Katrina trapped city in double disasters

By John McQuaid
Staff writer

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans with a double blow when it made landfall Aug. 29. First, storm surge waters from the east rapidly swamped St. Bernard Parish and eastern New Orleans before the eye of the storm had passed the city around 9 a.m. Within hours, surge waters collapsed city canal floodwalls and began to “fill the bowl,” while top officials continued to operate for a full day under the mistaken belief that the danger had passed.

A rough reconstruction of the flooding based on anecdotal accounts, interviews, and computer modeling, shows that the huge scale of the overlapping floods – one fast, one slow – should have been clear to some officials by mid-afternoon Monday, when city representatives confirmed that the 17th Street canal floodwall had been breached.

At that point areas to the east were submerged from the earlier flooding, trapping thousands, while gradually rising waters stretched from the Lakefront across to Mid City and almost to the Central Business District.

Federal officials have referred to the levee breaches as a separate and much later event from the flooding to the east, and said that they were unaware of the gravity of the problem until Tuesday, suggesting valuable response time was lost.

“It was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the (17th Street canal) gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city. I think that second catastrophe really caught everybody by surprise,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Sunday, adding that he believed the breach had occurred Monday night or Tuesday morning. By that time, flooding from at least one of the two breached canals already had been under way all day Monday, evidence shows.

Even on Tuesday, as still-rising waters covered most of New Orleans, FEMA official Bill Lokey sounded a reassuring note in a Baton Rouge briefing.

“I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl,” Lokey said. “That's just not happening.”

Once a levee or floodwall is breached by a hurricane storm surge, engineers say, it often widens and cannot be quickly sealed. Storm surge waters in Lake Pontchartrain may take a day or more to subside, so they keep pouring into the city – most of which lies below sea level – until the levels inside and outside the levee are equal.

Experts familiar with the hurricane risks in the New Orleans area said they were stunned that no one had conveyed the information about the breaches or made clear to upper-level officials the grave risk they posed, or made an effort to warn residents about the threat after storm winds subsided Monday afternoon.

“I’m shocked. I don’t understand why the response wasn’t instantaneous,” said Louisiana State University geology professor Greg Stone, who studies coastal storm surge dynamics.

“They should have been monitoring this and informed people all the way to the top, (and) then they should have warned people,” said Ivor Van Heerden, who uses computer models at the LSU Hurricane Center to study storm surges and provided officials in the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness headquarters with data indicating the potential for flooding that could result from Katrina.

The storm approached the coast early Monday, the easterly winds from its northern quadrant pumping a rising surge into the marshy Lake Borgne area east of St. Bernard. There, two hurricane levees come together into a large V-shape. Storm surge researchers say that point acts as a giant funnel: Water pouring into the confined area rises up — perhaps as much as 20 feet in this case — and is funneled between the levees all the way into New Orleans.

The water likely topped the levees along the north side adjacent to eastern New Orleans, which average only 14 or 15 feet, according to the Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans project manager Al Naomi.

The surge reached the Industrial Canal before dawn and quickly overflowed on both sides, the canal lockmaster reported to the Corps. At some point not long afterward, Corps officials believe a barge broke loose and crashed through the floodwall, opening a breach that accelerated flooding into the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

The floodwaters moved quickly.

By around 8 a.m., authorities reported rising water on both sides of the Industrial Canal, in St. Bernard and eastern New Orleans. The Coast Guard reported sighting residents on rooftops in the Upper Ninth Ward. “Water is inundating everywhere,” in St. Bernard, Parish Council Chairman Joey DiFatta said.

At 9 a.m., there was 6 to 8 feet of water in the Lower Ninth Ward, state officials said. Less than two hours later, most of St. Bernard was a lake 10 feet deep. “We know people were up in the attics hollering for help,” state Sen. Walter Boasso, R-Arabi, said that morning. By 11 a.m., water was covering Interstate 10 at a low point near the high-rise over the Industrial Canal.

Sometime Monday morning, the 17th Street canal levee burst when storm surge waters pressed against it and possibly topped it, Corps officials said. Col. Richard P. Wagenaar, the corps’s site commander at 17th Street, told The Washington Post that a police officer called him Monday morning to tell him about it. He told the Post he couldn’t get to the site.

Naomi said he believes the breach occurred in the mid- or late-morning after the hurricane’s eye had passed east of the city. By that time, north winds would have pushed storm surge water in Lake Pontchartrain south against the hurricane levees and into the canals. Then the wind shifted to the west.

“As I remember it the worst of the storm had passed when we got word the floodwall had collapsed,” he said. “It could have been when we were experiencing westerly winds in the aftermath of the storm, which would have been pushing water against it.”

Naomi and other Corps officials say they believe that the water in the canal topped the levee on the Orleans Parish side, weakening its structure on the interior side and causing its collapse. However, Van Heerden said he does not believe the water was high enough in the lake to top the 14-foot wall and that the pressure caused a “catastrophic structural failure.”

It’s not clear when floodwalls in the London Avenue canal were breached, but Naomi said it may have been around the same time.

Once the floodwalls failed, water – then at about 8 feet or higher in the lake – began to pour into New Orleans from the west, beginning the full-scale nightmare emergency managers and other officials most feared. At 10 a.m., reporters from The Times-Picayune saw water rising over I-10 where it dips beneath the railway trestle south and east of the canal.

Naomi said that he believes Corps officials had communicated the information about the breaches to the Baton Rouge Office of Emergency Preparedness

“It was disseminated. It went to our OEP in Baton Rouge, to the state, FEMA, the Corps,” Naomi said. “The people in the field knew it. The people here (in Corps offices) in Louisiana and Mississippi knew it. I don’t know how communication worked in those agencies.”

Officials at the OEP could not be reached for comment. New Orleans officials were also aware of the 17th Street canal breach and publicly confirmed it at 2 p.m. Around the same time, The Times-Picayune reported 4 feet of water in one Lakeview neighborhood.

An hour later, city homeland security director Terry Ebbert listed Treme and Lakeview as among the areas hardest hit by the flooding. Ebbert said there would be casualties because many people were calling emergency workers saying they were trapped on rooftops, in trees and attics. In some cases, he said, authorities lost contact with people pleading for help.

As the day wore on, the flood crept east and south and made its way across the city, penetrating neighborhood after neighborhood.

At 3 p.m. Times-Picayune reporters found it was knee-deep under the Jefferson Davis overpass near Xavier University. A Mid-City couple stranded there said their home was surrounded by 5 feet of water. An hour later, the I-10 dip under the railroad overpass was under 15 feet of water.

George Saucier, the CEO of Lindy Boggs Medical Center south of City Park, told The Times-Picayune that water from the 17th Street breach had flowed into Bayou St. John and overflowed its banks, then followed streets like sluices on its way south, where it was starting to flood the hospital’s basement.

By late afternoon, people stranded on I-10 near the Industrial Canal could see residents on rooftops stretching across Lower Ninth Ward.

As night fell Monday, many outside of New Orleans breathed a sigh of relief believing the city had been largely spared the worse. But thousands were stranded from the Lower Ninth Ward, across St. Bernard and south to the east bank of Plaquemines Parish. And waters continued to rise overnight throughout central New Orleans. By dawn, they stretched all the way from east to west and into Uptown, and were coursing through the Central Business District. As TV helicopters flew over the city and beamed out pictures of the flooding, the extent of the catastrophe was clear.

That flooding would complicate evacuation efforts in New Orleans for days.

Broussard urges patience

Wednesday, 9:26 p.m.

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard urged Jefferson Parish businesses to sit tight until they could return to the parish and provide services to the residents who will be returning.

On WWL radio Wednesday night, Broussard asked businesses to give him three weeks to make the parish liveable and workable.

Broussard also said that although New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered a mandatory evacuation of Orleans, Jefferson is still under a voluntary evacuation.

“Somehow this has gotten transferred to Jefferson Parish and it just ain’t so,” Broussard said of Orleans' mandatory evacuation. “I don’t have the resources to pull people out of their homes.”

Broussard asks residents to leave their homes before dusk Thursday night. He estimated that 70 percent of the parish residents left their homes before Hurricane Katrina.

Blanco tours New Orleans

Wednesday, 9:24 p.m.

By Jan Moller
Capital Bureau

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who last week criticized the size and speed of the federal government's relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, toured New Orleans on Wednesday with federal and state military commanders and pronounced herself pleased with the state of the relief effort.

”I think we have stability. I think the aid is at an appropriate level,” Blanco said. “We see a very strong federal effort.”

Blanco repeated her initial frustrations with the federal government and defended the speed at which she requested aid from President Bush.

Primarily, though, the governor focused on the positive aspects of the relief efforts. She met with doctors, volunteers and evacuees outside the New Orleans Convention Center and thanked police and rescue workers who have been operating since last week out of Harrah's New Orleans Casino. At the convention center, which became an international symbol of suffering last week, the few remaining evacuees, who were outnumbered by rescue workers and journalists, received hugs and expressions of support from the governor.

More than 18,000 federal troops from all branches of the military are now deployed in areas hit by Katrina, the vast majority in Louisiana, a military spokesman said. They are helping with what remains of the search-and-rescue efforts, setting up medical clinics and delivering food and water. They are joined in Louisiana by nearly 43,000 National Guard troops from around the country as well as state and local authorities.

Federal troops began arriving en masse on Sunday, nearly a week after the storm struck and six days after flooding put 80 percent of New Orleans under water. With floodwaters starting to recede in downtown, Blanco said the scene is far better than the one she witnessed last week. “I came when downtown was full of water. It's good to be on dry ground,” she said.

The governor repeated her initial frustrations with the pace of federal relief efforts – “We wanted everything yesterday,” she said - and brushed off suggestions that she did not act quickly enough in asking President Bush to send federal troops. Blanco said she first made such a request in a telephone conversation with the president on the morning of Aug. 28, moments before Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.

”I told him (Bush) we would need all the help we could get,” she said. But she said she did not give the president a “checklist” of the resources needed, she said.

Bob Mann, Blanco's communications director, said the governor also tried contacting Bush two days later, to ask for more help. Three days after that, Blanco received a written request from the Bush administration asking that the entire military relief effort be federalized under the command of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who heads Joint Task Force Katrina. Blanco rejected that request and opted to keep the current arrangement in which federal troops report to Honore and guard troops are under the command of Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, who leads the Louisiana National Guard.

Blanco and military officials took pains Wednesday to show that the arrangement is working well, and that there is no discord between the two commands. Before touring the city, Blanco, Lanreneau and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu attended a closed-door briefing by Honore on the U.S.S. Iwo-Jima, where federal troops are headquartered.

”We are a unified command” of state, local and federal officials, Blanco said.

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who commands Joint Task Force Katrina, said his troops will not participate in civilian law-enforcement activities, including the forced evacuation ordered by Mayor Ray Nagin, and will continue to provide food and water to anyone who needs it. “We’re here to save lives -- if we have to give them food and water that's what we'll do,”ť Honore said.

Blanco said she hopes the federal troops will remain long after the search-and-rescue operations are over and the city's rebuilding process begins. The governor said her staff is working on a proposed “relocation package” -- details of which were not revealed -- that would give people incentives to keep their businesses in New Orleans. The package could include tax breaks, low-interest loans or possibly cash assistance for certain small businesses that promise to rebuild in New Orleans.

Jan Moller can be reached at tpicbr@aol.com

Panel to probe storm preparations

By Bruce Alpert
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — An unusual House-Senate panel will investigate the government's preparation for Hurricane Katrina and the response that followed, the Senate and House Republican leaders announced Wednesday.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said that the panel will be asked to issue its findings by Feb. 15, 2006.

“Let us be clear: We should not diminish the fact that there were acts of heroism by individuals and victories by our first responders who risked their lives,” Hastert and Frist said in a statement. “But we all agree that in many areas, the initial relief response to Hurricane Katrina was unacceptable at the local, state and federal level.”

The announcement came as congressional Democrats continued to denounce the federal response to the hurricane’s devastation as too little and too late.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is calling for the firing of Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown who she said has “absolutely no credentials” for the job. And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Congress ought to investigate “how much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan conceded that “there are ongoing problems on the ground and that’s why we’re working to address those issues.” But he said Reid wouldn’t have engaged in “such personal attacks” if he knew how hard Bush worked on the crisis before and after the storm.

