Saints could play at LSU

Thursday, 11 p.m.

By Jeff Duncan and Mike Triplett
Staff writers
LSU athletic director Skip Bertman pledged to assist the Saints in their attempts to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, including making Tiger Stadium available for home games.
Bertman said he had not spoken with Saints officials but acknowledged that university officials have been made aware of the team’s interest in playing at least some of its home games at Tiger Stadium this season after Hurricane Katrina damaged parts of the Superdome roof and rendered the city uninhabitable indefinitely.
“We’d certainly look at that,” Bertman said of hosting the Saints’ games. “If that was in the best interest of the state that is what LSU does. If it’s good for the state, it’s good for LSU.”
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said no decisions have been made about where the team will play its scheduled home games this season, and he declined to discuss specific possibilities.
Loomis said team officials will regroup and go over the options today in San Antonio, where the team will make its base of operations for at least the next week or two.
The decision will be made in conjuction with NFL officials, who have received several offers from teams and communities over the past few days. The league’s first priority is to determine where the Saints will play their first home game against the New York Giants on Sept. 18.
The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which runs Giants Stadium, has offered to play host to the game. In that scenario, it would likely be played Monday, Sept. 19, because the New York Jets are scheduled to play Miami that Sunday at Giants Stadium.
San Antonio officials, meanwhile, are making a concerted push to host the Saints’ games all season. City officials have discussed offering the team an incentive package that would include a guarantee that all eight Saints’ home game would be sellouts if they play at the Alamodome.
“We believe that easily can be done,” San Antonio City Councilman Chip Haass said. “We would find a way to contractually put something together where a certain portion (of the crowd and gate revenue) was on the private sector.”
Saints owner Tom Benson, who has strong San Antonio ties, has not been available for comment this week. He has been in Texas and will join the team today.
Although the Saints flew into San Antonio following Thursday night’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, the players and coaches have been excused until Sunday at 6 p.m. to try and get their personal lives in order.
Meanwhile, Benson’s private plane will be sent to Baton Rouge, where trucks will then depart for the team’s practice facility in Metairie to load up with computer equipment, office supplies and everything else necessary to move the operation to San Antonio.
The Saints’ facility, which resides next to Zephyr Field, did not suffer extensive damage, if any, and has actually been used as part of FEMA’s staging area.
The Superdome, however, was not so lucky.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Thursday it’s unlikely the Saints will play any games in New Orleans this season and said the team probably will be forced to play home games at multiple sites because of the devastation from Katrina.
Loomis said all he knows about the Dome’s condition is what he has seen on television, but he said Tagliabue is probably correct.
“At this point you have to proceed on the assumption ... that they may be unable to play in New Orleans at all for the entire season," Tagliabue said in an interview with CNBC. "If things evolve in a positive way, then that would be something that we could adjust to. But our assumption is that for planning purposes, we should assume it will be difficult, if not impossible, to play in New Orleans at all this year.”
Tagliabue said moving the game to New Jersey was one possibility. Future games, he said, could be played at another NFL stadium or at a non-NFL stadium.
Other options the Saints reportedly are considering or have been offered include Shreveport, Houston, Dallas and Tuscaloosa, Ala. Team and league officials both have said they prefer to play games as close to New Orleans as possible, making Baton Rouge the presumed front-runner.
Tiger Stadium seated 91,600 for games last season. A renovation of the west side of the stadium is expected to add around 1,000 seats when it is completed in the next month or so.
It’s unclear if the natural grass field at Tiger Stadium could endure the extra wear and tear.
The teams’ schedules feature two weekends where both teams are slated to play at home: Sept. 15-16 and Nov. 5-6. The Saints play the Falcons Oct. 16, one day after LSU is scheduled to host Florida. The Saints play the Bears Nov. 6, the day after LSU will host Appalachian State.
The only NFL team that shares a natural grass surface with a college team is the Tennessee Titans, which shares the Coliseum with Tennessee State. The Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota share the Metrodome, which features a FieldTurf playing surface.
“We’ll look into that,” Bertman said. “I don’t think there is anything we can’t do.”
The Saints will resume practicing on Monday in preparation for their regular-season opener at Carolina on Sept. 11. The team will probably return to San Antonio following that game, but plans are up in the air after that.
The Saints are currently checked into their San Antonio hotel until Sept. 23.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said there are no plans to alter the NFL schedule as the league did in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That year, the NFL canceled all games scheduled for Week 2 and moved them to the end of the season.
The Saints’ entire football operation unit has spent the week in San Jose, Calif., since evacuating New Orleans on Sunday afternoon ahead of the storm which ravaged the city Monday morning.
Tagliabue, who announced that the NFL was donating $1 million to the recovery effort, said the disaster’s impact reaches beyond the Saints, noting that dozens of players on other teams are from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.
“It’s a tragic situation, obviously,” Tagliabue said. “Like everyone else, we are stunned by the dimensions of this natural disaster.”
Tagliabue said he expects football fans to welcome the Saints in similar fashion to the way the Giants and Jets were supported after 9/11.
“I’m sure the fans around our league are going to recognize them and help the people in the region by being responsive to what they see and hear in the NFL through the Saints,” he said.
Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, issued a statement Thursday saying NFL players plan to pledge “unprecedented support” to the relief efforts. He did not immediately give details about the amount of the donation or where it would be directed.
“We have heard from many players who are personally affected by this disaster,” Upshaw said. “We will continue to monitor and discuss ways in which we can support the relief effort.”
- Staff writer William Kalec and the San Antonio Express-News contributed to this report.

Frustration eases with evacauation

By Gordon Russell
Staff writer
Frustration and sadness were overtaken by desperation in New Orleans by Thursday morning, as tens of thousands of refugees outside the Superdome seethed at the slow pace of relief efforts, thousands more straggled on foot to a bus staging area at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and lawlessness pervaded the parts of town away from the main relief efforts.
Order began to return later in the day as most of the refugees had been evacuated, and soldiers and police began roaming the streets and patrolling the skies in military helicopters.
At around 10 a.m., the anger among many of those cooped up in the Superdome -- many of whom had been there since Sunday -- had hit the boiling point.
Driven outside by the unspeakable stench, chaos and general misery inside, a sea of refugees filled up the wide apron between the Dome and the New Orleans Centre, through which they would have to pass to get to buses waiting to take them to Houston.
"The Superdome is a natural disaster in itself," said Jimaal Allen, who evacuated from eastern New Orleans. "It's not fit to be in there."
"It's like we're in Afghanistan," said Lisa Washington of Algiers, who came to the Dome with a large group from the Lafitte housing development. "People are getting raped. People are getting killed. People are getting diseases. We're fighting for our lives right now."
"We should nowhere near have been here five days," said Curtis Green, who lives in Harahan but went to the Dome on Sunday with friends from the city. "Everyone out here is starting to get frustrated, and they're getting at each other."
Making matters worse, the line to get to the buses -- if it could be called that -- was disorganized. From a spot among the crowd, it was nearly impossible to hear the Guardsmen's directions coming from a tinny speaker, and tussles and arguments broke out frequently. Conditions appeared ripe for a stampede.
"Before everyone starts bum-rushing, they should have put some barricades out here," Green said. "The first day should have been a lesson. When they said it was time to eat, there was a bum rush. If this was any other city, this would have gone better."
Some refugees, doubting the repeated promises that help was on the way, decided to pack it in and walk to a dry part of the city to take their chances.
"I can't stay in there," said Lois Berry of eastern New Orleans, who had been in the Superdome with her husband since Sunday. "The National Guard keeps saying they're going to evacuate people, but if somebody's been evacuated, I don't know about it."
As in days past, many in the crowd said elected officials should be held to account for the debacle.
"There's no leadership," said Zachary Smith, who evacuated from his home in Mid-City. "None. Where's the mayor? Where's the City Council? They all want to come to the 'hood when they need a vote. Where are they now? We need them.
"When we get back," he added, "I'll be out with a picket sign right in front of City Hall."
Many in the crowd said they might not come back to New Orleans.
"I'm ready to go, and I ain't never coming back," said Doreen Smith, Zachary Smith's sister. "Not even for Mardi Gras. I've been there, done that."
A few blocks closer to the Mississippi River, hordes of other refugees hoofed it to the convention center, hoping to catch a ride on buses staging there. Others tried to thumb rides, and others were breaking into cars, some of them in downtown parking garages, hoping to steal one.
The feeling of anarchy was unmistakable as the desperation mounted. Some police acknowledged that the situation had gotten out of hand. One law enforcement officer who was bringing a canister of ammo said: "The problem is, they let those thugs get the best of them. Everyone says they want law and order, but they don't want no one's head getting cracked."
Further uptown, police and military were generally scarce, and many residents who had decided to ride things out changed their minds, citing the lawless climate.
There were reports of carjackings, and cars occasionally sped down streets at unsafe speeds, perhaps to avoid them. The atmosphere recalled "The Road Warrior," a post-apocalytic movie in which armed gangs fight over increasingly scant cars and gasoline.
Near the former St. Thomas housing development, a squadron of police, some in tactical gear, were clustered in an intersection. A Regional Transit Authority bus was nearby, and a man who appeared to be dead from a gunshot wound lay on the ground.
It was unclear what had occurred. Police said there had been a shootout as they forced a reporter and a photographer out of a passing car at gunpoint, pushing them face first against the wall. They took away a reporter's notebook and tossed the photographer's camera on the ground before returning them and telling the pair to leave.
Later in the day, some semblance of order had been restored as National Guard reinforcements began to arrive and military helicopters patrolled the skies.

Welfare, unemployment benefits to Katrina victims

Thursday, 9:20 p.m.

Federal welfare and unemployment benefits are being made available to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Louisiana Department of Labor announced that federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance will be available to residents or workers in 31 parishes if they can prove they lost their jobs or self-employment income as a result of Katrina.

The Labor Department began accepting claims Thursday at its job centers throughout the state and will continue doing so until a 30-day filing period ends Oct. 30.

To qualify for benefits applicants must have worked or been self-employed in one of the affected parishes, prove that they have lost their main source of income because of the storm and that they do not qualify for regular unemployment insurance from another state. The program will run through March 4, 2006.

Additionally, the state Department of Social Services has received federal permission to establish an emergency food-stamp program for people displaced by the hurricane. Applications are being accepted starting Friday through Sept. 9 at 49 different DSS Office of Family Support offices across the state.

Blanco demands apology

9:15 p.m.

An angry Gov. Kathleen Blanco demanded that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., apologize for his statement that it might not make sense to rebuild New Orleans. It was “unthinkable,” Blanco said, that Hastert would “kick us when we’re down. I demand an immediate apology.”

At a press conference Thursday night, she said that 300 soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard arrived in New Orleans fresh from Iraq and are under orders to restore order from the “hoodlums.’’

She said of the soldiers: “They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot to kill . . . and I expect they will.’’

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, said that 1,500 people had gathered on the Chalmette ferry landing awaiting evacuation, possibly by ferry, to Algiers. Making a plea for those refugees to receive food and water now, Melancon estimated that about 100 are dead, possibly from dehydration.

Officials also noted that an additional 80 police officers are now on the streets of New Orleans from elsewhere around the country, bringing some stability to the Superdome.

A doctor in University Hospital telephoned a Baton Rouge TV station, hoping to call attention to the desperate plight at his hospital. The hospital was running low on food and water, and had no power, the doctor said. “We have 160 patients in the hospital and they are actively dying,” he said.

Regaining control

By Brian Thevenot
Staff Writer

Still firmly in the grips of Katrina's aftermath wiith large areas of the city still underwater, New Orleans nonetheless took a few strides toward regaining control on Thursday.

National guardsmen, U.S. marshalls, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries officers and law enforcement officers from around the country arrived en masse, while a massive evacuation effort left fewer and fewer refugees walking the streets.

Gov. Blanco announced that the out-of-state officers had been deputized with full arrest powers and that she had ordered tenacious enforcement of Louisiana laws, including any necessary use of force.

As military and humantarian efforts finally began to take hold, the anarchy that has consumed New Orleans over the past two days, making the city resemble a Third World war zone, had not fully subsided but authorities appeared to have amassed sufficient numbers to seize the upper hand.

Neighborhoods that had been populated by bands of wanderers and armed thieves looked nearly empty, save for police patrols that were non-existent a day earlier. In Uptown, the Central Business District and the French Quarter, substantially smaller crowds of refugees and potential looters found themselves surrounded by ever increasing numbers of National Guard troops and police officers.

