By Michelle Guffey

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Bell County was quick to offer aid and shelter to more than 3,000 evacuees. About 700 families have been given temporary housing since the disaster.

A lot of landlords and property owners have made houses available to FEMA for evacuees, Commissioner John Fisher said.

Bell County is paying rent, utilities, phone, basic cable and a housing package household goods, linens, dishes and furniture for a 12-month period. FEMA will reimburse the county for all expenses.

(Evacuees) have been given stuff, but they should ultimately know that everything belongs to FEMA, Fisher said. Everything is expected to be returned.

But a couple of weeks after evacuees started receiving their household goods, Fisher was told by representatives from local Wal-Mart stores that some of the items were being returned and, since they didnt have a receipt, evacuees were being issued gift cards.

Easy-to-carry items such as alarm clocks, dishes, pots and pans, telephones and linens were being brought in.

Evacuees are responsible for things given to them by FEMA, Fisher said. They will be responsible for them at the end of the 12 months.

Gift cards are often issued for the amount of the item that is being returned and can be used at any Wal-Mart or Wal-Mart gas station around the country and for any item perishable or nonperishable in the store.

Its unfortunate that some will abuse the system when there are those that have a real need, County Judge Jon Burrows said.

A letter that was sent from Burrows to all evacuees participating in the Bell County Katrina Housing Program stated that it is the evacuees responsibility to protect and safeguard those items until (they) return them at the end of (their) stay in temporary housing.

The letter goes on to state that the county will recognize normal wear and tear on items and houses at the end of the 12 months.

Anything beyond that, it will be up to FEMA whether to withhold any future assistance (evacuees) might be entitled to, Burrows said. FEMA will make the final decision about unreasonable losses.

Lone Star Realty & Property Management Inc. was hired by Bell County to act as a liaison between evacuees, landlords, county officials and FEMA officials.

Evacuees are also required to report once a month with identification to Lone Star to inform them of a continued need for the housing program.

Fisher said that other than the issue of evacuees trying to return items, things have been going very smoothly.

Some people are going back to New Orleans, he said. But I dont know what they are going back to.

Contact Michelle Guffey at

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