Saints announce ticket prices, policies

By John Reid
Staff writer
SAN ANTONIO -- The Saints announced their home ticket prices and polices Tuesday for their three designated home games that will be played at the Alamodome.

They are still working on plans for the four games that will played at LSU's Tiger Stadium.

All current Saints Superdome ticket holders can apply their funds to tickets in the Alamodome or Tiger Stadium, or toward credit for the 2006 season.

Alamodome Saints tickets will go on sale today at 10 a.m. by calling the Saints at 210-208-9520 or Ticketmaster at 800-877-0898. Tickets are also available on-site at the Alamodome box office and online at both www.NewOrleansSaints.com and http://www.ticketmaster.com/

The New Orleans Saints will play three games in San Antonio, Texas at the Alamodome, with the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 2, the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 16 and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 24.

The Saints will play four games in LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, starting with the Miami Dolphins on the weekend of Oct. 30, the Chicago Bears on the weekend of Nov. 6, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the weekend of Dec. 4 and the Carolina Panthers on the weekend of Dec. 18.

Individual game tickets in the club seating areas of the Alamodome range from $75 to $125. A three-game season ticket in the section range from $210 to $360. Individual game tickets in the plaza seating areas range from $55 to $90. Individual game tickets in the terrace section start at $30.

Maestri assesses need for Catholic students

Tuesday, 10 p.m.

By Jenny Hurwitz
Staff writer

BATON ROUGE—With opening dates for Orleans Parish parochial schools still pending, parents planning to stay in the Baton Rouge area for more than eight or nine weeks should enroll their children in local Catholic schools, said the Rev. William Maestri, the New Orleans archdiocese’s superintendent of schools, at a packed informational meeting for parents Tuesday night in Baton Rouge.

“We want to make sure when our children go back to school, they’re safe,” Maestri said. “That’s more important than quickness.”

Maestri said those students enrolled at Jefferson Schools, with projected opening dates of Oct. 3, and students in St. Tammany schools, which are slated to open Monday, should not try to enroll in Baton Rouge schools.

He cautioned parents to avoid becoming anxious at the thought of their children missing a month of school. He said there is a possibility that the school year might be extended or holiday vacations eliminated to make up for missed time.

“You’re not going to lose the year,” he said.

Maestri instructed parents who intended to stay in Baton Rouge to fill out forms listing contact information and details regarding their children. He said parents should expect a call from archdiocese officials by the end of the week about placing their children in local schools.

Maestri said that St. Michaels, a secondary school in Baton Rouge, will be accepting 1,000 students, starting Sept. 19, for evening classes. All students interested in attending are required to register, and officials passed out forms at the meeting.

The meeting, held in the Catholic Life Center Auditorium, drew a crowd of more than 500 parents, wielding notepads and pens, many wearing expressions of both exhaustion and bewilderment.

Genevieve Rodick, of Lakeview, was frustrated by the lack of information regarding tuition. She already paid for her two children to attend schools in New Orleans and now is having trouble getting her money refunded, she said.

“At this rate, I’m thinking about moving out of the state altogether,” she said.

Others worried about the logistics of starting a new school year, given their recent losses.

“I live in North Kenner and everything in the house flooded,” said Lisa Giusti, whose daughter is enrolled at Archbishop Chapelle High School in Metairie. “All her books flooded, school shoes flooded, everything. Should we just show up for the first day of school?”

Maestri said the meeting was simply a way to assess how many students need placements, and more information will be available to parents in the future.

“This is to-be-continued,” he said. “This is just our initial assessment and approach.”

Businesses, residents urged to come back and be prepared in Jefferson

Tuesday, 9:26 p.m.

Jefferson Parish leaders are encouraging returning
businesses to contact the parish's public information
office at 504-349-5360 to inform the parish of their
reopening. A list of those businesses will be posted
at www.jeffparish.net. The parish is encouraging
healthcare professionals and attorneys to reopen their
businesses.

The parish has provided a tip list of residents
returning to the parish. The advice includes bringing
cash because credit cards and checks might not be
accepted, having a full tank of gas, bring a camera
for insurance purposes, bring needed medicines, bring
non-perishable food, bring sanitation supplies,
plastic bags, cleaning supplies, batteries, baby
supplies, can openers and paper products. Residents
should also be prepared to navigate intersections
where stoplights are still broken. A curfew is still
in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Jefferson principals assess damage at schools

By Rob Nelson
Staff writer

Clad in a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, Paul Solis Elementary School Principal Ginny Dufrene spent most of Tuesday with co-workers cleaning up the Terrytown school, where electricity is spotty and the air conditioner is still on the fritz.

The school suffered some roof damage, with winds scattering insulation and shingles across the campus. Still, there was significant flooding in only one of the school's nearly 40 classrooms.

"It's nothing we can't handle," Dufrene said, applauding National Guard troops who helped clean debris outside. "It looks worse than what it is from the outside. I think we're going to be OK."

Despite lingering uncertainty about the Jefferson Parish public school system's fiscal stability, Superintendent Diane Roussel instructed her principals on Monday to return to their schools Tuesday for damage assessment and preparation for students’ return. Since the storm, the school system has shifted its administrative operations to Baton Rouge.

At a School Board meeting last week, its first since Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, the board approved a resolution setting Oct. 3 as the targeted reopening of schools, though officials admit some schools might open later that week.

The board has called another emergency meeting in Baton Rouge today to begin discussions on system finances and other issues, system spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said Tuesday.
Including Solis, Jefferson has classified nine schools as the most severely damaged in the parish, and Nowakowski said the School Board must decide what do with those.

The other schools are: East Jefferson High School, Bonnabel High School, L.W. Ruppel Elementary School, Ames Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Shirley Johnson/Gretna Park Elementary, Woodmere Elementary School and the Thomas Jefferson High School, which was slated to open for the 2006-07 school year. An adult education building in Gretna was being converted into the magnet high school.

Overall, about 42, or half, of the system's schools will be useable by the Oct. 3 reopening target date.

Despite her school's ranking on the "hit list," Dufrene said the damage at Solis is not nearly as bad as feared and that the school could also be ready in October.

On Tuesday, other principals also tried to get a handle on what work would be needed to open classrooms once again to students. At Woodmere in Marrero, brown twisted metal was strewn throughout the grounds, the school’s roof destroyed Katrina.

At the Marrero-Estelle Fire Station next door to the school, Principal Gretchen Williams, who returned to town Tuesday after fleeing to Noble, said the extensive damage took her breath away but that it is far from insurmountable.

"I know it's going to be an opportunity for us to improve a lot of things parishwide," she said. "We lost some things, but not everything. We didn't lose the will to keep going."

Williams said Woodmere may not be ready for the Oct. 3 reopening date, but said she is confident her students and the school system will move forward.

She already has a motto, calling Katrina's damage "a minor setback for a major comeback."

$2.4 billion sought for teacher pay

7:54 p.m.

By Mark Waller,
Lynne Jensen
and Rob Nelson
Staff writers

With about 25,700 Louisiana public school employees displaced by Hurricane Katrina and three local systems warning they will soon run out of money to pay their workers, state Education Superintendent Cecil Picard said Tuesday he is asking Congress for $2.4 billion to help cover salaries and benefits of educators left without open schools.

The money would help Louisiana avoid permanently losing many of its displaced teachers, Picard said.

“Keeping educational staff is critical,” Picard said. “We want them to return to Louisiana.”

At the same time, however, New Orleans school officials advised their employees to look for new jobs elsewhere, according to officials with the school system and its financial management firm, Alvarez and Marsal, who will gather this morning to announce the fate of the system.

“These people are not being laid off,” said Bill Roberti,
chief restructuring officer for Alvarez and Marsal, the financial management firm for Orleans schools. Still, he urged employees to seek unemployment benefits if necessary. “We’d like to have them come back.”

Acting Orleans Superintendent Ora Watson said teachers will be paid salaries that the school system already owes them but that, “We are encouraging them to get another job if they can get another job.”

Last week, Alvarez and Marsal and Orleans school officials “had to go in with police escort” to retrieve back-up tapes containing payroll information to pay employees, spokesman Steven Alschuler. At a news conference today, Orleans officials plan to announce the fate of the system and “we’ll be able to tell people how they can get paid,” he said.

“We would love to pay everybody what they deserve, but we don’t have the money or the students,” said Orleans School Board member Jimmy Farenholtz. “It’s like any other business: If you’re out of business, you don’t continue to pay … employees.”

The School Board will meet Thursday to “talk about everything,” concerning the fate of public schools, he said.

A telephone hotline for Orleans employee information is (877) 771-5800.

In Jefferson Parish, officials said the school system could be weeks away from bankruptcy without an infusion of federal cash. They might use a second emergency School Board meeting in Baton Rouge today to begin discussing layoffs, system spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said.

Jefferson school leaders met with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials Tuesday and learned that FEMA’s grant programs can help pay for construction and rebuilding but that no such programs exist for operational expenses, including salaries, Nowakowski said.

The district's $24 million in reserves can cover only the next two paycheck cycles, one on Thursday and another on Sept. 30, he said. After that, he said, finances remain very much unclear in the system's $330 million annual budget.

"We just don't know," Nowakowski said.

Picard’s request for the $2.4 billion aid package could be Jefferson’s only remaining hope to keep the system financially afloat, Nowakowski said.

The recovery and solvency of Jefferson schools have become particularly critical as officials expect displaced residents from far more devastated parishes of Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard perhaps to send their children to Jefferson schools. Jefferson has set Oct. 3 as the target to reopen at least some schools.

Enrollment among Jefferson residents remains unclear in light of massive evacuations and relocations, but Jefferson officials are encouraging the influx from other areas as another means of financially strengthening the district.

Under the state's school financing formula, local school systems receive money largely based on student enrollment.

"We need dollars, which means we need students," Nowakowski said.

Typically, the state determines a school system's official enrollment based on student attendance on Oct. 1 of each school year, a process thrown into uncertainty since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

In St. Bernard Parish, officials said the school system will pay
employees until Sept. 15. But Superintendent Doris Voitier said Monday that payments cannot continue in the future without a bail-out from state or federal governments.

Not only is St. Bernard facing the threat of losing its per-pupil state financing, revenues from sales and property taxes are uncertain in the almost entirely destroyed parish. She urged teachers to find employment in other school systems for the rest of the 2005-06 school year.

Staff writer Manuel Torres contributed to this report.

186,000 students displaced by storm

Tuesday, 7:36 p.m.

By Mark Waller
Staff writer

In a wide-ranging press briefing in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, Louisiana
education Superintendent Cecil Picard said the count of students
displaced by Katrina has risen by about 20,000, to 186,000.

School districts across Louisiana have enrolled more than 20,000 of
them, Picard said. Most of the rest, he said, are probably enrolled in
schools across the country. He said he’s heard reports of Louisiana students in
48 states.

Six Louisiana districts, Ascension, Caddo, Calcasieu, East Baton
Rouge,
Livingston and Rapides Parishes, have enrolled more than 1,000
displaced students each, he said.

In Orleans Parish, Picard said federal relief money could help build a
state-of-the-art school system in place of the crumbling and troubled
system that operated before Hurricane Katrina. For any buildings more than 50
percent damaged, he said, officials can seek 100 percent replacement
costs from the federal government.

“I see an opportunity, as tragic as it is,” Picard said. “It’s a golden
opportunity.”

In parts of Orleans spared by flooding, some schools could reopen by
January, said Bill Roberti, the chief restructuring officer for the
turnaround firm Alvarez & Marshal. Picard said the firm, which the
state originally hired to untangle the system’s finances, could now play a
major role in rebuilding the system.

Also at Picard’s briefing, Bill Oliver, president of Bellsouth of
Louisiana, announced that the company is donating $5 million, half to Louisiana
and half to Mississippi, to create an online learning program mostly for
high school juniors and seniors. The goal is to help them meet graduation
requirements and minimize delays before they can graduate.





State contracts to remove storm dead

By Michelle Krupa
Staff writer

Recovery of bodies from the storm-ravaged streets, homes and medical facilities of southeast Louisiana is expected to ramp up by week’s end after state and local officials started howling Monday that corpses still dotted sidewalks and occupied long-drained buildings two weeks after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall.

State officials on Tuesday announced that they had contracted directly with Kenyon International Emergency Services, which has been here under federal authority since Sept. 7 collecting the remains of dead hurricane victims. The state stepped in, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said, because federal emergency managers were not moving quickly enough to extend the short-term contract, which was set to expire Tuesday.

“In death, as in life, our people deserve more respect and dignity,” Blanco said Tuesday as the state’s official number of those who perished in Katrina rose to 423. “The failure to execute a contract for the recovery of our citizens has hurt the speed of recovery efforts.”

Meanwhile, a Kenyon spokesman said the company will boost the number of its workers currently on the ground to handle the increased workload as putrid floodwaters continue to recede in the hardest hit neighborhoods.

“Our numbers will increase,” spokesman Bill Berry said. “We are prepared now to grow to meet the need. We would expect to see the roughly 115 people to increase by the tens and twenties at least, if not more.”

Kenyon, which worked at the World Trade Center site in 2001 and retrieved bodies of Australian citizens in Thailand after last year’s tsunami, arrived here nine days after Katrina under a short-term agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals direct the recovery of corpses.