It appeared the city had finally hit rock bottom, setting the stage for humanitarian efforts that could soon begin to quell the mass suffering of thousands of New Orleanians.

In front of the Convention Center, which rescue workers, reporters and even soldiers and police had avoided because of the threat of violence, the crowd cheered a passing convoy of soldiers, dressed in black flak jackets and helmets, machine guns at the ready. The soldiers offered a wary smile as they passed. Still, the area, along with highway overpasses and the Superdome, remained the diciest turf in town.

The small but important gains by no means returned the city to any semblance of normalcy. The filth-ridden, riotous nightmare at the Superdome continued even as buses from all over the country slowly made progress in moving the thousands of desperate, angry and at-times violent refugees who had overrun the stadium. Large groups of refugees also congregated atop Interstate 10, where they had walked from flooded homes all across the city. But at least Thursday -- unlike the day before -- residents passed around bottles of water dropped off by Kentwood Water trucks, a gentle rain reduced temperatures.

In the mid-afternoon a convoy of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries trucks towing flat-bottomed boats, heading east to continue waterborn rescues.

The scene throughout the city retained it's apocalyptic feel. A 31-year-old U.S. Marshall from Lake Charles standing at the corner of St. Charles and Poydras avenues, gripping an assault rifle, compared the battered cityscape to the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

"I never though it would come to this," he said. "I just wonder what's going to happen when all these people get to Baton Rouge, Lake Charles and Houston."

Other seemed comforted by the influx of military and police in neighborhoods that had seen no law enforcement in days as looters, sometimes armed, roamed the city with impunity.

"I live over on Tchoupitoulas, and it's real hot, but luckily we've seen a few National Guard trucks fly by," said Johan Ray, 39, who said he planned to stay in the city unless he ran out of the provisions that had sustained him, provided by a friend who owned a bar.

Helicopter trip surveys damage

The Natchez and John J. Audobon riverboats appeared to have survived the storm. Keith Darce, a business writer with The Times-Picayune who toured the area by helicopter with Entergy Corp. Thursday afternoon, said the passenger vessels, normally docked in New Orleans, appeared to have been pushed onto a wooded bank of the Mississippi River near St. Gabriel, south of Baton Rouge.

Darce said the massive storm surge that filled the Industrial Canal to the breaking point also appeared to have lifted a large ship and dry dock at Bollinger Gulf Repair and shoved it onto the east bank of the waterway.

The vessels were resting at a slant on Wednesday afternoon, half in half out the water.

At the Municipal Yacht Harbor at the west end of the Lake Front, sailboats looked like toys tossed into small piles on the marina’s
boardwalks.

The huge glass panels fronting the New Orleans Fair Grounds grandstand appeared to have survived Katrina, but a fly around to the side of the building facing the outside neighborhood revealed an exterior skin shredded by Katrina’s winds.

Much of City Park was underwater and Bayou St. John looked more like a meandering lake, its waters melding with the flood waters in
surrounding neighborhoods.

Unlike earlier days, roofs in flooded areas were largely void of
stranded survivors. One exception was in Jefferson where a woman stood on a roof next to a young boy who held a sign reading, “Please Help.” Water around the home was at least halfway to the roof line.

The mother house of the Sisters of Mount Carmel on Robert E. Lee was surrounded by water but didn’t appear flooded on Wednesday.

The Dallas diaspora

9:08 p.m.

By Sara Pagones
Staff writer

DALLAS -- Evacuees fleeing Hurricane Katrina chose their routes out of southeast Louisiana for any number of reasons: to avoid gridlock, to visit friends or to reach family who could provide short-term shelter. They did not know when they chose their destination that in many cases they were choosing where they would rebuild their shattered lives.

Thomas Washington, 46, was one of those staying Thursday at a Red Cross shelter established in Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas.

"I was one of the hardheads,” he said. "I didn't want to leave.”

But when the news Sunday morning predicted Katrina would make a direct hit on southeast Louisiana, he packed up his family and left. One by one, additional members of his extended family made the same decision, and Washington, who was leading the way, would pull off to the side of the road and wait for the next vehicle in the caravan to catch up.

It took them 23 hours, but finally five vehicles delivered 26 members of his family to Dallas. The youngest is a 2-year-old granddaughter who was all smiles as she ran around the arena floor in pale blue pajamas.

Washington had just started a new job as a security officer at the
Naval Air Station on the West Bank – “a good paying, job, too,” he said. But he vowed the family will not return to their flooded home in the Little Woods section of eastern New Orleans.

"I love New Orleans dearly,” he said "but they are going to bury me in
Texas.”

His story was echoed many times by evacuees at the Dallas shelter. Many were looking ahead rather than behind, talking about the need to find jobs, a place to live. Brian Wills shook his head in regret over the decision to leave his new Ford Mustang behind, but he and friend Phillip Celestine, who ran into each other at the shelter, were soon talking about their next steps.

"We can't get back in the city,” said Celestine, an Algiers resident who worked at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans. His family, four adults and four children, left Saturday at midnight for Houston but then shifted for Dallas because the hotels and shelters in Houston were full.

"I've got to find a job first, then call and find an apartment,” he said.

Dallas officials were scrambling to meet those needs. Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster said that a community message board at the shelter had been erected to let employers to offer work and evacuees post their information. A job fair will be held at the center next week, City Manager Mary Suhm said.

But for now, Foster said, the emergency response must move one step at a time.

Thursday’s priority was to get everyone sheltered and fed. Initially, the Red Cross had two shelters in Dallas recreation centers, but they consolidated them at Reunion Arena, which has a capacity of 1,600 people. The city will also make a portion of the Dallas Convention Center available as a shelter; it will hold a similar number.

About 600 people were registered to stay in the arena. Most evacuees were people who had fled New Orleans ahead of the storm and had personal vehicles, Foster said. A Southwest Airlines jet carried one group from Louis Armstrong International Airport. Those included airport workers who become stranded at Armstrong after trying to leave by air, and tourists, she said.

A mobile medical unit from Parkland Hospital stood in front of Reunion Arena to dispense medical care and medication. Foster said the most frequent request was for insulin.

Containers of clothing from the Salvation Army had arrived, and a volunteer group from Watermark Church was serving meals, picnic style. A few volunteers were playing Go Fish with two young girls. A young boy was tossing a football, and a toddler in Barney slippers was kicking a soccer ball.

Some families said they plan to register their children at Dallas Independent School District schools as soon as possible. The district has said that it will accommodate any Louisiana child, Suhm said.

Officials are also working to make Section 8 housing available shortly.

The Hawkins and Booth families, who left eastern New Orleans and Metairie, said their children, ages 5 to 13, were looking forward to going to class in Texas. Sybil Booth looked at her children with tears in her eyes but a smile on her face. Then she confided that she had not yet been in contact with her father.

While many families at the shelter had gotten out together and intact, those who had lost contact with relatives were fighting to control their worry. The Red Cross had mental health counselors available.

"Every human emotion you can imagine, we've seen in the last couple of nights,” Foster said. They have a long list of concerns and worries, she said, and they all come streaming out in a single sentence.

While families seemed mostly calm Thursday morning, some broke down. Two women arrived at Reunion Arena thinking they would find a job fair. Karla Reese, a legal secretary who is staying with a friend, dissolved in tears of frustration.

"I've spent $200 on gas, just driving around looking for a job,” she said.

Reese and Jovan Turner had pooled their money and were trying desperately to find a job. Reese called the Kelly Services temporary agency and was told she had been the first Louisiana evacuee to contact them. "But they said, 'We can't verify your criminal background,'” she said.

Turner's situation was complicated by the fact that she abandoned her vehicle to take over driving for another person who was unable to do so. She inadvertently left her purse -- with all her identification and paperwork -- behind.

Reese said she did not want to take a meal or shelter from the Red Cross, fearing that it would deprive a needy child of food or a place to stay.

"We don't want a handout,” she said. "We just want a hand up.”

Baton Rouge real estate activity surges

By Keith Darce
Business writer

Baton Rouge has seen a flurry of real estate activity this week with thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees descending on the city.

Local realtors said Thursday that many families are buying homes in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area because they realize that a return to the Big Easy is a big time away. And businesses displaced by the storm are snapping up office and warehouse space in the state’s capital city because they realize it may be years before they return home.

Some consumers with solid credit scores and large down payments are getting virtually non-paper mortgages within days instead of the weeks the process usually takes.

Lynda Schlif of Realty Executives Integrity First Real Estate said that her office has been "swamped, swamped swamped.”

Schiff said her small firm posted sales volume of about $15 million last year and she expects that volume to rise 50 percent this year because of Hurricane Katrina.

"Hollywood couldn't write a worst script,'' said Arthur Sterbcow, president of Latter & Blum Inc. Realtors in New Orleans. Latter & Blum also owns C.J. Brown Realtors, Baton Rouge's largest real estate company. The Baton Rouge market -- just a fraction of New Orleans – will be hard pressed to accommodate the surge of evacuees.

"Baton Rouge is about to become the fastest growing city in America in about an hour,'' Sterbcow said from his temporary headquarters on Perkins Avenue in Baton Rouge. "This is the largest (relocation) operation in our company's history.”

Baton Rouge's population was 450,000 a week ago. “I bet you it is 650,000 today,'' he said.
Jim and Donna Vance, Algiers residents, are among the evacuees coming to the city. On Thursday they headed out to look at a house and Catholic High Schools in Baton Rouge. They even made an offer on a home, but by the time they did, the property had been sold.

“People are just going to have to act quick,” said CJ Brown agent Dave Caraccioli.

Latter & Blum manages between 7,000 and 8,000 apartments in the metro Baton Rouge area, and Sterbcow, who watched on CNN Wednesday night as a bare-chested "thug'' with a crowbar broke into Latter & Blum's main headquarters in downtown New Orleans, said that all of his rental units are leased.

Sterbcow has set up a relocation phone bank to handle the demand. His brokers and agents are helping New Orleans residents move to Houston, Atlanta and everywhere in-between.

He is convinced that New Orleans will return to its glory days, but that it may take residents and the nation 20 years to erase the psychological and economical impact Hurricane Katrina has created.

He also predicts, with other local Realtors agreeing, that Baton Rouge will become the fastest-growing city in the United States over the next year or two, surpassing the explosion of population and single-family home construction seen in Las Vegas

But Sterbcow is determined to return to New Orleans. "When the power is back on, I'll be sitting in my office at 800 Common St.,'' he said, downplaying any thought that the city will not be rebuilt, as some television talking heads have suggested.

One thing Baton Rouge has that New Orleans has always lacked is land, and Sterbcow expects a surge in single-family home construction and a real estate boom unimaginable to the area just five days ago.

Latter Blum/C.J. Brown is not alone in being flooded with requests for space.
David McKey of Coldwell Banker Phelps & McKey Realtors Inc. of Baton Rouge are buying both commercial buildings and homes.

"They don't have a choice, that's really the only alternative,” McKey said.

McKey’s staff fielded over 300 to 350 calls in two days from New Orleanians seeking commercial and residential space.

“We’ve just had two in a row looking to buy and they have no intention of ever returning to New Orleans,” McKey said.

McKey said that he expects the Baton Rouge real estate market to bounce dramatically. "I think this is going to go on not for months but for years,'' he said.

Death toll elusive, but feared massive

Thursday, 8:26 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – Federal officials said Thursday they are assembling “mortuary teams’’ downriver from Baton Rouge to start locating and identifying bodies in what Gov. Kathleen Blanco said could be a death toll from Hurricane Katrina that swells into the thousands.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Brown said that six teams will use the town of St. Gabriel as a staging area and will fan out from there to the metro New Orleans area to begin the tedious process of recovering and identifying bodies.

Despite assurances Wednesday from aides to Brown that early death toll numbers would be available, Brown said the data was not available, but instructed aides to provide numbers Friday.

“You have to deal with these bodies with respect and get them properly secured,’’ identified and notify surviving relatives, he said.

The mortuary teams will also pick out sites for temporary morgues, Brown said.

He reiterated that the first priority of National Guard, police and other rescue workers is to rescue survivors from trees, rooftops, houses and other sites where they have been clinging to hope for four days. Another top priority, he said, has been to care for the tens of thousands of evacuees crowded into 131 shelters in the state.

State lawmakers and local officials who have made tours of the flooded areas have reported that bodies are floating in the streets but are being ignored in favor of having a fleet of more than 300 boats rescue survivors.

“It is not a pretty sight,’’ said Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who has toured the stricken area participated in some rescue missions.

