Guardsman recounts storm's fury and rescues at Jackson Barracks

Katrina was at its fiercest when the Industrial Canal levee gave way, spilling the water into the 9th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. And at the nearby Jackson Barracks, headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard and where the hurricane response was to be controlled, the water came up fast.

Master Sgt. Stephen Cockerham, of Baton Rouge, a member of the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 236th Combat Communications Squadron, watched the water rise just outside the barracks’ perimeter brick wall from the three-story headquarters building.

“It basically didn’t stop until it got six feet inside the building, and the building was is three feet off the ground,” Cockerham said. “I’d say within 15 minutes, it was six feet deep inside the building.”
The winds were too strong to flee, he said, and he did not know at the time that the levee gave way. “All I know is it came up damned fast,” he said. “I’d say we were right in the midst of the strongest winds when the levee broke.”

Cockerham and other Guardsmen scurried to get their food, water and other gear to an upper floor.

Then power was lost, and lost again, when natural gas used to run backup generators was cut off during the storm, he said.

Cockerham and another guardsman waded into a parking bay in the building to retrieve batteries from trucks, enabling them to restore radio communications, he said. Other communications gear, which was stored in the back of a military truck, floated away.

As the worst of Katrina passed, Cockerham attempted to retrieve the floating radio gear. But he was diverted when he and other Guardsmen ventured out in boats in Jackson Barracks to gather up their colleagues and to bring them to the headquarters building, he said. In all, about 400 Guardsmen rode out the hurricane at the barracks.

Vehicles were submerged so deeply that the boats passed over them, and
in some cases, the boat motor propellers dug into their roofs. The propeller on Cockerham’s boat cut through the roof of one car and he watched as the air rushed out of the hole and the water rushed in.

Cockerham saw Guardsmen, with whom he lost radio contact earlier, working their way along a chain link fence. He was unsure whether they rode out the hurricane clinging to the fence.

The force of the rushing flood water was so powerful that sections of brick wall that surround most of Jackson Barracks were toppled.

Once the Guardsmen were brought to higher floors in the headquarters building, the troops were told they could venture out into the 9th Ward to help the residents there.

Cockerham and another Guardsman, whose name he does not know, spotted a man just across Delery Street standing on his roof wearing only his underwear. The man could speak only broken English, but it was clear that people were trapped inside the house.

The water had risen as high as the facia boards, and the roof’s pitch was slight, meaning there was not much attic space, he said. They could hear voices inside, and they grabbed anchors from the boat, he said.

“We basically just beat the roof to pieces to get through it,” Cockerham

Through the first hole, they found a closet. Through the second hole, they found people: Two children, about 3 and 5 years old, and three adults, Cockerham said. The younger child asked for water.

“It was pretty fulfilling,” Cockerham said.

By 9:30 p.m., Guard leaders decided to relocate the command staff to the Superdome, joining the estimated 10,000 New Orleaneans who sought refuge from the hurricane, Cockerham said.

“Once we lost power, that’s really when we ceased to function,” he said.
The rescued civilians and most of the Guardsmen were boated to the
Mississippi River levee, where Louisiana National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk
helicopter crews picked them up and flew them to the Superdome, he said.

Some Guardsmen were left behind to maintain security, he said.

Cockerham, now working at the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base in
Belle Chasse, said he is fortunate that his home in Baton Rouge was
untouched by Katrina. His colleagues did not share his fortune.

“You have to realize they watched everything they own be destroyed,”
Cockerham said, adding that younger guardsmen just starting out “know
they have nothing” but continued to work without complaining.

“I can’t imagine just starting out, getting your first house, and then
losing everything,” he said.

-- Paul Purpura

New Iberia volunteers care for evacuees

By Eva Jacob Barkoff
East Jefferson bureau

New Iberia – Since Aug. 30, Tony Migues hasn’t stopped. His days begin just before dawn and end late into the night.

“I guess I am working 16 hours every day,” Migues said. “But I want to
do it and the work has to be done.”

Migues is the superintendent for the New Iberia Recreation Department.
Retired after 25 years in the U.S. Army, Migues spends his time every day between two recreation centers being used as temporary shelters – the Cyr Gates Community Center and West End Community Center. Migues said when evacuees began to arrive almost two weeks ago, there were about 450-500 people living in the temporary shelters. Now, there are about 300 people.
“Some have found work and moved on and others have found family members
and have gone to live with them,” Migues said.

Working with dozens of local volunteers as well as members of the national chapter of the American Red Cross and the local Office of Emergency preparedness, Migues is who some call “the go to person.”

“Tony has really helped coordinate the efforts at both centers that are now being used as shelters,” said Virginia Shea, a native of New Iberia, a social worker who is also volunteering in the relief effort. “And there are also so other many local residents who are doing whatever they can to help.”