The partisan bickering prompted Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., to send a letter to Frist and Reid asking them not to allow Congress to enter into a partisan debate at a time the needs of Louisiana residents and other hurricane victims are so great.

“There is no question that there were mistakes made and lessons learned from this tragic experience,” the two senators said in their letter. “The Senate will have ample time to thoroughly investigate this event and we plan to play a major role in these investigations. Now, all of our resources and efforts should be dedicated to the rescuing of victims, providing food, shelter, employment education and health care to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

They urged the two Senate leaders: Do not make the citizens of Louisiana a victim once again by allowing our immediate needs to be delayed by partisanship.”

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary Alphonso Jackson reported that he has identified 3,200 vacant single-family HUD-owned property in five states near the hurricane ravaged communities. In addition, he said, local public housing authorities within 500 miles of New Orleans have identified another 5,600 vacant units that could be made available to public housing residents forced to evacuate their homes.

No specific plans have been drawn up yet, but HUD hopes to move people out of large shelters and into individual housing units that they can use until they can move back into their former homes, or rebuild near their former residences.

"Having a roof over your head is one of the most important human needs," Jackson said. "I can assure you that together with our local partners, we're working overtime to make certain every available home will be offered to families who may have lost everything."

Department of Transportation Secretary Norm Minetta said that the agency is using contracts that provide lucrative rewards for each day a project is completed ahead of schedule, to expedite construction of damaged roadways and bridges in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

"We don't know the full extent of the damage to the region's transportation systems, but we are already working aggressively to get the Gulf Coast working again," Minetta said.

Also Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the availability of a toll-free hotline for people in crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. By dialing, -1-800-273-TALK, or 1-800-273-8255, callers will be connected to a network of local crisis centers across the United States. Callers are assured that their conversations will be kept private and that they will be talking to a person trained in crisis counseling.

"We have all been touched by this tragedy and profound sadness, grief and anger are normal reactions that many people may experience," said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. "We want people to know that we have a nationwide team of crisis counseling experts available to help people through their grief and loss."

Hearing delayed for man charged with shooting at helicopter

By Susan Finch
Staff writer
BATON ROUGE -- Jurisdictional questions left in Hurricane Katrina's wake postponed most action Wednesday in a federal court hearing in the case of a 21-year-old man arrested Tuesday in Algiers for shooting at a relief helicopter from an apartment window and for being a felon in possession of firearms.
Wendell L. Bailey was ordered returned to his cell at the West Baton Rouge Parish Prison after Magistrate Christine Noland of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana read him the charges he faces and declared, after learning he has no money, that he qualifies for free legal help..
Bailey told the magistrate that he was a $10 an hour liquor store employee from January through March and then worked for Sears before being jailed from April until August when he was released on parole.
Bailey, currently on probation, has felony convictions for marijuana distribution and possession of cocaine, federal officials said.
At the urging of Virginia Schlueter, federal public defender for the Eastern District of Louisiana court, Noland agreed to delay further proceedings on Bailey's case at least until Monday while officials decide whether the law requires his case be handled by the federal court in New Orleans, which has been temporarily closed because of the storm, or by the federal court here..
From a procedural standpoint, Bailey's case is unusual. Wednesday's hearing was originally set to be heard at the Houma annex of the New Orleans-based U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The hearing, however, was moved to Baton Rouge after the U.S. Marshals Service expressed security concerns about the Houma facility, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Magner of New Orleans.
"We did not go to Houma because the Marshals Service did not believe they could provide security for inmates and the court there," Magner said, adding that the Houma facility was designed as a venue for civil cases only.
If the Marshals Service can secure the Houma building to handle criminal cases, Bailey's hearing will resume there Monday, Magner said.
Meanwhile, he added, a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R- La., that could be acted on soon would allow a quick fix for the jurisdictional problem that delayed the Bailey case.
Vitter's bill would allow federal courts, in the event of an emergency declared by their chief judges, to handle criminal case pretrial proceedings in another jurisdiction, Magner said.
When officials decide which court will be handling Bailey's case, that court will hold a hearing to decide if Bailey is in fact the person arrested Tuesday night in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans by agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Additionally, the government at that hearing must present its evidence against Bailey unless by that time it has obtained a grand jury indictment against him.

Congressional delegation urges residents to stay away

The metro New Orleans' Congressional delegation urged residents Wednesday not to return home to storm-ravaged Southeast Louisiana, citng public health and safety concerns in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Officials implored residents of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and other affected parishes not to return to their homes until further notice.

"It is imperative that our citizens understand that we are still rescuing people from their homes," U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson, D-New Orleans, said in a news release. "We cannot have troops doing crowd control and trying to direct traffic when they could be saving the lives of those still trapped in their homes and elsewhere."

Jefferson also addressed public health concerns. "These parishes are still not safe places to live," he said. "While there are places that did not experience the severe flooding that we see in Orleans and St. Bernard, public health and safety is a serious concern. Once an assessment is done, it may be found that these areas need to be quarantined and we do not want residents subjected to any harmful infectious or toxic substances by returning too soon."

"Though the storm may have passed, it is still not safe for all of us to return to home," U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, said. "We must wait for the emergency operations to be completed and we must also allow time for experts to assess any potential public safety concerns. We may return home only once these situations are resolved and local leaders have determined it is safe for us to do so."

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, said that the area's damaged infrastructure cannot adequately support residents' needs.

"Our region still has no power, no running water, and no services. Residents are not returning to their normal lives,'' he said. "There are no grocery stores, no hospitals, and no city services available."

Jefferson Parish officials have set a Thursday 6 p.m. deadline for residents to leave the parish, after collecting their personal belongings and assessing storm damage.

State officials do not anticipate Orleans Parish opening for residents for at least another two weeks, although they caution that it could be longer.

Pa. rescuers help out in Metairie

Wednesday, 7:52 p.m.

By Eva Jacob Barkoff
East Jefferson bureau

Just after noon Wednesday, two ambulance buses lumbered into a Metairie neighborhood, making their way through the debris and fallen trees.

Dodging oaks and power lines, the men in the buses stopped when they saw residents cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina.

“Are you guys ok – do you need anything?” asked Bryan Palmer, one of nine volunteers of the Supportive Search and Rescue Team from Pittsburgh, Pa.

Unable to drive into the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Sena Drive in Metairie because of downed trees, Palmer and his eight EMS colleagues walked the blocks, checking on other residents cleaning up as well as those who rode out the storm.

“We left Pittsburgh Sept. 3 and arrived here on Sept. 5,” Palmer said. “We decided to come and help.”

Staying on a campground on the Northshore, Palmer’s team is part of about 200 other search and rescue personnel from Pittsburgh. Palmer, who is supervising the team of eight, arrives on the south shore about 8 a.m. each day and heads back about 11 p.m.

“We have been all over the New Orleans area,” Palmer said. “We have been able to provide medical help to a lot of people.”

In what was once the staging areas used for evacuees at Interstate 10 and Causeway Boulevard, Palmer said the team helped a stranded family.

“They waved us down and told us they had been living somewhere in that
area for a couple of days,” Palmer said. “And to cool off, they would go into the standing water located near that area. So we treated them for heat exhaustion as well as some cuts and abrasions.”

Blaine Buchtel was pulling wet carpet out of his home along Sena Drive when he saw the EMS personnel from Pittsburgh walking in the area.

His face red as a beet, with sweat pouring from his brow, Buchtel asked one of the medical workers to check his blood pressure.

“I wasn’t that worried, but I am tired and it is pretty hot out here. So I just wanted it checked to be on the safe side,” Buchtel said.

Buchtel got the “thumbs up” and also some advice from the search and rescue personnel – “drink plenty of fluids and take it easy in the heat.”

As they walked back to their ambulance buses, Palmer and the others said they planned to stay in the New Orleans area for almost a month.

“So many people – including us – thought what happened on Sept. 11 was the worst disaster we had ever seen, and it was,” Palmer said. “But in so many ways and on so many levels, I really think what happened in New Orleans and the other areas around the city is worse, much worse.

"Seeing this makes you really appreciate all you have so much more.”

Security chief visits Jefferson

By Michelle Krupa
West Bank bureau

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard handed a tattered American flag to the nation's security czar Wednesday and asked him to devote every possible resource to reestablishing a "sustainable living condition" in the suburban community within a month of Hurricane Katrina's landfall.

Broussard also asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to "build radio towers that are fortresses" so storm victims stuck in their homes and refugees stranded outside their neighborhoods can get up-to-the-minute information anywhere in the nation. And he pushed the need for ramped-up federal efforts to combat coastal erosion to low-lying areas to protect greater New Orleans against another catastrophic hurricane.

In recounting the private session of about 25 parish and federal officials, Broussard said he eschewed Chertoff's request to tour wind- and flood-ravaged Jefferson neighborhoods Wednesday. By the time he arrived for a 5 p.m. meeting at the parish's Emergency Operations Center in Marrero, Chertoff would have witnessed the worst of Katrina's massacre during earlier visits to Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, Broussard said.

"Jefferson Parish would have seemed like a cakewalk," he said.

Broussard also related in detail a chronology starting Aug. 26 that began with a parishwide evacuation order and ended with Jefferson left in a tangle of downed trees, smashed buildings and as much as 15 feet of water in some east bank areas that were swamped by the Aug. 30 breach in the 17th Street Canal, according to the parish president and other local officials who attended the meeting. He said it will take 21 days to remove the water from Old Metairie and neighborhoods around Airline Highway.

Chertoff asked for numbers of residents who may have perished in Katrina, those who evacuated and those who stayed to weather the storm in their homes. Broussard said he did not know such details yet, adding that officials have not begun to search for the dead, those attending the meeting said.

Broussard also said that in the days before the hurricane, he asked for medical personnel from across the country to head to Louisiana to provide support for local doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Finally on Wednesday, 200 medical professionals arrived from Maryland after that state's governor volunteered their services.

To begin the 40-minute meeting, Broussard handed to Chertoff a ragged flag he got Wednesday during a quick trip to Plaquemines Parish and asked the national security chief to present it to President Bush.

"This flag represents the Greater New Orleans area," Broussard said he told Chertoff. "We are ripped. We are torn. We are shredded. But we're still Americans. Send us all you can and restore this community like you would restore this flag."

Elsewhere Wednesday in Jefferson, residents flocked back to their homes to survey damage as armed National Guard soldiers, most from Missouri, patrolled major intersections and about a hundred New York City police fanned out to join forces with thousands of local sheriff's deputies and municipal police to maintain order.

Some residents arrived in pickups or with U-Haul trucks to cart out mattresses, chests of drawers, linens and keepsakes that Katrina spared. But others turn their front-door keys to return home for good despite a general lack of electricity, water and sewerage services and a request from parish officials for everyone to get out by 6 p.m. today.

In Jean Lafitte, Taddese Tewelde proudly opened the doors to the Piggly Wiggly across from Town Hall on Highway 45 as electricity flashed on in the hamlet's northern areas after noon.

Though his frozen foods, meats and produce spoiled when Katrnia knocked out power last week, Tewelde sold snacks, cleaning supplies, soda, cakes and paper goods at pre-storm prices. His beer and cigarette cache was stolen when he evacuated to Baton Rouge last week.

Further down the bayou, Tracy LaBella said he'd be shopping at the food mart in coming weeks. He didn't care that power and telephone service still was out at his home on the Barataria banks near the Intracoastal Canal, or that officials planned to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew starting Friday morning.

But LaBella had rigged a generator to run his air conditioner and planned to house three adults and three kids at the property while he rebuilds his home.

Despite the inconveniences, life seemed to be getting back to normal Wednesday, as 12-year-old Trey Brewer, who lives with his mother and LaBella, showed off a prize that Katrina probably deposited in the coastal waters.

"Hey!" Brewer shouted. "I caught a soft-shell turtle!"

"Yeah, he survived the hurricane," LaBella replied. "Let him go."

Water recedes in St. Bernard

By Manuel Torres
St. Bernard bureau

Emergency response personnel faced grueling tasks
across St. Bernard Parish on Wednesday, as the
receding waters showed the full impact of Hurricane Katrina.