Blanco estimated as many as 200,000 to 300,000 area residents may have remained at their homes and refused to evacuate, heightening the death toll.

“I know there are dead bodies,’’ Blanco said, declining to estimate how many may be lost. “It could well be thousands. It is a difficult thing for people..’’

Blanco said that as each day goes by, the chances f finding fewer survivors and more victims grow.

“This is great Louisiana tragedy,’’ she said. “Some (survivors) are very sturdy. Some are on a very short timeline.’’

Blanco said that is why the first priority remains helping those who need help, and not picking up the dead or counting bodies.







Surge, breach and a 26-foot-deep gouge

8:32 p.m.

By Mark Schleifstein
Staff writer

The initial wave of storm surge that poured over the concrete wall of the 17th Street Canal as Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans dug a 26-foot-deep gouge on the other side, resulting in the failure of several wall panels and the flooding of much of the city, an Army Corps of Engineers official said Thursday.

Al Naomi, project manager for the east bank Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee system, said the high water that the strong Category 4 storm pushed into the lake overwhelmed the levee’s design when the lake backed up into the canal.

“They were designed to withstand a surge for a Category 3 or less storm,” Naomi said. “You might have had one or two feet of water pouring away over the top of the wall, cutting away at the earth below it, and as that happened, the walls began to collapse.

“When that occurred, there was no way to get water out of the city. Those walls are basically there, or they’re not.”

Naomi said corps engineers think the same thing happened along the London Avenue canal in Gentilly and along segments of the Inner Harbor Navigation Channel that gave way and flooded Chalmette.

“They’re pretty similar walls at that area, in the pictures we looked at,” he said. “The floodwalls were collapsed.”

Naomi said there was no way officials could have done anything about the collapses during the storm, even if they had become immediately aware of them.

“You can’t go out there in the middle of a hurricane and put your finger in the dike,” he said.

“Now the task is to close the gap so you can start pumping the city out. You can’t pump until they’re closed.”

Boh Bros. Construction Co. has begun installing metal sheet piling along the Old Hammond Highway bridge over the 17th Street Canal to keep lake water from backing up into the canal. State Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry said the job will be complete by Friday afternoon.

A similar dam might be installed at the lake end of the London Avenue Canal, Naomi said.

Workers also are putting huge sandbags into the 17th Street Canal breach in an effort to fill the scour hole. They hope to complete the plugging of the gap by Saturday.

The corps and the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board are evaluating each of the city’s drainage pumping stations and fixing those that aren’t working properly.

“We’re working very closely with the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and have identified pump stations they have prioritized to get in service quickly,” said Walter Baumy, chief of the engineering division of the corps in New Orleans. “We’re working with them to get those stations dry so they can get those operations of getting stations ready to pump underway.”

Metairie resident Thomas Jackson, vice president of the engineering consulting firm DMJM Harris-AECOM, which works closely with the New Orleans branch of the corps, said another major obstacle will be reactivating the S&WB power station near Claiborne Avenue at the Jefferson Parish line. It provides juice to about 60 percent of all New Orleans drainage pumping stations.

“Unless and until they get the power generation station going there, they won’t run period,” he said.

But before the huge pumps at the southern end of the 17th Street, or other canals, can be turned on full blast, Naomi said engineers must inspect the canal levees and walls.

“We want to make sure that when we turn them on, that the force of the water being pumped out doesn’t do something to weaken the walls and collapse them,” he said.

Water is normally in the canal at a height of 1 to 2 feet above sea level, the same height as the top of Lake Pontchartrain, as they’re designed to drain water into the lake. And pumping the floodwater out of neighborhoods into canals will add another two feet to the canal height, he said.

But the streets below average 5 feet below sea level. If another levee wall breaks, even with the lake back to a normal level, water will again pour into the city, Naomi said.

Naomi said that in addition to the plans, announced on Wednesday, to cut levees surrounding the city, the corps is considering bringing in additional pumps and other equipment to suck water out.

Naomi said the deepest water in the area flooded by the 17th Street and London Avenue canals was in the Lakeview, Pontchartrain Shores and Pontchartrain Gardens neighborhoods. In the lowest spots, the water reached 20 feet deep, or five feet above sea level.

He said additional rainfall in coming days is a relatively minor threat, considering the amount of water already in the city. The water level is steadily falling in the city, he said, and will continue until it reaches the level of the breaks being made in the levees.

“Today, the lake is at 2.1 feet, almost normal stage, and water is flowing out through the gaps,” he said Thursday at 8 a.m. “It is going down. “There’s no way it can go up again.”

Naomi said the levees failed because they weren’t designed for a hurricane as strong as Katrina.

“This is an extreme event that the system could not handle,” he said. “It was designed for a Category 3 hurricane or less, and it has protected us from those for a while.

“But there’s no way we could have this type of event without some type of failure,” he said. “It’s going to stress the system tremendously and you should not be surprised with failures. When you put the physical properties of the concrete and steel walls built on the canal under this kind of stress, there’s going to be a catastrophe.”

(Washington correspondent John McQuaid contributed to this report.
(Mark Schleifstein may be reached at mersmia@cox.net)

Xavier students evacuated

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and state Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, left for New Orleans on Thursday from the state Office of Emergency Preparedness to pick up students who were stranded on the Xavier University campus.

The students will likely be taken on three buses to the Southern University campus in Baton Rouge. At a press conference at the state Office of
Emergency Preparedness, Jackson said they will keep making round trips to evacuate people from the city throughout the night, even after the 450 students at Xavier have been rescued.

“Help is on the way and keep their hope alive,” Jackson said, but cautioned that it may take some time to get people out

Charity evacuation begins

By Jan Moller
Staff Writer

BATON ROUGE - State and federal authorities on Thursday morning began evacuating about 350 patients from Charity and University hospitals in New Orleans who have been stuck for days in facilities lacking water and working plumbing and where severe shortages of fuel and medicine have put strains on their ability to provide basic care.

Don Smithburg, who heads Louisiana State University's Health Care Services Division, said the evacuation came nearly 2 1/2 days after hospital administrators first asked for an evacuation in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning when levee breaches sent floodwaters coursing through the city.

Once the 230 or so patients at Charity Hospital are evacuated, authorities will start transporting the 120 patients who remained at University Hospital, which is also part of LSU's statewide public hospital system.

Smithburg said the evacuation didn't begin until after a physician at the hospital was able to get on the Internet and request help directly from someone working at the Superdome.

"Very quickly helicopters began to fly over to our campus and the evacuation of Big Charity began,'' said Smithburg, who did not know the name of the doctor or the person who was contacted.

With helicopters on the way, hospital staffers faced another obstacle: getting patients to Tulane University Hospital's eighth-floor helicopter landing pad from Charity Hospital, which is located across the street and doesn't have a place for aircraft to land.

"These patients have to be moved from one building to another through a series of crosswalks, parking garages, up stairwells (and) ultimately up to a rooftop," Smithburg said.

Earlier this week, Charity hospital was able to get about 60 of its most critically ill patients evacuated to the Superdome for evaluation and referral to other hospitals. Health and Hospitals Secretary Fred Cerise said that because elevators were not working at charity, physicians had to carry their patients on stretchers down several flights of stairs before they could be loaded onto boats or military vehicles for the short but perilous trip through the floodwaters.

Smithburg said evacuations are also proceeding at other hospitals designated as "priority" because they lack the most rudimentary tools needed to provide care. Most of the patients at Lindy Boggs Medical Center and Touro Infirmary had been evacuated as of Thursday afternoon, and patients at Chalmette Medical Center had also been transported away even though some staff remained there. Memorial Medical Center was also being evacuated, Smithburg said.

The only exception was the New Orleans VA Medical Center on Perdido St., where evacuations had not begun.

Evacuees are being flown to a staging area at the Causeway Boulevard overpass for triage, then transported by helicopter or ambulance to hospitals around Louisiana or in other states depending on their condition.

Cerise said hospitals have faced nearly impossible odds in trying to help their existing patients and provide for those who became injured or ill in Katrina's wake. "They can't do labs, they can't do X-rays," he said.

Cerise, who was a physician and administrator at Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge before taking over the health department, went to New Orleans Monday afternoon as Katrina's winds were dying down and spent the next three days in a trailer at the Superdome, helping to separate the sick and injured from other evacuees and get them sent off to other facilities.

Back in Baton Rouge Thursday afternoon, Cerise choked up at times as he described acts of heroism large and small by doctors and rescue workers struggling to sustain life amid deteriorating conditions and an impossible demand for services. Nursing home residents, dialysis patients and hospital evacuees were coming into the Superdome faster than authorities could diagnose and evacuate them.

"The need obviously is just overwhelming," Cerise said. "As many people as we can move away we have people moving in."

He said conditions at hospitals were also intolerable. "I'm sure that people have died and will die because there's not enough resources to go get everybody," he said.

Smithburg said he did not know why it took so long to start the evacuations, and why a doctor working under primitive conditions was able to achieve the kind of rapid response that LSU administrators working from the Office of Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge were not. "I want to know the answer to that myself," Smithburg said.

Mike Brown, who is coordinating federal relief efforts for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the problem with evacuating hospitals is that it takes time to get patients ready for transport. "The response that is occurring is actually a quite efficient and quick response at this time," he said.

Smithburg denied reports in some media that the hospitals have been victimized by looting and rioting that has erupted in other parts of the flood-ravaged city. "We're a very large institution and we have our own armed security guards. They are providing security within the walls of our facility," Smithburg said.

The last patient who leaves Charity Hospital may become a small part of history, as there are doubts whether the aging building on Tulane Avenue will be rebuilt following the damage done to it by Katrina's wrath.

"It may be the last time that we use that facility," Smithburg said.

T-P resumes printing

8:00 p.m.

The Times-Picayune announced today that it plans to resume printing a newspaper tonight in Houma. Since Hurricane Katrina struck on Monday, the paper has published three electronic-only editions on its affiliated Web site, www.nola.com.

“We appreciate the dedication of employees, and the patience of advertisers and subscribers,” said Ashton Phelps Jr., the newspaper’s publisher.

Company executives said they plan to print roughly 50,000 copies Thursday night, using the press of The Houma Courrier, for distribution Friday in parts of the New Orleans area that are now inhabited and accessible, including western St. Tammany Parish, and the east and west River Parishes.

Copies also were to be distributed to Baton Rouge, Hammond, Houma and Thibodaux, they said.

The newspaper will continue publishing an expanded electronic edition on www.nola.com. The Times-Picayune reporters will also deliver breaking news to the Web site through the website's “Breaking News” weblog.

Nola.com will maintain a missing person’s forum, launched on Wednesday morning, that had more than 7,400 postings by late Thursday. The site has also started forums for people who want to volunteer in the rescue and rebuilding efforts and to offer homes to displaced New Orleans residents.

Newspaper staffers, forced to evacuate the paper’s main building in New Orleans on Tuesday, have been working on the streets of the city, at the Houma Courrier, in temporary offices at Louisiana State University’s Manship School for Mass Communications and The Baton Rouge Technology Center, and in other places across the devastated region.

TV weatherman storms into his old stomping grounds

By Dave Walker
TV columnist

For displaced New Orleans residents scanning for
landmarks and wondering when the water would stop
rising, WBRZ’s round-the-clock broadcast, bolstered by
the familiar face of Bruce Katz, has been as essential as bottled water.

Katz, the chief meteorologist at ABC affiliate WGNO-TV, has been broadcasting at WBRZ since Sunday when he evacuated to Baton Rouge to contribute to WGNO-WBRZ co-coverage that would be based from there.

The work of the combined news staffs had been carried
by WGNO until Katrina flooded the blockhouse at the
base of its nearly-new $7 million tower and transmitter.

It has been carried round the clock ever since, with WGNO anchors and reporters Michael Hill, Liz Reyes, Susan Roesgen, Meredith Mendez and others working side-by-side with WBRZ’s staff.

WBRZ was actually an early career stop for Katz, a
New Orleans native. For the past 11 years, he has
worked for a station in his hometown that struggles to compete for viewers.

In fact, he’s likely had many more viewers this week
than he gets at home.

Katz’s presentation intensity in times of crisis has occasionally
been off the charts. Working air shifts that total up to a dozen hours a day, Katz hasn’t come up for air yet this storm, and
for once it seems appropriate.

Katz was unapologetically apoplectic under the first
footage of looting in the city, which evidently began
before Katrina’s winds died down.

He vowed on the air to personally deliver the footage
to New Orleans police. His narration of later
plundering was even more heated.