Louella Bergeron and Elaine Trimble are both members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in New Iberia. On Saturday, each gave their time to help in the supply room at the Cyr Gates Center, accepting donations as well as providing whatever supplies evacuees needed.

“If that hurricane had gone a little further west, it could have hit us,” Bergeron said. “The people of this area are so fortunate that giving some time to help those who have little or nothing is the least we could do.”

Standing in the middle of the donated items, all neatly organized on table after table in the supply room, Trimble said she “counts her blessings every day and prays for those displaced” because of Hurricane Katrina.

“I guess I am a missionary volunteer at heart,” Trimble said. “People need so much right now that I am happy to do whatever I can to help. And I don’t have to leave the country to help those in need – I can do what I can right here in my own backyard.”

Migues, a native of New Iberia, said neither of the recreation centers are designed to be shelters.

“But what were we suppose to do?” Migues asks. “We had to provide people with a place to stay, to give them a roof over their heads while they try and get their life in order.

“Here at Cyr, we have two showers and six restrooms. We have beds in one room, tables and chairs in another and a couple of televisions. The set up is about the same at the other center.

"And all the food and refreshments is being provided by the people of New Iberia. Not from FEMA or the Red Cross but from the local residents. Without the local residents helping, I do not know what these people would do for food.”

Migues said he and other city officials are working with local churches and civic groups through a newly formed program called “Adopt A Family.”

“We are trying to get volunteers to come into the centers and meet with families to assess what are their immediate needs,” Migues explained. “It will be a one on one situation with the volunteer trying to help whoever is displaced get whatever he or she needs whether it is an application for unemployment, specific medications or even a ride to apply for a job.”

Tired and a little worn out, Migues, the father of three children, fights back tears as he looks around the Cyr Center before heading to West End.

“Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I will think back to these last few days, to these people,” Migues said. “We all tend to take so much for granted. It is in times like this that we have to focus on what really is important and that is our family, our friends and our faith.

“What gets to me are the kids and I can’t help but wonder how this will affect them down the road. But right now though, my focus and all my energy are on the people who have been displaced and what they need us to do for them. That is what keeps me going day after day.”

E-mail Eva Jacob Barkoff at

Contamination little threat to humans, but could detroy lawns

By Mark Schleifstein
Staff writer

New test results released by the federal Environmental Protection Agency Sunday evening confirm that toxic chemicals contained in floodwaters in New Orleans and Metairie are in concentrations too small to be an immediate threat to humans.

But so much saltwater has entered the city that it could be very difficult to grow a lawn for a very long time, according to Wilma Subra, an independent chemist from New Iberia who often advises environmental groups.

The federal agency collected water samples from six locations on the east bank of Orleans and Jefferson parishes on Sept. 3, five days after Hurricane Katrina decimated the area.

As it reported last Wednesday, EPA found very high levels of lead in water sampled at the North Claiborne Avenue exit off Interstate 10 in New Orleans. The 846 parts per billion of lead far exceeds the agency’s 15 ppb standard for drinking water.

On Saturday, the agency announced it found as many as 2,400 colonies of E. coli bacteria in water samples in the city, far above EPA’s 200-colony limit for human contact. Presence of the bacteria is an indicator of human and animal waste in water, which pose a risk of illness or infection.

The chemical samples make it clear that the water has been contaminated with wastes washed out of several sewage treatment plants.

Several of the samples contain high levels of chemicals often associated with treatment plants, including magnesium, manganese, caffeine, aluminum and potassium.

At the Claiborne Avenue sample location where high levels of lead were found, the water also contained measurable amounts of chromium and copper and high levels of zinc and iron, which could indicate that wastes from a metal plating business were mixed in the water, Subra said. It also contained chemicals used as flocculants in sewage treatment plants to cause solids in wastewater to stick together.

That sample also contained 1.06 parts per billion of mercury, below EPA’s 2 ppb limit.

Several of the samples also contained small amounts of 2,4-D, atrazine and herbicides that may have come from yards or roadways, and small amounts of Endrin and Dieldrin, both long-banned pesticides.

Subra said that while the small amounts of toxic chemicals might pose no immediate risk, lengthy exposure could be a problem. And she said the test results could be an indicator that much higher amounts of some of the chemicals that don’t mix well with water could be found in the muddy remains when the floodwaters are pumped out of the city.

Homeowners, however, may find the effects of the brackish water from Lake Pontchartrain to be their biggest long-term problem. The test results show levels of sodium in New Orleans between 1.7 million parts per billion and 2.6 million parts per billion.

The lowest level, 337,000 parts per billion, was found at the intersection of Airline Highway and Causeway Boulevard.

EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have urged people to avoid contact with the floodwaters because of both the bacterial threat and the high levels of lead.

The lead levels are of concern if a child ingests large amounts of the contaminated water.

EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality are continuing to sample the floodwaters at various locations in the city, even as the water is being pumped out.

Recovery continues in Algiers

Recovery efforts continue at full throttle in Algiers, as crews restore power to more homes, workers clean debris from streets and the city eyes Monday to resume garbage collection, City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson said.

Spared from Hurricane Katrina's devastating floodwaters, Algiers is better off than other sections of the city, Clarkson said, adding that she expects residents to be able to return home within two weeks.

The bedroom community of abouty 60,000 residents will be exempt from Mayor Ray Nagin's mandatory evacuation orders, Clarksons said.

The area never lost drinkable water or sewerage services but did face power outages. Fallen trees and power lines that posed some fire risks. This week,
water pressure in Algiers returned to normal and most major roadways are clear of debris, Clarkson said.

Entergy crews have restored power to some areas, placing the highest priority on power grids that include housing for emergency and military officials,
police stations, nusing homes and stores that sell prescription drugs, Clarkson said. Some homes might be included in those grids.

In addition, the city will resume garbage pickup in Algiers on Monday and officials with the city's parks and parkways department will begin cleanup of smaller debris later in the week, said Clarkson, who encouraqed residents not to return to the area until all power has been restored.

Animal shelter reorganizing

By Sandra Barbier

Staff writer

The Lamar Dixon Expo Center, an emergency shelter for rescued pets from New Orleans and surrounding parishes, stopped accepting animals Saturday night and Sunday to give veterinarians, volunteers and workers time to "reorganize and sanitize," said Larry Hawkins, public information officer for the joint public and private team directing the animal rescue effort.

"We have over 300 horses and in excess of 1,500 companion animals," Hawkins said Sunday. "We reached the capacity of the facility…Today is sort of a stand-down day in terms of accepting animals," he said.

Until the situtation is improved, he said rescuers are putting food and water out for animals in the flooded and evacuated areas.

"Our teams are feeding and watering animals on site," until the privately owned expo center can resume accepting them, he said. Some rescuers are continuing to pick up animals, taking them to other facilities, he said.

Plans are to move some of the animals now residing at the expo center. They are treated by veterinarians, photographed and implanted with microchips for identification, he said.

"Then they can be moved out to other temporary shelters," some out of state, he said.

None had been moved by Sunday afternoon, Hawkins said, but he said they might be moved later Sunday or Monday. "It is a logistical processing issue," and he could not speculate on the timing, he said.

Meanwhile, food and water is being hauled to the New Orleans area for companion animals and livestock that are either lose or in flooded areas, he said.

Earlier this week, video shot by Dallas Morning News photographer David Leeson of a St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s deputy shooting a dog from the back of a moving vehicle prompted a flood of e-mails to officals and comments at forums about animals.

State Sen. Walter Boasso (R-Arabi check ) said he did not see the video, but he has received hundreds of e-mails about dog killings.

Boasso said rescue groups have been in the parish gathring stray dogs and cats.

"I don’t condone shooting animals. All I can tell you is when we went and got our shots Wednesday morning…doctors warned us about dogs, because some dogs."

St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens could not be reached Sunday, but earlier this week he said deputies had shot some dogs that were vicious.

Leeson said the dog in the video was friendly, and he intended to try to feed it just before it was shot.

"We did pull up on another dog they had shot and that dog was still alive and writhing on the ground," he said.

But Leeson said he endeavored to be fair in the report, including information from an officer explaining that there were aggressive dogs in many neighborhoods, and that he also nearly was attacked.

"There really are some dangerous dogs, some of them are starving. They’re basically freaked out," he said.

"I don’t think anybody expected a Category 5 storm that would turn New Orleans into a ghost town," Hawkins said. "I believe that more animals will have been rescued in response to this emergency than in response to any other natural disaster in American history."

Changes may ease B.R. traffic congestion

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – Traffic was dicey in Baton Rouge before Hurricane Katrina but with the “population explosion’’ of New Orleans area storm evacuees to the capital city, things have gotten worse. But help may be on the way to navigate the choked highways and streets, state official said Sunday.

As of Monday morning, the Department of Transportation and Development the East Baton Rouge Department of Public Works will try to make it a little easier to move vehicles and people – such as extending the time a traffic signal is green along major arteries, said DOTD spokesman Mark Lambert.

“If a light is green for one minute it will be green for two minutes,’’ he said.

He said traffic lights will be better synchronized, some signals may be removed and left-hand turns may be restricted on some major streets.

“Trips that normally take 10 minutes are now taking 30 to 45 minutes,’’ Lambert said because of the additional New Orleans area residents living in Baton Rouge shelters, in hotels or staying with friends.

“Our infrastructure could not adequately handle the pre-Katrina congestion, and now our road system is clearly being utilized beyond its capabilities,’’ said agency Secretary Johnny Bradberry.