Clean up crews labored to skim off a thick layer of
crude oil, spilled from a tank at the Murphy Oil
refinery, that soiled east Chalmette homes as far
west as Paris Road. All the while, rescue teams
tended to dozens of calls from residents seeking a way
out — many of them people who turned down rescuers just
days ago but are now running out of water and food or
just had enough of the stench that impregnates the

The response to the effects of the hurricane was
eased as many areas of the parish have drained enough
to greatly improve mobility. St. Bernard Highway was
open from Orleans Parish all the way
into Plaquemines Parish. Sections of Judge Perez Drive
in east Chalmette were dry and crews worked to remove
debris. Paris Road was clear.

But cleaning crews were still having trouble getting
access to the areas covered by the oil spill, said
Kevin Fitzgerald, treasurer of Murphy Oil. He said the
spill originated in a tank that contained as much as
85,000 gallons of crude, but it was unclear how much
of the oil spilled.

Fitzgerald, however, said most of the spill was
contained by the refinery’s dikes. He said the oil
that reached into Chalmette escaped through a breach
on the dike caused by the storm or was raised by the
high water levels. He said it’s unclear how long it
will take to clean it up.

“We’re working fast and furious to clean it,” he said.

Contractors donning protective suits, high rubber
boots and gloves labored to collect the oil along
Judge Perez Drive. The spill sneaked its way westward
seemingly as far as LaPlace street in some areas, and
reached neighborhoods south of Jugde Perez Drive,
covering much of the area with a slick and messy

Stray dogs - pets left behind - meandered along the
abandoned streets, some covered in oil to their chest.
Puddles of the stuff accumulated along streets, on the
grass, and inside stores. A pillow resting on the road
oozed oil when a reporter stepped on it.

Areas not covered in oil were caked by a thick layer
of muck. At Frankie’s Grill on Judge Perez Drive, the
mud had dried on the parking lot but remained slushy
inside. At a Baskin and Robins store next door, the
surge blew the doors and pushed coolers, tables and
chairs to the back of the room.

At Rocky and Carlo's Restaurant, on St. Bernard
Highway, the tables and chairs were piled in the
middle of the room as if flushed by the storm.

Rescuers were still evacuating about 40 to 50 people a
day, said St. Bernard Parish Fire Department Chief
Thomas Stone. But many of the S.O.S. calls now were
coming from people who had refused to leave in the
immediate days after Katrina, and were now realizing
that the mess in which the parish was transformed
won’t go away soon.

The storm has also taken its toll on Stone’s ranks. He
said he had sent 90 of the department’s 116 employees
on a three-day break to Baton Rouge so they could
recover from a week of 20-hour days rescuing people.
Emergency units arriving from as far as California
were filling the temporary void.

FEMA to issue debit cards

Staff reports

BATON ROUGE — For the first time in the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the government has decided to dole out debit cards worth $2,000 each to help displaced hurricane evacuees get back on their feet.

“The concept is that this is cash in hand that allows them, empowers them, about what they need to do to start rebuilding their lives,” said FEMA Director Michael Brown, announcing the program Wednesday at a
press briefing at the state Office of Emergency Preparedness.

The cards were expected to be distributed first to evacuees that are currently staying in shelters. It was not clear if they would be issued more widely than that.

The $2,000 debit cards will allow people who are running low on cash after fleeing their homes and jobs to buy emergency supplies or make minor repairs to their property, Brown said.

FEMA representatives at the state Office of Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge did not have much more information about exactly who would be receiving the cards.

Bush asks for $52 billion more aid

By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Wednesday asked Congress to provide an additional $51.8 billion in relief and recovery aid to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, and congressional leaders vowed to approve the request before the week is out.

The new emergency spending package comes on top of the $10.5 billion Congress authorized last week — and the bailout is far from over. Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said he expected the administration to ask Congress for more money in a "few weeks" when the current round of financing runs dry.

"My expectation is we will need to have substantially more," Bolten said. "This at least puts everyone on very solid footing."

Most of the money will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of the relief and recovery operation, and about half will be spent on direct payment to victims, temporary housing, unemployment insurance and damage assessments of homes flooded out by the storm. Last week FEMA was spending about $500 million per day, a figure that shot up to $2 billion daily over the weekend as the agency signed contracts for work and ramped up its efforts.

In the latest aid package, the Department of Defense will receive $1.5 billion and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the levees surrounding New Orleans, will get $400 million.

Lawmakers threw out a variety of figures for the total cost of the relief and recovery operation, none more than educated guesses since the flood waters have yet to be cleared out of New Orleans. Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said $200 billion was not unrealistic. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-N.V., said the total cost could end up being $150 billion.

Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, urged Congress Wednesday to spend $100 billion just on New Orleans and another $125 billion on other areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama damaged in the storm.

"We cannot ask for piecemeal requests," he said in a statement. "We must move swiftly to restore the economy of the region and to improve the existence of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose lives have been over-turned in the past ten days."

A critical question for the three states hardest hit by the storm — Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — is how long the federal government will continue to pick up the tab. At the request of governor from the three states, President Bush waived federal rules that require state and local governments to pick up 25 percent of post-disaster costs. The U.S. Treasury will foot the relief and recovery bill for 60 days after the storm hit the Gulf Coast. Asked whether that deadline will be extended, a Bush administration official said it is too early to say.

For the time being, Washington seems only too happy to underwrite the effort. With the devastation from Katrina still fresh, Congress and the Bush administration appear unconcerned about the mounting federal budget deficit as they pursue a carte blanche approach to repairing the hurricane damage.

Bolten said that the fiscal 2006 budget deficit will be greater than the $333 billion expected shortfall in the current fiscal year. But Bolten said he is "confident" that Bush's promise to slice the deficit to $260 billion by 2009 is still realistic.

Already, however, Katrina spending is leaving some legislative casualties in its wake. A Republican-backed plan to scrap the estate tax has been put on hold indefinitely. Hopes to extend tax cuts made in 2003 are fading. Lawmakers said that they are now looking at tax cuts aimed specifically helping hurricane victims.

A bipartisan group of senators also urged congressional leaders to scrap plans to cut entitlement programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, housing and education.

"At a time when millions are displaced and seeking federal and state assistance, we believe it is inappropriate to move forward," the senators wrote to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Paying for disaster relief has been Congress' most tangible response to Katrina since the hurricane hit Aug. 29, but it is not the only one. Since Congress returned to session this week, dozens of bills have been offered to speed the recovery and cut through bureaucratic red tape that has slowed rescues and emergency relief.

House Republican leaders Wednesday said they would push legislation to help people get Social Security checks and other forms of public assistance if they have been displaced. The House wants to free students from loan repayment obligations if they were forced to withdraw from college because of the hurricane and increase the amount available for flood insurance claims. FEMA is able to borrow $1.5 billion for the program, a figure expected to be dwarfed by the tens of thousands of claims alone from metropolitan New Orleans.

Returning to the remnants of home

By Chris Rose

The first time you see it ... I don’t know. Where are the words?

I got to town Monday afternoon. I braced myself, not knowing how it would make me feel, not knowing how much it would make me hurt.

I found out that I am one of the lucky ones. High ground. With that comes gratitude and wonder and guilt. The Higher Powers have handed me my house and all my stuff and now what? What is there?

I live Uptown, where all the fancy-pants houses are and they’re all still here. Amid the devastation, they never looked so beautiful. They never looked more like hope. This swath of land is where this city will begin its recovery.

There are still homes and schools, playgrounds, stores, bars and restaurants. Not so many trees, I’m afraid. We’ll have to do something about that.

The Circle K near my house was looted, but there are still ample supplies of cigarettes and booze. They just took what they needed. The hardware store and Perlis - the preppy clothing store - same thing.

Someone kicked in the window at Shoefty, a high-end shoe boutique and what good a pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettos is going to do you right now, I don’t know.


I myself was escorted out of the local Winn-Dixie by narcotics officers from Rusk County, Texas.

I told them I thought it was OK to take what we need. “And what do you need?” the supervisor asked me. I reached into my bag and held up a bottle of mouthwash.

I told him I will come back to this Winn-Dixie one day and pay for this bottle and I will. I swear it.

Right by the entrance to the store, there is a huge pile of unsold newspapers stacked up from the last day they were delivered, Sunday, Aug. 28.

The Times-Picayune headline screams: KATRINA TAKES AIM.

Ain’t that the truth? Funny, though: The people you see here – and there are many who stayed behind – they never speak her name. She is the woman who done us wrong.

I had the strangest dream last night, and this is true: I dreamt I was reading an ad in the paper for a hurricane-relief benefit concert at Zephyr Stadium and the headliner act was Katrina and the Waves.

They had that peppy monster hit back in the ‘80s, “Walking on Sunshine,” the one they play on Claritin ads on TV and that almost seems funny in light of what happened.


Riding my bike, I searched out my favorite places, my comfort zones. I found that Tipitina’s is still there and that counts for something. Miss Mae’s and Dick & Jenny’s, ditto.

Domilise’s po-boy shop is intact, although the sign fell and shattered but the truth is, that sign needed to be replaced a long time ago.

I saw a dead guy on the front porch of a shotgun double on a working-class street and the only sound was wind chimes.

Everybody here has a dead guy story now. Everybody here will always be

I passed by the Valence Street Baptist Church and the façade was ripped away and I walked in and stared at the altar amid broken stained glass and strewn Bibles and I got down on my knees and said thank you but why? why? why? and I’m not even anything close to Baptist.

It just seemed like a place to take shelter from the storm in my head.

The rockers on my neighbor’s front porch are undisturbed, like nothing ever happened. At my other neighbor’s house – the ones who never take out their trash – a million kitchen bags are still piled in the mound that’s always there and I never thought I’d be happy to see garbage, but I am.

Because it reminds me of my home.

I haven’t been down in the kill zone yet. I haven’t seen the waters. I haven’t been where all hope, life and property are lost.

I have only seen what I have seen and we took the hit and it is still here. This is where we’ll make our start. This is where we’ll make our stand.

And when everything gets back to normal – whenever that may be – I’m going to do what I’ve been putting off for a very long time and I’m going to walk next store and tell my neighbors that they really do need to start taking out their trash.

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at noroses@bellsouth.net.

Trump still committed to N.O. project

6:45 p.m., Wednesday

By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer

As the city of New Orleans trembles in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Florida developers said Wednesday that one thing is certain: the $200 million Trump International Hotel & Tower will be built on Poydras Street.

"We're in this with you guys,'' Donald Trump Jr. said Wednesday. "But our sentiment right now is that it's inappropriate to talk business (at a time) with such a great loss of life,'' he said.

But Trump said that The Trump Group is committed to the project and that when the time is ripe -- when rescues are complete and when the city is in more of a recovery mode -- they will willingly talk about their developing plans.

"Of course we're still interested. We'll talk when it’s appropriate, when it’s beneficial to work ourselves back into the game,” Trump said.

“Yes, it’s a go,’’ said development partner Frederick Levin. “It’s just a question of when.’’
Levin’s brother Clifford Mowe and partner Robert Rinke, doing business as Poydras LLC, said The Trump Group showed no reservations about moving forward, but stressed that the timetable is now uncertain.

“There’s no doubt about’’ the one million square foot project, which will include retail, hotel and condominium space, Mowe said.

The development, which will be constructed on an empty parking lot between Camp and Magazine streets, would be one of the largest new high-rise construction projects in the city in more than 25 years.

“It’s going to be a delay before the project can be marketed,’’ Mowe said. “But the city is going to come back stronger than ever,’’ and Mowe’s team plans to play a major role in its reconstruction.

Mowe concurred with others that the city’s primary tourism areas -- the French Quarter, Warehouse District and Central Business District -- are still basically intact.

The developers had planned to begin marketing the property within the next few months and start construction before the end of the year.

But Mowe said Wednesday that the marketing effort could be pushed back as much as a year, meaning that construction could be delayed until the fall of 2006.

“The priority is still saving people,’’ Mowe said, adding that “until we know better about the infrastructure of the Central Business District, a more accurate timetable can’t be established on building Trump International Hotel and Tower.

“Hopefully, the city will come back and come back quickly,” he said.

Both Levin brothers and Mowe acknowledged they recognized that their announcement will be an important part of rebuilding the city psychologically and economically.

Frederick Levin’s law firm had donated $125,000 to relief efforts for the city.

“WE still love New Orleans, and the Trump international Hotel and Tower will become a reality,’’ he insisted.