Some of Katz’s ire – not to mention his promise to
hand over news footage to cops – would be met with
disapproval in the corridors of many
broadcast-journalism schools.

This time, Katz gets a hall pass.

His genuine anger and disappointment with the looting
was so human and heartfelt, it surely reflected the
gut reactions of every utterly helpless viewer who
knows that television footage of the post-Katrina
plundering of New Orleans, already set on continuous
loop by cable news networks, will do more long-term
damage to the city than the wind and the water.

Katz reacted as anyone would. As I did.

“I don’t know what I’m going home to,” he said.

Monday at dusk, when still it appeared as though the city might’ve
missed most of Hurricane Katrina’s worst, Katz was narrating the video feed as a helicopter shot captured a personal tragedy live in real time.

Interviewed in the WBRZ newsroom on Thursday, Katz
said he immediately started looking for landmarks, but
saw only canals.

Flooded streets, actually.

He then saw the old Celebration Station at I-10 and
Veterans Memorial Blvd. and got his bearings.

“Kirschman’s to the right, Best Buy to the left,” he
said.

Talking and spotting, Katz realized that his house
was just a few blocks from the intersection he’d
identified.

That these were streets he travels every day.

In real time and on the air, he discovered that his house was
probably beneath “6, 8, 10 feet of water,” Katz said.

How many westward evacuees clinging to WBRZ’s
coverage came to the same stomach-hollowing
realization at exactly the same time?

I know of at least one.

The tour continued. The camera closed in on
uncontrolled fires, Louisiana Superdome damage, the
Fair Grounds’ torn roof, blown-out skyscrapers,
swamped malls, a ruined city.

It wasn’t all terrible. Dispatched to New Orleans by
both stations’ corporate parent, Tribune Co., the
chopper captured the first of many rooftop rescues.

The sequence ended, and after an anchor-desk shift
change, Katz joined other staffers in a meeting.

Larry Delia, WGNO’s general manager, said he could
tell then that Katz was reeling.

“After the meeting, I lost it,” Katz said. “Cried my
eyes out.

“Those images hit me. I just crashed.”

Wednesday night, Katz and Hill and a few other WGNO
staffers visited a Baton Rouge grocery store to load
up on survival sundries.

The expressions of sympathy and appreciation they
heard there – not to mention 1,000 questions asked
from beyond the brink of desperation about specific
New Orleans neighborhoods – was unlike anything Katz
has ever experienced.

It was a 90-minute trip to the store to buy
toothpaste.

“Every aisle, every two or three people, they were
charging me,” said Katz. "These people realize we're
victims, too."

TV columnist Dave Walker can be reached at
davewala@yahoo.com.

Stephanie Grace column

8:00 p.m.

By Stephanie Grace
Political columnist

A week ago today, Mayor Ray Nagin was positively giddy about New Orleans' prospects. He had good reason: Donald Trump was coming to town.

Nagin sat in his corporate-style City Hall office and discussed the newly inked deal to convert a Poydras Street parking lot into New Orleans’ tallest skyscraper, a glitzy hotel-condominium hybrid known in the trade as a “condotel.” He gleefully pondered what Trump’s stamp of approval said about the city’s economic present, and future.

“The market has tipped. It's pretty amazing," Nagin said. In fact, he planned to lobby Trump to invest in other projects, from downtown to the potentially marketable riverfront.

Could this really be the same city? The same century?

Could the mayor who couldn’t stop grinning last Thursday really be the same man who just today issued a “desparate SOS” to anyone who might be able to save the thousands of lives still endangered by Hurricane Katrina and its desperate, violent aftermath?

It’s not like Nagin had his head in the sand before. He and everyone else knew that New Orleans was as precarious as it was promising. They just didn’t know how close the edge was.

Turns out that the entrenched poverty, the culture of lawlessness, the delicate drainage system and even admirable impulses such as the devotion to home, family and neighborhood that kept so many people from leaving have, it now seems, been New Orleans’ undoing. Just turn on the TV, if you’re lucky enough to be someplace with electricity. Can’t get away from it.

You have to wonder: Will the Donald Trumps of the world ever come back?

Better question: Will we?

So much is gone. There will be no tourism industry for the foreseeable future, and that means no jobs for the huge numbers of locals who eke out a living in the service industry. There’s no school, and interim superintendent Ora Watson has already advised Orleans Parish system teachers to look for work elsewhere and for parents to enroll their kids where they can.

By necessity, Tom Benson now gets to see how his Saints like calling someplace other than the tattered Superdome home. Thousands upon
thousands of flooded homes will be razed, and who knows when the roads,
electricity and water will be fixed.

Worst of all, we may never know what happened to all those missing people whose loved ones are trying to find them.

If you’re looking for answers here, might as well stop reading now. I’m still trying to convince myself that it really is this week, not last. That my house is standing but the nearby shopping center has been stripped bare by looters. That the convention center is now a backdrop to shootouts instead of not national meetings. That people I know and care for are unaccounted for, and others have emerged to tell of unimaginable horrors on the streets.

That our perennially optimistic mayor won’t have anything to smile about for a long, long time.

I’m still trying to get my mind around the fact that the decimated landscape on TV is my city. And realizing that despite it all, I do love it, just as I did before, and I want to come back. I don’t think I’m the only one.

That’s a start, anyway.




State ponders school shuffle

7:45 p.m.

State education officials are looking at how to help compensate local public school systems that will temporarily take over the education of large numbers of students who have fled the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Superintendent Cecil Picard said Thursday afternoon.

Picard said they are trying to figure out a way to pro-rate the state education money that is dispersed to local school systems on a per-pupil basis. This would likely require approving a new formula that calculates how much each local system gets to educate public school students, which can be done at a special legislative session, Picard said.

Some school systems, such as the ones in Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Shreveport, have taken in thousands of refugees from the storm and could be inundated with students, said Picard.

The superintendent said he also hopes that many displaced teachers and other school employees will be able to find work at the schools where students are temporarily taking classes. For those unable to relocate and teach at a new system, Picard said, the state is looking for ways to supplement unemployment checks.

Orleans teachers who have been displaced from their jobs may call (877) 771-5800 to find out about assistance that might be available, he said.

In Orleans Parish, the financial turn-around firm that is running the school system’s finances is planning to keep intact teachers’ insurance benefits for the short term, Picard said.

Bill Roberti, the head of the Alvarez & Marsal turnaround team, said his company has recovered the tapes necessary to issue paychecks to teachers for
the time they have already worked. They have not yet run the actual payroll, he said.

Picard said it is unclear exactly when the parishes most devastated by the storm will be able to get their schools up and running. St. Tammany said Thursday that it hopes to resume classes Oct. 1.

“In Orleans Parish they may not have a school system to go to for the rest of this school year,” he said, noting that it could also be hard for St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes to get the schools ready for students.

But Picard said it is too early to lay out what would happen with students who return to their homes if the school systems do not open.

In St. Tammany, schools to reopen Oct. 1, aid sites listed

7:20 p.m.

By Charlie Chapple
St. Tammany bureau

St. Tammany Parish public schools won't reopen until Oct. 1 if then, Superintendent Gayle Sloan said Thursday after meeting with parish officials.

"That's the very earliest date we could reopen," Sloan said. "People have been asking us for a date so they can at least make decisions and have a plan. . . . That's an optimum date. It certainly could be later."

But if the target date can be met, Sloan said, the school year can be completed on time. The 20 missed school days can be made up by scheduling classes druing the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Carnival and other holidays.

If school resumes after Oct. 1, Saturday classes or extending the school year into the summer will be necessary, Sloan said.

In the meantime, she urged evacuees to enroll their children in another school, if possible.

The superintendent noted that some 20 schools are being used for shelters and by emergency response workers. And all schools have not been thoroughly checked for hurricane damage, she said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened three stations in St. Tammany Parish to distribute water, cooked meals and tarpoliun to hurricane victims. The locations are:

-- Cavenham Park along Louisiana 41 north of Pearl River.
-- In front of the Target department store in Stirling Covington Center at Louisiana 21 and Interstate 12.
-- The former Wal-mart on Gause Boulevard in Slidell.

The Red Cross has begun distrtibuting free hot meals, twice daily, at 10 locations in St. Tammany. The meals are being distributed from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at:

-- Pineview Middle School in Covington.
-- William Pitcher Junior High School in Covington.
-- Abita Springs Middle School.
-- Fifth Ward Junior High School in Bush.
-- Creekside Elementary School in Pearl River.
-- Sixth Ward Elementary School near Pearl River.
-- Pearl River High School.
-- Riverside Elementary School in Pearl River.
-- John Slidell Park in Slidell.
-- Across from the parish emergency management center in Covington.

Although most of the distribution points are at shelters, the meals are for any hurricane victim, regardless whether they are staying at the shelter, Red Cross officials said.

Red Cross volunteer April Dugger said 60 emergency response vehicles will be in St. Tammany soon to deliver water and meals to neighborhoods and communities throughout the parish.

St. Tammany Parish government and School Board workers who do not have direct deposit on their paychecks may pick up their checks Tuesday, officials said. The checks will be distributed from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Copeland's restaurant along U.S. 190, just north of Interstate 12, south of Covington.


Hotels continue evacuating guests

As the security situation in New Orleans deteriorates, downtown hotels are desperately trying to remove any remaining guests, but they are having trouble getting buses.

The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans has been trying to evacuate guests by motor coach, but the buses keep getting commandeered for other rescue efforts.

“What transportation is coming into the city is sometimes being diverted to other emergency situations,” said Vivian Deuschl, vice president of public relations for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. LLC. “All the people in the hotel are a priority. There’s just so many situations there.”

About 300 of the 1,200 employees and guests who weathered Hurricane Katrina at the Canal Street hotel still remain. The hotel is surrounded by about four feet of water and supplies at the hotel are beginning to run low. “We have as much security as we possibly can,” Deuschl said.
Inside the hotel, five doctors who were in town for an HIV convention have turned the French Quarter Bar into an infirmary to assist guests with medical issues that have arisen during their stressful stay. Earlier in the week, the doctors broke into a Walgreens drug store across the street, with Walgreen Co.’s permission, Deuschl said, to get medical supplies.

“We hope to get them out tonight. We have been trying to get them out sooner, but it’s been challenging,” “It’s an extremely difficult situation.”

At the J.W. Marriott across the street, which like Ritz, is owned by Marriott International Inc., about 50 guests remain. Marriott hopes all guests can get out in the same convoy.

Another luxury hotel, the Windsor Court, is working with Louisiana State Police to bring buses and a freight truck of diesel fuel, medical supplies and food to the hotel on Friday. The truck will also be used to get guests out of the hotel so that it can be used by emergency officials.

At other hotels, evacuation efforts have gotten desperate. At the Wyndham Canal Place, which housed 1,500 guests, employees and their families during the storm, guests were turned loose if they couldn’t get out on their own.

“The hotel was completely evacuated at midday (Wednesday),” said Darcie Brossart, vice president of communications at Wyndham International. “For those who could drive out, they did. Everyone else went to shelters.”

“There are probably a lot of the guests who are at the Superdome or other shelter areas,” she said.

Other hotels were successful at getting guests out on buses.

At the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, which housed 1,000 guests during the storm, all guests who hadn’t been able to get out on their own were evacuated to the Sheraton Park Central hotel in Dallas, according to a telephone recording at the New Orleans property. Hotel officials were unable to be reached at the hotel in Dallas.

The Hilton New Orleans Riverside, the city’s largest hotel, also was successful in getting people out on Wednesday.

“Yesterday evening we did a planned evacuation of 1,600 team members and guests from our four downtown New Orleans properties,” said Kendra Walker, vice president of brand communications at Hilton Hotels Corp.

Everyone was taken to Baton Rouge, where they could hop on a plane or be picked up by friends or family. Anyone who wasn’t able to do that was transferred to Hilton hotels in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas.

Hilton has set up a telephone number for friends and family to figure out to which Texas hotel guests were transferred. That number is 888-240-6152.

The 1,700-room Hilton Riverside was known to shelter as many as 5,000 guests during hurricanes, but Walker said that many guests were able to get out on their own before the situation in New Orleans became desperate.

Walker said that Hilton Hotels has donated $250,000 to the Red Cross, and the Conrad Hilton Foundation has donated $1 million to the Red Cross.

Business writer Becky Mowbray can be reached at beckymowbray@yahoo.com

Marrero report

Central Marrero suffered some fallen trees and roof damage but very little sign of flooding from Hurricane Katrina, Marrero Estelle Volunteer Fire Chief Perry Leblanc said Thursday.