Lambert said the state will also have additional Motorist Assistance Patrol units on Baton Rouge highways if cars break down and will have a tow truck along Interstate 12 in Baton Rouge.

In time for the Monday morning rush hour, the state also will put into service 20 additional portable message signs – courtesy of the state of Texas – informing drivers of traffic conditions and alternative routes.

State and parish traffic engineers are also considering making some heavily-traveled four-lane arteries, like Florida Street in Baton Rouge, three lanes headed into Baton Rouge during the morning rush hour and three lanes outbound from the city during the afternoon rush hour.

Lambert said engineers are doing traffic counts of several primary streets to determine if the reverse-flow is needed. He said by Friday, a decision should be made – and re-striping done-- of Florida Street.

“Florida (Street) looks like the most likely candidate,’’ Lambert said.

60 percent of Cleco customers back online

Katrina restoration update
6 p.m.

Total Outages
80,800 -- total customers
32,021 -- total without power in both parishes
48,779 -- total restored
60% -- percent restored

Washington Parish
800 -- total customers in parish
567 -- restored in Washington Parish
233 -- without power in Washington Parish
71% -- percent restored

St. Tammany Parish
80,000 -- total customers in parish
48,336 -- restored in St. Tammany Parish
31,664 -- without power in St. Tammany Parish
60% -- percent restored

If a customer’s home has sustained damage that may pose a danger if power is restored, Cleco may not energize service to the home until repairs are made by a licensed electrician. Crews will leave a door hanger indicating repairs need to be made. Once repairs are made, the electrician will call the appropriate governing authority in the area for instructions regarding permits and inspections. Cleco will reconnect the service as soon as possible after the customer gets any required permits and inspections.

There is also a possibility that a customer could have damage to their individual meter center that Cleco is not aware of. If a customer returns home and doesn't find any damage, he or she should call Cleco at 1-800-622-6537 and report an outage. A Cleco employee will come out and check the service.

Many residents have begun clearing debris from their homes and yards. Cleco asks residents not to pile debris underneath the power lines or on top of electrical equipment, as it will likely slow the power restoration process.

Mosquito spraying to begin over New Orleans Monday

Sunday, 6:01 p.m.

By Robert Travis Scott
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- Aerial insecticide spraying will begin over New Orleans Monday afternoon to combat a profusion of mosquitoes and flies liable to carry the west Nile virus and other diseases, federal health officials said Sunday.

A C-130 aircraft, flown by a reserve unit of the U.S. Air Force, will spray naled, also known by the trade name Dibrom, an insecticide that kills adult insects, including mosquitoes, flies and bees, according to officials with the U.S. Public Health Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The federally assisted spraying will cover the three-state Gulf Coast area affected by Hurricane Katrina and will continue for at least six weeks, starting on the east bank of Orleans Parish and moving to other surrounding parishes. Officials will then decide whether the previous state and local spraying programs will take over.

Naled is commonly sprayed by airplanes and trucks to kill mosquitos in Louisiana. It poses a "small, small potential risk" for humans who come in contact with the chemical, said Rear Adm. Craig Vanderwagen, Emergency Response Team commander for the U.S. Public Health Service, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

If administered properly, naled "can be used to kill mosquitoes without posing unreasonable risks to human health or the environment," according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

About 1 ounce per acre will kill flies and ½ ounce per acre will kill mosquitoes, Vanderwagan said. Naled degrades rapidly in the environment and is rarely harmful to birds, mammals and fish, according to EPA.

Flies and mosquitoes are plaguing the area, and officials are monitoring for outbreaks of illness resulting from insects infected with west Nile, dengue and other diseases.

Emergency workers cheer arrival of cruise ships

Sunday, 5:46 p.m.

Evacuees in Houston and Mobile turned down the chance to board one of Carnival cruise lines luxury ships, but rescue and emergency workers based in New Orleans are welcoming the arrival of the Ecstasy to the port of New Orleans.

"They know we are coming and we're expecting to quickly fill up all the rooms aboard the ship," said James McIntyre, a FEMA spokesperson. "Without a doubt the facilities will be able to be put to use in New Orleans."

Last week, FEMA officials struck a $192 million agreement with Carnival to provide shelter on three of their ships for a period of six months. The government promised to pay the cruise ship company, regardless of whether or not they were able to fully occupy them.

The company canceled some 100,000 booked voyages in order to meet the agreement to board evacuees. But as it turns out, even with the promise of posh quarters, three meals a day and vacation-like facilities not one evacuee decided to board the Sensation or Ecstasy in Galveston.

Another ship, Holiday, was slated to take in evacuees in Mobile, but many had already made housing arrangements with the help of Alabama's state and local agencies. Many of the evacuees also had leads on jobs and didn't want to relocate again.