Under that arrangement, Berry said, Kenyon personnel, who must wear hazardous-material-proof suits and undergo toxic decontamination daily, were living at a Baton Rouge funeral home and commuting about four hours round-trip to visit work zones. They also traveled in civilian panel vans that could not access areas with a few feet of flooding or downed trees, he said.

“Nothing was made available to us,” he said. “We have simply asked for that relief, and it had not yet been found.”

A FEMA spokesman could not be reached to respond to those comments.

Berry said the state deal promises his company “proper lodging” somewhere in New Orleans, military vehicles to trudge through severely damaged areas and a central communications truck to dispatch tips about the location of corpses to forensic retrieval teams in the field.

“We will have more commitment from the Louisiana National Guard in their support and escort duties,” Berry said. “Things are just moving very effectively. They were already beginning to develop, but this is simply going to give us the might of the state of Louisiana that has the governor saying, ‘Bring my people home. It has been long enough.’”

David Passey, a FEMA spokesman, could not say why active-duty and National Guard soldiers have not been participating in the body collection process even though they constitute the largest relief personnel presence in the New Orleans area.

“I don't know that they can’t,” Passey said, speculating that it might be because state and federal authorities want to be sure the process is handled "with dignity" by people with experience in such delicate tasks. Another FEMA spokesman, Ricardo Zuniga, said Monday that the agency’s policy barred military and municipal police officers from touching the bodies, except to tag them and report their location to higher authorities.

The general feeling is that if you have people who are trained and experienced, there’s less likelihood that there would be a disturbance that would affect the identification of that individual,” Passey said.

Berry said Kenyon aims to collect corpses intact or in as “physically compact a group of remains as possible.” He said victims have been found in various states: in large groups at nursing homes; floating in flooded basements amid bobbing machinery; alone on city sidewalks.

“We’re finding remains in many different conditions,” he said, adding that the recovery process is handled in a dignified manner based on “cultural” norms. No religious services are conducted at the site of retrieval.

Aides to Blanco did not say how long Kenyan will be retained or how much it will be paid. Passey said the state will be reimbursed under FEMA's public-assistance program for any money it spends on corpse retrieval.
Passey said the Blanco administration originally planned to take responsibility for collecting bodies. Federal disaster mortuary teams intended to help with storing the bodies and identifying remains by collecting data such as DNA samples and fingerprints.

But state officials changed their minds last week and asked FEMA for additional help, Passey said. That’s when FEMA entered into a verbal contract with Kenyon to help with the retrieval process, even though it’s typically states -- not the federal government -- that have responsibility for the duty.

”From the beginning, the state had indicated that it will collect the bodies,” Passey said.

Passey said the federal government later offered the company a written contract, which it refused to sign. "We entered into a verbal agreement with Kenyon and for its own reasons they decided not to sign a contract," Passey said.

He could not say why Kenyon wouldn't sign. Berry has declined to comment on that matter.

Blanco said that before Tuesday, she spoke to officials at FEMA and to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the lack of progress in signing a formal contract and recovering bodies.

“More than a week ago, Secretary Chertoff told me plans would be put in place for a system of ‘recovery with respect,’ she said. “The failure to execute a contract for the recovery of our citizens has hurt the speed of recovery efforts.’’

Blanco said that although body-recovery is a FEMA responsibility, “I cannot stand by while this vital operation is not being handled appropriately.’’

Blanco said she spoke to Kenyon officials, who told her Monday they were on the verge of leaving as soon as they could “professionally pull out’’ because FEMA and the company could not agree on a contract.

Bottcher said the state started negotiating a contract with Kenyon Monday.

Guard patrols Lakeview

Tuesday, 6:53 p.m.

By Paul Purpura
Staff writer

A small row boat gently tapping the front door at 6069 Argonne Blvd.,that caught the attention of National Guardsmen patrolling Lakeview Tuesday, seeking survivors, looters and the dead.

A second-floor balcony door was open, and through it they could see a
woman’s black purse hung on a door knob. Lt. Col. Todd Plimpton,
commander of Oregon’s 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment, weighed whether to send in his soldiers. He announced his presence instead.

“Hello, we’re taking your boat,” he said. Getting no response, he
ordered the soldiers to it. Staff Sgt. Travis Sigfridson kept a
cautious watch for movement in the house as Spec. Joe Gallagher, a
Rhode Island Guardsmen, reached out to the boat. Gallagher towed to the
intersection of Argonne and Filmore Avenue and promptly sank it.

“If they were in there, they’re pissed off,” Plimpton said. “The next
group (of passing soldiers) will catch them wading in the water.”

Fifteen days after Katrina, soldiers like these National Guardsmen continued to sweep New Orleans area streets, seeking looters who are breaking into peoples’ homes using small boats.

On Monday, Guardsmen arrested a man who used a kayak to get into Lakeview, claiming he was a veterinarian for the City of New
Orleans who was checking on cats, said 1st Lt. Paul Dyer, a platoon leader in 1/186th. The man was allowed to pass. Shortly after, another group questioned the man, and he said he was a veterinarian from Oregon. The soldiers arrested him when they found jewelry stashed in the kayak, Dyer said. They arrested another looter in the area the same day.

Tuesday’s security patrol, launched at Canal and Robert E. Lee
boulevards, was prompted by an overnight flight by Army OH-58 Kiowa
reconnaissance helicopters equipped with thermal and infrared sensors that can detect body heat. The flight spotted warm bodies in the neighborhood.

“It could have been dogs,” Plimpton said. “It could have been search
and rescue” personnel.

Survivors continue to be found in Lakeview, he said. On Monday, 12 people were rescued from area, Plimpton said. In the past week, his soldiers found five bodies.


The soldiers on this patrol found no bodies. But they did find several small, unattended boats, including a yellow kayak in front of 6069 Argonne Blvd. This time, Plimpton ordered his soldiers into the house.

“Sig, why don’t you lead in and take both MPs with you,” he said to Sigfridson, a veteran of the war in Iraq who stepped onto the porch with his M-4 carbine and in through the opened door.

“Anybody in there?” Sigfridson yelled into the house. When no one responded Plimpton ordered the soldiers to search. They returned shortly afterward empty handed.

Dyer punctured the kayak, making it unusable. More often the boats are pulled from the houses and tied to trees or street signs, said Darel Bryant of Leeville.

“You see a lot of them tied in the middle in here,” said Bryant.

Paul Purpura can be reached at ppurpura@cox.net

Jefferson's Yenni Building damaged by Katrina from top down

By Joe Darby
West Bank bureau

The top floors of the Joseph S. Yenni Building, Jefferson Parish’s main government facility on the east bank, were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and repairs could take up to a year.

“The roof opened up right over (deputy chief administrative assistant) Deano Bonano’s office” on the top floor, Jefferson Parish Councilman-at-large John Young said. “It was a pretty big break, then all the rainwater came in.”

Damage was severe to some offices on the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th floors, he said, adding that renovation of the 10-story structure could take nine to 12 months. However, the second-floor Parish Council chambers and other offices frequented by the public probably will be accessible much sooner, Young said.

Judge Robert Pitre, chief judge of the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, tempered the bad news about the Yenni Building with word that the Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court’s office will begin to accept legal filings in the new government building in Gretna within a few days.

Speaking after a meeting of judicial, law enforcement and other parish officials Tuesday afternoon, Pitre said the 24th Judicial District Court hopes to begin conducting civil and criminal hearings and non-jury trials by Oct. 10.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has granted Jefferson’s district court a suspension of judicial activity from the time of the hurricane to Oct. 1, meaning that the time prosecutors have to provide a defendant with a speedy trial will be lengthened.

No jury trials are likely until around Jan. 1, Pitre said, because there probably won’t be enough Jefferson residents returning to their homes before then to provide a sufficient jury pool. “And people are going to be worrying about fixing their houses rather than serving on juries,” he said.

Prisoners won’t return to the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center until Nov. 1, he said.

Pitre said the judges will try to make arrangements with West Jefferson Medical Center and East Jefferson General Hospital to provide constitutionally mandated medical care for prisoners because Charity Hospital will not be available.

Judges are already handling bond settings, sometimes by telephone and sometimes in person, for newly arrested Jefferson prisoners being held temporarily at state prison facilities. Prosecutors will screen new cases as soon as sheriff’s deputies can get the paperwork to them, Pitre said.

Reporter Michelle Krupa contributed to this story.


Firefighters take on unexpected tasks

Chicago firefighters in town to support the New Orleans Fire Department were doing the unexpected in Audubon Park on Tuesday.

At midday, in the middle of a golf course surrounded by piles of downed tree limbs, a group of four from the Chicago Fire Department cruised about in a pair of golf carts, hitting the links ever so briefly, they said, during a lunch break.

A stone's throw across the lagoon, two other Chicago firefighters were riding the rails of a New Orleans Sanitation Department truck, hopping off to empty trash cans and clean up debris left in picnic shelters. A third drove the truck.

They all seemed more than content in their temporary garbage-man role.

"We're doing something. It beats sitting around, waiting for a fire," said Rich Pinskey, the truck driver.

Firefighter Craig Dziedzic added, "We're riding a garbage truck. Who doesn't want to ride around on the back of a garbage truck?"

Westwego, Gretna, Jean Lafitte open to residents

Tuesday, 6:32 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Staff writer

Three West Jefferson cities invited their residents home to stay
beginning at 5 a.m. today. The mayors of Westwego, Gretna and Jean Lafitte say conditions are good enough to bring residents home.

"These cities have what it takes to have sustainable living," Parish
President Aaron Broussard said Tuesday, saying that those cities provide their own water and sewer services, and that electricity in those areas has been largely restored.

Jefferson Parish has been closed to residents since last Thursday to
give utility repair crews more room to work.

Broussard said he will discuss conditions with the mayors of Kenner and
Harahan today. Those cities provide their residents sewer service, but
use the Jefferson Parish water system, which is still under repair.

Broussard said there is still too much work to be done in
unincorporated Jefferson Parish to open up the parish to all residents.

Mayor Ronnie Harris of Gretna and Robert Billiot of Westwego said that
stores in their cities are beginning to open, but need customers. Mayor
Tim Kerner of Jean Lafitte, said one store is open in that town, and that returning residents should bring their own provisions.

"We think we're ready for our people to come back," Harris said.

However, returnees should be prepared to show their identification to
prove that they are residents or business owners or employees, eligible
to enter under the parish's "Jump Start Jefferson" plan.

Plaquemines Parish residents also will be allowed into the parish because Jefferson Parish is a major access route into the area Broussard said.

To accommodate the returnees, the parish is altering its curfew to a more lenient 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson said that his department would mount
checkpoints throughout the city at night to keep poeple who
have no business in the city away.

Gretna has 17,000 residents; Westwego has 11,000 residents and Jean
Lafitte has about 2,200 residents. While they make up only 7 percent of the parish's population, they will give some businesses the economic traction to re-open.

"There are a lot of Jefferson business owners who are trying to make a
decision about whether to stay here or relocate," Broussard said. "This
is to show them that we are well ahead of my self-imposed three-week
deadline to re-open the parish to everyone."

Broussard predicted that Jefferson will become the staging area for the
reconstruction of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, because it is dry
and available land.

"I predict that every house that was on the market before the storm
will be sold, and that every vacant apartment will be filled."

Oyster, shrimp production will be normal in three years

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – The oyster industry, hard hit by the winds and flooding of Hurricane Katrina, should be back to normal in three years, although the bivalves are still being harvested in western Louisiana waters, industry officials said Tuesday.

Mike Voisin of Houma, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, whose family has been in the oyster-fishing business for decades, said that 99 percent of oyster production east of Bayou Lafourche, has been destroyed, buried in silt and mud from Katrina’s winds.

The east Louisiana beds, many in wind-wracked and flooded Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, produce about two-thirds of the state’s 250 million-pound annual crop.
But he said oysters are being harvested in areas off Cameron and Vermilion parishes in western Louisiana.

Voisin estimated that at least 80 million to 120 million pounds of oysters will be harvested this year despite the hurricane, and up to 180 million pounds may be harvested and sold next year.

Within three years, Voisin said, he expects the crop to be back at the 250 million-pound level.

“We will be using innovative approaches’’ to stimulate the oyster industry, he said.

Voisin said fish hatcheries on the Pacific Coast have volunteered to help bring the oyster crop back by using their facilities. He said companies in New Zealand and Australia have offered special equipment to also help re-cultivate the reefs and crops in south Louisiana.

“We are producing at about 10 percent of the pre-Katrina level’’ now, Voisin said. “But the boats are moving’’ and some oyster fishers from eastern Louisiana are moving into western state waters to harvest oysters.

“We will kick it up to 20 to 30 percent by the beginning of next week,’’ Voisin said.
Joining Voisin at a news conference was Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, who told reporters that despite the hurricane, shrimp, crabs finfish and oysters are still being caught, processed and sold in the state – mainly in western Louisiana waters.

“We are going to have 100 million pounds of shrimp caught each year, whether we have a hurricane or not,’’ he said. “The challenge will be finding new markets” with many of the New Orleans and south Louisiana restaurants now closed for repairs or still inaccessible.

“But we have a lot of product to go around,’’ Pearce said.

The state’s seafood industry has an estimated $2.5 billion impact on the state and employs about 30,000 workers.