“We can’t go through all the streets yet” because of fallen trees and power lines, Leblanc said, but subdivisions including Oak Knoll, Hill Crest and Oak Forest did not contain any floodwater. “We didn’t see any water line on the houses,” he said.

Fire fighters could not drive a truck through some streets, and used a three-wheeler instead.

One area with floodwater was the back of Woodmere, he said. Streets had about two feet of water on them.”It could have been less in the houses,” Leblanc said.

“We’re able to do rolls and make calls,” Leblanc said. A lot of tree removal and cleaning is going on.

“Lapalco is pretty much clear,” as well as Barataria Boulevard, he said.

Leblanc said he has seen some residents outside their houses. “I think they consider themselves pretty lucky.”



Business loss

People who have lost their businesses in the storm should register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a representative of the Small Business
Administration said Thursday. They can register by calling 1-800-362-FEMA. By registering with FEMA, they will be able to file applications for assistance from
the business agency.

Refugee Blues in Memphis

5:50 p.m.

Memphis has become a city of refugees. At this point, local officials estimate that there are 10,000 Katrina refugees in Memphis, and the vast majority appear to be from the New Orleans area.

Many are at the Comfort Inn and the Mariott Courtyard in Germantown, a fairly affluent suburb of Memphis and a community that has really embraced the refugees.

Some refugees said they are ready to stay in Memphis forever. Some can't wait to get back to New Orleans.

Elvis Hyde is one of the latter.

Hyde spent four nights at the Comfort Inn and is moving temporarily to Lafayette. He has in-laws in Lafayette who are renting him an apartment. Their in-laws found him a one-bedroom apartment for $800 - the price in Monday's paper. On Tuesday, the owner wanted $2,000 for the apartment. His family is reporting the person to the state Attorney General for price gouging.

He said they are going to get an apartment and fit as many family members as possible. The only family member outside the area is a brother in Tulsa who has already got eight other family members staying with him, including Hyde's sister and three kids.

Hyde, in the shipping business, said he is returning because he believes there will be a lot of work. His in-laws own a job placement company.
He'd rather be home, but Lafayette is as close as he can get. Other refugees are going to all points of the compass: South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Las Vegas.

There seemed to be a realization Tuesday or Wednesday that this wouldn't be a one or two-week evacuation. You can't pass a TV in the lobby or a computer keyboard in either hotel without seeing 10 or 20 people clustered around trying to get information on the storm. As they watch, they are trading information they have heard from relatives and friends, including a few precious bits of information from within the city itself.

John Pouey, from Metairie, was at the Comfort INn with his family. They were prepared to stay for a week and are now wondering what they will do. "We are going to stay here until the weekend, but it's $70 a day and we don't know where we will be next week. I'd rather find an apartment in Louisiana, but I don't know if we can afford to rent in Louisiana." He said he may take his family of 5, including a 3-month old baby, to Las Vegas to be with family.

"I hate to do it, but we'll probably have to make the 20-hour drive to Las Vegas. We can't put a 3-month old in a shelter."

Rene Mejia, a waiter at Antoine's who lives in the Lower 9th Ward, said he is on the fence whether he will go back or find work elsewhere. "I'm single, I speak four languages, I've got 27 years in the restaurant biz, I can start over anywhere I want."

He's in Memphis with nine family members and said ultimately he will go where his family goes. His sister has a condominium in Chateau Estates in Kenner that may be dry, and if his family goes back to New Orleans, he will probably stay with her. He knows he has no home anymore because he lives in the Lower 9th Ward. "Why go back if there is nothing there?"

Bill Ello, of Total Electonics Systems which specializes in security, has 15 people in his group and has 7 rooms at the Mariott Courtyard, including his 88-year-old mother. Today they rented three two-bedroom apartments in Memphis for $720 a month each, unfurnished. An agent got them furniture for $150 a month. "It's not cheap, but it's better than paying $90 a night at the Mariott Courtyard."

They figure they will be in Memphis for four- to six weeks and figures he will get plenty of work in new construction and repairs and will try to get to the city as soon as possible and fully expects to eventually return to live with his family.
As refugees were talking about how many people will return to the city, Kim Klapatch, his daughter, said: "I think a lot of people are never coming home." She estimated at least 20 percent will never see the city again.

Lolis Eric Elie

5:50 p.m.

By Lolis Eric Elie
Columnist

Years ago, a young South African scholar told me about his trip to America, to Boston, specifically.

I don't know who was in charge of his trip, but either they failed to give him his script or he failed to memorize his lines.

He was supposed to tell me about how wonderful our country is. He was supposed to have been impressed with the vast wealth of this place and with the quality and quantity of the latest technology here.

He was supposed to envy our First World status.

He didn't.

What he remembered from his trip was not our wealth, but our poverty. He was shocked by the slums of Boston.

He wondered about American aid to poor countries. How can you send aid to these places, he asked, when you need such aid in your own poor communities?

What we are watching in New Orleans now is an indictment of our nation.

I can understand why we see refugees in Liberia walking miles in the hope of finding sustenance or safety; often there is little of either in that country. But why are we seeing these same images here?

Do we lack the trains, planes and automobiles to move our people to safety?

I can understand why it takes so much time to get aid halfway across the world, but why does it take so long to get aid to our own Gulf states?

I can understand why lawlessness rules the streets of many poor countries in crisis, but we have a huge standing army. Do we lack the soldiers to police American streets?

I am used to seeing images of desperate people hindering the very relief efforts aimed at saving them. I have seen news reports of refugees looting food shipments. I've even heard of warlords in some countries looting the shipments and then trying to sell food to those so desperate and poor as to be scarcely able to afford it.

But why are we seeing these images and hearing these reports of wanton looting — by at least one police officer, no less —in an American city?

I make no excuses for the looters.

What may have started out as a legitimate attempt to secure the most basic of necessities has quickly turned into a nightmarish free-for-all.

But we shouldn't be surprised that the criminal element that terrorizes New Orleans and just about every other major American city, declined to alter its behavior in the midst of this crisis.

I am surprised, however, that our leaders have failed to provide a more adequate and timely response to all of this.

I am surprised that, in light of the current crisis in New Orleans, that the United States of America can be seen to have so much in common with the poorest and most wretched places on earth.

Orleans schools boss: Seek classes, work somewhere else

5:40 p.m.

Interim Orleans Public Schools Superintendent Ora Watson said Thursday that “at a minimum I believe it will be a couple of months” before the storm-damaged school system can become operational. She urged displaced families to enroll their children temporarily in other school systems.

Watson, in a telephone interview, also said that “it may be prudent” for Orleans teachers in the system to seek work elsewhere. She could not guarantee that teachers who do not find other jobs will continue receiving paychecks from the Orleans system without interruption.

“I would encourage them not to wait,” she said.

Watson said paychecks scheduled to go out today for the school system will be delayed because of havoc Hurricane Katrina caused for the payroll system. But she said checks for this round of pay should go out by the middle of next week. She wouldn’t elaborate on what measures may be necessary to get pay to employees, many of whom are now in far-flung evacuation centers.

“Right now we can’t give anybody a date on when we’re going to open or how it’s going to look,” Watson said, noting that floodwaters so far have made it impossible to start a building damage assessment.

The Alvarez & Marsal financial consulting firm, hired to correct deep financial management problems in the Orleans system, said in a statement Thursday that the hurricane “has rendered the school district’s offices inaccessible and disrupted our ability to conduct payroll operations. We are working aggressively to solve this problem and find a way to process payments to employees as soon as possible.”

The firm said it has been in contact with Coventry, the district’s benefits provider, and that health insurance will remain in effect for employees, including those who recently got layoff notices. The firm set up a toll-free hotline, (877) 771-5800, for employees to leave contact information for future announcements.

“We are doing everything possible to assess the situation and develop a plan for getting the school system back on its feet,” said Bill Roberti, managing director of Alvarez & Marsal. “At the moment, our first thoughts are for the well-being of the people of New Orleans and the safety of this great city.”

Gumbo Krewe cooking up comfort food

Littice Bacon-Blood
River Parishes bureau

When Shawn and Danielle Bradley returned from Shreveport to their Norco home late Monday, they had cooking on their minds. They were thinking about gumbo, and lots of it.

On Thursday, the founders of the Gumbo Krewe, transformed their covered patio on Good Hope Street in Norco into an al fresco kitchen. The group, which gained national acclaim in 2001 for packing up its pots and heading to ground zero to feed hundreds of emergency workers in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, now wants to spread a little comfort closer to home.

And by 12:30 p.m., according to Shawn Bradley's estimate, they had cooked up, dished out and delivered more than 100 gallons of chicken gumbo, jambalaya and red beans to emergency workers in St. Charles Parish and Kenner, with plans to feed many more.

"We're trying to feed whoever we can,'' Bradley said. "We're feeding cops and rescue workers first."

However, unlike 911, when the krewe was able to mobilize its kitchen and feed people on site, safety concerns this time around have members delivering the food to certain locations.

"We have drop-off points, drop-off points that are safe, '' Bradley said. "We have to have security wherever we go."

Bradley said Whole Foods in Metairie donated food, seasoning and paper products, he said. "They have given us everything we need,'' he said. "They've promised to send a truckload every day."

Bradley and his band of volunteers say feeding the workers - and whoever else happens by - is their way of giving back during a time of a national crisis.

"I've got to do my part,'' said Greg Lassiter of LaPlace as he readied ham hocks for stewing with red beans.

Gage Alleman, 10, of LaPlace came to Norco with his mother Debbie to help with the food preparations.

Earlier, he had onion duty. Did he cry?

"Once,'' he said with a smile.

Despite having roof damage from the hurricane, Debbie Alleman said she came simply because she heard the Bradleys needed help.

"Everyone said that they were working for blessings,'' Alleman said. "I thought that was nice."

With large fans sending the smell of simmering chicken, roux and onions through the air, your sense of smell could have guided you to Bradley's house. If not, the four flags - two American, one Louisiana, one Mardi Gras - posted high in the air and whipping in the wind could be easily spotted more than a block away. A banner stripped across the front porch proclaimed: Gumbo Krewe "Food for the Soul."

The Bradleys say they have not put a time limit on their service. They'll dish out comfort and comfort food, they said, "until the need is not there."


Military beefing up presence in Gulf region

By Paul Purpura
West Bank bureau

BATON ROUGE -- The Defense Department aims to build a
military force of more than 30,000 across the South
and the Gulf of Mexico to help federal emergency
officials deal with the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.


The group, known as Joint Task Force Katrina, will bring 7,000 active duty soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors from around the United
States to the Gulf region in the next few days to
provide equipment and distribute water and food,
officials said Thursday.

Their mission is “basically the gamut, whatever the
guardsmen need to do to support the local authorities
and local emergency management authorities,” said
Jack Harrison, a spokesman for the National Guard
Bureau in Washington D.C.

By law, the task force is barred by federal law from
providing law enforcement assistance to National Guard
troops who are aiding civilian police agencies in New
Orleans who are wrangling with rampant looting and
lawlessness.

“That is totally being done on the National Guard side
of the house,” Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for the Colorado-based
U.S. Northern Command, said Thursday.

As of midday Thursday, 13,000 National Guard soldiers
and airmen, including 5,700 from Louisiana, were on
active duty, and the number was expected to increase
to 20,000 overnight, Harrison said.

“We think it will get up to somewhere around 30,000
in the next few days,” he said.

Some of those National Guard troops will join fellow
soldiers who already are assisting local police and
sheriff’s offices in an attempt to quell looting in
the hurricane-affected areas and to restore order.

During states of emergency, National Guard troops can
be designated as
peace officers to support and augment local law
enforcement agencies,
Harrison said.

“It’s not martial law,” he said.

The Joint Task Force Katrina, meanwhile, will work
with the Federal
Emergency Management Agency assessing damages and,
initially, taking
“life-saving measures,” Kucharek said. About 60,000
Meals, Ready to Eat, or MREs, are being shipped in
through the force, he said.

The task force, headed by Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honor,
is based at Camp Shelby, Miss., near Hattiesburg.
Supplies and relief personnel headed into the ravaged
region will be staged at Fort Polk in west-central
Louisiana, Barksdale Air Force Base near Bossier City
and military bases in neighboring states.

The personnel include a Marine Corps expeditionary
strike group led by the USS Iwo Jima that is expected
to be anchored off the Gulf Coast by Sunday. The USNS
Comfort, one of two Navy hospital ships, is scheduled
to arrive by Sept. 8.