"There were many concerns for the evacuees, including a large number of people that feared being on water and being separated from their families again," said McIntyre, who explained that the ships quarters were initially offered to those over the age of 60, single parents with children under 12 and couples with children under 12.

What officials from the Red Cross and teams of mental health professionals, who helped screen potential cruise ship boarders, found was a general unwillingness to leave the Astrodome where many large families were reunited following their rescue.

"This was one of the quickest ways to house a large number of people and the resources were available to us," McIntyre said. "And now that we know evacuees are finding stability, we want to offer this option to officials in Louisiana and Mississippi who've lost their homes, too, but continue the rescue efforts and cleanup in the hardest-hit regions."

By 5 p.m. Sunday evening, McIntyre expected to have at least one ship docked at the Port of New Orleans and ready to take in workers. Eventually, FEMA would like to have more ships in and around the Gulfport area, but McIntyre said some damaged suffered during Hurricane Katrina will have to first be cleared.

"As the infrastructure of the piers and docking areas continue to be cleared, we will get more ships into place to provide some relief to these workers," McIntyre said. "It's our hope that as that happens more ships can be opened up to the large number teams working to throughout the affected areas."

Gov't offices reopen in St. Tammany

The St. Tammany Parish permits department will reopen Monday, officials said. The department is also working to set up field offices around the parish. The locations will be announced soon, officials said.

The parish courthouse in Covington is expected to reopen for business on a limited basis Monday.

Walter Reed, district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes,
said his Slidell office in the Towers Building will remain closed until
further notice, and its operations will be moved to the Covington
office which is up and running in the parish courthouse. Reed said his
Franklinton office in Washington Parish will reopen on Monday. The Bogalusa
satellite office has reopened, Reed said.

School Board maintenance, custodial and administratrive employees are
scheduled to return to work Monday as officials continue to target Oct.
3 as the date to reopen schools.

911 back up in St. Tammany

St. Tammany Parish's 911 telephone system is back on line and can be called for emergencies, parish officials said. For storm-related information in the parish, residents should continue to call 898-2323.

Corps giving out roof covers

The Army Corps of Engineers is providing materials to cover holes in
roofs damaged by Katrina. In St. Tammany, residents can sign up to get
the materials at St. Margaret Mary Church on Robert Road in Slidell and
Church of the King north of Mandeville off Louisiana 59, north of
Interstate 12.

All St. Tammany municipal water systems pass health inspections

St. Tammany Parish officials reported that the water systems in all
eight parish municipalities have passed state health inspections, and
customers on those systems do not have to boil water to drink it. Parish
Water District No. 2 east of Covington, Lee Road Water Corp. north of
Covington and Resolve Systems, which supplies water to Nature's Way and
Whisperwood subdivisions near Slidell, also have passed state tests,
officials said. They warned that water from any other source in St.
Tammany should be boiled before it is consumed.

Storm death toll reaches 197 in Louisiana

The confirmed death toll from Hurricane Katrina increased to 197 Sunday, state health department officials said late Sunday.

Although body-recovery operations were still under way, the death toll represents the number of bodies that have been counted where the deaths were a result of Katrina’s winds, rains or floodwaters, or those who died as a result of medical equipment that became inoperable during the hurricane.

State officials said that 161 bodies were being stored at a mobile morgue site in St. Gabriel about 20 miles south of Baton Rouge; three were in the St. Charles Parish morgue, 25 were in the Jefferson Parish morgue, five were in the St. Tammany Parish morgue and three were in the Iberia Parish morgue.

Searching for boarded pets

Sunday, 4:30 p.m.

Owners of pets boarded at some New Orleans area veterinary clinics and shelters can see if their clinic was one that evacuated pets to the emergency animal shelter at the John M. Parker Coliseum at Highland Road and South Stadium Drive on the LSU campus by going to the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine Web site at

The clinics currently on the list are Belle Chasse Animal Hospital, Causeway Animal Hospital (some pets), Metairie Small Animal Hospital, St. Tammany Animal Shelter, Southern Animal Foundation, The Cat Practice (Metairie), VCA Airline Animal Hospital and pets owned by residents in the Red Cross evacuations from Causeway Boulevard and Interstate 10.

Officials at the veterinary school said the list will be updated and that owners of pets boarded at the listed facilities also can e-mail or call toll-free (888) 773-6489 8 a.m.-6 p.m.on weekdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday for information.

The toll-free number can also be used by owners looking for their pets and other information. Portraits and all available identifying information about rescued pets taken to the Lamar Dixon Expo Center, 9039 St. Landry Rd., Gonzales, can be seen at Links will be available soon to other picture galleries created by humane organizations that also rescued animals, a spokesman for the rescue operation said.

Saints win!!!

Sunday, 3:26 p.m.

The New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers, 23-20, on a 47-yard field goal by John Carney with 3 seconds remaining in the game. It was Carney's third field goal of the game. The Saints also got two touchdowns from Deuce McAllister.