Though being called a hotel, the project will actually be a condominium project, with more than 400 rooms set aside as "condotel" units that buyers own but allow to be operated as hotel rooms when vacant. On the upper floors, 250 more units will be sold as traditional condos governed and eventually owned by a condo association.

The project will include 650,000 to 850,000 square feet of living space and more than 200,000 square feet of parking.

Mowe said the project will also include 60,000 to 80,000 square
feet of retail space, although no tenants have been lined up yet.

More importantly, the project will provide well-paying construction jobs for a city that is virtually empty and where many people have lost their jobs because of the storm

Officials: Dome can be fixed

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE — A “preliminary investigation’’ of the Superdome and nearby New Orleans Arena indicate that both facilities “can be rehabilitated” from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina but it will cost at least $400 million, state officials told U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Wednesday.

The damage estimate was included in a letter to Vitter signed by Superdome Commission Chairman Tim Coulon, Dome Counsel Larry Roedel; and Doug Thornton, regional vice president of SMG, the corporation which manages the stadium and arena for the state.

Thornton did not break down the estimate, but said most of the damage was done at the Superdome, which served as a shelter of last resort for more than 20,000 residents during the storm while suffering roof and water damage.

Thornton said he hopes to have a decontamination team in the buildings in two to three weeks so engineers, architects and other experts can make a more intensive inspection of the state-owned structures.

Thornton said he should have an assessment of the Superdome within 45 to 60 days and a recommendation on whether it should be repaired, renovated or rebuilt.

“While our preliminary investigation leads us to believe these facilities can be rehabilitated, there is always the possibility that the Superdome may require full replacement,’’ the letter said.

The officials asked Vitter to seek “federal assistance to rehabilitate both facilities.’’ Superdome officials told Vitter that the money is needed to remove waste, including medical waste, human waste, trash and debris from the Dome, which had two inches of water on its playing surface.

“It is premature to make any determination about the outcome of the building,” Thornton said in a news conference called to refute national news stories that the state has decide to raze the Superdome.

He called the 30-year-old Superdome “an icon in the New Orleans area,’’ the site of the Republican National Convention in 1988, a papal visit in 1987, six Super Bowl games and two NCAA Final Four basketball tournaments.

He said if the Arena can be repaired quickly, it is possible it could be back in use in the first quarter of next year, in time for the New Orleans Voodoo’s Arena Football League season and other events.

Thornton said that there is about $600 million worth of insurance on the Dome for wind and flood damage and with federal recovery money, those dollars could cover the costs of repairs or reconstruction.
He said the Dome and the Arena could qualify for federal disaster assistance because the two buildings were used to house up to 24,000 evacuees and National Guard troops for almost a week.

The letter to Vitter outlined these damages:
— 80 percent of the Superdome’s roof “has been compromised,” causing severe water damage to a very significant portion of the facility.
— A large portion of the electrical distribution mechanical, lighting, audio, video and other electronic systems suffered water damage.
— A large portion of the heating and air-conditioning system was damaged.
— “Major water damage to the playing surface’’ and ground level electrical boxes on the Superdome floor.
— “Contamination and rupture’’ of plumbing and sewer systems, including broken and overflowing toilets.
— Significant vandalism and damage to all interior spaces such as luxury suites, administrative office areas, commissaries and kitchens as a result of the evacuee population housed at the facility.
— Damage to exterior lighting systems and the exterior skin of the stadium due to high winds.

EPA: Floodwaters contaminated

Wednesday, 6:21 p.m.

Staff report

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that initial floodwater test results indicated that bacteria counts for E.coli, an indicator of sewage contamination, greatly exceed EPA’s recommended levels for contact.

At those levels, human contact with water should be avoided, the EPA announcement said.

The news release contained no specifics about the materials contained in the water, but said sampling for volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, total metals, pesticides, herbicides, and polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs found that only concentrations of lead in the water exceeded action levels.

It said the levels could be a concern if a child ingested large amounts of flood water.

“For the additional chemicals tested, we have yet to detect contaminant levels that would pose human health risks,” the release said, but added that the tests were done in residential, rather than industrial areas of the city.

EPA recommended that emergency response personnel and the public avoid direct contact with standing water when possible. When contact does occur, the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control recommends washing with soap and clean water to clean exposed areas. Floodwaters shouldn’t be swallowed.

If likely symptoms of E. coli-contaminated water occur, including stomach ache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea, victims should report them to a health professional.

Jeff seen as region's recovery hub

6:25 p.m.

By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

BATON ROUGE -- Jefferson Parish government and school officials on Wednesday began promoting their damaged but hardly devastated parish as the future core of Hurricane Katrina recovery for the entire New Orleans area.

In many respects, Baton Rouge is serving that role for the moment, and the capital city is where the Jefferson School Board held an emergency meeting, in the building where the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education normally convenes. But the officials described Jefferson as being as close as two or three weeks away from flickering back to life.

Parish Council Chairman Tom Capella said the government will get the parish running quickly, so Jefferson can help in the rebuilding of its harder-hit neighbors in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.

“We are fully committed in Jefferson Parish to rebuilding our community,” Parish Council member Chris Roberts said. “I think Jefferson Parish has an opportunity to grow.”

Jefferson schools Superintendent Diane Roussel said she thinks the parish soon will be the hub of hurricane redevelopment for the New Orleans region.

“The word today is much more encouraging than before,” Roussel said of the damage in Jefferson. “Folks, we’ll be up and running shortly.”

“In every challenge,” she said, “there is an opportunity.”

The School Board approved a resolution setting Oct. 3 as the target date to reopen at least some schools. That came after members heard a preliminary report of damage to the parish’s 84 public schools, which before Katrina served 50,000 students, employed 7,000 people and had a budget of $330 million.

The target puts Jefferson well ahead of some school systems in Katrina’s path. State Superintendent Cecil Picard said Tuesday that Orleans and St. Bernard schools may not be able to reopen at all during the 2005-06 academic year.

Some reports had Jefferson schools not opening until January, but board members strongly refuted that scenario.

Jefferson officials said more than 40 schools are in good condition, 11 have minor damage that can be fixed quickly and nine have serious damage that will take more time to fix. Roof damage appeared to be the most common problem.

Because some schools will not be able to reopen soon, and because the student population likely will fluctuate wildly in the coming months, Roussel and some board members suggested the practice of “platooning,” under which different sets of students attend a school in different shifts.

Jefferson used platooning during its population boom in the 1960s and 1970s, when school construction didn’t keep pace with growth. But enrollment has declined considerably in the past 20 years.

In addition to their eagerness to begin serving as the next base of recovery, some Jefferson officials said restarting school soon could stem permanent losses of students and families who evacuated the storm strike zone and now are settling, at least temporarily, into schools in other cities and states.

Board member Etta Licciardi, who evacuated to Arlington, Texas, for a week, said Texas communities are eyeing evacuees as potential new residents, so the Louisiana schools must act soon.

“Those people want our kids,” Licciardi said. “They want to keep our kids. They want to keep our teachers.”

But board member Judy Colgan said open schools in themselves are not enough to get Jefferson back on its feet. She said businesses need to reopen and put employees back to work.

“The economy is what’s going to drive the return of residents,” Colgan said, urging businesses to move as fast as possible.

The Jefferson school system has enough money reserved in its $24 million fund balance to continue paying employees at least for the rest of this month, officials said.

“We’ve always called it a rainy day balance,” Chief Financial Officer Raylyn Stevens said. “I believe this is it.”

But as long as the parish is mostly closed for business, she said, the school system cannot collect revenue from its most important local source: sales taxes. That’s a loss of about $12 million a month.

That realization led board President Ray St. Pierre and Vice President Martin Marino to suggest that state and federal financial help might be promptly needed.

Roussel said she was planning to travel to Washington to give a speech today before the Senate Committee on Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions about the needs facing southeast Louisiana schools.

Archdiocese offers students options

By Walt Philbin
Staff writer
Students of Archdiocese of New Orleans-operated schools will be offered options ranging from attending schools in the communities where they have evacuated to using satellite schools, performing on-line course-work and home-schooling by parents, the Rev. William Maestri, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools said Wednesday.
Whichever option the student’s family chooses, Maestri said, the archdiocese wants to eventually “bring every single child back to our schools.”
Maestri said the goal is to enroll students in a safe and secure environment, wherever the school is and whether it is Catholic or not.
“The first (option) is enrollment in an existing, safe school. Of course, we’d like it to be a Catholic school, but whether it’s a private school or public school, as long as children are being educated in a safe school environment, that’s what’s important to us. We are keeping track of where our students are, with the hopes of bringing them back to the archdiocese,” Maestri said.
Maestri also said the archdiocese is looking into setting up a series of satellite classrooms. Setting up on-line courses through the state of Louisiana’s already accredited on-line educational program and a system of teleconference classes are also in the works, he said.
“We also want to recognize parents’ efforts at home-schooling,” he said.
Maestri said he believes this approach gives parents a “multiple-phase way of meeting their children’s educational needs -- some short-term and some quite long-term.” He said the important thing is that the archdiocese will continue to be involved in “responding to the needs of our parents and children,” he said.
“Wherever there are pockets of our students, we want to have an educational presence there for them,” he said. “And as the schools come back in the archdiocese, we will be welcoming them back to our schools.”
Besides those whose schools will not be available in the immediate future, many schools in the archdiocese “are able to function as schools right now,” Maestri said. “And so we are going to be calling on them right now to make their resources available so we can provide a Catholic education available for more and more Catholic children.”
He provided no details on how many schools can be immediately opened and how many were damaged by the hurricane.
The archdiocese was in the process Wednesday of opening a high school and an elementary school in the Baton Rouge area, and has received offers to open satellite schools at other locations in the area, he said.
He thanked people in the Baton Rouge and other areas, for “the generosity and goodwill of so many people who have come forward to help us.”
“We think we’ve made a lot of progress,’’ he said. “Today is better than yesterday, and we hope tomorrow will be better than today.”
“We’re in uncharted waters, in that none of us has faced this kind of situation before,” Maestri said, and as if to underline that statement, an administrator of a Metairie Catholic school came up to Maestri during a press briefing complaining that teachers have been guaranteed paychecks only through September. “We didn’t want to over-promise,” Maestri replied.
Maestri said “the operative word for us is the word, “hopeful,” and “committed.”
“Many people have been talking unfortunately about the demise of New Orleans; the lost city, never to return. We want no part of that message,” he said.
“We are committed to Catholic education, and we are extremely hopeful that we will get our teachers and parents and families and students back. I think that is a very, very important thing.”
Teachers and administrators are urged to notify the archdiocese of their current whereabouts by calling toll-free at 1-888-366-5024.

Five die from bacterial infection

By John Pope
Staff writer
Five people died from a disease related to Hurricane Katrina, succumbing to a bacterium that can enter the body through open wounds after a slog through polluted water, federal medical authorities announced Wednesday.
Four of the deaths from complications of Vibrio vulnificus infections were reported in Mississippi, and the fifth occurred in Texas, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because so much of the New Orleans area has been under water, "there will be some more deaths associated with Vibrio vulnificus in the affected areas," he said.
This infection, which also can result from eating contaminated oysters, is one of several possible diseases, many of them digestive-related, that can result from spending time in foul water. People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or weakened immune systems -- the result of an organ transplant or HIV infection, for example -- are at greater risk of complications.
State epidemiologist Raoult Ratard discouraged anyone from eating oysters harvested in Louisiana until tainted waters have been cleared from the area.
While the diseases can be easily treated, people can help ward off problems by drying off, cleaning up and paying attention to open wounds that were in the water, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, chief of the CDC's food-borne and digestive-diseases branch.
"The water is a stinking mess," he said. "You don't want to be around it."
Although the micro-organism that killed the five storm victims comes from the same family as the bacterium that can cause cholera, medical experts were quick to point out Wednesday that it is not cholera.
Moreover, an outbreak of cholera is extremely rare, with only five cases reported along the Gulf Coast in the last 10 years and none since 2000, Tauxe said.
"You've got to have somebody who has it and defecates into the water to get it into the water," he said.
Tests have shown that the water swirling through the New Orleans area has the E. coli bacterium because of sewage in the water, but it is the strain that everyone carries, not the one that can cause disease, Tauxe said.
"I wouldn't like walking around in diluted sewage," he said, "but it's not the disease-carrying E. coli."
Consequently, it shouldn't be a threat to people with safe drinking water, Tauxe said.
But because sewage is present, it's possible that contact with the water could bring about contact with norovirus, campylobacter and
salmonella, all of which can trigger nausea and vomiting, he said.
Another bacterium in the water, which could get there from rats or nutria, is leptospirosis, which can touch off an infection that starts with a persistent fever and can develop into jaundice.
Because it has a two-week incubation period, "I don't know that anybody is seeing any cases," Tauxe said. "We'll be looking for it."
Speaking at a press briefing Wednesday, Ratard said he doubted doctors would see many more digestive diseases related to the hurricane because their incubation periods are no longer than three days.
The health effect of all the water that poured into New Orleans from the breach in the 17th Street Canal levee, overwhelming pumping stations and sewage-treatment plants, is uncertain, he said.
Another possibility is hepatitis A, but Ratard said it is too early to see cases because the disease has a 30-day incubation period.
Although there is a vaccine against that illness, the state's supply is limited, he said.
Many diseases could result in the area next to a sewage-treatment plant, Ratard said, "but if a lot of water came over and washed the area, maybe the cleanest place would be the sewage-treatment plant."