The Navy’s USS Bataan based at Ingleside, Texas, is
already in the region, supporting medical evacuations
and search and rescue missions with helicopters, an
official said.

Paul Purpura can be reached at ppurpura@cox.net







____________

Xavier update

5:30 p.m.

(This statement was issued at 4:30 p.m. by Warren Bell Jr., associate vice president for university and media relations at Xavier University in New Orleans.)

As of this afternoon, all dormitory students who were unable to evacuate before the storm, along with university staff who stayed with them, have already been safely removed from the campus and relocated to a staging area next to the campus. They remain under the protection of campus police, as well as members of the New Orleans Police Department.

The students and staff members are scheduled to be transported in buses this evening either to the Southern University main campus in Baton Rouge or further north to Grambling State University in Grambling.

Meanwhile, the Xavier campus remains closed until further notice in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while the university can assess prospects for reopening the campus. Normal campus communications, including the web site server systems, will remain shut down until power has been restored on the campus and residents are allowed to return safely.

Official information regarding the Xavier University campus will continue to be provided, as it becomes available, at the university's toll-free emergency information telephone line, (866) 520-XULA, and at the Xavier emergency web site (www.xulaemergency.com) as conditions change.


Stress most serious health concern

By John Pope
Staff writer
Nearly 500 federal public health specialists will be deployed throughout the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast region in an attempt to ward off a variety of food- and water-borne diseases, but the most serious health threat these areas face will be psychological problems brought on by stress, the head of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
Calling Hurricane Katrina "our own tsunami," CDC Director Julie Gerberding said the 24 20-member teams headed for the area will include experts in infectious diseases and environmental health.
They will join about 30 CDC personnel already in Louisiana who are helping assess the situation, determine the care patients need and deliver basic materials such as antibiotics, tetanus vaccine and cots for field hospitals, agency spokesman Tom Skinner added.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals has asked CDC to send experts in environmental health, infectious diseases and immunizations, but they will not be needed for a few weeks because the top priority now is finding and rescuing people and getting them to medical care, spokeswoman Kristen Meyer said.
"We haven't seen a lot of diseases because the things that put people at risk are being in floodwater and cleaning up after floodwater," she said. "Most evacuees haven't had a chance to go back home."
To head off a possible outbreak of tetanus in Mississippi, the CDC has sent 8,000 doses of tetanus vaccine to Mississippi, Gerberding said.
Although federal health specialists will work with local personnel in treating a variety of food- and waterborne diseases such as hepatitis A, diarrhea and intestinal infections, the biggest -- and longest-lasting -- health-care concern probably will be psychological problems brought on by stress, Gerberding said in a telephone news conference.
"When you have no home, you have no money, and you have no job, . . . the long-term consequences are overwhelming," she said. "We will have mental-health experts at every location."
These specialists will treat not only patients but also caregivers "because they are affected by the damages and the families" they see, Gerberding said.
Among the CDC contingent will be people who have worked in refugee camps around the world, she said.
More information about hurricane-related health concerns is available at dhh.emergencynews.com.
One particular area of concern, she said, will be the possibility of a rise in West Nile virus infections as a result of the high amount of water that Katrina dumped on Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama -- water that could be breeding ground for virus-carrying mosquitoes.
Although CDC arguably is the world's foremost public-health
organization, Gerberding stressed that its team will be cooperating with state and local health-care personnel to "augment, not replace" them.
"We've got to coordinate surveillance of infections," she said.
Because Katrina was "more like a tsunami than a hurricane," Gerberding said the need for medical help in the devastated region will be vast -- so vast that qualified civilian doctors are being asked to join the CDC teams for what could be a protracted period.
"We're in a marathon, not a sprint," she said.

DHH creates hurricane health tips website

Thursday, 5:14 p.m.

Information about hurricane-related health concerns is available at
dhh.emergencynews.com, which has been set up by the state Department of
Health and Hospitals.

The site contains items ranging from a listing of jurisdictions in which boil water notices have been issued to health tips for rescue workers.




LSU chancellor urges students to remain indoors

Thursday, 5:02 p.m.

Apparently reacting to limited disturbances involving hurricane victims served by a large Baton Rouge shelter near the Mississippi River, Louisiana State University Chancellor Sean O’Keefe sent a campus e-mail at midday Thursday ordering locked doors on LSU buildings and urging students and others to remain indoors.

The directive came amid major problems with looting in some areas around metropolitan New Orleans.

“There have been confirmed reports of civil unrest in the Baton Rouge area this morning. These incidents appear to be confined to specific areas in the downtown Baton Rouge area and specific locations around the community,” O’Keefe’s e-mail said.

"At this time, local law enforcement are reported to have the situation contained,” the chancellor said, but added that to ensure campus safety “we have instructed that all buildings on campus be locked and we ask that occupants remain indoors.”

The e-mail also said that for those “who would feel more secure in their homes, we urge that you leave campus in an orderly fashion. Please be aware that these incidents of unrest in the community make travel an unknown risk at this time.”

LSU administration officials weren’t immediately available to elaborate on concerns expressed in the e-mail.

500 eggs, 60 men in blue

Thursday, 4:25 p.m.

By Eva Jacob Barkoff
Staff writer

NEW IBERIA -- Around 5 a.m. today, Mary Tripeaux received a call that members of a search-and rescue-team from Phoenix, Ariz., were on their way for breakfast at Victor's Cafeteria on Main Street. Soon the crew arrived and filled themselves with coffee, grits, biscuits, bacon, potatoes and sausage -- and more than 500 eggs.

"There are 180 eggs in one case and we went through at least three cases," Tripeaux said. "And by around 9 a.m., we had run out of sausage. They had eaten it all."

After breakfast, about 60 men in blue uniforms from Phoenix's Urban Search and Rescue Team held a meeting under a gazebo across from Victor's to go over final details of their mission. They wouldn't discuss details with a reporter.

The men had arrived in several trucks and two 18-wheelers filled with equipment. Also along were three Labrador retrievers.

"We have a lot of equipment here to try and do what we can to help," one of the men said.

Before leaving for New Orleans, he reflected on breakfast at Victor's and concluded: "That was the best meal we have had in 48 hours."

Volunteer duty

By Deanna McLendon
Staff writer

Nineteen-year-old Jacqueline Lively wants to go to medical school. While volunteering the past several nights at medical evacuation center established at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center, her desire was tested as she changed bedpans, emptied catheters and encountered both the awful and the poignant.

Lively spent most of Tuesday night trying to locate 36-week premature infant Symphony Sotomayor Colon, who was airlifted out of Methodist Hospital in New Orleans earlier in the day.

The mother had no idea where the baby was, Lively said. She’d stayed behind in New Orleans because she had other children but eventually was evacuated to Baton Rouge with her young son. The woman had no ailments but was allowed in the evacuation center, Lively said, because “they didn’t want the little boy sleeping outside.”

Lively called the Red Cross and all the hospitals in Baton Rouge fruitlessly searching for Symphony.

“I never found the baby. I don’t know if they ever found the baby – I have no idea.”

Lively said the PMAC was filled with elderly people, many of whom “still had their feet wet from trying to get out. They were all really dehydrated.”

Though many elderly were evacuated from nursing homes, others left residences behind.

“They ask about their houses,” Lively said. “They haven’t seen any TV or news stories. I don’t want to tell them that their home is probably gone.”

But despite all the pain and worry Lively encountered, her time as a volunteer also produced lighter moments.

“There was one – all she has is her wig. I put lipstick on another lady. Another man tried to dance with me. … He sang me a song he wrote.”

Mississippi windstorm office opens

Thursday, 3:57 p.m.

The Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association has just opened. The office can be reached at 800-931-9548.




City not safe for anyone

Thursday, 3:45 p.m.

Across the city Thursday, the haunting fear of flooding was
replaced by a raw fear for life and public safety.

Navigating the St. Thomas area of the Lower Garden District in an SUV,
Times-Picayune reporter Gordon Russell, accompanied by a photographer from The New York Times, described a landscape of lawlessness where he feared for his life and felt his safety was threatened at nearly every turn.

At the Superdome and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Russell said
throngs of hungry and desperate people displaced by the flood overwhelmed the few law enforcement or miliatary personnel present.

"There was no crowd control," Russell said. "People were swarming.
It was a near riot situation. The authorities have got to get some
military down here to get control of the situation."

Russell witnessed a shootout between police and citizens near the
Convention Center that left one man dead in a pool of blood. Police, perhaps caught off guard by their sudden arrival on the scene, slammed Russell and the photographer against a wall and threw their gear on the ground as they exited their SUV to record the event.

The journalists retreated to Russell's home Uptown where they hid in
fear. They planned to flee the city later today.

Almost everywhere Russell went Uptown, one of the few relatively dry
areas in Orleans Parish, he said he felt the threat of violence.

"There is a totally different feeling here than there was yesterday
(Wednesday)," said Russell, who has reported on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina since the storm devastated the city on Monday. "I'm scared. I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm getting out of here."





Sisterhood

I am a 30-year-old sorority girl. Homeless courtesy of Katrina and evacuated from the Times-Picayune office with one cubic foot of belongings, I’m the newest – and other than the house mom, oldest – resident of the Delta Zeta sorority house at LSU. For the next month, I’ll be living in a room surrounded by photos of pledge classes and formals, fraternity mixers and sisterhood retreats – just like I did a decade ago as a Delta Zeta at the University of South Carolina. Eleven years after I pledged, I’m still witnessing – and unbelievably grateful for -- true sisterhood. Wonder if I’ll be invited to a fraternity party?
-- Deanna McLendon, copy editor

Refugee restaurateurs

By Brett Anderson
Restaurant critic

On Sunday, Ralph Brennan was headed with his wife, two children and 91-year-old mother-in-law to Florida, where his sister Cindy Brennan, owner of Mr. B's Bistro in the French Quarter, had evacuated.

Crossing the Twin Spans they discovered I-10 east had been closed. Plan B -- to head to Ralph's brother's farm in Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- didn't pan out either. At 12:30 Monday morning, 12 hours after leaving New Orleans, Brennan and his family landed at the home Bill and Besty Latham, fellow restaurateurs in Jackson, Miss.

They didn't stay long. The heat in Jackson, which lost power soon after Brennan arrived, was too much for his elderly mother-in-law. That's how Brennan, the owner of the New Orleans restaurants Bacco, Redfish Grill and Ralphs on the Park, found himself in Oxford, Miss., which since Monday has seen its population swell with evacuees, many of them from New Orleans' professional class.

Duke Eversmeyer, a Metairie internist, escaped to his Oxford condominium. He's looking around for work, thinking about making it a permanent home. Billy Sothern, a New Orleans lawyer, is searching for an apartment, preferably a two bedroom, so his wife Nikki Page, an artist, can set up a studio. Last night he was at the bar above City Grocery, a restaurant owned by New Orleans native John Currence. "Now that I'm living here, I'm dedicating myself to drinking them out of Abita Amber" he said as he ordered another bottle of the Louisiana-brewed beer.

Under normal circumstances, the tree-lined town of 12,000 residents is
well equipped to handle visitors. Its restaurants, among the best in
the deep south, are an attraction, as is Ole Miss. William Faulkner
called Oxford home, and the town boasts a fertile literary community.
Richard Howorth, Oxford's mayor, is also the owner of Square Books, the
town's well-regarded book seller.

Howorth figures that Oxford has absorbed 2,000 to 3,000 evacuees from New
Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The first ones were mostly
friends and family members of Oxford residents. Yesterday saw the arrival
of what he called "bonafied refugees" like Brennan, and he expects their
number to swell in the next couple of days. He met today with officials
from the Red Cross and other relief agencies "to try to get our heads
around what our capacity is, what we can reasonably deal with, and what
our possibilities are for receiving these people, because they're not
just visiting."

Howorth said that the University of Mississippi was extending its
enrollment a week to accommodate displaced students from Tulane and LSU.

Armed with his laptop and cell phone, Brennan was trying to assess the
damage to his restaurants and figure out a way to take care of his
roughly 400 employees. He said staffers can check in with his restaurants'
Web sites to report their whereabouts and retrieve other information.
"Unfortunately, I'm thinking maybe only half (of the employees) have
Internet capability. We have paychecks for them. Today is payday, and our
comptroller is in Houston."

