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REUTERS: Displaced workers settle in at Shell oil terminal

REUTERS: Displaced workers settle in at Shell oil terminal

Sewer and water lines are being laid to be connected to trailers provided by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for workers at the Shell Sugarland facility in St. James, Louisiana, September 15, 2005. FEMA is providing 165 trailers for workers and their families displaced by Hurricane Katrina at a community they’ve named Sugarville.

Friday 16 Sep 2005

By Ben Berkowitz

ST. JAMES, La., Sept 15 (Reuters) – Compared with many others forced from their homes by Hurricane Katrina, residents of Sugarville have comfortable new houses, complete with amenities like soft beds, DVD players and full refrigerators.

Of course, “Sugarville” is actually a huge dirt lot on the grounds of the Royal Dutch ShellSugarland Terminal in this southeastern Louisiana town. The “houses” are Fleetwood Enterprisestrailers supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to house oil workers and their families displaced by the storm that devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast.

But for at least 75 people, it is home for possibly up to six months as the region tries to rebuild after the Aug. 29 storm laid waste to communities like St. Bernard, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes. But the recovery effort is being balanced by the needs of commerce, particularly the hungry energy market.

“Is it different? Absolutely. It’s out of the norm, but our facilities are up and running,” said Doug Schexnayder, operations support supervisor at the facility, which is about 60 miles (100 km) from New Orleans and largely escaped Katrina.

For those in the storm’s path, there are complaints far and wide that disaster response officials are not moving fast enough to find housing for storm evacuees.

But when it comes to the oil industry, FEMA moved quickly, scrambling to get trailers so refineries could come back online and crude could begin flowing again.

The compound of 165 trailers will house displaced employees from the Convent and Norco refineries as well as Shell exploration and production staff from New Orleans.

The Sugarland terminal usually has about 40 people working on site, but spokesman Gary Miller said it could ultimately shelter up to 600 people until they get permanent housing.

State economic officials credit the energy companies for much of the initiative, since a displaced workforce means production grinds to a halt.

“The larger corporations have such significant resources, they take their initiative and move forward without significant needs,” said Don Pierson, assistant secretary of the state Department of Economic Development.

Shell says it is trying to give people some of the comforts of home, including laundry service, three hot meals a day and a playground for the children — in the shadow of tanks that hold up to 300,000 barrels of crude for the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The community appeared largely uninhabited during a media tour on Thursday, but construction crews were digging trenches and laying pipe for sewer and electrical services, and cleaning crews were making up beds in the trailers, which can each sleep as many as six people.

After communities are rebuilt and the residents of “Sugarville” move on, the infrastructure that supported them will become a permanent feature of the Sugarland terminal.

“We’ll leave it in place in case this happens again,” Schexnayder said.

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