Troop strength at airport peaking

5:47 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

The wave of troops flooding into Louis Armstrong International Airport is beginning to subside, as the Air Force's 4th Air Expeditionary Group
prepares to reduce its presence there.

The 637-member support unit built "bare base" tent cities at Armstrong
and at the Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse after Hurricane Katrina blasted southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Maj. Dani Johnson said it hasn't been decided how many troops will be pulled out.

"The mission here has shifted from rescue to support," Johnson said Wednesday.

More than 2,000 troops are stationed at the airport, with amenities such as showers and food service being provided in tents on the aircraft apron. These tents were erected by the U.S. Forest Service, one of the many federal agencies at the airport.

The Forest Service often plays a supporting role in disaster relief because of its experience fighting forest fires, spokesman Art Morrison said.

But the number of refugees arriving at the airport from New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes has slowed to a relative trickle.

Galvez Street resident Israel Bourgeois said he sat through the
storm and the subsequent flooding in his home. But the mosquitoes and the stench of bodies piled underneath a nearby bridge became too much, he said. He waved down a passing helicopter, which carried him to the airport.

"I've got some relatives in Baton Rouge. I don't know where they are,
but I'll find them," he said, as he waited in a wheelchair to be taken
to a bus headed for the capital.

Armstrong Aviation Director Roy Williams said he expects commercial
air traffic to begin as the federal presence recedes.

"We could begin to see some commercial flights in here soon," he said.

Big defense contractors stir to life

5:45 p.m., Wednesday

By Keith Darcé
Business writer

Major defense contractors in southeastern Louisiana that employ nearly
10,000 workers struggled Wednesday to measure the damage to their
factories and to track down employees scattered across the country with
other evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

Northrop Grumman Corp., Textron Marine and Land Systems and Bollinger
Shipyards Inc. all posted notices with media outlets and on the
Internet asking workers to contact the companies.

Tracking down enough workers to restart operations was proving to be
as challenging as restoring electricity and cleaning the
mess left by the storm.

“The challenge is getting the people there once we get power,” said
Brian Cullin, spokesman for Northrop, which operates the military shipyard in Avondale and the shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., formerly known as Ingalls.

Sporadic telephone outages and congested phone lines only intensified
the challenge, said Textron spokeswoman Maureen Collis.

The trouble raised the possibility that the Navy and Army might have
to wait longer for the delivery of amphibious assault ships and armored
security vehicles which are urgently needed by the military to fight
the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

The Navy said it was still too early to know how shipyard shutdowns
and repairs would affect delivery schedules.

Textron’s plant in eastern New Orleans, which makes armored
vehicles and speedy patrol boats, appeared to be facing some of the biggest challenges in terms of restarting operations.

The plant was surrounded by flood waters and accessible only by
helicopter, said Textron spokeswoman Maureen Collis. “We are in there trying to do a thorough assessment of what is going on. The building in New Orleans is still standing,” she said.

The company’s newly-opened plant in Slidell appeared to have weathered
the storm better, she said. Managers plan to re-open the Slidell plant as soon as possible and shift armored vehicle production to that facility while repairs are made to the main factory in New Orleans, she said.

The company over the last year has received orders from the Army for
more than 700 armored vehicles, also known as ASVs. Before Katrina hit,
Textron was in the midst of a major production expansion to meet the
growing demand for its main product line.

The company has temporarily relocated its New Orleans business
operations to another Textron plant in Shreveport, Collis said.

The region’s big shipbuilders appear to be making quicker progress in
their recovery.

Only one of six ships docked at Northrop’s Avondale and Pascagoula
yards sustained damage in the storm, a guided-missile destroyer at the
Mississippi factory that received a three-inch by four-foot gash in its
steel side after banging against the wharf, Northrop spokesman Brian
Cullin said.

More than 3,000 people, mainly maintenance and security personnel,
Worked at the Pascagoula yard Wednesday, cleaning up after the
factory was flooded by as much as six feet of water.

Fewer than 80 people worked at the Avondale yard, which remained isolated by restrictions on re-entry into Jefferson Parish.

Even so, the Avondale yard was close to ready to be reconnected
to electricity generators, Cullin said. Once that happens and the
evacuation is lifted, the factory will be capable of resuming up to 80
percent of operations.

Work levels at both factories will be ramped up in stages, he said.
Even in Gulfport, Miss., where Katrina’s punch was felt the hardest,
damage to Northrop’s composite materials factory was less than expected, Cullin said.

“We feared the worst but it was in much better shape than we thought.
We should be able to restore production there in weeks as opposed to
months,” he said.

Northrop, with permission from the Navy, has set up a shipyard
restoration command center on board one of the nearly-finished guided-missile destroyers docked at the Pascagoula yard. The Navy also has supplied generators and communications equipment to the yards, Cullin said.

“The Navy has been huge in terms of support of our people,” he said.

Bollinger Shipyards Inc. said all of its ship building and repair yards
in southeastern New Orleans outside of metropolitan New Orleans were
open as of Wednesday. The company’s three factories in the metro area
will remain closed until power is restored and evacuation orders are
lifted, Bollinger said in a statement.

Keith Darcé can be reached at nolapaperboy@cox.net.

Bridges inspected

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE — State transportation officials said they are inspecting 90 “movable bridges” in south Louisiana that were affected by Hurricane Katrina to determine which are in most need of repair.

The state has 130 moveable bridges, which can open and close to accommodate marine and vehicular traffic.

The most severely damaged of these bridges appear to be the East Pearl River bridge on U.S. 90 at the St. Tammany Parish-Mississippi line, the Bayou Liberty bridge between Thompson Road and Bayou Liberty Road west of Slidell and the Rigolets bridge on U.S. 90 between eastern New Orleans and southeastern St. Tammany, said Gordon Nelson, assistant secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The Leeville bridge on Louisiana 1 linking oil facilities at Port Fourchon to the Lafourche Parish mainland appears to be stable, Nelson said.

The U.S. 90 bridge across the East Pearl River at the state line is not operable but is open to emergency traffic.

The Rigolets bridge “has severe mechanical electrical problems” and cannot be opened to allow marine traffic to pass, Nelson said.

He did not know the extent of damage to the pontoon bridge that crosses Bayou Liberty west of Slidell.

Meanwhile, work has begun on the span across Caminada Bay on Louisiana 1, which provides the only road access to Grand Isle.

Portions of the bridge deck have shifted, but none has been lost, Nelson said. Access is being limited while the work is under way, and repairs are expected to be completed in three weeks.

DOTD will ask the federal government for a waiver of the 100-day deadline for reporting disaster-related damage in order to obtain federal funds for the necessary repairs, Nelson said. Due to the huge impact zone and the extensive amount of damage, the state might need longer to complete its inspections and make its report to Washington, he said.

Capital One delays buying Hibernia and will pay 9 percent less

5:01 p.m. Wednesday

Mary Judice
Business writer

Because Hurricane Katrina roughed up the New Orleans economy, Capital One Financial Corp. on Wednesday said it would delay buying Hibernia Corp. a second time and would pay 9 percent less for it.

The renegotiation means Katrina cost Hibernia shareholders about $350 million; Capital One said it intends to pay about $5 billon for Hibernia, down from the $5.35 billion originally set in March. The new deal means Hibernia shareholders stand to get about $30.49 a share, down from $33.

The deal closing already had been delayed six days because of Katrina and was scheduled to close Wednesday. But on Wednesday both parties announced the renegotiation. They said they now expect the deal to close in the fourth quarter.

“What we worked out was very reasonable and shareholders on both sides are well-served by the merger continuing,” said Herb Boydstun, Hibernia president and chief executive.

Speculation about whether the transaction would close had sparked heavy trading in Hibernia options and gyration in its share price during the past week.

“While no one can predict the impact of Katrina with certainty, I remain convinced of the strategic value of this transaction and believe that Hibernia is well-positioned to grow and generate significant shareholder value over time,” said Richard Fairbank, chairman and chief executive of Capital One.

Capital One is a credit card company based in McLean, Va. Hibernia, based in New Orleans, owns Hibernia National Bank, which has more than $22 billion worth of loans and other assets in Louisiana and Texas.

The new deal calls for Hibernia shareholders to get an amount equal to $13.95 in cash plus the value of 0.2055 of a share of Capital One. That translates to an amount equal to $30.49, based on the closing price of Capital One stock Tuesday of $80.50, which was the price used in the announcement. The offer is down from the original, which called for $15.35 in cash plus 0.2261 of a share of Capital One.

If the deal had closed Wednesday under the original terms, each share would have been worth about $33.72.

Shareholders can elect to take stock or cash, based on availability.

In their announcement, Capital One and Hibernia said they had assessed damage to Hibernia’s facilities, its loan portfolio and its future business prospects. The companies said they had each run a range of scenarios “to account for the considerable uncertainty in the aftermath of Katrina.’’

Hibernia initially had 107 branches closed and said Wednesday that 47 have been reopened. Of the 60 branches yet to be reopened, 21 appear to have significant damage. The bank holding company said 5 percent of its deposits are attributable to these branches.

Boydstun said 16 of the closed branches are in areas where severe flooding has occurred. “We will look at each office and how that part of the city redevelops,’’ he said in determining whether to reopen or rebuild those branches.

The renegotiated transaction is subject to shareholder approval.

The companies said “the impact of hurricane-related actions and events will be disregarded in determining whether closing conditions are satisfied.”

Stephen Schulz, banking analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York,
said that disclaimer “has given assurance or taken out some of the risk the deal will not close.”

Schulz said both sides benefit from the renegotiated terms. Capital One shareholders have the satisfaction the company has assessed the damage and Hibernia shareholders get “some confidence of the commitment to making the deal happen.”

Analyst Ed Groshans of Fox Pitt Kelton in New York said the delay allows Capital One to assess the loan portfolio given the uncertainty that the loan customers face in the next six to 12 months and to come up with a better valuation of Hibernia.

“This deal is going to close,’’ he said. Hibernia shareholders strongly supported the first transaction, and “they will vote for this also.”

“Despite the lower price, this still is a good deal for them,” he said.

St. Tammany Parish on the mend

By Charlie Chapple
and Paul Bartels
St. Tammany bureau

St. Tammany Parish officials may soon give the official green light for thousands of evacuees to return.

“Please try to hold on, and just give us a couple of more days,” Parish President Kevin Davis said Wednesday after meeting with local and federal officials at Louisiana Heart Hospital near Lacombe.

Davis said he wants to give evacuees the OK to return to St. Tammany, but fears that traffic congestion will slow down utility crews working to restore power.

Officials with Cleco and Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative, which provide electricity in St. Tammany, both reported that about one-fourth of their customers in the parish have power.

Parish officials apparently want that number to be higher before telling evacuees it’s safe to return.

Electricity is necessary for other services such as water and sewer services. Without electricity, lift stations that transport sewage to treatment plants cannot work.

Davis, along with other parish and municipal officials, urged residents to be patient and to stay away from their homes if possible until services are restored in most of the parish.

Unlike Jefferson Parish, St. Tammany residents were discouraged but not banned from returning to their homes. Many St. Tammany residents rode out Hurricane Katrina at home, and many who fled have already returned.