Brennan's restaurants are far from his only worry. His mother-in-law is
ailing, and he needs to find schools for his 16-year-old daughter and
18-year-old son. He'd heard about every other member of the Brennan
restaurant family save for his cousin Dickie Brennan, who's set up a
temporary office in Baton Rouge. Dickie Brennan hopes to marshal the
resources of his New Orleans restaurants -- Palace Cafe, Bourbon House, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse -- to help in the relief effort, much as
restaurants in Manhattan became defacto soup kitchens in the wake of 9-11.

Ralph Brennan hasn't gotten that far yet. He's having trouble keeping
track of what day it is.

"I live on my calendar," he said, holding up his PDA. "And now there's
no calendar."

Gunshots, death, frustration

Thursday, 3:37 p.m.

By James Varney
Staff writer

The stench of death. The shouts of frustration after
waiting for rescue crews that haven’t come. Rampant
rumors of riots and armed gangs running amuck. A body
being dragged along on a luggage dolly.

Many of those left behind in New Orleans are just
dissolving.

“You’ve got no organization here. It’s mass
confusion,’’ said Paul Davis, 54, who rode out the
storm at the Guste high rise and was brought to the
Convention Center by police. “Psychologically,
everybody’s emotions are high. There’s no water.
There’s no food. They didn’t do nothing to prepare for
Katrina.’’

About 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Kevin Daigle saw a dead body in a
wheelchair covered with a sheet.

"I started pushing her to the back,'' said Daigle, who
was crying.

Five New Orleans police cars "raced past me and I’m
waving and yelling at them to stop to tell me where I
can put this lady,''said Daigle, 32, who used to live
in the 9th Ward.

Brenda Austin, 52, who lived on Dale Street in eastern
New Orleans, said she and her five family members
walked from their eastern New Orleans home to the
Convention Center. But their journey wasn’t without
travail. When they stopped on the Interstate 10
high-rise, someone started shooting at them.

“We did stay. That’s our fault, but we were told
we’d be picked up. We don’t have information. There’s
no food. There’s no water,’’ Austin said as her
18-year-old son Matthew tapped her on her shoulder,
imploring. “Mom, we’ve got to get out of here. We’ve
got to walk across the bridge.’’

Brenda Austin said that they left home with some food
and some water, but now they are down to their last
bottle of water.

“We were trying to do what we need to do,’’ she said.

Oakwood mall on fire

Looters set fire to Oakwood Shopping Center in Terrytown today.

The fire was reported at 12:56 p.m., and firefighters fought the blaze for more than an hour before giving up, said Bryan Adams of the Terrytown Volunteer Fire Department.

"There's just no water and the fire was out of hand,'' an emotional Adams said, adding that crews had to fight the blaze with one hose and water from a canal. "I've lived in this communitiy all my life --45 years. It's tough.''

Adams said the fire was intentionally set in multiple locations by people who apparently went in to loot the mall. Authorities found a ladder on the side of a building and a vent ripped off the roof allowed suspects to gain access, he said.

Evacuees dwindling at Superdome

In a press conference Thursday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that the number of evacuees in the Superdome was down to 2,400 after busloads left for Houston's Astrodome. Evacuations were ongoing Thursday afternoon.

House Speaker: Rebuilding N.O. doesn't make sense

Thursday, 2:55 p.m.

By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Dennis Hastert dropped a bombshell on flood-ravaged New Orleans on Thursday by suggesting that it isn’t sensible to rebuild the city.

"It doesn't make sense to me," Hastert told the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago in editions published today. "And it's a question that certainly we should ask."

Hastert's comments came as Congress cut short its summer recess and raced back to Washington to take up an emergency aid package expected to be $10 billion or more. Details of the legislation are still emerging, but it is expected to target critical items such as buses to evacuate the city, reinforcing existing flood protection and providing food and shelter for a growing population of refugees.

The Illinois Republican’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Louisiana officials.

“That’s like saying we should shut down Los Angeles because it’s built in an earthquake zone,” former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said. “Or like saying that after the Great Chicago fire of 1871, the U.S. government should have just abandoned the city.”

Hastert said that he supports an emergency bailout, but raised questions about a long-term rebuilding effort. As the most powerful voice in the Republican-controlled House, Hastert is in a position to block any legislation that he opposes.

"We help replace, we help relieve disaster," Hastert said. "But I think federal insurance and everything that goes along with it... we ought to take a second look at that."

The speaker’s comments were in stark contrast to those delivered by President Bush during an appearance this morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I want the people of New Orleans to know that after rescuing them and stabilizing the situation, there will be plans in place to help this great city get back on its feet,” Bush said. “There is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans is going to rise up again as a great city.”

Insurance industry executives estimated that claims from the storm could range up to $19 billion. Rebuilding the city, which is more than 80 percent submerged, could cost tens of billions of dollars more, experts projected.

Hastert questioned the wisdom of rebuilding a city below sea level that will continue to be in the path of powerful hurricanes.

"You know we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake issures and they rebuild, too. Stubbornness," he said.

Hastert wasn't the only one questioning the rebuilding of New Orleans. The Waterbury, Conn., Republican-American newspaper wrote an editorial Wednesday entitled, "Is New Orleans worth reclaiming?"

"Americans' hearts go out to the people in Katrina's path," it said. "But if the people of New Orleans and other low-lying areas insist on living in harm's way, they ought to accept responsibility for what happens to them and their property."

St. Bernard Parish evacuees wait, worry

For storm refugees from St. Bernard
Parish, which is less than 10 miles from the French
Quarter and reportedly decimated by the floodwaters,
there has been little available news.

“They’re not saying anything about St. Bernard,” said
Violet resident Kimberly Jones, 33, as she and more
than 20 relatives prepared to hunker down, maybe for
months, in a shelter in Columbus, Ga., 100 miles
southwest of Atlanta. “Our parish probably no longer
exists.”

Jones was part of a five-car caravan that ended up in
Columbus after a relative told her and other families
about available hotel space. Now more than 150
evacuees, mostly from Violet but some from other parts
of New Orleans, are huddled in a recreation
center-turned shelter scanning the news broadcasts for
helicopter aerials or any glimpse of the parish.

But only scant reports about flooding in
Chalmette and Arabi have made the news, Jones said.
She and her sister, Bolita, ticked off a list of
communities below those areas that could be just as
bad off: Violet, Poydras, Braithwaite, Buras.

“All the people down there, they’re probably
dead,” Violet resident Lois Aisola, 56, said with a
matter of fact tone as her pregnant daughter Trenell,
29, sat next to her with a blank expression.

While others tried to enjoy a hot meal and bands
of children chased one another in circles around her,
Aisola’s sister, Janice Washington, 57, sat on the
edge of a pool table looking dazed. Although she and more than 25 of her relatives
had escaped, Washington left behind four daughters, a
son and 12 grandchildren.

There has been no word from
any of them. In a cell phone text message, another
family friend said she saw one of Washington’s
daughters on television entering the Superdome, a
small comfort.

But while the unknown in St. Bernard Parish drives the
worries of its refugees in Columbus, it is
the little bit that Washington already knows that she
says fuels her grief.

In another text message she said was sent by a
friend who works for the St. Bernard Parish
government, Washington learned that the bodies of her
cousin, his girlfriend and their two children, were
found drowned in a car just blocks from their Violet
home.

“They must have been trying to get out,” she
said.

Nurses appeal

Thursday, 2:18 p.m.

To help care for thousands of patients with hurricane-related injuries
who have been taken to Baton Rouge, an appeal has been issued for
nurses and physical, respiratory and occupational therapists from Louisiana
State University Health Sciences Center.

People who have worked at LSU-operated hospitals or at the Veterans
Affairs Medical Center in New Orleans and want to volunteer in Baton Rouge
are asked to call (225) 358-1002.

Bush to tour region Friday

Thursday, 2:36 p.m.

President Bush plans to tour the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast by air and land Friday to survey the damage and meet with those directly impacted by the storm, the White House announced Thursday.

The president viewed the region from Air Force One Wednesday on his way back to Washington, D.C. from his Texas ranch. He plans to return tomorrow for a day-long, close-up visit to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Bush plans to start his tour in Mobile, Ala., where he will meet with local officials, fly over the coast by helicopter and visit with those on the ground. He then plans to meet up with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco in New Orleans, which he will also tour by air and possibly on foot as well, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

“He wants to offer some encouragement and comfort and boost the spirits of the people,” McClellan said.

On Tuesday, members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation sent Bush a letter asking that he come to see the damage first-hand.

School buses used to evacuate

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau
BATON ROUGE –National Guard troops will be able to seize school
buses as needed to evacuate stranded refugees from hard-hit Hurricane Katrina’s stricken areas, state officials said Thursday.

National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, said the order, signed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco late Wednesday, means “we are going to take the buses. We need to get people out of New Orleans.. . . .Either they will give them up or we will take them.’’

Blanco’s executive order requires that local school officials in areas that “remain substantially operational following the passage of Hurricane Katrina” provide the state Office of Homeland Security with an inventory of school, buses and drivers in their areas.

Blanco’s order said the buses “shall be made available . . .for the
mass transportation of Hurricane Katrina evacuees, accompanying law
enforcement personnel and necessary supplies to and from areas of concern to areas of safety.’’

Blanco Executive Counsel Terry Ryder said although the order allows the bus-taking for evacuations, the intent is to leave some buses in some areas to transport children to school.

Neither Ryder not Schneider would say how many buses may be needed in the evacuation.

“We are hopeful this will not require the disruption of schools.

Schneider said that it is possible a bus from Caddo Parish in northwest Louisiana may be pressed into service in the New Orleans area, Blanco’s order also requires the school officials to make sure that at least one police officer ride in each bus and at least two more police vehicles accompany every 10 buses.
The order also suspends through Sept. 25 the state law, which authorizes free bus transportation for students.

Federal funding

By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau
WASHINGTON -- President Bush agreed Thursday to have the federal government pick up the whole tab for rescue and recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.
Bush’s decision came in response to requests from governor’s of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, who feared that the price tag – likely to be in the billions of dollars – would overwhelm their state budgets.
The president agreed to waive federal rules that shift 25 percent of the post-disaster debris removal and emergency response cost onto state and local government. White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday that the federal government will pay the whole bill for 60 days retroactive to Monday’s storm.
“This action recognizes the unprecedented scope and impact of this disaster,” McClellan said.
The day after the hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast, Louisiana officials wrote to Bush saying the storm was “well beyond anything that has happened in our history.”
They pleaded for financial assistance, saying they didn’t have the means to pay.
“Without your direct intervention, we will not receive this much needed assistance,” they wrote.
Post-disaster financing rules have been relaxed before. The last time was in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd ravaged parts of the east coast causing $6 billion in damage.

No increase in B.R. crime

Reports of increased crime in Baton Rouge as a result
of restless evacuees at local shelters are not backed
up by the local police statistics, U.S. Attorney David
Dugas said early Thursday afternoon.

While there has been an up-tick in car thefts, the
data does not show an overall hike in crime, he said.
But local police presence has been increased in the
city in order to deter any future crime, while federal
law enforcement is also being beefed up, Dugas said.

Benefits update

People due to receive food stamps and cash benefits today by electronic deposit will still be receiving them today as they normally do on the first of the month, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services said Thursday.

Social Security benefits will also be paid electronically, as usual, and those who do not receive direct deposit will can go to any Social Security office in the country to make arrangements, DSS spokeswoman Nanette White said.

Business help

The head of a New Orleans business group said he is planning a massive effort to raise money for businesses wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
Mark Drennen, president of Greater New Orleans Inc., said Thursday that he's in the process of setting up temporary headquarters in Baton Rouge and that he's been in contact with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation about getting loans and grants for business owners affected by the storm.

"We are using our national contacts to help the foundation raise disaster relief," Drennen said. Once GNO Inc., gets established at its new offices, Drennen said he plans to convene a series of task forces to address specific problems that companies will encounter as they try to rebuild. "We want to help them work through those issues," he said.

Evacuees leave, troops arrive

A National Guard spokesman said more than 70 buses filled with evacuees had left the Superdome as of this morning and are bound for Houston.

Lt. Col Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard also said 7,500 guard soldiers from around the country are en route to Louisiana to complement the 3,000 from Louisiana who have been helping with search and rescue operations and security since Katrina struck on Monday.

Levee update

Authorities have encountered another problem in their continuing efforts to repair a large breach in the 17th Street Canal floodwall: three bridges that need to be raised, so that barges loaded with raw material can get closer to the eventual repair site.