“Katrina’s impact was severe,’’ Pearce said. “However, it is important to note that her destruction was not complete. There are some fishermen that are in the Gulf (of Mexico) and harvesting Louisiana shrimp’’ now.

Area's biggest employer stirs to life after 'Survivor'-like ordeal

By Keith Darcé
Business writer

Northrop Grumman Corp. has reopened its big military
shipyard in Avondale with about 12 percent of its
normal 6,000 workers, breathing an important burst of
life into the New Orleans region’s storm-crippled
economy.

The opening of the region’s biggest manufacturer on Monday will
bring a growing number of workers back to metropolitan
New Orleans who will be earning pay checks and
spending at least some of their money with local
businesses, said George Yount, the shipyard’s vice
president of operations.

“If we’re not open again, in addition to the agony
wrought by the storm, you would have 6,000 families
without income. That would trickle down to other
families” in the region, he said during a Tuesday
morning interview from the shipyard’s headquarters
building, known as the Rock House.

Another challenge facing the yard is re-establishing
transportation lines for delivering the factory’s most
important feedstock, steel. With some of the region’s
railroad lines out of commission, steel shipments will
have to arrive by truck or barge, Yount said.

More than 700 shipyard workers were on the job
Tuesday. That number should steadily increase over the
coming weeks as more displaced workers are located and
arrangements are made to temporarily house the workers
in the area and transport them to the yard, Yount
said. Housing provided by the shipyard will not be
available to family members of workers, he said.

Within a year, the yard’s work force should reach at
least half of its pre-storm amount, Yount said. “If we
can get 3,500 people back, I would be thrilled,” he
said.

The yard is operating Monday through Thursday 10
hours a day. The schedule will let workers restart
shipbuilding activity while giving them a three-day weekend to take care of personal recovery matters, Yount said.

Northrop is transporting workers by bus from
Thibodaux, Raceland and Houma daily, he
said. More buses will begin daily runs from Baton
Rouge and the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in the
coming days.

Shipyard managers are trying to locate crew barges –
essentially floating dormitories – that could be
moored along the yard’s docks for housing workers
during the work week.

The yard’s relatively quick return to operation was
due to the small amount of largely cosmetic
damage sustained during Hurricane Katrina. The yard’s
sister shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., formerly known
as Ingalls, wasn’t as fortunate.

Katrina’s storm surge swept six feet of water over
the Mississippi yard, flooding the factory’s
manufacturing shops and putting them out of commission
for weeks.

Because much of the operations at the two yards had
been integrated in recent years, managers will be able
to move some workers and work loads from the
Pascagoula yard to the west Jefferson Parish plant for
the time being, Yount said. Specifically, workers at
the Avondale yard will start building the second in a
series of national security cutters for the Coast
Guard that were supposed to be constructed at
Mississippi factory.

Yount and about 80 other workers rode out the storm
at the Rock House, where many of them have remained.

They relied on police and firemen for news from the
outside world. They distributed pistols after a small
group of men tried to enter the yard and threatened
them. They built a makeshift barricade around the Rock
House with cars, concrete barriers and barbed wire.
They crafted an outdoor shower out of an emergency eye
washing system. And they bartered part of their
100,000 gallon stockpile of diesel for supplies.

“It was kind of a cross between Survivor and Big
Brother here. We think we would be strong
contestants,” Yount said.

Keith Darcé can be reached at kdarce@yahoo.com.

Pearl River cleanup starts

Tuesday, 5:55 p.m.

Workers contracted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have begun picking up debris in Pearl River.

Town officials ask residents leave the following items at the curb, in separate piles:
-- Limbs and tree debris – do not leave on power lines, near fire hydrants, electric boxes or water meter.
-- Household debris.
-- Metal and carpet.

For more information, contact Alderwoman Ruby Gauley at (985) 863-2586.

St. Tammany school employees returning

Tuesday, 5:53 p.m.

Public school employees in St. Tammany Parish are being asked to return to work in the next two weeks in anticipation of schools re-opening Oct. 3.

Monday is the report date for all clerical staff, curriculum specialists, coordinators employed more than 181 days, pupil appraisal staff employed more than 181 days, college counselors, resource helping teachers, and junior and senior high school guidance counselors.

Teachers and all other regular employees are to report Sept. 26.

For additional information, employees should contact their school principals or immediate supervisors. Otherwise, contact the school system’s human resources office at 985-898-3223 or 985-898-6422. Employees who have not already contacted their supervisors should do so.

Tax payment deadline extended

5:37 p.m., Tuesday

By Mary Judice
Business writer

Individuals who had estimated tax payments due to the state or federal government in September have been granted a reprieve as part of tax relief programs offered to individuals and businesses in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

The state of Louisiana has granted a 60-day extension for most tax
payments due between Aug. 30 and Sept 30, except sales tax payments. The state has also granted a 30-day extension for sales tax returns due Sept. 20. These extensions apply to individuals and businesses in the 31 parishes declared disaster areas by President Bush.

For those individuals who faced a deadline of Thursday for paying
estimated federal income tax payments, the Internal Revenue Service has granted an extension to Hurricane Katrina victims until Jan. 3, 2006. And the state has adopted the same extensions for its estimated tax payments.

The January deadline applies also to federal payments due after Aug. 29
and includes corporate year-end tax returns due Sept 15 and the Oct. 17
deadline for individuals who received a second extension for filing individual income tax returns.
Eric Smith, an IRS spokesman, said the agency granted a blanket
extension for “all return payments, deposits originally due or due with an extension.’’

This is the second extension the IRS has granted to Hurricane Katrina victims in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. IRS disaster relief applies to citizens in all Louisiana parishes.

The IRS will not apply interest and late filing fees or penalties as
part of the abatement program.

The IRS “anticipates extending these deadlines even further in the near future’’ for those in the hardest-hit areas, according to a press release.

Owners of St. Bernard nursing home charged with negligent homicide

The owners of a St. Bernard Parish nursing home where 34 people died during Hurricane Katrina were charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide, state Attorney General Charles Foti announced Tuesday.

Salvador and Mabel Magano, owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home near Poydras, turned themselves to state authorities today at 3 p.m., Foti said.

Officials had been looking for the Manganos since a FEMA recovery team began pulling the 34 bodies from the home last week. The Manganos are being held in Baton Rouge pending bail.

Parish officials last week said the owners had refused evacuation buses offered the day before the storm. Foci on Tuesday said the owners also failed to call an ambulance service they had under contract to provide for an evacuation of the home’s patients.

“They had adequate notice that the worse nightmare for the state of Louisiana was about to occur, and they did nothing,” Foci said. “Their inaction resulted in the deaths of these people.”

If convicted, each defendant faces up to five years in prison for each count.

Jeff, Orleans elections postponed

5:28 p.m.

By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

Hurricane Katrina has forced an indefinite postponement of the fall elections in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, the Louisiana secretary of state's office said Tuesday.

Oct. 15 was the primary date for special elections for School Board, Kenner City Council and the state’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Jefferson Parish, with runoffs on Nov. 12 if necessary. Three New Orleans neighborhoods planned Nov. 12 referendums on fees or taxes to finance security patrols and other local improvements.

"Those are delayed," Jennifer Marusak, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, said of the Jefferson and Orleans voting plans. "They may be rescheduled. We just can't reschedule them yet, because we don't know when they'll be able to reschedule.”

Officials do not even know if they have enough voting machines to hold the elections, Marusak said.

Three candidates had qualified to run for a vacancy in the Jefferson Parish School Board's 4th District: Mary Bartholomew, director of the Culinary Arts and Hospitality program at Delgado Community College; Ellen Shirer Kovach, a lawyer with the New Orleans firm of Frilot, Partridge, Kohnke & Clements; and Ryan Roemershauser, a lawyer with the Blue Williams firm in Metairie.

The School Board vacancy emerged when Julie Quinn resigned to run for the state Senate. She won in July, and Cameron Henry is filling the School Board seat until an election can be held. The term lasts through 2006.

Three candidates also signed up to run for the 2nd District seat on the Kenner council seat: David Lavarine, who owns a graphics and imaging company; Bill Schwertz, a real estate investor; and Joe Stagni, a chiropractor. They are seeking to succeed Lavarine's brother, John Lavarine III, who won election in April to an at-large council seat. Michael McMyne is filling the 2nd District seat until an election is held. The term expires in June.

The two candidates for the 5th Circuit Court seat, elected from throughout Jefferson Parish, are judges Rebecca Olivier of 1st Parish Court in Metairie and Fredericka "Ricky" Wicker of the state's 24th District Court in Gretna. They hope to succeed Sol Gothard, who planned to retire Aug. 31. The term runs through April 2009.

In New Orleans, the City Council had set Nov. 12 for voting in the Kingswood, Touro Bouligny and Twinbrook neighborhoods.

In Kingswood, part of eastern New Orleans, the now-delayed proposal is to assess an annual fee of as much as $240 on each residential lot to pay for "beautification, security and overall betterment," of the neighborhood.

In the Touro Bouligny neighborhood, part of Uptown, the proposal is to levy a property tax of as much as 16.2 mills for security patrols.

In Twinbrook, also Uptown, the postponed referendum is for a fee of as much as $500 a year on each lot holding a building to pay for security patrols.

State losing $10 million a month from closed casinos

Tuesday, 5:24 p.m.

By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

The State of Louisiana will lose nearly $10 million a month in tax revenue from casinos closed by Hurricane Katrina, and the hurricane may permanently alter the competitive landscape of the casino industry along the Gulf Coast.

The three New Orleans area riverboats, which have been closed since Aug. 27 – the Saturday before the hurricane struck on a Monday morning -- generate about $5 million a month in state tax revenue, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board said Tuesday at its monthly meeting in Baton Rouge.

Nearly one-third of the state’s video poker machines, or about 5,000 terminals, were shut down because of the storm. Collectively, these machines generate about $4.6 million a month in tax revenue.

But there are some bright spots. The Boomtown and Treasure Chest riverboats believe they can re-open soon, which will minimize those tax revenue losses.

And Harrah’s New Orleans Casino has continued to make its minimum daily payments to the state, even though it is not required to because the casino is closed. Harrah’s pays the state taxes of more than $164,000 a day, or about $5 million a month.

Compared with the devastation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s casino business got off easy. But Hurricane Katrina could bring changes in the operation of the former Bally’s riverboat, now known as the Belle of Orleans, which was the most heavily damaged of the New Orleans area casinos. It could bring new competition from an invigorated and rebuilt Mississippi Gulf Coast, and it also could affect Churchill Downs Inc.’s timetable for opening a casino at the Fair Grounds Race Course.

Harrah’s New Orleans Casino suffered minimal damage and its port cochere now is being used as a barbecue pit and staging area for police. Anthony Sanfilippo, president of the Central Division of Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., said that the company has not discussed re-opening yet because it’s been trying to help the 8,000 Harrah’s employees in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast who were displaced by the storm.

Harrah’s has agreed to pay its employees for 90 days, has suspended health insurance premiums and is helping employees find jobs at other Harrah’s properties. It has also donated $1 million to a relief fund and several casino convention centers in Louisiana and Mississippi have been turned into shelters.

One question for Harrah’s New Orleans is what the storm will mean for the construction of its 450-room hotel. The company was trying to enclose the structure before the height of hurricane season, and hoped to open the property early next year. The outside of the hotel fared well, but the extent of damage inside is not yet known. Also unknown is whether the demand for construction workers and materials in New Orleans will delay the completion of the project.

The Boomtown Casino on the Harvey Canal suffered "some minor to moderate damage," but Clif Kortman, senior vice-president of construction and development for parent company Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., said that the Boomtown will be ready to re-open on Friday, Sept. 30. In the meantime, the casino has been housing about 100 Indiana sheriffs deputies and SWAT team members inside the casino and using the casino buffet to feed about 600 Entergy Corp. workers who are staying in a 30,000 square-foot tent in the parking lot. The casino has even rigged up showers on the outside of the boat for the emergency workers and 100 employees who are on site.

The Treasure Chest in Kenner "did not have any substantial damage" and plans to pay its employees for the next eight weeks. "We are currently trying to prepare our re-opening plan," said Paul West, an attorney for the Treasure Chest.

The Belle of Orleans’ marina is destroyed, its terminal building is damaged and General Manager Gonzalo Hernandez said he doesn’t know how long it will take to re-open the casino. Columbia Sussex Corp., which bought the vessel in June, is concerned that widespread flood damage in eastern New Orleans could mean that the casino’s customers and workers won’t return. But, asked if the Kentucky company would try to move the vessel, Hernandez said no. "Right now, we’re focused on opening the property."

Hurricane Katrina also has affected one yet-to-open New Orleans casino: the Fair Grounds Race Course. Owner Churchill Downs was about to begin construction on an addition to the grandstand that would house slot machines when the storm hit, and had hoped to open the facility next summer. The Fair Grounds is eligible to operate 500 slot machines but is allowed to operate 200 more if Harrah’s generates $350 million in a 12-month period. Harrah’s had been projected to reach that threshold by next spring, but with the casino closed, Churchill may need to restart the clock for getting its extra 200 slot machines.