Carolina had tied the game at 20 with 1:04 remaining before the Saints marched 44 yards to set up Carney's winning kick.

5.2 million gallons of water being pumped per minute

At least 67 portable and permanent pumps were humming Sunday in the New Orleans area from the 17th Street Canal on the Orleans-Jefferson parish line to eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, said state Department of Transportation and Development spokesman Mark Lambert.

Lambert said that the pumps were ridding the area of 5,276,093 gallons of water per minute, allowing the water in some areas to drop by as much as a foot a day.

He said that some local governments and levee districts may also be operating pumps that are not included in the total.

He said six of the 15 permanent pumps were in operation near the 17th Street Canal to lower water levels in the Lakeview area, while 29 portable pumps were in place at the Dwyer Station in eastern New Orleans to drain that part of the city.

-- Ed Anderson, Capital bureau

Airport to open to commercial flights Tuesday

Sunday, 3:14 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport opened to cargo traffic Sunday and will resume limited passenger service Tuesday with about 30 flights a day, airport Aviation Director Roy Williams said Sunday.

“We are not saying Orleans and Jefferson parishes are open for business, but we have customers from St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes’’ that can be served, as well as other parts of south Louisiana that were not significantly affected by Hurricane Katrina, Williams said.

“There is a lot of customer use’’ outside of the New Orleans-Jefferson Parish area, Williams said. “We are the I-10 of the air’’ for the state, serving about 80 percent of the passenger and cargo needs.

He said he expects 30 daily departures starting Tuesday and that will build to “60 to 70 or more by Halloween.’’ Williams did not discuss arriving flights.

Under normal conditions, more than 26,000 passengers arrive and depart each day from the airport, which averages 174 daily flights.

Williams said the first airlines expected to resume service should be Northwest, Delta, Southwest and Continental, while international carriers, like Grupo Taca and Air Canada may “take a longer time to resume service.’’

The airport has been operational since Aug. 30, the day after Hurricane Katrina struck, but one concourse has been used as a makeshift medical center to treat injuries and the sick who were evacuated.

Williams said that more than 5,000 military and civilian personnel have been based at the airport its baggage claim area. He conveyor belts that usually carry luggage have been converted into beds for troops stationed at the facility.

With the opening of the airport, he said, the troops will be moved and the baggage claim area will be back in service.

Williams said Concourses A and B will be used for arriving and departing passengers while Concourse C has sustained damages from Katrina and Concourse D will remain closed to treat the ill.

Williams said since the airport has been closed to commercial traffic, it has been used for “humanitarian relief flights and civilian and military rescue missions.’’ He said in the last two weeks, the airport “has seen a flurry of activity with over 30,000 evacuees departing’’ on military and commercial airliners.

A week ago, he said, the airport was home to 10,000 evacuees, but that number has dwindled. He did not know what the evacuee level at the airport was Sunday.

Each day the airport is closed, Williams said, the airport loses about $250,000 in fees – roughly $50,000 from concessionaires at the airport and $200,000 from the airlines that use the facility. He said the airport’s budget is about $70 million a year, which is based upon the airline fees and fees from the restaurants and shops at the airport.

Overall, the economic impact from loss of revenues at the airport could be a $40 million hit on the New Orleans area.

Williams said for the time being, the airport will see a decline in usage but in the long run, “I think we will have a pretty good recovery’’ with architects, engineers, contractors and others flying into the area to rebuild the New Orleans area. It will also be a major link to get displaced Louisiana residents home, he said.

“We are extremely pleased to reopen Armstrong International to commercial air service,’’ Williams said. “Scheduled passenger and cargo service enhances the airport’s ability to support the city and the region in its recovery.’’

Highlights of government assistance

The following statistics highlight some of the activities of government agencies as of 1 p.m. Sunday:

Households receiving FEMA funding --364,000

Type of Payment:
Direct Deposit -- $382 million
Check -- $356 million
Debit Card -- $20 million
Total Assistance Provided -- $758 million

Lives Saved (rescues performed) -- 49,700
People housed in shelters -- 141,000
FEMA responders -- 9,800
U.S. Coast Guard personnel -- 4,000
National Guard personnel -- 50,000
Active Duty Military -- 20,000
MREs provided (meals) -- 22.5 million
Water provided (liters) -- 53.3 million

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will deliver more than 100,000 pieces of seized clothes for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Jackson, Miss., on Monday at 1 p.m. The clothes were seized for violations of U.S. trademark laws. Monday’s delivery follows similar donations in Houston and San Antonio. After tomorrow’s delivery, more than $4 million worth of clothes will have been donated by the federal agencies.

Red Cross opens new call center

The American Red Cross, responding to an unprecedented demand for assistance, has created a new toll-free call center to address disaster needs.