Spokeswoman Cleo Allen of the state Department of Transportation and Development said the agency is coordinating with railroads and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise the Seabrook bridge, the Almonaster Ave. bridge and the Danziger Road bridge. Farther southwest, authorities are also trying to raise a bridge at Larose so that a barge loaded with relief supplies can get through Bayou Lafourche.

The corps announced plans Tuesday to try to repair the breach by dropping sandbags and concrete barriers by helicopter into the levee hole. But those plans changed Wednesday and authorities now plan to build a dam out of sheet piling that will block the entrance to the canal at the Old Hammond Highway.

Once the dam is built to block water from Lake Pontchartrain from flowing into the canal, engineers will try to repair the levee breach.

The Times-Picayune to resume printing tonight

The Times-Picayune announced today that it plans to resume printing a newspaper tonight in Houma. Since the hurricane struck on Monday, the paper has published three electronic-only editions on its affiliated Web site, Nola.com.

"We appreciate the dedication of employees, and the patience of advertisers and subscribers," said Ashton Phelps Jr., publisher of The Times-Picayune.

The Times-Picayune aims to print roughly 50,000 copies Thursday night, using the printing facility of The Houma Courier, for distribution on Friday in Baton Rouge, and New Orleans metro areas that are now occupied and accessible.

The expanded electronic edition will continue to be published on www.nola.com, and breaking news will still be delivered to the site by Times-Picayune reporters through The Times-Picayune's "Breaking News" weblog.

"The depth and completeness of our coverage on www.nola.com resulted from a superhuman effort by journalists under the worst conditions, evacuated with just the clothes on their backs, uncertain of the fate of families and loved ones," Phelps said.

Since the hurricane approached, The Times-Picayune and www.nola.com have been a lifeline for the people of New Orleans, and their supporters all over the world.

A missing persons forum on www.nola.com, started on Wednesday morning, had more than 4,000 posts by the end of the day. The site has also launched forums called "Volunteer" and "Homes Available".

Between Sunday and Thursday, hundreds of thousands of people visited www.nola.com, resulting in more than 72 million pages viewed.

Staffers have been working on streets of New Orleans and surrounding areas, in the air, at the Houma Courier, in temporary offices at LSU's Manship School for Mass Communication, the Network Technology Group on Florida Boulevard and in other places in the devastated region.

"We are so grateful for the support we have received from other newspapers," Phelps said.

The status of The Times-Picayune's printing plant is unknown.

During the months of September and October all Times-Picayune employees will receive regular paychecks, regardless of whether they perform work, The Times-Picayune announced to its work force today.

For further information contact Mark Lorando, mlorando@charter.net, 225-709-2961.

Orleans schools working to restore pay

Alvarez & Marsal, which has been working to manage the finances and many of the operations of the New Orleans Public Schools, provided the following information for employees:

"The hurricane has rendered the school district’s offices inaccessible and disrupted our ability to conduct payroll operations. We are working aggressively to solve this problem and find a way to process payments to employees as soon as possible.

"We have been in contact with Coventry, the district’s benefits provider. Everyone’s health insurance will remain in effect, including individuals who recently received layoff notices.

"We have set up a toll-free hotline for employees to get information. The number is 1-(877) 771-5800. We urge all employees to call the 800 number and leave their contact information so that we can reach everyone with future updates.

Bill Roberti, managing director of Alvarez & Marsal and Chief Restructuring Officer in the New Orleans Public Schools, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected by this terrible disaster. We are doing everything possible to assess the situation and develop a plan for getting the school system back on its feet. At the moment, our first thoughts are for the well-being of the people of New Orleans and the safety of this great city.”

B.R. airport open

The Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport is open, said Bill Profita, spokesman for the airport. It has not been shut down to accommodate relief efforts, as some sources have reported, he said.

Urgent plea from St. Bernard Parish

Thursday, 10:

Polly Boudreaux, clerk of the St. Bernard Parish Council, issued an urgent plea Thrusday morning for help for the devastated parish.

Boudreaux, breaking into tears during a telephone interview with WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, said the parish is wiped out.

"We're just been absolutely devastated,'' she said.

Much of the parish remained underwater, she said, and efforts to get news out have been unsucessful. And many residents still needed to be rescued.

"St. Bernard has been rescuing St. Bernard for days,'' she said.

She said little outside assistance has been able to reach the parish.

"We are not seeing it. We need help,'' she said, her voice cracking.

Boudreaux said shelters set up at Chalmette High and St. Bernard High School for people not able to evacuate Katrina, were underwater and heavily damaged. She said those staying at Chalmette High, over 1,000 people, had been evacuated to an area at the St. Bernard Port.

Food and water is having to be rationed, she said.

She was not clear on where those at St. Bernard High had been moved.

She said parish government officials are holed up at Chalmette Refinery. The parish government building is underwater.

She said parish officials have made pleas for help from the outside.

"It never came,'' she said. "We just never saw it.''

"Everybody is in need. Everybody has just been wiped out.''

Monday return not recommended

Officials at the State Emergency Operations Center said Thursday morning that Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard's plan to allow citizens back to Jefferson Parish on Monday is not a good idea. The return, they said, would slow recovery and endanger lives.

Evacuees begin arriving in Houston

By Josh Peter

Staff writer



HOUSTON – This was not how it was supposed to happen, but this is how it did.

Without an escort from Texas state troopers, without being on the official list of evacuees expected to arrive and about 30 minutes after being turned away, the yellow Orleans Parish school bus rolled through the entrance, past the security guards and onto the parking lot leading to the Astrodome. Several children about waved and shouted “thank you,’’ loudly enough to be heard on the other side of the closed glass windows.

A reporter looked at his watch: 12:31 a.m.

So began the arrival of evacuees from Louisiana, with busload after busload on the way and about 23,000 victims of Hurricane Karina in all scheduled to take shelter at the Astrodome. But the first ones admitted, the children and a handful of adults riding on Orleans Parish school bus No. 0235, weren’t on the official list.

Robert Eckels, who as judge of Harris County presides over the Astrodome, said he knew about the “renegade’’ bus and that the indoor stadium wasn’t ready for evacuees – particularly the unexpected arrivals.

“That bus that arrived earlier was a young man who had loaded up a bunch of kids and just gotten into the bus and driven here,’’ Eckels said. “It was not one of those (official) buses. At this point, our plan, our agreement, is to take the Superdome buses.’’

But shortly after Eckels left, the judge was overruled.

Margaret O’Brien-Molina, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, discovered the school bus sitting outside the entrance and gave the orders: Let them in.

Yet at the same time, O’Brien-Molina indicated she understands the risk of bringing in too many evacuees.

“You’ve got to go with what the agreement is,’’ she said. “I’m not the one who decided we’re going to take 35,000 people, or 25,000 people or whatever it is. We’ve got to make sure that we can take care of them.

“On the other hand, you got to do what’s right.’’

Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard said this morning that the evacuation of the rest of New Orleans was in full swing. At least 70 buses had picked up refugees from the Superdome, and officials were considering using trains and boats to ship people to safety.

Schneider also said that an executive order allows authorities to take over the state's fleet of school buses, if necessary, to expedite the evacuation to Houston and elsewhere.

When the Orleans Parish school bus came through early today in Houston, a charter bus trailed behind without the joyous sound of children. The first three people off the charter bus were lifted into wheelchairs and pushed past Doug Hamilton, an internist who was prepared to help those who needed immediate medical attention.

Generally, those patients were the dehydrated evacuees who needed to get back on their medication for illnesses like diabetes. But Hamilton also played the role of official greeter.

“The first thing I say to these patients,’’ Hamilton said, “is, “Welcome to Houston. Stay a while.’ ’’

The evacuees were unavailable for interviews under the rules set forth by officials running the relocation effort. But O’Brien-Molina said she was pushing for more media access to the shelter for later today and beamed as she recounted a moment from earlier that night.

When she heard about the school bus, she walked outside the gates and talked with the passengers that included a 5-year-old daughter and the girl’s mother. O’Brien-Molina had decided to let the evacuees in – with or without the required state troopers – and held the 5-year-old girl as the girl’s mother climbed back aboard the bus.

About 20 minutes later, she saw the girl settling by one of the thousands of green cots on the dry floor and under the covered roof of the Astrodome.

“That little girl, think about what she’s been through the last few days,’’ said O’Brien-Molina, who heard about the sweltering heat, malfunctioning plumbing and limited food and water that evacuees had endured before arriving at the clean and cot-lined Astrodome.’’ That makes it worthwhile to me.’’





DDS says direct deposits will be on time

Evacuees receiving social services assistance through EBT cards can access their funds as usual, the state Department of Social Services announced this morning.

Nanette White, a spokeswoman for DDS, also said those receiving Social Security benefits can also expect their direct deposits to be credited as usual. However, others who receive checks should go to the nearest Social Security Office for help.

For more information, call 1-800-772-1213.

Bush: Help on the way

President Bush said that he was confident New Orleans would be restored to a great city and called for “zero-tolerance’’ in handling looters.

“There ought to be zero tolerance’’ whether the crime is looting or price gouging, Bush told Diane Sawyer in an interview on “Good Morning America.’’ “Citizens ought to be working together…''

Stressing that help is on the way, Bush said that authorities are working hard to get water and food to the city.

“I understand the anxieties of the people on the ground. There is frustration. There is a lot of help coming,’’ he said.

Mayor closes city to evacuees

Baton Rouge Parish Mayor Kip Holden said that no more evacuees would be accepted. He also called for refugees housed in the River Center be moved elsewhere, WBRZ Channel 2 reported.

100 said dead in Chalmette

Thursday, 9:46 p.m.

About 100 people have died at the Chalmette Slip after
being pulled off their rooftops, waiting to be ferried
up the river to the West Bank and bused out of the
flood ravaged area, U.S. Rep. Charles Melancon,
D-Napoleonville, said Thursday.

About 1,500 people were at the slip on Thursday
afternoon, where critical supplies like food and water
are scarce, he said. Melancon expressed serious
frustration with the slow pace of getting these items
to the people waiting to finish their journey to
safety.

Many of those at the slip were evacuated from a shelter set up at Chalmette High School that suffered massive flooding as the waters rose during Hurricane Katrina.

Melancon said people are being plucked out of their water-surrounded
houses, but the effort to get them out of Chalmette
and provide them with sufficient sustenance is the
problem.

While he did not directly criticize the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, Melancon said they are
ultimately responsible for making sure that people are
taken care of. “That is where the buck stops,” said
Melancon at a briefing at the state Office of
Emergency Preparedness.

People at the slip indicated that 100 people had died
since they arrived, although Melancon said he did not
know how they perished.

Melancon said he saw 300 people sent on a tug-boat
pulled barge to the Algiers landing, but there weren’t
any buses once they landed. A spokesman said the
governor’s office indicated they were eventually taken
out.

The congressman said he “hoped” that the plight
of people in St. Bernard wasn't being shoved to the
side because of the chaos in New Orleans.

“I hope that we will start seeing food supplies,” said
Melancon, who later added that he was told that trucks
of ice, water and food were eventually listed to the
slip.

CNN says caravan to Houston suspended

6:20 a.m.
Thursday, Sept. 1

The buses filled with refugees enroute to the Astrodome in Houston from the Louisiana Superdome have been suspended for unknown reasons, CNN is reporting this morning.

Evacuees start arriving in Astrodome

5:30 a.m.
Thursday, Sept. 1

The first wave of evacuees from the Louisiana Superdome began arriving in Houston early this morning, as volunteers scrambled to prepare the Astrodome for thousands of homeless people.

But the earliest arrivals weren’t from the Superdome. Two so-called “renegade buses” filled with evacuees from Orleans Parish tried to convince American Red Cross officials that they were part of the Superdome caravan, according to CNN.

The agency figured out the truth, but relief officials decided to accept the evacuees because they were in such bad shape, CNN said. The Astrodome was to be reserved for more than 20,000 people fleeing dangerous and filthy conditions in the Superdome.

Upwards of 500 buses are expected to make the trip from New Orleans to Houston. Inside the Astrodome, 800 food workers are getting ready to prepare three meals a day. Each evacuee, officials said, will get a "comfort kit" with tolietries and other basics.

Coast Guard: "We have our work cut out for us"

4:15 a.m.
Thursday, Sept. 1

A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard said its crews have rescued more than 3,000 people from rooftops and other spots in the New Orleans area.

"The sheer number is impossible to tell," Lt. Russell Hall told Fox news this morning.

The Coast Guard is staffing rescues around the clock, he said. "We have our work cut out for us."