hasn't responded.

I was listening to the radio today as I ran some errands and two major insurance companies totaling more than 40% of the policies in the state are under investigation by the state Commissioner of Insurance, for failing to comply with state law.

On top of all the destruction which is easily verified, we have allegations of corporate wrong doing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


We have decided that we need to take approximately monthly forays into the real world. I'll try to write about these excursions both past and future from time to time. I'm also thinking about writing about our expeditions into New Orleans immediately After.

On the subject of subjects I already have the stubs of more than forty unfinished posts, including the story of getting and setting up our trailer. These episodes have already blurred in my mind and the actual dates could be determined but are not really that important, so I'll do it from memory, faulty or not.

Any requests or questions are welcome.

Since we seem to be split between Atlanta and New Orleans we are planning excursions from both places.

We are planning an excursion to Huntsville AL, in September. We have already taken excursions to Abbeyville & Lake Charles, Kiawah Island SC, Chattanooga TN and East TX. In the future we are thinking of Ashville NC, Perdido Key FL, Key West FL, and Ft. Lauderdale / Hollywood FL. That should take us through the end of the year.

Suggestions and comments on our choices are welcome, please feel free to offer them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tin Can Classics

A couple of years ago I was driving around (actually I was the passenger) in Atlanta and we passed a startling sight. There was an old travel trailer with natural aluminum sides and a wraparound glass "windshield" rolling down the road. I had the driver shadow this unusual sight for several miles. On closer inspection it was clear this baby needed a lot of work but the lines below the surface were wonderful. From what little we could see the interior, through the windows at 70 miles an hour, was pretty worn and needed refurbishment but it was also clear the interior was built more like a classic boat that a house. That encounter sparked a frenzy of Internet searching which turned up a number of interesting things.

Not surprisingly there are several companies and groups around who specialize in the early (mostly post-war) travel trailers.

One group the "Tin Can Tourists" contributed to the name of this blog. They describe themselves in this quote from their website.
The Road to Enlightenment

The Tin Can Tourists were organized at Desoto Park, Tampa, Florida, in 1919. They received the official state charter a year later. The groups stated objective was "to unite fraternally all autocampers". Their guiding principles were clean camps, friendliness among campers, decent behavior and to secure plenty of clean, wholesome entertainment for those in camp. The group known for the soldered tin can on their radiator caps grew rapidly during the twenties and thirties. Members could be inducted fellow campers through an initiation process that taught the prospective member the secret handshake, sign, and password. After singing the official song "The More We Get Together" the trailerite was an official member of the Tin Can Tourists of the World.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the aluminum cigar shaped Airstream trailers, which are still manufactured. One of my neighbors has one in his yard. I think he had it Before and was using it until his FEMA model was delivered. Its still there as a sort of annex. It looks nothing like the one I saw in Atlanta. I was never able to confirm exactly what I saw that day but I was able to find similar one. It seem likely that the trailer I saw was a Spartan.

(All Spartan Trailers depicted were listed for sale on the Internet at the time of publication.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

New Orleans Neighborhoods Rebuilding Plan.

I think this is important. We all need to participate, tell everyone you know. Send them there to comment, ask questions and participate. I have been blogging only a short time and I couldn't anticipate the elation I felt on my receiving my first comment. It is an endorphin high. It is intoxicating and also isolating. I feel isolated enough.

I have my point of view and I'm sure you do to. I beg each of you to express your opinions there in forceful, respectful, coherent comment. Principled debate of the issues facing us is a powerful tool.

At the present time the forums are virtually barren.

These forums have the potential to become a major engine of civic participation the re-population is important, but it is an interactive engine and needs interaction.

Thanks to the Third Battle of New Orleans for bringing this site to my attention.

Hanging Out

Where do you put stuff? One thing we discovered early on is that here is no place to put anything.

This was especially true of wet stuff. Things like towels, whether kitchen, hand or bath. The trailer has a single 24" towel bar mounted on the bathroom door. A trailer could benefit from a place to hang things in a lot of places. The question is how to install hangers, after all FEMA owns the trailer. I wouldn't want to lose my deposit.