Davis estimated there are still about 60,000 residents who have not returned to their homes, including almost 6,000 who are staying at more than a dozen shelters throughout the parish.

Meanwhile, classes are still scheduled to resume Oct. 3 in the public schools for the thousands of students who, along with their parents, were forced to flee to higher ground as Hurricane Katrina approached.

“That’s what we’re shooting for,” Superintendent Gayle Sloan said, adding that parents may want to consider temporarily enrolling their children in schools in unaffected areas of Louisiana or neighboring states.

“But each family has to evaluate their own circumstances,” she said. “If they think they can manage to hold on, we will make up” the 20 lost days if parish schools reopen Oct. 3.

In St. Tammany’s largest city, Slidell, officials said the situation is better at this point than they had expected it to be in the grim immediate aftermath of the storm.

With the exception of hard-hit south Slidell, which was swamped by floodwaters and crippled by snapped trees and downed power lines, most city streets were passable.

Still, even though all the water had drained away, city officials urged south Slidell residents either to stay elsewhere if possible or come back for brief periods for cleanup work.

“They can start ripping out carpets and everything,” City Engineer Stan Polivick said. “They can get in, but I don’t know if they would want to stay.”

Chief of Staff Reinhard Dearing agreed. “There’s too much traffic on the streets now,” he said. “It’s hampering cleanup and restoration operations.”

Power has been restored to about one-third of the city, Dearing estimated, and some of the traffic signals on major streets such as Gause Boulevard and Front Street were working.

The water supply “is in good shape,” he said. Only one of 12 water samples taken Tuesday has tested positive for contamination, which gave city officials hope that the boil-your-water order issued by health officials could be lifted by today or Friday.

Thus far, the water supply in only Mandeville and Covington has been certified as safe for drinking and cooking.

Sewer service should be fully restored for most of Slidell by week’s end, officials said. Fifteen of the 90 stations that lift sewage to the plant for treatment, which is back online, were working Wednesday.

The pumps at three of the four drainage stations were working. The big Schneider Canal station was still down, Polivick said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is bringing in 400 house trailers and similar mobile residences to a trailer park off Interstate 59 north of Slidell to house on-the-job city workers and residents displaced by the hurricane.

“At least 50 percent of our workforce is homeless,” Dearing said.

Just south of Slidell, closer to Lake Pontchartrain, authorities were requiring identification of residents trying to re-enter flooded-out the Oak Harbor and Eden Isles subdivisions and camps along the U.S. 11 Canal.

19 new West Nile cases reported

Wednesday, 4:40 p.m.

Nineteen West Nile virus infections, including two in the New Orleans area, have been reported in Louisiana in the past two weeks, bringing this year's total to 78, state health authorities announced today.

In addition to one infection each in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, the state Office of Public Health tallied six cases in Caddo Parish; four in Livingston; two each in Iberia, Ouachita and Webster; and one in Bossier.

No new deaths were reported. Louisiana's death toll this year remains at four.

The massive amount of water from Hurricane Katrina, especially in the New Orleans area, has raised concern that there may be an increase in virus-carrying mosquitoes because the insects will have more territory
where they can breed.

But state epidemiologist Raoult Ratard said the prospect is uncertain.

In 2002, when a tropical storm and Hurricane Lili hit Louisiana 10 days
apart, a similar worry arose. But Ratard said he found no great increase
then because the water from the storm flushed out the stagnant water
that mosquitoes prefer.

Meanwhile, he said people should continue to exercise normal precautions against West Nile infection, such as staying indoors around dawn and twilight, when mosquitoes swarm; wearing protective clothing when going outside; ensuring that screens are secure; eliminating standing water; and using insect repellent.

Although the state Office of Public Health generally reports new cases every week, Hurricane Katrina disrupted that schedule. As a result of the storm, surveillance activities have been moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, and laboratories around the state will perform tests and confirmation of cases that had been conducted in the New Orleans lab.

John Pope

Radio rivals join forces to make radio news 'history'

By Dave Walker
TV columnist

Earl and water are mixing on Louisiana airwaves.

Entercom and Clear Channel, two national station
groups with New Orleans clusters, normally would be
cutting figurative throats to compete for every
advertising nickel.

But with the market’s economy temporarily submerged –
and listener lives on the line -- they’ve combined to
keep an essential stream of news and information
flowing to hurricane survivors.

The joint signal has been carried in New Orleans on
Entercom’s WWL AM-870, WSMB AM-1350 and WLMG FM-101.9;
and Clear Channel’s WYLD FM-98.5, WQUE FM-93.3 and
KHEV FM-104.1. Segments have also aired on Clear
Channel’s Baton Rouge news-talk station WJBO AM-1150.

With power out and cellular and land-line phones
largely disabled, imagine all the New Orleans
stay-behinds whose only link to the outside world has
been a battery-powered radio.

Inside Clear Channel’s Baton Rouge headquarters, computer monitors, plywood sheets and unopened boxes
crowd hallways. Deliveries of supplies and office
furniture stream into and out of the reception area.

Beyond the anteroom, staffers from 18 different radio
stations are jammed into the studios and cubicles that
serviced just six people pre-Katrina. At night, the
conference room becomes a bunkhouse. Off-duty staffers
are also housed in RVs parked outside.

In such cramped quarters, no conversation goes
uninterrupted for long.

The nonstop conversation in the United Radio
Broadcasters of New Orleans studio, however, has made
for moments of demographic incongruity among all the
data dissemination.

Tuesday afternoon, for instance, WWL’s Deke Bellavia,
a likeable sports-talk colloquialist who’d never be
confused with William F. Buckley, was paired with
WYLD’s A.J. Appleberry, a smooth-pipes urbanite.

The temporary melding of the assets of the two
companies emerged from “a battlefield discussion” that
resulted in the agreement that “we make friends and we
make history,” said Dick Lewis, Clear Channel’s Baton
Rouge market manager.

“This is why radio will never go away or be replaced
by satellite,” added Lewis. “It reinforces the value
of local radio” informing an audience that might be
listening “in an attic with nothing but their radio
and a flashlight.”

The duocast is costing both companies “hundreds and
hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Lewis. “And
that doesn’t count the lost revenue” from stations
knocked off the air or carrying a limited commercial
load, he added.

WWL program Director Diane Newman rode out Katrina
in the station’s group’s offices in the New Orleans
Centre. With the wind knocking out windows, “It was like we
were on the air during ‘The Poseidon Adventure,’” she

After downtown became unsafe, Newman oversaw WWL’s
retreat to the Jefferson Parish Emergency Operations
Center, then to Baton Rouge.

Throughout, lifeline coverage never lagged. No end
date for the cooperative broadcast has been set.

“We have to stay connected,” Newman said.

Radio has provided some of the most riveting media
moments during the Katrina disaster, from host Garland
Robinette’s live play-by-play of Katrina’s attack on
New Orleans to Jefferson Parish President Aaron
Broussard’s desperate call for succession to New
Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s outrage-packed attack on
state and federal relief efforts.

If anybody had suggested a partnership of any kind
between Entercom and Clear Channel two weeks ago, said
Newman, they would’ve been laughed out of the studio.

Now, she said, “I think magical things are happening
on the air here.”

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

Lawmakers expect special session

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – The Legislature will have to be called into a special session to deal with mounting legal and fiscal woes caused by Hurricane Katrina, leading lawmakers said Wednesday.

House Speaker Joe Salter, D-Florien, and Senate President Don Hines, D-Bunkie, told reporters that the session probably will be held early next year, unless circumstances require an earlier meeting.

Hines said the session will have to deal with budgetary matters, changes in state laws dealing with legal and court matters and possibly even changing the state election laws to extend the right to vote absentee to evacuation centers in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and other cities where thousands of Louisiana citizens are now living.

Salter said Gov. Kathleen Blanco has not signaled when a session might be called, but that it probably will have to wait until state officials have a better handle on the hit taken to the state’s finances.

“It may be difficult to in get good information before then,’’ Salter said.

“It is going to be devastating’’ on the state treasury, Hines said. “I don’t think we have to worry about a surplus.’’

Hines said no one knows the extent of revenues lost from sales taxes, property taxes and other revenue sources to state and local governments now.

“There are no revenues at all” coming from the New Orleans area, he said. “We just know we are taking in a lot less than we are spending.”

Many of the expenses the state is now incurring can be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said. Gov. Kathleen Blanco has already asked for a 100 percent reimbursement of most costs and losses, aides said.

“We have a rainy day fund (of $255 million that can be tapped for emergencies) and it is raining now,” Hines said.

He said there was some talk weeks ago of calling lawmakers themselves into a special session in January to tap an expected surplus from increasing gasoline prices to give teachers a pay raise, but that will not happen now.

“I don’t see how we can spend $140 million on a pay raise when we are now dealing with people’s lives,’’ he said.

Cancer patients still receiving treatment

West Jefferson Medical Center’s Radiation Oncology Department said Wednesday that they are still open for services from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. According to department manager Debbie Thibodaux, the unit will extend its hours in the following weeks.

Patients can contact the department through its main line (504) 349-1480. Telephones at this time are powered back up and working for the department.

In addition, Radiation Oncology will make efforts to accept patients that were receiving treatments elsewhere when possible.

New St. Bernard web site

4:46 p.m.

St. Bernard Parish government has an alternate web site, stbernardparishgovernment.com, set up by Meraux lawyer Ray Garofalo from his evacuation quarters in Little Rock, Ark.

Along with photographs of flooding in the area, links to other photo sources, press releases and disaster information, the site includes a call for volunteers with skills in operating Bobcats, bulldozers, backhoes and other heavy equipment. Anyone interested may e-mail volunteer@stbernardparishgovernment.com with a description of their skills, an e-mail address and telephone number. Responses will be monitored, and volunteers will be notified when they are needed, according to the web site.

In a related issue, Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez announced Sunday on the site that he has contracted with IED Inc. to begin cleaning up the parish. Heavy equipment operators and others with skills that might benefit the cleanup may call the company for information about jobs. St. Bernard Parish residents will get preferential consideration in hiring, Rodriguez said.

Fires not abating

Wednesday, 4:40 p.m.

The New Orleans Fire Department reported they had fought 15 fires in the city on Wednesday, three that were accessible only by helicopter. There were 111 gas leaks reported in the city. Since Hurricane Katrina, the fire department had fought 57 major fires in the city. Hundreds of firefighters from Illinois and New York city have arrived in New Orleans to help fight the blazes.

In the air, a whole different scene

4:25 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

Low-flying aircraft elicited screams of protest in New Orleans
area neighborhoods before Hurricane Katrina arrived, but the roar of helicopter rotor blades is a welcome sound these days.

And there is a lot of roaring going on.

The number of aircraft taking off and landing at Louis Armstrong
International Airport in Kenner jumped from about 700 per day before Katrina to 3,800 per day during the peak of the Katrina rescue operations, according to U.S. Transportation Department spokeswoman Laura Brown.

During normal times, most aircraft leave the New Orleans area quickly on specified routes designed to minimize noise over neighborhoods.
In the past few days, however, squadrons of helicopters have crowded the skies at low altitudes to rescue storm victims and dump water on building fires.

These craft operate below the controlled airspace that commercial airliners fly. The helicopters are flying under visual flight rules, in which pilots watch out for each other, until they get close to the airport, Brown said.

In the control tower at Armstrong, air traffic controllers and
technicians worked long shifts just after Katrina passed to clear the runways and help bring in the first "mercy flights" by several airlines, which brought in supplies and took out evacuees.

Within 24 hours of the storm, a Federal Aviation Administration truck loaded with radar and telecommunications gear rolled west from Jacksonville, Fla., stopping at airports along the Gulf Coast to get their radar and communications systems back online. At Armstrong, the technicians placed a radio repeater atop the 220-foot-tall control tower. The repeater replaced many that were lost in the storm.

"Not did it enable our people to talk with each other, but it helped
police and firefighers communicate in 37-mile radius of the tower," Brown said.

By Sept. 1, three days after Katrina passed, the airport's primary radar site near Slidell was back on line. With the help of E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System military aircraft, it began steering the fleet of rescue aircraft into Armstrong.