With many video poker machines in Southeastern Louisiana likely shut down for months, the gaming control board passed an emergency measure temporarily suspending a rule that video poker operators whose machines are out of service for 30 days will lose their licenses.

Louisiana State Police Technical Supervisor Norbert Courville said that some 3,771 video poker machines remain out of service and will need to be replaced because of the hurricane. "Most of these machines, if they’ve taken on significant amounts of water, they won’t be functional," Courville said. "I anticipate that most of the machines in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes won’t be functional."

At the gaming control board meeting, company representatives joked about their losses in Mississippi.

"Those barges you’ve seen on Highway 90? They’re our casinos," said Harrah’s Sanfilippo, speaking of the Grand Casinos in Gulfport and Biloxi.

"By the way, Harrah’s isn’t the only company that has a boat on the other side of 90," Pinnacle’s Kortman said, referring to Casino Magic Bay St. Louis.

But destruction of casinos in Mississippi could mean serious competition for Louisiana casinos. Mississippi is expected to consider allowing Gulf Coast casinos to rebuild on land so they won’t be as vulnerable in future hurricanes. If the state lawmakers approve the move, Wade Duty, executive director of the Casino Association of Louisiana, said the Gulf Coast casinos will likely be rebuilt as a Las Vegas strip at the beach.

"Without question, Mississippi is going to come back stronger than it was before. It’s a proven market, it’s a friendly tax rate, and any company that has the means to go back, has to go back," Duty said. "We were at a disadvantage from a marketing standpoint before. This will widen that gap."

Film production moving to Shreveport

5:21 p.m., Tuesday

By Jaquetta White
Business Writer

Dozens of companies, hundreds of workers, and millions of dollars in film production have moved from New Orleans to Shreveport in the two weeks since Hurricane Katrina tore through the area, taking Hollywood South north, at least for now.

The move is a good sign for the state, which could lose millions in revenue to competing states and countries without the projects slated for production in Louisiana.

“I can’t say that we’re going to get them all back,” said Alex Schott, director of the Governor’s Office of Film and TV. “But I haven’t gotten any official word that any are pulling out.”

Schott’s office has been helping film industry businesses set up satellite offices in Shreveport.

“We want to maintain an open for business philosophy,” he said.
Among the firms making the move is New Orleans production company Lift, which has produced several feature films and television movies. The company is spending $1.5 million to set up an office in Shreveport and assist workers with relocation costs.

Malcolm Petal, the firm’s chief executive officer, said about $80 million in production or post production work scheduled to be done in New Orleans will be relocated to Shreveport, Monroe and Natchitoches.

“There are projects that the original plan was to for them to be shot somewhere in the Greater New Orleans area and that’s not an option now,” Petal said.

In one case, a television pilot scheduled to film in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans has been moved to a swanky Natchitoches neighborhood.

Of the nine television shows Lift was working on none of them were set in New Orleans or Louisiana, making it easy to move them. Also making the move smooth is the fact that the film industry is extremely mobile -- crews and equipment often travel between locations.

Schott said the industry chose to relocate to Shreveport in part because Baton Rouge is too crowded and didn’t offer enough space for the industry’s businesses and workers. Another reason, Petal said, is that unlike Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Shreveport and surrounding cities have not yet reaped the benefits of the growing film industry.

“I think it was important for us to show that you can make movies in north Louisiana,” Petal said. He plans to keep Lift’s Shreveport office running after New Orleans is operating again.

“Our focus was to keep the business in the state,” Schott said. “Shreveport offered the most attractive option.”

The move to Shreveport doesn’t mean that the industry will never return to metro New Orleans, Schott said.

UNO’s Robert E. Nims Center for Entertainment Arts and Multi-Media Technology in Elmwood, which houses a soundstage used in feature films, was left relatively unscathed, Schott said.

“They’re on the fast track to getting it up and running,” Schott said. “We’re looking to getting it back in business in a month or so.”

Petal agreed.

“It is purely an expansion,” he said.

Two private schools to reopen in St. Tammany

Two St. Tammany Parish private schools have announced plans to reopen this month.

Kehoe France Northshore in Covington will open Monday, with Prinicpal Kyle France reporting minimal damage to the school. "We're in good shape."

Meanwhile, Northlake Christian School in Covington will open Sept. 26, according to headmaster David Diamond.

The school also suffered minimal damage, losing just one window. "We will register new students at 9 a.m. Sept. 21-23," Diamond said.

Levees washed away along MRGO and St. Bernard Parish, Army Corps say

Hurricane Katrina’s massive surge washed away large sections of levees protecting the eastern and northern flanks of St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, an Army Corps of Engineers official said Tuesday.

Col. Richard Wagenaar, the Army Corps’ head of engineers for the New Orleans district, said during a CNN interview that an aerial review discovered entire sections missing in levees along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and the northern portion of neighborhoods in St. Bernard.

“I estimate 90 percent of (MRGO) is gone,” Wagenaar said.

The MRGO, a controversial shipping channel built in the 1960s, had a 17-foot high earthen levee that extended for 10 miles and was the area’s easternmost line of defense against storm surges.

St. Bernard officials have for decades charged that building the waterway destroyed wetlands that absorb the impact of storm surges, making the parish vulnerable.

At a meeting with thousands of parish residents on Monday, state Sen. Walter Boasso, R-Chalmette, urged the crowd to sign a petition calling on the state Legislature to shut down the MRGO.

"If we didn't have Mr. Go, we would have had some problems, but we wouldn't have had 30,000 homes flooded," Boasso told the crowd.

Wagenaar said the surge also hit a smaller levee built on the northern portions of neighborhoods in St. Bernard along Florida Avenue, from Arabi to Poydras.

“It’s very surprising. We never expected a storm to take out levees the
way this has,” Wagenaar said.

The levee’s destruction is likely to raise questions about the vulnerability of the region mid-way through the hurricane season.

In other matters, Wagenaar said the Corps are also using Blackhawk helicopters to drop additional giant sandbags on the levee breach at the London Canal in New Orleans, raising the height of a temporary repair.

He said there were five floodwalls that failed around the New Orleans area, letting Katrina’s waters in, but he didn’t name them.

“They will all be looked at separately,” he said.

Kenner sewage stations being repaired

Tuesday, 4:31 p.m.

Kenner’s two sewage treatment plans are up and running, but many of the
lift stations that transport sewage to the plants were damaged or need to be
replaced, Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano said Tuesday.

“Most of it was water damage,” Capitano said. “They were submerged.
They’re not designed to be submerged.”

He estimated that about 40 percent of Kenner’s sewage system is
working, but that Viola Water, the company that runs the sewerage system,
is working to repair the lift stations.

Because some of the lift stations aren’t working, small backups of
water are coming out of manholes, Capitano said. It isn’t a problem yet, because so few residents are in town, but once residents start returning, the
backups out of the manhole will be sewage, he said.

He said Viola Water hopes to have most of the lift stations
operating soon, but did not have an estimated time frame.

Blanco seeks more doctors, vets to help La. recover

Tuesday, 4:18 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco has suspended laws through Sept. 25 that will clear the way for health care professionals and veterinarians from out of state to help in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

She said the number of professionals “currently available to the state to respond to this emergency is insufficient and there is a need to immediately supplement their number in order to serve those affected by this disaster.’’

Blanco’s suspension does away with all state licensing rules and regulations for “medical professionals and personnel’’ and veterinarians coming to Louisianan from foreign countries and other states.

The order says the only prerequisite is that those who come to help in the state must have licenses in good standing in their home states or countries and “that they practice in good faith.’’

Medical professionals who want to work in Louisiana, she said, must submit to the state health officer at the Department of Health and Hospitals a copy of their licenses and a photo identification. More information may be obtained by calling 1-225-763-5762 or 1-225-763-5763.

Vets must submit copies of their licenses and a photo ID to the state Board of Veterinary Medicine at 1-225-342-2142. More information may be obtained from lbvm@eatel.net or by calling 1-225-342-2176.

After suspending the licensing laws, Blanco met with all elected statewide officials and thanked them for their help in various aspects of Katrina relief and recovery.

“It is critically important that we move forward together,’’ Blanco said.

She told the officials – Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, Secretary of State Al Ater, Attorney General Charles Foti, Treasurer John Kennedy, Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley and Agriculture-Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom – that each must play a role in the long-term recovery of the state’s economy.

“It is important we plan for the future prosperity of Louisiana,’’ Blanco said.

Although “our lives have been turned upside down. . .we must and will succeed’’ in rebuilding the state.

Blanco said she will designate “eight key recovery teams’’ and asked the other statewide officials to use their offices’ expertise to work in one or more areas.

The areas Blanco said are keys to recovery are restructuring the workforce and the economy; re-uniting families “and re-creating communities;’’ helping families heal; restoration of the environment, including help for the battered coastline; maintaining law and order; and restoring education.

“Our work is just beginning,’’ Blanco said.



Parts of New Orleans may be reopened next week

Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday he is anxious to start reopening parts of the New Orleans to residents, possibly as soon as next week.

An EPA report on airborne toxins and the now septic water that continues to sit in many city neighborhoods is expected to be delivered to Nagin soon. Should that report be as promising as the mayor believes it will be, Nagin said he would begin to allow residents to return by zip code.

The return, which the mayor hopes to launch early next week, would involve Algiers, the French Quarter, Central Business District and Uptown, Nagin said. None of those areas were flooded. Algiers was not subject to the mandatory evacuation that covers the rest of the city.

“I’m starting to get into the mode of how do we reopen the city,” Nagin said. “The city is out of nuclear crisis mode and we’re in day-to-day crisis mode.”

Citing falling arrest numbers and the reduction of the crime that marked the hurricane’s immediate aftermath and hailing residents’ resiliency, the mayor predicted that most former residents would return.

“I know New Orleanians, and once we’re cooking the beignets, once the gumbo is in the pot, and when red beans and rice are being served on Mondays in the city, they’ll be back.”

Fire reported at Freeport plant in Port Sulphur

Plaquemines Parish President officials have reported a fire at the Freeport Plant in Port Sulphur.

Parish President Benny Rousselle said the fire started earlier today, forcing the evacuation of emergency personnel and work crews trying to restore services in the area, one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

It was unclear if anybody was injured.

Rousselle said the fire was under control but “still smoldering” as of 3 p.m.

Katrina's Louisiana death toll at 423

Tuesday, 3:19 p.m.

A total of 423 people have died in Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina-related causes, the state Department of Health and Hospitals said Tuesday.

The death toll is expected to mount as more bodies are recovered from floodwaters in south Louisiana, officials said.

Agency officials said the 423 dead have been reported to state officials by local coroners. Of the dead, 342 bodies are at a temporary morgue in St. Gabriel, 39 are in the East Baton Rouge Parish morgue, six are in Iberia Parish, 27 are in Jefferson Parish, three are in St. Charles Parish, and six are in the St. Tammany Parish morgue.

St. Bernard Parish officials detail devastation

Tuesday, 3:30 p.m.

Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez and most parish council members warned thousands of residents at a meeting at the Capitol on Monday that nothing can prepare them for the devastation that awaits them when they return to St. Bernard.

The storm flooded practically the entire parish and destroyed thousands of homes.

"I did not come here to give you false hopes," Rodriguez told a crowd that spilled out of the House chamber. "But I’ll tell you this: We’re going to rebuilt St. Bernard."

Council district representatives gave a first hand account of the damage in the areas they represent, and details of the destruction were staggering.

District A Councilman Mark Madary said most of Arabi, where the water rose to more than 15 feet in some areas, is dry now. But he said there is still debris and muck blocking parts of St. Bernard Highway and Judge Perez Drive.

"Most houses had water into their attics, which means your ceiling is now down on top of your furniture," Madary said.

Other damage in his district includes:
- At least 45 homes were lifted off their foundations, and one was deposited on Judge Perez Drive.
- Shipping containers floated off Jackson Barracks and were deposited in nearby streets, from where they still must be cleared.
- In the Carolyn Park area, water is still draining.
- Buccaneer Village also has some water still, as do some areas surrounding Chalmette Medical Center.
- But the area around the government complex, the civic center and the Regions Bank building, in Chalmette, has been cleared.

District B Councilwoman Judy Hoffmeister said virtually all property flooded in her district. "Even the Keiser Vista section got water," she said. The storm also destroyed buildings in Village Square.

"We want you to return, we want you to rebuild, we want you to remain," Hoffmeister told the crowd.

District C Councilman Kenny Henderson was absent, attending a family emergency.

District D Councilman Craig Taffaro opened its remarks with a warning.

"Unfortunately, it’s a fairly simple report. . . (My district) is one of the worst hit areas of the parish," Taffaro said.

He said 10 to 12 feet of water rose in every part of Meraux and Violet, which were also hit by tornadoes.

Other damage in his district included:

- Most of the Lexington Place subdivision in Meraux, hundreds of homes that constitute one of the largest neighborhoods in the parish, will have to be torn down.
- In the northern portions of the district, along Florida Avenue, the surge ripped homes off the ground, slab and all, and slammed them against other houses. "Where there were houses, there’s nothing," Taffaro said.
- The old Delchamps building, he said, "looked like it exploded."
- The surge slid some concrete panels on the Judge Perez Drive bridge over the Violet Canal.
- The Cypress Gardens area was hard hit, with all homes flooded and some destroyed by winds.
- In the lower end of Violet, homes collapsed as the waters began receding.
- Oil was reported in some parts of Meraux, but he said it’s unclear whether it originated from an oil spill at the Murphy Oil refinery that has covered a large area in eastern Chalmette.
- Up to eight feet of water sat in home in Jumonville for days.