I had seen some adhesive mounted hooks in different stores. I went looking for them and finally found 3M Command Adhesives at Lowe's they seemed like the perfect answer. I am supposed to be able to remove them whenever I want. Since 3M has a great reputation for research and innovation, I felt like that was the way to go, so we did.

I went crazy. I have installed medium hooks in the kitchen (to hold dish towels), large hooks in the bathroom (to hold wet bath towels) and small hooks inside the shower (to hold wet wash cloths, my back brush and Her scrubbing 'puff''). I even installed cable clips, but that's another story I'll get to later. I'd put more up, if I could think of where to put them. [Any Ideas?]

When I'm ready to move out I'll be able to remove all of the hooks without damage to the finish (according to 3M).

After some consideration, I have estimated the design life of a travel trailer i about 10 years or 180 days of occupancy, whichever comes first. I've lived in mine about 7 months or 210 days. I think that we are already beyond the design life of a travel trailer. We are already seeing some wear failures and who knows what we can't see.

I hear that FEMA will sell the occupants 'theirs' for nominal price, but I will believe it when I see it, especially if the trailer is well taken care of.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Trailer Beer

Trailer beer is defined by the trailer refrigerator.

The shelves in the trailer refrigerator are not tall enough for bottled beer. Bottled beer can't be stored vertically in the space available between the shelves. Canned Beer works much better, the cans are shorter so you can get more in the "refer". Anyone living in a trailer knows you need as much beer on hand as you can get. The problem is that most canned beer isn't that good.

So far I have found that only a few 'premium' breweries provide their products in cans. That is surprising because cans are the best choice in many situations. For example you don't want glass beer bottles by the pool, on the beach, at sporting events or in similar situations.

I have found that Heiniken, Tecate, Amstel Light are the most available. Occasionally you can find Corona, Newcastle Brown Ale and a few others. If anyone knows of any other beer available in cans, I'd like to know what kind and where It is available.

I was recently in the Save-a-Center on Carrolton at the same time a beer sales man was in their checking stock and gave him my full spiel about trailers and beer cans.

I'm pretty sure he thought I was nuts.

Friday, July 14, 2006

FEMA Style

I have, in the course of my wanderings around New Orleans, observed a few things about trailers.

Recently there have been a lot of news stories about FEMA not picking up travel trailers from people who no longer need or want them. I have a feeling many people signed up for trailers without really thinking it through and then either didn't need to want them. One of my neighbors, ordered up a trailer. It was installed and connected to the water and sewer but he decided not to occupy it. The electricity was never connected, although some work was done.

He decided to sell his house and that the trailer was in the way of that. He has been trying to give it back. I frequently see people standing around looking at it, but it's still there. Anyone still waiting for a FEAM trailer? I know where an unused one is sitting, looking for love it has a slightly damaged house attached which can also be had for the right price.

Sometime after he told us he was giving it back, a crew of six showed up with two pickup trucks and a long trailer. They spent the entire day constructing a brand new chrome checker plate stair to the trailer. I have no idea what was wrong with the old one, it was just left in my driveway, until She told them to get it off our property. Something is definitely wrong somewhere. Those six guys should have been disconnecting the trailer and moving it somewhere useful.

I have also observed that about half (a very unscientific sample) of the trailers I see have no electric meters. Why that is I have no idea, I thought FEMA' contractors were supposed to go back and take care of that. Since no sane person will occupy an un-air-conditioned structure in the summer in New Orleans (approximately April to November). I assume that any trailer without a working electric meter is unoccupied.

By The Way if anyone wants to experience FEMA style, you can rent my trailer for the weekend, with or without air conditioning. I'd be happy to move to a hotel. I doubt I will get many takers, especially since I would charge about $150.00 a night, (seasonal rates vary) assuming the reservation were made in advance and I could verify payment. There will be no refunds.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I find it interesting that the posts which gained responses were arguably political. That is not my intent nor is it the point of this Blog.

I am trying to tell my story, if you are interested please comment.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


What is a pop-out you ask? A pop-out is a section of the trailer which slides out to create more interior space. I originally understood that FEMA would not purchase travel trailers with pop-outs or fifth wheel trailers. I have since seen both installed FEMA style.

