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Louisiana company selling cottages damaged by hurricanes

By Timothy R. Brown

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — A Louisiana company is selling quaint cottages at rock bottom prices, but there’s a catch — they were originally built as temporary housing for Mississippi victims of Hurricane Katrina, then flooded by Hurricane Gustav last year.

State officials have condemned them, saying they’re not safe to live in.

But Henderson Auctions of Louisiana said Thursday it will auction the 233 shotgun-style homes despite the objections of Mississippi officials who say they’re uninhabitable and should be sold only as scrap.

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The cottages, which once dotted the Mississippi coast, are at a facility in Bay St. Louis. Henderson Auctions intends to sell them in Livingston, La., April 25 to the highest bidder. There is no minimum bid and they can be bought individually.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency paid about $34,000 for the smallest one-bedroom cottages. There are also cottages as big as 840 square feet with as many as three bedrooms.

The cottages were designed to provide safer and more permanent accommodations for families who lost their homes in Katrina in 2005 and had been living in FEMA trailers, but then they were flooded by Gustav in September.

Henderson bought them from the company that had insured them, which paid the state for them after the hurricane.

Henderson attempted to auction the cottages in Mississippi in January, but the state fire marshal’s office sent a letter saying they could not be sold in the state as "livable" dwellings because of increased levels of formaldehyde, reduced structural integrity and electrical hazards due to water damage.

Janet Cagley, an auction company spokeswoman, said the cottages are no worse than any other flood-damaged homes in need of repair. The company Web site says the cottages suffered varying degrees of damage from the rising waters of Hurricane Gustav and then Ike, which hit later in the year.

"MEMA is trying to tell people that they shouldn’t ever live in them because they’ve been flooded. Well, what about every house on the coast that’s ever been flooded. Do you tear them down? What’s the difference?" Cagley said.

Cagley acknowledged customers should have the cottages inspected but says they weren’t condemned. Some appear heavily damaged with missing doors and siding, while others seem to be in decent condition. She said what buyers do with them is their business.

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MEMA Director Mike Womack, however, warned buyers to beware, saying damage might not be easily visible to the average person.

"The state would prefer that these units were sold as scrap," Womack said. "We don’t want the public to buy these units without knowing about the hazards and adverse health impacts they might experience if they try to repair and live in them."

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