District E Councilman Ricky Melerine said in Violet and Poydras the water rose to three feet in homes near the Mississippi River levee, but reached the gutters of one-story homes just a few blocks further inland, and well above that in the central parts of the parish.

Melerine said that among the hundreds of homes and camps located in communities from Reggio to Delacroix, only 16 homes are left standing.

Despite the narrative of destruction, officials, and many residents, said they will rebuild St. Bernard. Rodriguez repeated it as, seemingly holding back tears, he spoke about leaving his home on his way to the government building as Katrina churned in the gulf.

"I told my wife, ‘Look at everything, because if this thing comes, the only thing you’ll have is memories.’ But I’ll tell you this: We’re going to rebuilt St. Bernard," he said amidst cheer and ovation.

Officials also said they have set up temporary animal shelters, where stray pets are being collected. The animals are then taken to a Louisiana State University facility in Gonzalez, where they will be housed for up to 90 days before alternatives homes are found for them.

Forestry officials attempt to salvage downed trees

Tuesday, 3:11 p.m.

The Louisiana Forestry Association has created a task force to salvage
about 2.4 billion board feet of timber downed or damaged by Hurricane
Katrina.

Paul Frey, state forester and co-chairman of the Louisiana Forest Recovery Task Force, said in a press release Tuesday that the most heavily damaged forests were in St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.

C.A. “Buck” Vandersteen, executive director of the association, asked
owners of forested land to consult loggers and other professionals to
determine how to quickly move the damaged timber to mills and storage areas.

“Much of the wood has been broken, which will be challenging to clean
up,” Vandersteen said. “We are working on several short-term remedies, such
as expedited permitting to help our landowners and loggers in this
situation.

My best advice to landowners is to get some professional guidance on
their timber.”

Landowners can contact the following county agents:

St. Tammany Parish
Rusty Batty, 985-875-2635, rbatty@agcenter.lsu.edu

Tangipahoa Parish
Chic Core, 985-748-9381, ccore@agcenter.lsu.edu

Washington Parish
Henry Harrison, 985-839-7855, hharrison@agcenter.lsu.edu

They may also call the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry:

St. Tammany Parish
Troy Turner, 985-893-6212, tturner@ldaf.state.la.us

Tangipahoa Parish
Epney Brasher, 985-543-4057, ebrasher@ldaf.state.us

Washington Parish
Matt Polk, 985-848-5280

Mosquito spraying to begin in N.O.

Tuesday, 2:45 p.m.

After a two-day delay due to President Bush's visit, spraying for mosquitoes and flies is to begin today around twilight on the east bank of the New Orleans area, the state health department announced.

The spraying by the U.S. Air Force aircraft, postponed for security reasons, is designed to ward off an expected post-Katrina surge in mosquito and fly hatchings to prevent an increase in West Nile virus infections and such insect-borne diseases as St. Louis encephalitis and eastern equine encephalitis.

Commonly used pesticides, primarily Naled, will be used during the last two hours of daylight, Department of Health and Hospitals spokeswoman Melissa Walker said.

There is no way to determine how frequently sprayings will be
conducted or how long the program will last, she said.

More information is available at the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry's hotline, (225) 925-3763.

John Pope

Armstrong celebrates reurn of commercial air traffic

Tuesday,

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

As Northwest Airlines Flight 947 lined up for its approach to Louis
Armstrong International Airport on Tuesday, Stephen Kishner of Metairie
said he looked hard out of the window, in hopes of getting a glimpse of
his community.

"All we saw was the lake," said Kishner, who had not seen his wife, an
employee of East Jefferson General Hospital, in two weeks.
Kishner was on the first commercial flight to arrive at Armstrong since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29.

A Delta flight from Atlanta quickly followed, and a second Northwest
flight landed later in the afternoon.

Sandy Rodriguez of New Orleans, who evacuated to Memphis on one of the
last fligths out of the airport before the storm, said she was anxious
to see her Lakefront home.

"Maybe we were one of the lucky ones," she said.

Airport officials celebrated the first flight as if it was the
long-awaited 10 millionth passenger to pass through the terminal that they had
hoped to see in 2005.

In Katrina's wake, having any paying passengers at all was a reason to
rejoice.

"The airport gets 90 percent of its revenue from passenger fees, so we
hope to be a going concern as quickly as possible," Aviation Director
Roy Williams said.

Before the storm an average of 174 commercial flights a day landed at
Armstrong, paying for the $70 million a year operation. Williams
reiterated hopes that federal grants would allow the airport to pay its bills,
including $20 million in annual debt service.

The airport will receive flights on the 30-year-old concourses A & B,
which weathered the storm with minimal damage. The newer Concourse D is
being used to house some of the troops stationed at the airport.

Though the airport has been open to cargo flights since Sunday, the
first Federal Express flight was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, with
United Parcel Service to follow wednesday. In addition to the returnees, several passengers were on the outbound flight.

Brophy Boudreaux Brophy, a pharmaceutical sales
executive from Mandeville, was headed for Knoxville and anxious to get back to
work. "I've been trying to get power on at my house all week," he said.
"Maybe it will happen while I'm gone.''

But a true return to business in New Orleans rides on the revival of
the city's convention and tourism business.

"We still don't have the hotels, the rent-a-cars or the other services
travelers need," Williams said, however, he said he is confident that
all of the airporrt's carriers will return eventually.

Williams said the larger question is how many of Louisiana's New
Orleans-based professional class remains in Baton Rouge or Houston, and for
how long.

"Those are the people who fly the most," he said. "I think the
worst case scenario is that we're back where we were in five years, but I
think it's going to happen much sooner than that."

New Orleans sets up non-profit corporation

By Frank Donze
Staff writer

Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration is moving quickly to set up a non-profit corporation designed to accept cash contributions, large and small, that would be used in the mammoth effort to help New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Describing the project as a work in progress, Nagin staffers said Tuesday that it is too early to discuss specifics, including a fund-raising goal, how the non-profit will function and exactly what the money would be spent on.

But with offers of aid pouring in from across the globe, city officials said it is imperative to get a mechanism in place to accept the help.

“I can’t tell you exactly what the money would be used for,’’ said Nagin spokeswoman Tami Frazier. “But anything we do will be geared toward helping New Orleanians back on their feet, by taking care of whatever their essential needs may be.
City officials said the possibilities include temporary housing assistance, helping small businesses acquire start-up inventory and paying to bring in experts in the fields or urban planning and economic development.

The administration has decided to name the non-profit “America’s New Orleans Fund Inc.’’

Chief Deputy City Attorney Evelyn Pugh, who is coordinating the project, said she hopes to have state approval to establish the fund by Wednesday and set up an account with Chase Bank before the weekend. Once the non-profit is authorized by the Secretary of State’s office, contributions will be accepted at any Chase branch or a post office box the city will designate, Pugh said.

The non-profit, to be headed by the mayor, will have a 501 3-C tax classification that allows any donor to claim a tax deduction on the
contribution. Besides Nagin, plans call for the fund to be overseen by his
top aides, including Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield, Chief
Financial Officer Reggie Zeno and City Attorney Sherry Landry.

Before the city begins to actively solicit contributions, Frazier said the administration will publish a “mission statement’’ that outlines the program’s goals and guidelines for how the money will be spent.

Frazier said she could not identify any potential donors at this time, but she said the city expects millions and millions of dollars to flow in quickly.

“So many are contributing already – movie stars, activists, businesses – we think that by establishing a fund that can be specifically directed to New Orleans assistance, we can help a lot of people.’’

Two north shore hospitals are open

Tuesday, 2:40 p.m.

A list of open hospitals in the metropolitan area published in Monday's edition of the The Times-Picayune should have included Louisiana Heart Hospital in Lacombe and Slidell Memorial Hospital.

HHS secretary to visit shelter

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today began a two-day visit with evacuees in
shelters in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to explain benefits available to those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Many victims of the hurricane no longer have the records or legal documents
to prove their eligibility for benefits from various government programs. The president has granted special "evacuee" status to individuals affected by Katrina, which will simplify the enrollment process for people who need the services of programs like Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Head Start.

"For those persons with evacuee status, we are stripping away many of the
eligibility and enrollment requirements normally needed to apply for Federal
benefits," Secretary Leavitt said. "No one who has been a victim of this
disaster should be prevented from getting benefits they need because of
government red tape."

State enrollment teams are already set up in many shelters, and many have
toll-free numbers people can call. Any evacuee can go to the nearest state or
local benefits offices to get information and get enrolled. Evacuees
staying in a home or church that has access to the Internet, or who can
visit a nearby public library with Internet access, can also enroll at www.govbenefits.gov.

St. Charles schools reopen Thursday

Tuesday, 2:18 p.m.

By John John Willliams IV
River Parishes bureau

Robbie Garcia, a physical education teacher at Arabi Elementary School in St. Bernard Parish, has already had to battle rising floodwaters in his Chalmette home, brave two shelters and then an evacuation to Houston. He even had to use the shoes of a dead man for his raw, injured feet.

Now Garcia finds himself in what may be one of his biggest challenges – finding a new job in post Hurricane Katrina Louisiana.

With the promise of only two more paychecks from St. Bernard Parish and his health insurance ending at the end of the month, Garcia sprang into attack mode when he received an invitation to apply for a teaching job in St. Charles Parish.

He was not alone.

District officials said more than 100 teachers showed up for an invitation-only job fair Tuesday. In addition to trying to hire more teachers, the district is also trying to absorb more than 1,000 displaced students.

“I’ve seen so many St. Bernard teachers,’’ Garcia said. “They run up to you and they cry.’’

This was going to be Gary Trahan’s first year as a full-time teacher at Helen Edward Elementary in New Orleans. He only had two weeks of work before disaster struck.

“Finally I get a job in Orleans and it’s wiped out,’’ Trahan said at the St. Charles job fair.

Like Garcia and Trahan, thousands of teachers and students are searching for new schools. And competition is tough.

Garcia said he saw his former principal looking for a job as a teacher in Houston. Trahan said his former principal is now a third grade teacher in Baton Rouge.

Garcia went to a job fair in Houston but the posts there were only part time, with no benefits.

“I didn’t even wait around for that,’’ he said.

St. Charles schools reopen Thursday to students enrolled there prior to the hurricane. No date has been set for classes for new students to begin.

“We’re going to come up with a plan,’’ said Rochelle Cancienne, a district spokeswoman. “Just opening the doors and letting in another 1,100 kids would not be any benefit to them.’’

Prior to Katrina, the district had reported an increase of more than 400 students this academic year.

The district might need to have portable classrooms to deal with the influx, assistant superintendent Felicia Gomez said.

“Right now everything is a possibility,’’ Gomez said.

Garcia and Trahan said they would continue to look for teaching jobs, even if those in St. Charles Parish do not pan out.

“I’m not going to give up,’’ said Garcia. “I’ve been in this profession for too long.’’

Legislature to meet

Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- The state Legislature will meet Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in a special meeting to get an update on the status of the state in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco will address a joint meeting of the House and Senate at 6:30 p.m.

A spokeswoman for the House of Representatives said the meeting will not be a lawmaking session and the Legislature cannot pass resolutions or take any legislative action. The meeting will not continue beyond Wednesday evening.

House and Senate leaders said they called the meeting under a provision of the state Constitution stating that the Legislature is a "continuous body" that can meet even when not in a lawmaking session. A press aide in the governor’s office said Blanco called the meeting.

The governor has the constitutional authority to convene an "emergency session" of the Legislature in the event of a public catastrophe, but Blanco has not declared such a session. Lawmakers and state officials are anticipating that the governor will call a special or emergency lawmaking session to deal with the storm’s impact on the state and its budget priorities.

Other Legislative and state financial meetings related to Hurricane Katrina are scheduled at the state Capitol. The Senate Local and Municipal Affairs Committee meets Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m., the Joint Insurance Committee and the State Bond Commission will meet separately Thursday at 10 a.m. The Louisiana Transportation Authority meets 2 p.m. Sept. 21 and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meets 9:30 a.m. Sept. 23.

State hires company to recover bodies

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – An angry Gov. Kathleen Blanco Tuesday said the state has retained the services of the Kenyon Co. to help collect the dead victims from Hurricane Katrina because the federal emergency agency was not moving quickly enough to hire the firm.

“In death, as in life, our people deserve more respect and dignity,’’ Blanco said at a meeting of statewide officials which was opened briefly to reporters.

Aides to Blanco did not say how long the company will be retained by the state or how much it will be paid.

The company and the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to come to terms on a contract to help collect and process the dead, so the state decided to hire the company, said Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher. The company is one of a handful with expertise in body-retrieval and processing and worked the World Trade Center disaster in New York City in the aftemath of terrorist attacks four years ago, and also helped collect and process bodies in the Asian sunami last year.
Blanco said she spoke to officials at FEMA and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the lack of progress in signing a contract and recovering bodies.

“I expressed my frustration regarding the lack of urgency and lack of respect involing recovery of our people who . . .were lost’’ in Hurricane Katrina, she said. “No one seems to be able to break through the bureauracy to get this done . . . I am angry and outraged . . . We have pleaded for contract resolution.