Controllers and technicians have been flocking to Armstrong from other
airports, including the flooded Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. Many of them are alumni of the New Orleans tower, or TRACON, which handles flights within an 80-mile radius of New Orleans.

And in a stroke of good fortune, the airport's east-west runway, which had been under reconstruction for months, was completed and certified by the FAA on Aug. 26, three days before Katrina arrived.

"We're just thankful that we were able to finish the runway before the
storm hit," Aviation Director Roy Williams said.

The runway wasn’t due to be finished until November, but the contractor, Boh Brothers Construction Co. was given incentives to finish early.

"The rescue operation would have been severely hampered had that runway
been half-complete," Williams said.

In all, 23,213 people were airlifted from Armstrong between Sept. 1 and Wednesday.

Barbara Bush: Evacuation "working very well" for hurricane victims

Printed in Editor and Publisher Monday

NEW YORK -- Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them."

The former First Lady's remarks were aired this evening on American Public Media's "Marketplace" program.

She was part of a group in Houston today at the Astrodome that included her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who were chosen by her son,
the current president, to head fund-raising efforts for the recovery. Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama were also present.

In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to

Then she added: "What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Game wardens to the rescue

By Bob Marshall
Outdoors editor

Hurricane Katrina was still hitting southeast Louisiana with 50-mph farewell punches on the morning of Aug. 29 when a convoy of some 70 vehicles hauling boats and game wardens from the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries building in Baton Rouge had managed to snake through New Orleans along Tchoupitoulas Street then through the French Quarter to the St. Claude Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal.

That’s when Maj. Sandy Dares knew he and his game wardens were entering a rescue mission that might dwarf anything he’d seen in 20-odd years of hurricane relief work.

“When we got to the top of the bridge and looked across, everything below there – the lower 9th (Ward) toward St. Bernard Parish - was just one big lake,” Dares said. “There were people sitting on their roofs yelling for help. We could hear others hammering on their roofs from inside their attics. It was just a sight I‘ll never forget.

“We immediately started launching our boats and rescuing the living.”

It was just the start. Within 24 hours the fish and wildlife agency would have more than 200 boats in the water, and within six days would have rescued an estimated 20,000 residents of the metro area, agency officials said.

As the nation is consumed in a heated, often bitter debate over the speed of federal response to the disaster, a look at the actions of the state’s fish and wildlife agency before and after the storm reveals a picture of efficiency that may have saved tens of thousands of lives. Dares and other agency veterans, while heaping praise on the efforts of their staff, are not surprised.

“We have the training, we have the assets, and we have the dedicated employees,” Dares says. “No one expected anything like this; no one has ever seen anything like this, on such a huge scale.

“But, really, this is something we practice for, and a drill we go through several times every year. When a storm comes, our people aren’t asked to come to work, they are required to.”

The DWF, in fact, is the state’s designated initial responder, with a seat at the state’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. The steps it took in the days before and after the storm followed a well-rehearsed script. According to Dares and DWF Secretary Dwight Landreneau, the agency’s participation in the Hurricane Katrina story proceeded on the following schedule:

Friday, Aug. 26. – As Katrina reaches the Gulf after passing over Florida, the state opens its Emergency Operations Center, and all DWF enforcement agents are notified that the agency’s hurricane plan is now operational. Agents and other personnel in coastal parishes must begin moving their boats and other emergency equipment north, many to Baton Rouge. Simultaneously, agents in northern parishes
begin moving their equipment and boats south to Baton Rouge.

“We’re staging our equipment to be ready to respond once we know where landfall is likely to be,” Landreneau explained.

Saturday – By now the storm has grown and presents a serious threat to Louisiana with landfall predicted for Sunday afternoon or night. “Basically, we’re now telling everyone they have to get out of low-lying areas, and all the gear has to be moved here, or in staging areas where we can get to it immediately after the storm,” Dares said. “We have a lot of agents in Baton Rouge now. Many are staying with other employees, but some personnel are staying in our building.”

Sunday – Agency teams continue to arrive in Baton Rouge, prepare equipment and supplies for the post-storm efforts. They use weather reports to chart the storm’s path. “We’re just waiting to go once we think it’s safe enough to stay on the road,” Landreneau said.

Monday – That moment comes around noon Monday. “We left for New Orleans on I-10 with 70 boats and support people,” Dares said. “There were (Department of Transportation) people ahead of us to check all the bridges to make sure the roads were safe. They were also clearing debris.”

Shortly after the convoy left, the agency notified the rest of its 850 employees to be on standby. All other boat operators – whether game wardens or biologists – were reporting to add to the relief effort. Office personnel were used in support capacities working on sending supplies south. An initial staging and communications center was established at the Tangers Outlet Mall near Gonzales. Later that was moved to Elmwood Shopping Center in Jefferson.

By early afternoon the first convoy had rolled through New Orleans, largely on streets with very little flood waters, Dares said. Even the Superdome area was relatively dry, he said. But when his group reached the St. Claude Avenue bridge, the severity of the storm began to sink in.

For the next two days Dares and his fellow game wardens worked without relief, and almost without pause. “There were so many people waiting for help, we didn’t have time to stop,” he said. “It was just constant work. We’d load a boat with people, run to the nearest high ground or road, unload them, and go back out.”

By then the 17th Street Canal levee had broken, and large portions of the city that had been dry began flooding, increasing the urgency of the work. Also by then, the lack of follow-up support began to make itself felt.

“All these poor people who had just been through hell and barely escaped with their lives were now sitting on the interstate or at the Superdome or at the Convention Center in 95 degree heat, no water, no food, no medicine. It was awful. It was the worst kind of human suffering you could imagine.

“And the frustrating thing was we couldn’t do anything about it. We felt some anger, some frustration, but we still had a job to do. Our job wasn’t secondary support. We still had people on roofs, inside attics, in trees. We emptied hospitals and severe care facilities. And they all went to roads to wait for help. And every hour conditions were getting even more dire.”

The nights were the worst, and the most surreal, agents said. By now the water in the city had become a toxic gumbo of human waste, decomposing bodies and hazardous chemicals. Looting had spun out of control in certain parts of the city, and the echo of gunshots in the night had prompted agents to don body armor and begin carrying shotguns. The agency’s communication system, like most others, was inoperable, and agents often found themselves in the dark, following the cries for help through a city that now was illuminated by the hellish glow from fires.

But the game wardens worked on.

“I’m not sure if it’s the adrenalin, or the training or what, but you just keep working and working,” Dares said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the people in this agency.

“But, by no means, was this a solo effort. We were not the only agency out there. This was an incredible combined effort from state, local, federal – and volunteers, volunteers from everywhere. Fishermen, crabbers, everyone with a boat.”

Many of the volunteers were game wardens from about 20 other states, Dares said. They came from as close as Texas, and as far away as Canada.

“The great thing about game wardens is that they’re totally self-contained,” Dares said. “They show up with equipment, fuel, food, water. They know how to rough it. Some people volunteer, and then you have to take care of them. Not game wardens. You just point them in a direction, and say go.”

A week later, the agency’s rescue work was largely done, with an estimated 20,000 to 22,000 people removed form the flood. The agency was now turning to begin filling its primary role: protecting fish and wildlife.

“Human life always comes first,” said Landreneau. “We’re just beginning to have meetings to map a strategy for assessing the impact on our natural resources form this storm.

“We’ve got a plan for that, too.”

St. Bernard contact

St. Bernard state Rep. Nita Hutter said it looks like it will be a minimum of three weeks before any St. Bernard residents can return to the parish.
She said communication in St. Bernard is "almost non-existent'' and local and state officials are working to keep residents updated on the situation in the parish.
Law enforcement officials are on the job and the parish is
secure, said Hutter, who is in flood-ravaged St. Bernard.
Animal rescue groups are picking up animals and will relocate
them out of the parish. Further information will be forthcoming as to
their location.
Those wishing to contact Hutter can reach her by e-mail. The
address is larep104@legis.state.la.us.

For Jeff residents, a place to dump spoiled food, storm debris

2:55 p.m.

With no date scheduled to resume garbage collection in Jefferson Parish, returning residents are left in a quandry: What to do with spoiled food from the power-less refrigerator and, in some cases, with debris from Hurricane Katrina.

Parish officials said residents have several options:

The parish landfill at 5800 U.S. 90 West in Waggaman is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Only Jefferson Parish residents are allowed to dump there; proof of residency is required. There is no charge for them to dump household garbage or storm debris. Businesses and contractors will be charged $28 per ton until further notice.

Also, Jefferson Parish residents may take food waste -- nothing else -- to these locations:

Lakeside Shopping Center, Metairie
Clearview Mall, Metairie
Elmwood Center, Elmwood
The Esplanade mall, Kenner

Belle Promenade mall, Marrero
Oakwood Mall, Gretna

Parish officials asked residents to separate household garbage and from storm debris into seven categories:

-- Regular household garbage in garbage cans or heavy duty trash bags.
-- Clean wood and tree debris
-- Roofing material
-- Carpeting, furniture, etc.
-- Metal debris
-- Appliances such as stoves, air conditioners, and refrigerators
-- Household hazardous wastes such as pesticides, paints, solvents, and auto fluids.

Lighting up the north shore

2:15 p.m.

Cleco said this morning that it has restored power to 27 percent of its customers in St. Tammany and Washington parishes. Here is a breakdown provided by the company:

80,800 -- total customers
58,710 -- total without power in both parishes
22,090 -- total restored
27% -- percent restored

800 -- total customers in parish
166 -- restored in Washington Parish
634 -- without power in Washington Parish
21% -- percent restored

80,000 --total customers in parish
21,924 -- restored in St. Tammany Parish
58,076 -- without power in St. Tammany Parish
27% -- percent restored

In Algiers, citizen sentries

2:05 p.m.

By Susan Langenhennig
West Bank bureau

Just after dusk on Tuesday night, with the rumble of helicopters and airplanes still overhead, Gareth Stubbs took his spot in a rocking chair on the balcony of an Algiers Point house, a shotgun, bottle of bug spray and a can of Pringles at his feet.

It was night No. 9 of his vigil, the balcony turned into a makeshift watch tower, with five borrowed shotguns, a pistol, a flare gun, an old AK-47 and loads of ammunition strategically placed next to the blankets and pillows where Stubbs, Vinnie Pervel and Gregg Harris have slept every night since Hurricane Katrina.

In the bedroom off the balcony, its lace curtains blowing through the open windows, Pervel’s 74-year-old mother pulled her rosary from her pocket, a shotgun resting near the antique cherry wood bed and the .38 pistol her son gave her nearby. “Oh dear, what would Father John think,” Jennie Pervel laughed as she fingered the beads.

Vinnie Pervel and Harris, who own the 1871 Victorian house on Pelican Street, rigged a car battery to two floodlights and aimed them into the deserted road below. With the floodlights off, the home’s gas lanterns formed golden hallows on the porch, the only illumination other than the periodic sweep of searchlights from the military helicopters buzzing overhead.

It’s been a terrifying nine days for the four, scrambling for food, water and gasoline for their generator and an arsenal of weapons they feared they would need if complete lawlessness broke out in the historic neighborhood of renovated 19th century homes. The neighborhood having survived the storm without flood damage, Pervel and Harris, both former presidents of the Algiers Point Association, worried that looters and others seeking high ground would invade the community.

Yet they have not had to fire a shot.

And that’s a good thing for them. They were not sure if any of the borrowed weapons even worked.

But their fears were based on actual experiences. The day after the hurricane, Pervel was carjacked as he tried to check on his other properties in the neighborhood. Two guys clubbed him on the head with a sledgehammer, grabbed his keys and stole his van, which he had filled with hurricane supplies, a full tank of fuel and his credit cards.

The next afternoon, as Pervel and his mother, Harris and Stubbs stood on their porch, a gunfight between armed neighbors and “looters” erupted on the corner of Pelican and Valette streets, half a block away. The neighbors, whom Pervel would not identify, shot two of the men. “We screamed to Mrs. P., ‘Hit the deck,’ and she did,” Harris said.

“We just couldn’t comprehend it, a gun battle in front of your house,” said Stubbs, a native of Wales, who lives across the street from Pervel and Harris but has stayed since the storm with them at their “Fort Pelican.” You would walk outside, and your knees were wobbly and your lips would go dry.”

