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FEMA auctioned disaster trailers before Harvey made landfall

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The federal government auctioned off disaster-response trailers at fire-sale prices just before Harvey devastated southeast Texas, reducing an already diminished supply of mobile homes ahead of what could become the nation’s largest-ever housing mission.

More than 100 2017-model Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers were sold over the two days before the Category 4 hurricane landed in the Gulf Coast, an analysis of government data by The Associated Press found. Harvey was already projected to be a monster storm that would inflict unprecedented damage.

The trailers were designated to be sold through Aug. 28, after floodwaters sent thousands of Texans onto rooftops and into shelters.

About 79,000 homes in the areas affected by the hurricane were flooded with 18 inches or more of water, Michael Byrne, FEMA’s federal disaster recovery coordinator for Harvey, told AP.

The auctions — about 300 since the beginning of the year — have left FEMA with a standing fleet of only 1,700 units. The agency has put out bids for another 4,500, but officials could not say when they would be ready to meet needs arising from Harvey, Irma and potentially future storms.

“There’s a vast chasm between what they can supply and what is actually needed,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, adding that he found the trailer auctions an “unfortunate decision.”

FEMA officials said that the units sold had all been used to house survivors of last year’s floods in Southern Louisiana, who returned them with damages that made them unfit for redeployment.

“The ones you will hear about being auctioned are the used models that we’ve determined it’s not cost-effective to refurbish. We’re very rigid and strict about what we’ll refurbish and it’s got to be something that quite frankly any one of us would be comfortable living in and willing to put our families into,” Byrne said.

Yet the 300 trailers sold on the Government Services Agency’s online auction since the beginning of the year 2017 were advertised either without problems, or with only minor damage, such as flat tires, buckling trim or missing furniture, GSA records showed. FEMA said trailers also go to the auction block because of leaks, roach infestations and odor left by cigarette smoke.

FEMA officials said the trailers it had recently ordered will cost the agency around $40,000 for a one-bedroom. By contrast, GSA sold a 2017-model trailer Aug. 23 with damage it described as normal wear and tear and low or flat tires for less than $5,000.

FEMA deployed 144,000 trailers after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but started selling off its stock in 2007 when the trailers became symbols of the troubled federal response after lawsuits accused some of those units of being riddled with high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde.

Sales were halted after tests by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008 showed formaldehyde leaching from the trailers’ pressed-wood products. The auctions resumed after a court order was lifted in 2010, and Katrina-era units resurfaced on Native American reservations, in North Dakota’s oilfields and in Texas, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to Chemical Heritage Foundation fellow Nicholas Shapiro.

In 2011, FEMA announced that all of its trailers would be built with wood products that met emission standards set by the California Air Resources Board. Units rolled out in 2016 ranged in size from one to three bedrooms and were equipped with smoke detectors, fire sprinklers and central heating and air conditioning, with hookups for washing machines and cable TV.

FEMA has auctioned off trailers during disasters before.

As Superstorm Sandy churned up the Atlantic coast in 2012, dozens of trailers sat idle in a supermarket parking lot in Northeastern Pennsylvania, — about two hours from the New Jersey coast.

The trailers were deployed for a flood the previous year, but many went unused and instead wound up on the government auction block at a fraction of their original cost, landing on the resale market or being refurbished for personal use.

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Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the trailers were listed for auction through Aug. 28 but that the sales ended before the hurricane made landfall.

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Trump Adviser Rudy Giuliani Captured In Compromising Position With Woman He Was Told Was A Reporter In ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’

The forthcoming “Borat” sequel reportedly features Rudy Giuliani engaging in provocative behavior with a woman he’d been told was a reporter.

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(The Hill) — The forthcoming “Borat” sequel reportedly features Rudy Giuliani engaging in provocative behavior with a woman he’d been told was a reporter.

The adviser to President Trump appears to have unknowingly participated in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the comedy starring Sacha Baron Cohen that is poised to be released Friday on Amazon Prime Video.

According to multiple reports, Giuliani sits down for an interview at a New York hotel with the character Tutar, Borat’s teenage daughter who’s posing as a TV journalist and was played by 24-year-old actress Maria Bakalova.

The 76-year-old former New York mayor is heard complimenting the supposed reporter and following her to a bedroom, where eventually he stretches out on the bed.

Vanity Fair describes the scene captured on hidden cameras, saying of Giuliani, “His hand is in his pants. Watching it, your brain turns into an exclamation point.”

Cohen, as Borat, then reportedly runs into the hotel room sporting a bikini and exclaiming, “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”

Giuliani did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

He told the New York Post in July that he had agreed to participate in what he believed was an interview about the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response.

“This person comes in yelling and screaming,” Giuliani said of Cohen, “and I thought this must be a scam or a shake-down, so I reported it to the police. He then ran away.”

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Pope Francis Announces Support For Civil Unions For Same-Sex Couples In New Documentary

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(CNN) — Pope Francis has declared support for civil unions for same-sex couples for the first time, according to the Catholic News Agency.

The Pope made the historic remarks in a new documentary film, “Francesco,” which was released in Rome on Wednesday.

“Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it,” the Pope said in the film, the Catholic News Agency reported.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the Pope said.

Francis has suggested in past interviews that he is not against civil unions, but this is the first time as Pope that he has directly come out in favor of them.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis advocated for same-sex civil unions as an alternative when Argentina was discussing whether to legalize same-sex marriage.

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Person Who Flown With Biden In Recent Days Tests Positive For COVID-19

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(ABC News) — The Biden campaign has announced that someone who flew with former Vice President Joe Biden to Ohio on Monday and Florida on Tuesday has tested positive for COVID-19. The positive result was discovered through the contact tracing that the campaign undertook following the positive diagnosis of Sen. Kamala Harris’ communications director and a non-staff flight crew member.

“Around noon on Thursday, October 15th, we learned – as part of our contact tracing of the crew member on Senator Harris’ plane that tested positive for COVID last night – that an administrative member of the Aviation company that charters Vice President Biden’s aircraft tested positive for COVID-19,” Campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote in a statement.

However, the campaign says that Biden and the member who tested positive did not have any passing or close contact during the flight and he is not required to isolate.

“Vice President Biden was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with this individual at any time. In fact, the Vice President did not even have passing contact: this individual was over 50 feet from VP Biden at all times, entered and exited the aircraft from a rear entrance, and both the individual and the Vice President wore masks for the entire flight. Given these facts, we have been advised by the Vice President’s doctor and the campaign’s medical advisors that there is no need for the Vice President to quarantine,” she added.

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