“More than a week ago, Secretary Chertoff told me plans would be put in place for a system of ‘recovery with respect. . . .’

“The failure to execute a contract for the recovery of our citizens has hurt the speed of recovery efforts.’’

Blanco said while body-recovery is a FEMA responsibility, “I cannot stand by while this vital operation is not being handled appropriately.’’

Blanco said she spoke to Kenyon officials and they told her Monday they were on the verge of leaving as soon as they could “professionally pull out’’ because FEMA and the company could not agree on a contract.

Bottcher said the state started negotiating a contract with Kenyon Monday and it was expected to be signed Tuesday.

Bottcher said that any contract that the state signs will probably have to be approved by FEMA and the federal agency will reimburse the state its contract expenses.

Holy Cross High School aiming for Baton Rouge

By Mike Strom
Staff writer

Holy Cross and Archdiocese of New Orleans officials should know by Thursday if the lower 9th Ward school will be allowed to relocate to Baton Rouge for the rest of the school year, according to Coach Barry Wilson.

Holy Cross officials are attempting to hold evening classes as Dunham Academy in Baton Rouge pending approval of Dunham officials, Wilson said. A decision by Dunham officials is expected at a Wednesday night meeting.

The high school, which was heavily damaged by flooding, also will attempt to field a football team for the final five games of the regular season if feasible, Wilson said.

“We’re going to try and play here at Dunham,’’ said Wilson, who initially evacuated to Memphis, but has returned to Baton Rouge where he played for LSU. “We’re trying to get the school up and running and see if we can get five games in, if we can get enough players together. That’s all we can do.’’

Holy Cross principal Joe Murry could not be reached for comment

Fall elections in Orleans, Jefferson postponed

October and November elections in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes have been postponed indefinitely, officials with the Louisiana Secretary of State's office said Tuesday.

Oct. 15 was to be a primary election for School Board, Kenner City Council and 5th Circuit Court of Appeals races in Jefferson Parish, with runoffs on Nov. 12 if necessary. And three New Orleans neighborhoods planned elections on Nov. 12 to decide whether to establish special taxes to finance security patrols and other neighborhood improvements.

"Those are delayed," Jennifer Marusak, spokeswoman for the Louisiana
Secretary of State's office, said about all of the elections. "They may be rescheduled. We just can't reschedule them yet, because we don't know when they'll be able to reschedule."

Officials do not even know currently if they have enough voting machines to hold the elections, Marusak said.

Covington makes music

Covington's Sunset at the Landing concert series, which takes place the third Friday of the month, will go on as scheduled this Friday, Sept. 16, at the Columbia Street Landing.

Cajun entertainment will be provided by Feufollet. Concert-goers can bring picnic baskets and blankets for the free outdoor event from 6 to 8 p.m. at the foot of Columbia Street in downtown Covington, on the banks of the Bogue Falaya River. For more information, call 892-1873.

FEMA meets with St. Tammany government officials

By PAUL BARTELS
St. Tammany bureau

Local officials throughout St. Tammany Parish met Monday with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials – most for the first time – for a briefing on what the agency can do to help them in rebuilding their damaged government facilities and infrastructure.

FEMA agents promised the 80 people gathered in the auditorium at Fontainebleu High School near Mandeville that help was on the way but were unable to say exactly when, how much and for long.

But “they’re bringing in people every day,” FEMA public assistance officer Marvin Johnston said.

The initial aid to municipal governments and other public agencies will come in the form of 100 percent payment of expenses for emergency-related work that costs more than their insurance will cover, Johnston said.

This reimbursement category covers tree clearance, debris removal, cleaning out flooded public buildings and the like, and emergency protective measures taken before, during and after the disaster to save lives, protect public health, safety and property.

This financial aid category is good for 60 days after the hurricane devastated much of metro New Orleans, Johnston said, although he, parish Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Salter and Parish President Kevin Davis said the state is expected to seek an extension.

Officials who haven’t already filed a “request for public assistance” form must do so as soon as possible to get them into FEMA’s computer system, Johnston said. “This is only the first step,” he said.

Parish government and the School Board already have. Many officials Monday were busy filling out the forms as best they could and received packets of complicated summary sheets, equipment and truck use allowances and other information.

Field project officers will contact the local agencies later to help them finalize and file actual claims, which Johnston and Salter must be as well-documented as possible to guarantee maximum reimbursement.

The most accurate accounting of “reasonable expenses” is key because the ultimate claims “go through many, many hands,” Johnston said. “They review it all. Why did we pay for this? Why did we pay for that? Each one will be reviewed on a case by case basis.”

Johnston also cautioned communities filing for storm debris financial aid against overstating or over-estimating these costs. “I saw one the other day for $22 million” for storm debris removal, he said, indicating such a claim was implausible. He didn’t name the locality.

Anything over $1 million for the “debris removal” subcategory must go all the way to Washington, D.C., for final approval, he said, suggesting that agencies break down projects into smaller sums.

Johnston was unable to say when those project officers would be contacting the dozens of local agencies but said it would be as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Rodney Hart of the parish Office of Emergency Preparedness at 898-2323 will assist local officials in setting up the meetings.

The next major category is for “permanent work.” Johnston and FEMA and public assistance officer Jim Holderfield could say little about when money already approved by President Bush and Congress would be coming.
These subcategories include repairs to roads and bridges, water and sewerage facilities, buildings and equipment, other utilities, parks, recreational facilities and historical structures.

Representatives of parish agencies, parish government, police, fire and recreation districts and others except Slidell were on hand for the almost 90-minute meeting.

Parish officials surmised this was because Slidell, the parish’s largest city, already had begun the FEMA-aid process. But a shocked city Chief Administrative Officer Reinhard Dearing said at late afternoon the city was never informed of the briefing.

However, 30 FEMA volunteers are supposed to be coming in today to begin work with the city, he said, and set up with computers in City Auditorium to help citizens start filing for disaster relief.


UNO to post course offerings next week

Tuesday, 12:10 p.m.

On Monday, Sept. 19, the University of New Orleans will post an initial list of courses that will be offered electronically for the fall semester 2005. Also, on Monday, Sept. 19, an initial list of traditionally taught courses that will be offered on-site at a number of satellite campuses will also be posted. These satellite locations include UNO’s Jeff Center, Slidell High School, Mandeville Junior High School and a location on the West Bank.

Enrollment for both electronic and on-site classes will begin on Monday, Sept. 26, with classes scheduled to begin Oct. 10. Fall semester courses will be completed by Dec. 31.

These listings will be available on the Internet at www.uno.edu and will be updated frequently as new courses become available. Students needing further assistance also may call the UNO phone banks at 225-578-7816 from 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

UNO also requests that all faculty, staff and students who have not already done so visit www.uno.edu and click on the appropriate check-in link where they will be asked to provide pertinent contact information.

Electrical service almost fully restored in Gretna, officials told

By Joe Darby
Staff writer

All Jefferson Parish public schools in Gretna should be ready to open by the Oct. 3 target date, and 95 percent of the city’s electrical customers should have power within a few days.

That was among the good news that officials received Monday night at the Gretna City Council’s first meeting since Hurricane Katrina struck.

Jefferson Parish School Board Member Mark Morgan said some of the schools in the city received wind damage, but all should be ready to receive students by the planned resumption of the school year next month. Some Terrytown schools suffered more extensive damage and may not be ready, he said.

Morgan and Gretna city police officers climbed onto the roof of the new Thomas Jefferson Magnet School on Huey P. Long Avenue in Gretna to make repairs in the days following the storm, Police Chief Arthur Lawson said.

Morgan said that parish teachers are continuing to receive their pay and benefits.

Entergy spokesman Manny Silver told Gretna officials that within three or four days all buildings in Gretna should have power, except for those that had their meter pans pulled down by the storm. In those cases, it’s up to the owner to have a licensed electrician reinstall the pans, Silver said.

City officials said they will supply residents with a list of licensed electricians.

City building inspector Mike Metcalf said Gretna’s strict building code helped to prevent major damage to the many new homes built in the city in recent years. Requirements for hurricane clips and bracings, under the International Building Code of 2000, were instrumental in preventing the damage, he said.

The newer homes suffered much less wind damage than many of Gretna’s older houses, Metcalf said.

The City Council passed resolutions thanking cities that sent aid to Gretna in the days after the hurricane, as well as Gretna city workers, firefighters and police officers for their efforts, in particularly the police department for keeping Gretna safe.

Gretna police turned back hundreds of people who tried to walk to the West Bank over the Crescent City Connection, while looting took place in New Orleans, Mayor Ronnie Harris said, adding that Gretna had barely enough provisions and water to feed its own residents, of whom about 4,000 to 5,000 did not evacuate.


Harris said the situation was “extremely tense” for a while, but police “did what they had to do to protect our city.”

There was some looting in Gretna, however. Lawson said that as soon as he began patrolling the streets after the storm, with a 50 mph wind still blowing, he saw people running from Labories grocery store on Lafayette Street with liquor and cigarettes.

David Crockett Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bobby Black said there were two incidents of arson, at 21st Street and Belle Chasse Highway and in the 1000 block of Franklin Street.

In other news from the council meeting:
•Public utilities director Mike Baudoin said he hopes to rescind the order to boil drinking water within a few days.

•Finance director Rudy Dusaules said the city has applied for a $750,000 FEMA grant to meet extra city expenses and that Gretna employees are continuing to get paid.

•Harris said city workers are busy clearing streets and putting tarps on the roofs of houses that were damaged and whose owners have not returned home.

•Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts said the parish has been planning to ask residents to return beginning Sept. 30 but that date could be pushed up because of rapid progress in getting electricity to homes and businesses.

A hurricane, an evacuation, interrupted funerals

Tuesday, 11:40 a.m.

By Michelle Krupa
West Bank bureau

In Parlor C of the Westside/Lietz-Eagan Funeral Home in Marrero, an embalmer called “Big Memphis” has made his bed on a cot, sleeping between days spent clearing piles of branches and garbage from the parking lot or washing the company hearse.

Out back, hidden from the West Bank Expressway, a refrigerated, 48-foot-long semi-trailer holds the remains of those for whom Katrina never existed, people whose worst nightmare of a hurricane slamming southeast Louisiana might only have been informed by Betsy or Camille.

Before the storm, these deceased, 17 in all, had lain in a South Claiborne Avenue warehouse, where 13 area funeral homes prepare the dead for burial. But days set aside for graveside services became a tangle of evacuation, then of hurricane force winds and flood.

Employees manning the warehouse escaped when Lake Pontchartrain starting pouring into the city, said George Rohrer, an executive with Alderwoods Group, which owns the local funeral homes. Power to the refrigerators went out.

After Katrina’s landfall, Colby Hitchcock, nicknamed “Big Memphis” for his size and hometown, was dispatched from a funeral parlor in Tennessee to the hurricane zone. He learned from news reports the magnitude of mortality: corpses floating in floodwater; deaths at hurricane shelters; a request for 25,000 body bags.

But at a time when the frenetic search for Katrina’s survivors largely is starting to turn to the grim task of cataloguing the untold number of storm fatalities, the local Westside parlor staff, along with Hitchcock and about 20 embalmers from Minnesota, Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Tennessee have focused on caring for the souls whose ordinary course of deaths were interrupted by Katrina.

“There’s not many people out here who are worrying about the dead. We are,” said Aaron Koeth, an embalmer from Cleveland also camping out at the Westside parlor said.

More than a week after the evacuation, employees went back to the warehouse, launching airboats at St. Charles and Napoleon avenues, Rohrer said. They found the building awash in four feet of filthy floodwaters. The waters had not touched the deceased, he said, but humidity had created a putrid muck everywhere.

Employees ferried the dead, wrapped in sheets, back Uptown, then into the chiller truck and to the West Bank parlor, he said. The task now has turned to resurrecting plans for eulogies and internment.

Of the area funeral parlors Alderwoods runs, seven were left in various states of ruin. Their cemeteries in Jefferson Parish could operate, but Rohrer said he didn’t know of any functioning cemetery in Orleans Parish.

Rohrer said he wanted to begin hosting services soon for those who died before Katrina or whose natural deaths occurred in days following the storm. The first such service was scheduled for Tuesday morning at a Metairie parlor, he said.

Jefferson needs three weeks to resume full function, parish official says

By Rob Nelson
Staff writer

Despite the return of thousands of residents and business owners, Jefferson Parish is still roughly three weeks away from being fully functional, Walter Maestri, the parish's director of emergency management, said Monday evening.

Describing the situation as a "limited shutdown" of the parish, Maestri said Jefferson is not yet ready to handle its full population of nearly 500,000.

Specifically, he pointed to only a 50 percent restoration of electricity, sweltering weather, a boil-water advisory in East Jefferson, an absence of critical businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies and disrupted sewerage service.

"We are certainly not ready to open up completely," he said. "This is not a comfortable place right now. You can't live the urban life most of our citizens are used to living."

Currently, emergency officials are most concerned with stabilizing and reopening the West Bank, which took a lesser hit from Hurricane Katrina than East Jefferson and other surrounding parishes, Maestri said. He added that Kenner also is almost fully restored.