The toll-free call center will provide financial resources and referrals to services for Hurricane Katrina survivors. Families can access this program by calling 1-800-975-7585.

The Red Cross had distributed more than $100 million in financial assistance, providing critical services such as food and water, shelter, clothing and medical assistance.

"The role of charity is to turn compassion into action by harnessing the generosity and kindness of people who want to help and delivering it to those in need," said Marsha J. Evans, Red Cross president and CEO. "The Red Cross will meet disaster needs and remain flexible as they continue to emerge in the weeks and months to come."

To apply for aid, storm victims must provide their name, pre-storm address, ZIP code and home telephone number to call center agents. They should also be prepared to write down a client identification number that they can take to a financial institution in their new community to receive support.

The Red Cross is providing emergency financial assistance, based on family size, for those who live in ZIP codes hardest hit by Hurrcane Katrina. The agency is providing client assistance cards, vouchers, checks or cash based on the cost of necessities such as food, toiletries and other essential.

Due to the huge number of families who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina, the phone lines are expected to be busy initially. Those not in immediate need of assistance, are asked to wait a few days before applying for aid.

The Red Cross anticipates helping between 750,000 and 1 million families.

Additional information on assistance programs and making contributions can be obtained at the Red Cross Web site,

State officials say FEMA too slow on housing

By Ed Anderson
Baton Rouge bureau

BATON ROUGE – The Federal Emergency Management Agency is moving too slowly in bringing temporary housing into Louisiana for its displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina, state officials complained Sunday.

Col. Jeff Smith, deputy director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said with tens of thousands of Louisiana residents in evacuation centers in the state and more dispersed around the country, FEMA has not moved swiftly enough to bring in trailers and mobile homes or find vacant apartments or homes for the displaced victims.

“We have a main concern with temporary housing,’’ Smith said. “We don’t feel that process is moving fast enough. There needs to be trailers rolling and things happening that just aren’t happening...This is truly a national issue.’’

Two weeks after disasters struck in other states, FEMA had temporary housing in place for the displaced, Smith said.

“Other states have had trailers set up by this time,’’ Smith said.

FEMA wants the state to estimate of the number of homeless people and how much housing will be needed, but Smith said because of the enormity of the situation, that is not yet possible.

“This is massive; get us housing on the ground,’’ Smith said. “Get some things moving in here . . .When you have the number of residents we have displaced, somebody’s going to be unhappy with how you do it.’’

FEMA needs to “start thinking outside the box,’’ he said. Officials in Texas have already found some temporary housing units for Katrina victims from south Louisiana dispersed there.

Mark Smith, public information office with the state Office of Emergency Preparedness, said that a “tent city,’’ like the one set up in south Florida after of Hurricane Andrew, would be the least preferable scenario.

“With the heat and humidity, I hope we look to other options before setting a tent city,’’ he said. “We looking for something that gives people more of a sense of home.’’

'Gatemouth' Brown dies Saturday

By Keith Spera
Music writer

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the guitarist, fiddler, vocalist and composer who wove threads of blues, big band swing, Cajun and country into his own unique, self-described tapestry of "American music," died Saturday. He was 81.

Mr. Brown had been in declining health for months, as he battled emphysema, heart disease and lung cancer. As Hurricane Katrina approached, he fled from
his home on a Slidell bayou to Orange, Texas, the town where he grew up. His Slidell house was subsequently destroyed by the storm.

His fans included Eric Clapton, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and scores of music lovers who reveled in his effortless command of multiple idioms. He released his
first blues 'n boogie single, "Okie Dokie Stomp," more than 50 years ago. His music clearly drew on the sounds of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.

After a stretch of relative obscurity, Mr. Brown relaunched his career in the 1990s with a series of acclaimed albums, including "Gate Swings" and
"American Music, Texas Style." He and his band, Gate's Express, toured all over the world, from South Africa to China. He won a Grammy, numerous Handy Awards and scores of other accolades.
Clapton invited Mr. Brown to sit in during a special appearance at the House of Blues in New Orleans in the mid-1990s. Mr. Brown immediately took over the show, calling out songs as he relegated a grinning Clapton to the role of sideman, Clapton subsequently enlisted Mr. Brown as the opening act for arena tours in Europe and America.

Mr. Brown rejected the label of "bluesman," preferring to think of his music as more broad-minded, complex and celebratory. He conjured lean, concise solos that depended more on fleet progressions of precise notes than on showy displays. He was equally at home arranging songs for his Gate's Express ensemble or the swinging, horn-heavy big band with which he sometimes recorded and performed.