After the violence, the men decided they needed protection. Other residents who had stayed during the storm were armed and taking turns checking on neighbors, some of them elderly, who remained in their houses. It was decided that everyone would keep an eye on his block, sharing essential supplies. Pervel, Harris and Stubbs joined them, keeping watch on Pelican and nearby streets.

“There’s about 20 or 30 guys in addition to us. We know all of them and where they are,” Harris said. “People armed themselves so quickly, rallying together, I think it’s why the neighborhood survived.”

But Pervel, Harris and Stubbs had a problem. They were without weapons other than a 40-year-old shotgun with no shells. Pervel, who had stayed in contact with many evacuated neighbors through the NOLA.com web site and by his still-working telephone, got permission from residents to retrieve their guns and supplies from nearby houses.

“I never thought I’d be going into my neighbor’s house and taking their guns. We wrote down what gun came from what house so we can return them when they get back,” he said.

One neighbor used his dog, T-Bone, as a lookout, chaining him at night to a fire hydrant on a corner. The dog barked if anyone approached, Stubbs said.

The first few nights after the hurricane, Stubbs said they heard gunfire popping all around and saw people walking with flashlights through the streets. A tree had fallen at their corner, spilling a recycling bin full of cans. At the sound of a can rustling, the balcony watch group would flip the switch to the car battery, flooding the street in light, blinding whoever was below.

“We angled the lights so they wouldn’t see us on the balcony,” said Stubbs, rocking in the chair, smoking a cigarette.

With the area dry and mostly evacuated, they saw only one New Orleans police officer in the first four days after the storm. “We kept hearing on the radio, ‘The military is coming, the military is coming, troops on the ground,’ and we kept thinking, ‘Where are they?’” Stubbs said. “We really felt alone.”

During the day, Pervel’s phone rang constantly, with residents calling from Texas, Mississippi, Florida, asking him to check on their homes, feed their pets. The men also made daily visits to deliver food and water to elderly neighbors. “I asked this one 84-year-old lady if she’d eaten, and she told me all she had was a can of Vienna sausages,” Harris said. “I wanted to cry when I heard that.”

By Tuesday, they’d checked on human beings as well scores of cats and dogs, a parrot, pet rats, two mice and a guinea pig.

“There are several guys in the neighborhood. They had this little task force. They knew everyone who stayed and where we were,” said a resident who would only give her first name, Betty. “If it hadn’t been to all those guys, making a statement to the looters, I don’t know what would have happened.”

“Our great fear was fire. If one started, it would have spread so quickly throughout the neighborhood,” she said. On Tuesday, she made rounds through the neighborhood, feeding cats and dogs left stranded on the streets.

By Sunday night, tension in the neighborhood had started to release, Harris and Stubbs said, as more and more military vehicles were spotted patrolling the streets. “We really all breathed for the first time when we saw an armored personnel carrier come through,” Harris said.

On Tuesday night, two Humvees crept down the road, flashing their lights at the balcony as Pervel lay down on his blanket, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. With the military on patrol, maybe the balcony watch group could finally get some sleep.

(Susan Langenhennig may be reached at suzgranger@hotmail.com)

Grand Isle battered, but still there

By Meghan Gordon
Staff writer

Located at the tip of Louisiana’s coast, Grand Isle was among the first pieces of land to feel the power of Katrina’s tidal surge, which battered the coastal community and wiped away many structures. Yet more than a week later, it remains virtually untouched by restoration efforts.

The one bridge onto the state’s only inhabited barrier island was weakened by the storm. Though residents have driven their cars and
four-wheelers over it to tally their losses, state Department of
Transportation engineers deemed it unsafe for vehicles weighing more than 10 to 12 tons.

The delay in getting heavy equipment and supplies to the island has clearly gotten to Mayor David J. Camardelle, who rattled
of an account of his weeklong journey through the bureaucracy of
transportation departments, power crews and contractors as he gave a tour to U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, and a Federal Emergency Management Administration representative on Tuesday.

“I could have had equipment in here the day after the storm, but this
bridge is holding us up,” Camardelle said. “We could do a lot. Eighty percent of my work can’t get done without this bridge.”

The mayor said: "You get a few Cajun guys in here and we could have fixed this in two days."

Camardelle said he’s worked tirelessly to line up contractors, barges
and equipment, but one hitch or another foiled each of the plans. He said state Transportation Secretary Johnny Bradbury told him to expect a five-week wait for state crews to arrive to help. His remaining hope is that the Louisiana National Guard can provide assistance.

Without securing the bridge, town officials can’t haul in water needed
by the seven islanders who rode out the storm there and many of the other 1,200 residents who have returned to live primitively without gas, water or electricity. He also had to turn away tractor-trailers that offered to haul off debris.

The town’s water pipeline snapped along with the bridge. Fire trucks
made several trips across the fragile causeway Monday to deliver 30,000
gallons of water, and town officials ordered another 450,000 gallons to be delivered by barge Wednesday morning.

“These people could live. You can burn a Coleman lantern. I seen my
mother do that in ’65, but you can’t live without water,” Camardelle said, referring to the year Hurricane Betsy slammed into the island from the opposite side.

Then there’s the lack of communication. Town officials started making
twice-daily drives 40 miles up the bayou when their cell phones and
satellite phones stopped working.

“It was eating us up on the fuel,” he said. “This is killing me.”

Also frustrated by the storm’s aftermath were Butch and Susan Gaspard,
who cleaned what they could around their shattered businesses Tuesday.
Their marina and Sun Dollar Motel, both packed during the island’s tourist season and the annual Tarpon Rodeo, were ripped up and flooded on the first floor. Butch Gaspard estimated his losses at more than $700,000 – far more than what he had insured.

“We didn’t know where to start cleaning up,” he said, surrounded by
shattered wood, metal and other debris. “We’ve got to get back in
business – that’s all we know.”

The mayor and Melancon said they don't believe any significant land mass was lost on the island.

The tidal surge came from the bay side, leaving much of the debris piled up on the beach that faces the gulf. The narrow spots on each end of the island sustained the most damage, because they had no trees to lessen the blow of the tidal surge.

Susan Gaspard, 51, said she doesn’t want her two grandchildren to see
the storm’s damage just yet. She enrolled them in Cut Off schools to return to them some sort of order.

“We always got warned that we would have a big storm, but I never
actually thought I’d see Grand Isle like this,” she said. “As of a week ago, our life that we had has been totally rerouted and we’re trying to live a different life right now.”

Melancon, who spent the day on the island trying to brainstorm a
quicker fix for the bridge, put the island’s severe damage in context.

“I was expecting nothing left, considering the strength of the storm,”
he said. “If that eye had been 5, 10 miles over to the west, I don’t think you’d have anything left standing. But even if it was a total
wipeout, you’re going to find the kind of people that will come right back here. They’re just ready to get in. They need the wherewithal and the financial ability to do it.”

Camardelle said of the seven people he couldn't
persuade to evacuate, a few made their way during the storm to Town Hall. When he made it back to the island two days later, all the food stockpiled for them was gone. At least two people climbed into trees during the worst of the tidal surge, which reached up to 9 feet in some places.

Melancon’s trip to the island on Tuesday came a day after he and the state’s Congressional delegation met briefly with President Bush during his visit to Baton Rouge. Melancon said the group tried to make clear to the president how crucial efforts to restore the disappearing coastline are for southeastern Louisiana. He said one of his colleagues pointed out that Katrina’s tidal surge would likely have been far less destructive had the state been protected by a healthier coast.

“He said, ‘Do you understand what we’ve been trying to tell the people
in Washington about coastal preservation?’” Melancon said. “Whether we
made our
point or not, I don’t know, but he got a briefing on it.”

(Reporter Meghan Gordon can be reached at meghangordon@hotmail.com)

Body collection starts in St. Bernard

As part of the system to collect and identify the bodies of people who
died in Hurricane Katrina, a body-collection point has been established
in St. Bernard Parish, according to the state Department of Health and

There is no estimate yet of the number of people there who died as a
result of the storm, the department said.

Some N.O. area water said safe

Wednesday, 10:40 a.m.

Some people in five parishes surrounding New Orleans no longer have to disinfect their water because the bacteria level is no longer unsafe, the state
health department announced today.

By parish, the safe water systems are:

-- Jefferson: Westwego Waterworks

-- Orleans: Algiers Water Works

-- St. Charles: Water Districts Nos. 1 and 2

-- St. James: Water Distericts Nos. 1 and 2

-- St. John the Baptist: Water Districts Nos. 1 and 2, Pleasure Bend
Water Supply

-- St. Tammany: Water District No. 2; Briarwood Terrace; municipal
supplies for Abita Springs, Covington, Sun and Pearl River

-- Washington: Bogalusa, Franklinton

Disinfecting orders remain in effect for all other local water systems,
according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals. More
information is available at www.dhhemergencynews.com.

The best way to purify water, health officials say, is by letting it
boil for a minute after it is brought to a rolling boil. To eliminate the
flat taste, the container can be shaken, or the water can be poured
from one vessel to another.

If people cannot boil water, the department said they can disinfect
their water by using unscented liquid chlorine bleach or tincture of

With bleach, one-eighth of a teaspoon should be used for a gallon of
water if it is clear. If the waer is cloudy, twice that amount --
one-fourth of a teaspoon -- should be added.

Five drops of iodine are recommended for a gallon of clear water. If
the water is cloudy, twice that amount -- 10 drops -- should be poured

LSU med center schools move to B.R.

Wednesday, 9:15 a.m.

From temporary headquarters at the LSU System Office in Baton Rouge,
LSU Health Sciences Center at New Orleans is finalizing plans to resume
classes in its health professions schools.

LSU officials are finalizing housing arrangements for faculty and students. Classes in both the schools of medicine and dentistry (the
only dental school in Louisiana) are scheduled to begin at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and other locations in the Baton Rouge area on Monday, Sept. 26.

The School of Graduate Studies is working to restart its Interdisciplinary and
Biostatistics programs in mid-September once necessary faculty have arrived in Baton Rouge. The schools of Allied Health Professions, Nursing, and Public Health are developing plans as well.

For more information, visit the LSUHSC web site at www.lsuhsc.edu or
call (225) 334-2283.

Through its six health professions schools, LSU Health Sciences Center
at New Orleans has educated the vast majority of Louisiana’s health
professions workforce.

Astrodome will soon be empty

Wednesday, 8:15 a.m.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckles, coordinating the relief effort at the Astrodome, said Wednesday morning he expects the facility to be emptied in a couple of weeks.

"This is a shelter, not a home," he said. He said officials have been moving about 1,500 a day to permanent housing.

Eckles and other Houston officials said the city can handle the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 residents from Louisiana who evacuated from Katrina.

"We're a big city - about 5 million - and that's about the size of the entire state of Louisiana," he said. "We'll deal with it if they stay."

Eckles said officials continue the work of finding family members who have been separated from their loved ones, saying hundreds have already been reunited so far.

He also said the business community in Houston and throughout Texas has embraced the effort to help out in the aftermath of Katrina, working to provide job placement opportunities.

"They come here broken," he said of the flow of displaced residents, which includes 15,000 at the Astrodome. "Our community has embraced these folks."

Smokers sticking together

Wednesday 10:10 .m.

A member of the National Guard, cigarette hanging from his lips, confessed that he had taken the cartons of cigarettes he spied in the jetisoned luggage of fleeing Hyatt Hotel guests last week.

Not for himself, but to toss into the crowd of Superbowl refugees. Add that to the random acts of kindness file.

Sen. Clinton defends call for independent commission

Wednesday, 7:45 a.m.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, dismissed any speculation Tuesday that her call for an independent commission to investigate the response to Hurricane Katrina was politically motivated.

Clinton also said she believes the bulk of the investigation should be on the federal level because of the presidential declaration signed two days before Katrina struck.

That declaration put the federal government in the lead to coordinate the response to the disaster.

"I'm primarily interested why the federal government was not more ready, not more able, not more willing" to handle the response to the disaster, she said.

She said an independent commission, one similar to the body organized after 9/11, is crucial because such a commission can include independent experts with different types of expertise to analyze what did and what should have happened in response to the storm.

Clinton also has called for FEMA to be removed from part of the Department of Homeland Security. She said she believes FEMA has slipped over the years because of budget cuts, lost personnel and people in charge who do not have the right kind of experience and expertise.

"Pick one, pick them all," she said. "They added up."