"It's not a question of bulldozing and starting all over again here in Jefferson," he said.

He estimated that a maximum of 200,000 residents are residing in Jefferson. Last week, amidst political grumblings, Parish President Aaron Broussard allowed residents to return briefly to assess damage to their homes and to retrieve additional personal items. On Monday, he allowed business owners and key employees to do the same as part of an effort he dubbed Operation Jumpstart Jefferson.

Parish leaders concede that, even though they have urged people to leave, thousands of residents have remained in Jefferson, though officials say they will not enforce a mandatory evacuation.

Maestri also denied rumors that looting had become rampant in Jefferson. With at least 60 percent of the parish still abandoned, he called those claims "much more fictional than reality." In fact, he said, the parish has had a lower crime rate in the past two weeks than in the past six months.

A curfew still remains in place from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and people traveling during those hours will be stopped and questioned by police or military officials, Maestri warned.

Residents who have already obtained temporary passes to be in the parish will be allowed to return if they decide to leave, he said.

For those who continue to reside in Jefferson, the parish has established 11 community centers, offering medical attention, food, water and social services, Maestri said.

Port prepares to open

10:52 a.m., Tuesday

By Jeffrey Meitrodt
Staff writer
NEW ORLEANS – As he drove his boss around the Napoleon Container Terminal, Joseph LaBarriere yanked the wheel of his Ford Explorer left and right to avoid hitting dozens of four-ton steel boxes scattered across the yard by Hurricane Katrina.
“Looks like Legos on a child’s playroom floor, doesn’t it?’’ said Gary LaGrange, president and chief executive officer of the Port of New Orleans.
In a normal week, truck drivers complain about a delay of three hours at the recently refurbished wharf, and this would qualify as a crisis. But not a single ship has unloaded at the port in two weeks, so the task of cleaning up the yard is actually one of the less daunting tasks he faces in the coming months, LaGrange said.
Though ships still are floating past his office on the banks of the Mississippi River, they’re heading north because there’s nobody left in New Orleans to unload them.
Trucks, which typically carry 60 percent of the freight that enters the port, are barred from entering either Jefferson or Orleans parishes because local officials want to keep the lanes free for emergency vehicles.
Trains, which carry the other 40 percent, can’t make it into the city because the six lines that service New Orleans are either under water or have lost miles of track to the 100-mph winds that battered the region when Katrina hit.
Despite the magnitude of these problems, LaGrange said the port will be ready to unload its first ship Wednesday. Within a month, after rounding up workers and borrowing much-needed equipment from the federal government, LaGrange said, business will bounce back as much as 50 percent. He’s betting the port will reach at least 80 percent of capacity in three months.
That will be a tall order, according to transportation leaders, who say there are still many unknowns when it comes to moving cargo in and out of New Orleans. But it’s not an impossible goal.
“We were wounded, we weren’t totally wiped out,’’ said state Sen. Walter Boasso, D-Chalmette, who owns a liquid bulk shipping business and has been helping coordinate rescue efforts. “We’ve still got infrastructure here that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country. That gives us some advantages.’’
One of the most immediate problems is housing. With much of New Orleans under water and facing a mandatory evacuation order, there’s no place to put the thousands of people whose jobs are related to the port.
On Thursday afternoon, help started to trickle in when the crane ship Diamond State arrived from Orange, Texas. Port officials said the ship can house about 40 workers, and it will soon be joined by three training ships capable of accommodating as many as 1,000 people, LaGrange said. Typically, when traffic is heavy, there are about 2,000 people involved in loading and unloading ships, he said.
“These cabins will be dedicated to anybody who is working the port in any capacity at all,’’ LaGrange said. “That includes truckers, terminal workers, stevedores, warehousemen, line handlers, tug operators and security personnel.’’
Also on the list: state-commissioned pilots, who have the job of guiding foreign vessels up and down the Mississippi River. One of the casualties of Katrina was Pillottown, an island community near the mouth of the river that has served as a base of operations for two of the region’s three pilot groups for about 100 years.
“Pilottown got wiped out,’’ said Ed Peterson, executive director of the Louisiana River Pilots Association.
Pilots typically spent up to two weeks on the island, which had two large dormitories and a fleet of boats capable of getting pilots to and from the ships passing in the nearby channel.
After Katrina, 10 pilots found shelter on a barge operated by the Coast Guard, but that vessel is needed for other Katrina-related work and will be leaving soon, Peterson said. He said pilots are using high-speed boats and helicopters to hook up with their ships.
Peterson said the storm has complicated a river that was already considered one of the most challenging waterways in the world to navigate.
One of the biggest problems: a lack of navigational aides. Of the 120 lights and buoys that once blinked along the river, helping pilots fix their position and plot their course, just three remain. As a result, ships can only move during daylight, causing delays of 10 to 12 hours.
“The river looks totally different,’’ Peterson said. “It is so much wider, and the levees have disappeared. The pilots are feeling their way to find the deepest part of the channel because it is not marked. It is pretty stressful, but they’re doing it. They want to keep this river open.’’
The signs of Katrina’s passage are everywhere on the lower Mississippi. Near LaGrange’s office, there’s a big dent on a wharf that got hit by a dry dock that broke loose from Algiers Point. It smashed through two steel beams and 20 pilings. The dry dock, which had a tugboat in it at the time, weighs 250 tons.
“If that had hit the bridge, it would have been Armageddon,’’ LaGrange said, referring to the Crescent City Connection.
Across the river, a pair of tugboats was smashed on the riverbank, victims of a tanker that came loose from its moorings. Altogether, six ships broke their lines while the hurricane raged, and hundreds of barges escaped, including one that may have caused the breach in the 17th Street Canal and another that hit the high rise on Interstate 10, closing it for several days.
In the Bywater, hundreds of exploded propane tanks littered the ground near a food warehouse that burned to the ground after vagrants apparently started a fire. The blaze destroyed five docks – including the Mandeville Wharf – and nearly spread to the nearby New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. It took three days to extinguish, LaGrange said.
“Those tanks were shooting off like cannonballs,’’ LaGrange said. “You can find them a half mile away from the warehouse.”
In eastern New Orleans, 5 million pounds of chicken sat rotting in a freezer Friday owned by New Orleans Cold Storage and Warehouse Co., which recently launched a three-part, $19 million expansion at the port’s Jourdan Road terminal.
At the Napoleon Container Terminal in Uptown New Orleans, two of the four dockside gantry cranes are out of commission – one because its high-rise control room was shredded by the winds. Five more cranes at Jourdan Road are under water.
LaGrange said he’s not fazed by the destruction: “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Are you ready to push the panic button?’ I didn’t even know I had a panic button.”
It took five days to reopen the Mississippi, Peterson said. Initially, traffic on the river, which is popular with shipping companies because its deep channel typically provides 45 feet of draft, was limited to 35 feet, greatly reducing the amount of cargo those ships could carry. The limit has since been increased to 39 feet, Peterson said.
“That is a huge impact,’’ Peterson said. “That is a lot of tons that don’t get loaded. But we’re going to overcome that in short order.’’
Ships were moving in both directions Friday, an improvement over the first few days when ships had to wait until the river was clear of other traffic.
“We’re probably doing 60 percent as many ships as we had been before the storm,’’ Peterson said.
For now, virtually all of those ships are heading to grain terminals north of the city, which are working at about 85 percent of capacity, or to facilities near Baton Rouge, whose port was largely unaffected by the storm.
Ships that used to visit the Port of New Orleans are heading to other cities, including Houston; Pensacola, Fla.; and Morehead City, N.C., LaGrange said. That worries the owners of many companies who do business with the port, because those cities also capitalized on previous work stoppages in New Orleans.
“Historically, when we lose freight out of the port, there is a percentage of it that doesn’t come back,’’ said Glen Guillot, vice president of two trucking companies that do business with the port. “And those labor issues only lasted a week and a half or two weeks. This is of a more significant magnitude.’’
Guillot said restarting operations at the port will be hampered by a shortage of diesel, which is needed to fuel both his trucks and the generators that will be used to provide power to the dock workers. Conventional electricity isn’t expected to reach most docks for weeks, if not months.
“I was in my office yesterday, and a fire captain from East Jefferson came up to me and asked if I had fuel,’’ said Guillot, who was able to spare a few gallons because he got a big diesel delivery just before the storm hit. “If the fire department can’t get fuel, how am I going to get fuel?’’
Another obstacle to truck traffic is getting past the checkpoints operated by State Police, but port and parish officials said they are discussing an agreement that would allow commercial traffic in the parishes sometime this week.
Guillot said his biggest challenge is finding his workers. Of the 20 drivers at Southeastern Motor Freight, he’s been able to locate only seven – and they’re spread from Atlanta to Houston. The rest evacuated without leaving any forwarding information.
“That is going to be a challenge, and one I look at with great apprehension,’’ said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents 129,000 truckers around the country. “The primary response we’re getting (from members in that area) is no response whatsoever.”
Spencer said he knows of several truckers in the area who lost everything, including their trucks. “I suspect that is going to be a pretty common situation for the guys who worked the port,’’ he said.
By contrast, finding stevedores and other dock workers should be fairly easy, according to officials at P&O Ports and Ceres Gulf Inc., two companies that expect to be back in business this week at the port.
“We have 92 managers and employees, and all 92 have been located and are intact – and that’s the best news of the whole week,’’ said Dave Morgan, senior vice president of Gulf operations for P&O Ports.
Jim Campbell, president of the local chapter of the International Longshoreman’s Association, said he has located virtually all of his 250 or so members.
“If I had to put together 100 men today, I could do it,’’ Campbell said late last week.
Less certain is when the trains will be moving again.
One of the lines that got hit hardest by Katrina is Canadian National, which lost several miles of track between LaPlace and Kenner, LaGrange said. Company officials didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Also punished by the storm was Norfolk-Southern, which had several miles of track ripped from its bridge near Slidell and dumped into Lake Pontchartrain. A company spokeswoman said repairs to the bridge should be completed sometime this week, but she said engineers don’t know when they’ll be able to inspect miles of track that remains submerged in Orleans Parish. That line may have structural as well as environmental damage, she said.
At CSX Corp., a spokeswoman said there is damage to about 100 miles of track between New Orleans and Pascagoula. She said it could take weeks or months to repair.
“It’s a big problem,’’ LaGrange said. “But the rail lines usually get repaired quicker than the highways do.”
Though LaGrange said he sees challenges almost everywhere he looks, he is confident the port, which is the nation’s fourth or fifth largest in terms of tonnage, will rebound quickly. His main argument is the river itself, which connects to 15,000 miles of inland waterways crossing 33 states, reaching 62 percent of the nation.
“No other port has that,’’ he said. “The river is still here. The railroads are still here. All the parts that make our port great are still here. All we have to do is get power and get our people back here.”

Water trucks staging in Baton Rouge

Tuesday,

BATON ROUGE – Outside a Target store being built just off Interstate 12, 150 big tractor trailers were parked Monday afternoon as their drivers awaited orders to pick up and deliver something that New Orleans area residents probably took for granted until Katrina disrupted their lives: drinking water.

The vehicles, 100 capable of hauling 6,800 gallons each and 50 loaded with various sized water jugs, will likely be gone in a few days, half sent to a distribution point in Harahan and the rest to New Orleans to supply two cruise ships where plans call for housing police and other public safety employees working out of t the city’s Convention Center, according to a Louisiana National Guard officer in charge of the bulk water operation.

Lt. Col. Cliff Couture, who is taking his orders from the state Office of Emergency Preparedness, said he had reached agreements with other parishes, including Jefferson, to fill the trucks but so far has been able to dispatch only a small number, some to St. Bernard Parish for its fire and police and a few to Red Cross sites. “I might only be using 20 trucks right now,” he said.

But with New Orleans officials looking for 10 truckloads of water a day and demand for drinking water expected to increase when residents are able to return to now-flooded neighborhoods, more and more of the trucks will be put into service, Couture said

The fleet of trucks, owned by companies in Florida and Texas, were brought here under contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Administration. A FEMA employee who would not give his name said the trucks would be used to bring bulk water into areas of metro New Orleans.

Monday drivers of several of the highway rigs sat in folding chairs, waiting for orders; trucks are dispatched in groups of ten, they said.

Guard battalion returns from Iraq to scenes of N.O. destruction

By Paul Purpura
West Bank bureau

Seven months ago, members of Louisiana National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment, returned to New Orleans after a yearlong combat tour in Iraq.

Now they’re back on active duty, this time flying missions in their
UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters over southeast Louisiana and the massive damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Some of the battalion’s soldiers and their families were left homeless by the storm. The battalion itself is displaced, as Katrina caused heavy damaged to its hangar at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport.

The battalion’s Blackhawks are part of a military and civilian helicopter force currently larger than that patrolling Iraq.

“This is personal,” said Maj. Patrick Bossetta, the 1/244th’s commanding officer and an Algiers resident whose childhood home in Lakeview is awash in murky flood water. “It’s our community. It’s our house, our neighbors. We’re the home team.”

Before Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, the battalion’s helicopters were flown to safe havens in Alexandria and Texas. The battalion was among the 4,000 Louisiana Army and Air National Guard members positioned to react after Katrina passed.