A colorful, outspoken character, Mr. Brown did not hesitate to offer up less than complimentary assessments of other, better-known musicians. When not on the road, he often piloted his vintage black Cadillac from Slidell to New Orleans for nighttime excursions. Outfitted with an honorary sheriff's badge and a pistol, he'd make the rounds of music clubs, holding court at every stop. The House of Blues restaurant honored him with his own dedicated booth,to which he had exclusive rights.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall, Mr. Brown opted to forgo treatment; neither did he give up his omnipresent pipe. He resolved to play
music as long as possible.

He continued to tour on a limited basis, traveling and performing with a portable oxygen tank at his side. In March, his ailments left him bedridden for weeks; he struggled to autograph an allotment of souvenir New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival posters bearing his likeness.

But as he had so many times before, he rallied to make brief appearances in New Orleans clubs, often sitting in with keyboardist Joe Krown, a longtime member of Gate's Express. Mr. Brown expressed his determination to honor his commitment to the 2005 Jazzfest.

He succeeded in that ambition. Occupying the slot just before B.B. King, Mr. Brown rendered a triumphant set to an enormous crowd at the Fair Grounds. Decked out in his trademark Western shirt, boots and cowboy hat, he led Gate's Express in a spirited show. Seated center stage, he sang, introduced songs and switched off on guitar and fiddle, all without the assistance of oxygen.

Afterward, he was exhausted but exultant, posing for a picture with King and signing autographs at the festival's record tent. Mr. Brown continued to perform locally after Jazzfest, but his stamina waned as summer wore on. The hurried Katrina evacuation to his boyhood home in Texas proved to be his final tour.

He reportedly died at his brother's home in Orange. Survivors include three daughters and a son.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee commandeers Sam's Wal-Mart stores

Sunday, 10:30 a.m.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee said he has "commandered" the Sam's and Wal-Mart stores in the parish and ordered them to open as soon as possible.

Lee said he took the action after he learned that a Wal-Mart store wanted to open recently but was told by FEMA officials that it could not.

"I am upset with FEMA and some of their regulations," Lee said.

After talking about the situation concerning the Wal-Mart on Thursday, Lee said he briefly talked to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans on Friday. He asked her to check on the situation and find out if there was a legitimate reason to keep the store closed.

But because of communication difficulties, he did not hear back and took the situation in his own hands.

Lee said he gave handwritten notes to Wal-Mart stores in Harvey and Kenner saying they were ordered to open as soon as possible. Lee said Parish President Aaron Broussard agreed with the decision.

Lee said anyone from FEMA who tries to close either store will be arrested by deputies.

"We're encouraging the businesses to get up and going."

On other topics, Lee said he had 40 deputies who didn't report for duty for the storm. One who tried to return was told not to waste his time.

"As far as I am concerned (he) will never get a job in law enforcement again," Lee said.

Nagin on rebuilding: New Orleanians should take the lead

Sunday, 8:40 a.m.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Sunday morning that any rebuilding effort should be led by New Orleanians and not outsiders.

"I'll lead that effort come heck or high water," he said on the television show "Meet the Press".

Nagin declined to grade the actions and response of President George W. Bush, but did repeat earlier comments that initial response from the federal government was not what it should have been.

"I think for some reason he did not understand the full magnitude of this on the front end," Nagin said.

But Nagin said the response from the president was much better after any personal meetings between the two.

When asked about the actions of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Nagin paused before offering an answer: "I don't know about that," he said.

Nagin said he had only 200 National Guardsmen in the city in the early days. "We didn't get a lot of help for three or four days of pure hell," he said. "I don't have much else to say about (Blanco)."

The mayor also said there seemed to be confusion between Blanco and federal officials about just who had ultimate authority in the disaster area.

"I just don't appreciate that stuff when people are dying in my city."

Westwego Mayor: City ready to reopen

Sunday, 7:50 a.m.

Westwego is in good shape and ready to let all residents come in permanently, Mayor Robert Billiot said Sunday morning.

"Now, we are sitting and waiting and hoping the parish president will shortly say residents of Westwego, you are welcome to come back."

Billiot said streets have been cleared and about 80 percent of the city has power, with only a few pockets still to get online. He said he has received no reports that any schools in the city sustained any damage.

"We are fortunate we did not suffer the damage they had on the east bank," he said. "We are excited about getting our people back."

9/11 Remembrance in Metairie

Sunday, 7:40 a.m.

A ceremony involving New York City police and members of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office will be held today in Metairie.

The ceremony will be held at Causeway and Veterans Boulevard at 10 a.m., officials said.

CLECO continues to restore power

Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Cleco officials updated the number of customers in Washington and St. Tammany parishes with power as of Sunday at 6 a.m.

A total of 80,800 customers were without power after the storm. That figure is now down to 32,021 customers without power, meaning a total of 48,779 customers have had their power restored.

In Washington Parish, there are 567 customers with power out of a total of 800 customers who lost power after the storm.

In St. Tammany Parish, there are 48,336 customers with power out of a total of 80,000 who lost power after the storm, CLECO officials reported.