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71-year-old man becomes a hero during Betsy, now forced to sleep in a tent post-Katrina

08:08 PM CDT on Wednesday, May 10, 2006 Bill Capo / WWL-TV Action Reporter

After Hurricane Betsy, a New Orleans man became a hero when he rescued others from the flooded areas of the city.

Ed Wragge has been forced to sleep inside a tent that he pitched inside his gutted house. He's been waiting weeks for the keys to his FEMA trailer.

Then after Hurricane Katrina, the same man asked FEMA for a trailer to live in until his flood damaged home could be rebuilt. On Wednesday, Eyewitness News found him living in a tent.

Ed Wragge, 71, has been sleeping on a cot inside a tent that has been pitched in a room of his gutted Gentilly home.

“It’s been real frustrating, I give up. The government should do well for people. I don’t know what to do,” cried Wragge.

Wragge doesn’t have a kitchen, so he eats meals from cans and drinks bottled water. He does not have a bathroom, yet outside his home sits the FEMA trailer he had asked for in October.

He said it has been there seven weeks, and he has yet to receive the keys. Wragge had been staying with friends, but couldn’t any longer.

“I got to sleep in this house. I have no place else to stay, everybody died. They died on me,” Wragge said as he tried to hold back his tears.

Before he bought the tent, Wragge was sleeping in his car, which he said was even worse.

“Oh, it’s miserable. I’m too tall, I couldn’t stretch out my legs,” he said.

Wragge said there was still mold in the house he and his nephew were gutting. He has lived there since 1960, and his parents before him. Wragge said Katrina was the first time it had flooded.

Among his belongings he was trying to save were the water damaged uniforms that he wore when he was a Sergeant in the 1960s. He said he wore those uniforms during Hurricane Betsy when he was on duty.

“I was a National Guard Sergeant. The first few days I was in the water, until I got too cold, I started driving a truck,” he said.

Wragge said he wore the uniforms when he rescued hundreds of people.

The reason Wragge hadn’t been given the keys was because there was no power to the trailer.

Since he called the Action Line, Eyewitness News has had several conversations with FEMA and the contractor Fluor. Officials at FEMA said they were working on the situation and FEMA called Wragge on Wednesday.

“Oh, it would be a life saver, been sleeping in a tent. I’m making do,” Wragge said.

Five days later came this story:

Hurricane hero given keys to FEMA trailer after living inside a tent

Monday, May 15, 2006

from Bill Capo / WWL-TV Action Reporter

People across the city wanted to help a New Orleans man who was shown living in a tent while his FEMA trailer stood outside his house, locked up. And things began to change quickly for Gentilly resident Ed Wragge after Wednesday’s Action Report.

Ed Wragge finally got the keys to his FEMA trailer after weeks of sleeping in a tent inside his damaged home.

Wragge is a different man now since he received the keys to his FEMA trailer. He said moving in changed his life.

“…World of difference. I got a good night's sleep…a wonderful night's sleep, no bugs, the air conditioner worked, everything's fine,” Wragge said.

It was a big change from last Wednesday, when the 71-year-old Wragge was sleeping on a cot in a tent that had been set up inside his gutted home, because he was locked out of the powerless trailer which had been sitting in front of his home for weeks. Forty years ago, Ed was a hero, rescuing the victims of Hurricane Betsy, and he couldn't understand why he was ignored when he needed help.

When Ed called the Action Line two weeks ago, I had several conversations with FEMA and asked them to take action to help him. But when I came out here two days ago, and found that Wragge was still in the tent, he told me that the contractor in charge of delivering the trailer for FEMA was the Fluor Corporation. After contacting a spokesman for that company, a crew rushed out here to make sure that the power was connected and to put the keys to the trailer in Ed's hands.

“They put me in the trailer right away, wouldn't leave until the trailer was hooked up. I mean it was wonderful, they treated me marvelous,” Wagge said.

Ed Wragge wept after reading some of the emails sent to him by concerned citizens.

Being able to move into the trailer allowed Ed’s nephew to begin restoring his heavily flood damaged house, because he is determined to move back into his home of more than forty years.

“I was born in this area. I've lived all my life here. I own this house,” he said.

But another only good thing happened to Ed after that first report – goodhearted people reached out to help him.

“People came by. A couple came by, an individual came by; and beaucoup of calls, even from Mississippi I had a call…I could not believe it,” Wragge said.

And when I gave Ed copies of the emails I received from people wanting to help him, he was overwhelmed, and a strong man not used to showing his emotions said thanks with tears of gratitude.

Though he lost a lot of treasures after Hurricane Katrina, Ed Wragge is making precious new memories now, of the people who cared enough to help a hero in his time of need.