The idea that the military was slow to react, as some have said, angers Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, superintendent of Rapides Parish public schools who now heads National Guard efforts in Louisiana in an operation the military calls Task Force Pelican.

“That’s baloney,” Jones said. “We were here. We did it. We responded.”

But Katrina caused more damage than anyone expected.

“We knew as soon as (Katrina) quit that this was such a massive disaster that no amount of preparation would work,” Jones said. “It obviously overwhelmed us, and in my opinion, FEMA was a little slow to respond.”

Katrina’s passing started a frantic search-and-rescue operation by air, land and boat. The 1/244th and Coast Guard helicopters were the first to respond, doing so in Katrina’s immediate aftermath as 50 mph winds still whipped the aircraft.

“At first, it was just chaos,” said 2nd Lt. Luis Sologaistea, a pilot and Mandeville resident whose missions ranged from rescuing people from rooftops to flying stranded hospital patients to Louis Armstrong International Airport.

When the Industrial Canal levee was breeched and spilled water into the 9th Ward, the Jackson Barracks, the Louisiana Guard’s headquarters at the Orleans-St. Bernard parish line, began flooding. The 400 soldiers and airmen who rode out Katrina there, like thousands or residents in the area, were trapped.

The Guard members made their way to the Mississippi River levee, where the 1/244th aircrews evacuated them to the Superdome, said Lt. Col. Sherry Brannan, an Abita Springs resident who is executive officer of the 204th Air Traffic Services Group.

At the Superdome, Brannan and others in the unit began planning to manage the helicopter flow. They knocked down light poles at the Superdome’s parking areas to create more landing pads, Brannan said.

As floodwaters deepened, pilot Chief Warrant Officer Wayne Griffin of
Belle Chasse said he and other pilots spotted people gathering on rooftops or on elevated roadways and bridges.

“Every time you’d leave and come back, there were more people,” Griffin said. “We were running 24 hours a day.”

At one point FEMA set up an evacuee staging area at the Seabrook
Bridge, from where the pilots flew people to the Interstate 10 interchange at Causeway Boulevard in Metairie, Griffin said.

On the first day of rescues, 25 people and a pit bull who sought refuge on the roof of a New Orleans motel were crammed into one Louisiana Blackhawk, which has seating for eight.

“They said it looked like a twister game,” Brannan said.

Soon, helicopter National Guard units from Texas and Florida arrived,
Griffin said. National Guard helicopters from other states followed shortly after, followed by active duty units sent to aide FEMA. “They were in the fight quickly,” Bossetta said of the National Guard units.

As the rescues unfolded, Staff Sgt. Eugene Bordelon, a Blackhawk crew chief who lives in Slidell, saw from the air his native Chalmette consumed by flooding. The stress was tough, he said, because most of his family lived there and was left homeless.

In the eight days following Katrina’s landfall, Bossetta said his battalion hoisted 800 people to safety, moved 2,100 hospital patients and evacuated another 28,000 people.

“The death toll they’re talking about? It’s going to be a lot less,”
Bossetta said. “You know why? Because of what we did.”

Paul Purpura can be reached at ppurpura@cox.net.

Senate Finance Committee unveils storm recovery proposals

Tuesday, 9:56 a.m.

By Bruce Alpert
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON - The Senate's Finance Committee Monday unveiled the first comprehensive proposal to aid the recovery of individuals and businesses who suffered devastating economic damages from Hurricane Katrina.

The proposals include tax breaks for businesses that hire workers who lost jobs because of the hurricane and penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts to help people with their immediate cash-flow problems.

Some of the tax benefits are modeled after relief given to businesses and people who returned or relocated to lower Manhattan after the World Trade Center towers were toppled in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"With this first initiative from the Finance Committee - and there will be more in other areas where we have jurisdiction - we want the victims through all of the affected areas to know that they can count on us to create a set of measures that will return vitality and vigor to the Gulf region," said the panel's chairman, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Meanwhile, two members of the House's Tax Writing Committee, Republican Peter King and Democrat Charles Rangel, both of New York, announced that they are introducing legislation to create what would be the nation’s largest empowerment zone in which businesses would qualify for tax breaks and low interest loans for redevelopment projects in hurricane ravaged communities.

"We want to provide very significant tax incentives for businesses to locate there, incentives for housing, and attempt to minimize as much of the red tape as possible by creating one central clearing house for government programs," King said.

Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., said they are working with other members of the Louisiana congressional delegation on a package of tax breaks and incentives to facilitate recovery in Louisiana. One component will be “bridge loans” so that struggling businesses could quickly get back on their feet.

Daniel Hamermesh, a labor economist at the University of Texas in Austin, said while Congress is focusing on tax incentives and loans the real key to getting businesses to come back to metro New Orleans is "restoration of key infrastructure as quickly as possible." He said the city could also draw a lot of interest by redeveloping in a manner that takes advantage of the latest technologies, perhaps becoming the first city almost entirely focused on “wireless telecommunications’’ rather than relying on traditional copper wires.

Jack Kemp, a Republican who headed the Housing and Urban Development Department for President George H.W. Bush, said that a large scale empowerment zone, along with subsidies for businesses that hire displaced workers and fewer regulations on building, would be important inducements for companies deciding whether to return to hurricane ravaged communities. He said that fewer regulations could speed the recovery, but that there should be strong regulations to limit develop in flood-prone communities.

It won't be easy for small businesses displaced by Hurricane Katrina, said Brian Drum, president and CEO of Drum Associates, an executive search agency in lower Manhattan. After the World Trade Center towers collapsed in 2001, about 300 yards from the firm’s own office building, the company went overnight from its best economic returns to "zero" sales. “Our office was unusable, and we came pretty close to running out of cash,” he said.

He said his company was eventually able to recover, retaining most of its original employees and even lately expanding its staff from 32 to 35 workers.

"I know this is not something any business would want and the challenges facing those in New Orleans are greater than what we faced because we at least had our homes, but it does provide an opportunity to start over with the benefit of all that you've learned in the years since you started your business,” Drum said. “All off us know so much more than when we started.”

The Senate package, unveiled Monday by Grassley and the Finance Committee’s top Democrat, Max Baucus, D-Montana, includes the following provisions:

-- No tax liability for debts forgiven by commercial lenders. Currently, a forgiveness of debts is considered income and therefore taxable.

Seven pump stations now operating

By Gordon Russell
Staff writer

Seven of the city's 24 pumping stations are now at least partially online, Sewerage & Water Board executive director Marcia St. Martin said Tuesday.
Among them: The London Avenue Pumping Station No. 3, which was activated late Sunday, then shut off for a time Monday because the water it was funnelling into the London Avenue Canal caused a repaired breach to begin leaking again.

The Army Corps of Engineers reported late Monday that workers had removed pilings from near the mouth of the canal to allow faster drainage, easing the leaking around the repaired breach. Pumping Station No. 3 was then re-activated, and the leaking stopped.

Susan Jackson of the Corps said that the site is being monitored around the clock to ensure the problem does not recur.

St. Martin could not provide specific information about how many pumps are operational or about water levels in different sections of town. But she said that the pumping is going much more quickly than initially forecasted.

"The water is going down at a rate much faster than the Corps (of Engineers) predicted," she said. "We had confidence all along that we could do the job faster."

St. Martin also said that the wastewater treatment plant in Algiers is back online. Water in Algiers is safe to drink, as it has been since Katrina made landfall more than two weeks ago. But those on the east bank of New Orleans should still not use the water for anything other than flushing toilets or putting out fires, she said.

"It's still not safe to drink," St. Martin said.

The water board will be opening a temporary satellite office in Baton Rouge Wednesday, St. Martin said, where some administrative functions will be performed.

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has helped the water board set up a "tent city" to house S&WB workers at the water board's Algiers water purification plant in Algiers Point. The settlement can house up to 350 workers, and has kitchen facilities, showers and a commissary, St. Martin said.

The water board is still asking that employees who evacuated for Katrina call in to the agency to report their whereabouts and receive instructions about when to report to work. The phone number is (877) 863-9405. There is a similar line for city employees to call: (877) 751-2415.

Neurological clinic reopens in Marrero

Tuesday, 9:15 a.m.

Culicchia Neurological Clinic will reopen its Marrero office today at West Jefferson Medical Center. For the past two weeks, many of the clinic’s physicians have been treating victims at area hospitals. With recovery efforts progressing, they are now in the process of resuming their office practices.

“None of us will ever be the same following Hurricane Katrina, but it is so encouraging to see progress, no matter how slight, being made every day,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Frank Culicchia.

Principals return to Jefferson schools

Tuesday, 8:45 a.m.

Jefferson Parish public school principals are heading into their schools today to help the district assess storm damage and prepare for a target reopening for the week of Oct. 3.

“We have had a property preservation team checking on the schools, but we thought let’s augment that with the principals who know their schools best,” Jeff Nowakowski, school system spokesman, said Tuesday morning. “They’re going to report back to us, to report on what damage there is and how extensive it is so we can complete the repairs before the next rain comes.”

Principals from West Bank and East Jefferson schools met with school system officials Monday to start making plans for a return of students, Nowakowski said. “We had about 66 out of 84 principals attend the meeting,” he said.

With the school system’s target reopening date set, Nowakowski urged all system teachers and support staff to contact their principal or supervisor. The district is posting regular updates at www.louisianaschools.com and employees also can reach the system by calling toll free at (866) 563-6559.

Treasurer urges financial safeguards

By Jan Moller
Capital Bureau

BATON ROUGE -- As state and parish government agencies prepare to recoup billions of federal dollars for costs associated with Hurricane Katrina, state Treasurer John Kennedy says that there are not enough safeguards in place to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.

Kennedy said Monday he has complained to Gov. Kathleen Blanco about a decision to let the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness serve as the main conduit for Federal Emergency Management Agency money that is expected to begin flowing this week.

Kennedy proposed that each expenditure of federal cash over a certain threshold be reviewed and authorized in advance by his office and by Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot. “My people are prepared to work 24 hours a day, in shifts, but it's got to be done right,’’ Kennedy said.

He said the need for careful checks and balances is particularly acute in Louisiana, which has a reputation for political corruption. “You don't have to be clairvoyant to see that Louisiana is going to be held to a higher standard in terms of how we support this money (with documentation),’’ Kennedy said. “And we should be.’’

Under FEMA's public assistance program, state and local agencies can apply for reimbursement for unbudgeted costs associated with major disasters. The program, which typically constitutes about two-thirds of the federal money that flows to disaster areas, pays for everything from debris removal and generators to overtime pay for rescue workers and other unexpected costs.

But the money comes with strict paperwork requirements, as government agencies must carefully document that the federal money they are seeking is really going to reimburse them for hurricane-related costs. And that means complying with a dizzying array of federal rules.

Theriot said he has already assigned several auditors to help local authorities navigate the paperwork process and let them know what kind of expenses the federal government will reimburse. He said it's especially important to reach out to local governments in the early stages of disaster recovery, when some of them are receiving advance federal payments that they will have to document later.

”I don't want local governments to fall into the trap that they get the money and then don't submit the documentation,’’ Theriot said. ”Because then the second time (they apply for reimbursement) they won't get the money.’’

State homeland security could not be reached for comment Monday. But Art Jones, who heads up the agency's hurricane recovery efforts, said Saturday that that the first public assistance payments, totaling about $200 million, are expected to be made this week to the governments of Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Lafourche parishes. That represents a small down payment on the money that's expected to flow in the ensuing months and years.

”I'm hoping to install some preventive measures up front,’’ Theriot said. “These numbers become staggering in terms of the money flowing through the state. I hear numbers of $100 billion or $150 (billion).’’

State officials said they need to walk a fine line between ensuring that there is transparency and proper documentation as federal dollars get spent and burdening local officials with so much paperwork that the process bogs down.

”There has been frustration,’’ with the documentation requirements, said Theriot, who met Monday with representatives of local municipalities and sheriff's offices to explain the reimbursement process.

Kennedy said the homeland security office isn't equipped to handle the task of reviewing documentation submitted by local governments - called “project worksheets’’ - and fears that the process will be ripe for abuse. “Somebody needs to be responsible other than somebody with just military expertise,’’ Kennedy said.

But Barbara Goodson, assistant Commissioner of Administration for management and finance, said the homeland security office is a natural conduit for the money because of its extensive experience responding to natural disasters and their aftermath.

”They have more experience than anybody else in the state in handling the flow of the FEMA money and the projects,’’ Goodson said. “The treasury certainly has never handled anything like this before, and the auditor's office is gearing up to assist’’ with the paperwork.

Already, however, there have been some snafus as agencies try to interpret federal rules. The Division of Administration sent out a memo last week to all state agencies recommending that they bill all employee overtime as a cash expenditure. But FEMA rules only allow local governments to be reimbursed for overtime if that's how they normally account for overtime, meaning that agencies that require their employees to take compensatory time when they work more than 40 hours cannot be reimbursed.

On Monday, the Division of Administration sent out a second memo to all agencies clarifying the rules.

Under federal rules, state and local government agencies can receive federal public assistance for the first 60 days after a disaster without putting up matching dollars. After that, the costs of the program are supposed to be shared between the federal, state and local governments. But Kennedy said the state has already applied for a waiver to have that period extended. “I think Congress will be amenable,’’ he said.

Jan Moller can be reached at tpicbr@aol.com