How FEMA decides who gets a pop-out seem a mystery. I haven't met anyone who has such a trailer, but I have seen a lot of them around town.

Trailer with pop-out
Image borrowed from
(I hope they don't mind)

Have you ever noticed that once you become familiar with something, you begin to notice details you never noticed before. Well maybe you don't (She doesn't either) but I do. When I buy a car, I start to notice the subtle differences between the different trim levels and model years.

Once it became clear that our house flooded we began to think about what to do about temporary living. One option we investigated was purchasing a trailer and putting it in our yard. We visited an RV dealer and looked at used trailers. It was interesting how ingenious some are. That was the start of my education in travel trailer technology.

Soon we became aware that we could obtain a FEMA trailer quickly at no cost to us, so we decided to go with it. We had no idea what we would get and assumed (correctly) that we would have no choice. Our trailer is typical I guess, but we didn't get a pop out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Somebody Cares !

I just got my first two comments. When I started this it was to find something to do in the trailer late at night. I was hoping to develop a few mildly amusing observations and anecdotes on living in a large tin can. I wanted to record my experinance.

I'm impressed that someone found this little corner of the Internet.

Thanks to two ( hopefully ) loyal readers.

The Plan

I have been for a long time turned off by my previous long term interaction with city government. People I would never hire to work for me feel they must prevent citizens from doing something crazy. Crazy is generally was defined as affecting their prospects for promotion. This is an upside down paradigm, if you will excuse an 80's buzzword.

New Orleans is in at critical point in history and in the development of our homes. We collectively have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future with our skills yet we seem to me to be aligning ourselves with the Ancien RĂ©gime. We should be leavening the debate on rebuilding with alternate views. A simple look at the "Team" on indicates that the same old power structure is in place.

I am not a believer in the 'New Urbanism'. As far as I can tell no new livable communities have actually been created by that philosophy. Seaside is a beautiful facade, so beautiful it was used as the set for a movie about a fake life. A Potemkin Village. None of the new communities compare to the real neighborhoods of New Orleans in any way except Kodak moments.

I believe in organic growth, guided by simple rational, easily understood governmental policies. I believe transparency will fuel real economic growth, something Greater New Orleans has not seen in more than 50 years (in reality our relative economic position has been slipping for much longer than that).

New Orleans and Louisiana has suffered 300 years of French bureaucratic heritage, overlaid by Huey Long's populism. Nearly everyone believes that government is the answer to their dreams.

I was stunned when the guy from Houston announced that people who had relocated to Houston were not going to be taken care of in the manner they were accustomed to. People in need were being given support but that it was their responsibility to find a place to live. If they didn't like their decision they could move.

We need more personal responsibility like that in New Orleans. It requires liberating people from dependency on government. I believe we need to encourage people to act for themselves.

I am willing are you?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Size Matters

When I first saw my trailer I was amazed how every inch of space was so completely used. Mine is laid out to sleep eight people in a eight foot by thirty foot box. The beds are four bunk beds, a fold-down sofa, a convertible dining table and a queen sized bed in the front. The bath room is only slightly larger than an airplane lavatory, with a small shower added. The ceiling is so low that my head goes up into the skylight when I use it. It took a few tries to learn how to use it.

The kitchen is a marvel of cramming five pounds into a two pound bag. There is a miniature three burner propane stove, a microwave oven, small two compartment sink and about one foot of counter space. There is hardly enough room to put a small coffee pot on the "counter".

Our trailer (kindof)
Image borrowed from
(I hope they don't mind)

Trying to find a place to put the stuff necessary to carry on a reasonable facsimile of a normal life into these confined spaces is a challenge. There is no closet or dresser, only two small wardrobe cabinets and couple of shelves (one with a hinged door). There is also considerable "hidden" storage, under the dining benches, under the beds and some "outside" storage, accessible only by going outside.

FEMA helped out a lot by providing a number of essential items. I got for tiny pillows (these must be the surplus airline pillows recently removed for the planes), two very thin cotton blankets, four pairs of flat sheets (none large enough for the queen sized bed), a stack of small towels and a box of fifty pre-moistened towelettes. The kitchen was similarly well equipped, I got six large plastic cups, six sets of plastic eating utensils and a genuine Coleman camping cooking set.