Pickup starts in Jefferson

Wednesday, 7:45 p.m.

By Michelle Hunter
East Jefferson bureau

While the stench of garbage and other rotting refuse can be caught in the breeze in Jefferson Parish, the smell of freshly ground mulch wafts throughout Lafreniere Park in Metairie.

That’s where the Army Corps of Engineers has set up its storm debris collection headquarters for the entire east bank.

In five days, trucks have hauled in more than 100,000 cubic yards of pine tree trunks, oak limbs, cypress branches and other organic debris, piling it in the southwest corner of the park on the baseball fields.

The crews have created an arboreal wall 800 feet long and 35 feet high in some places. The piles will only get bigger, and nobody knows by how much.

“There’s no way to estimate that right now,” said Deano Bonano, Jefferson Parish’s deputy chief administrative assistant for operations. “We only have about 30 percent of our population back.” There are still a lot of trees and other debris on homes and businesses and in yards. When more residents return, additional storm debris will be put out for collection, Bonano said.

About 23,000 cubic yards of debris in roughly 800 truckloads rolls into Lafreniere Park each day. By Wednesday afternoon, crews had already burned through two giant mulchers. And the white smoke pouring out of the latest grinder seemed to signal the need for another replacement. But workers were able to keep the machine purring.

The Corps is handling storm debris collection for all of Jefferson Parish except Kenner, where the city has contracted with a private company. But Kenner Chief of Staff Phil Ramone said the city is in talks with the Corps about possibly taking over debris removal.

Kenner work crews have already made one sweep through the city, collecting more than 1.4 million cubic yards of debris, Ramone said. It has not been mulched yet, only stockpiled at two sites – one at 32nd Street and Arkansas Avenue and the other at Kenner Avenue and 18th Street.

The East Jefferson project outside of Kenner is being coordinated by AshBritt Environmental Inc., a Florida company contracted by the Corps of Engineers to oversee debris pickup in the parish. Through the company, subcontractors were hired and assigned to 28 debris zones in Jefferson, Bonano said, allowing parish officials to track their performance. The vast majority, 95 percent, are local construction companies from Jefferson Parish, Bonano said.

About 250 trucks haul the debris to Lafreniere Park in Metairie in East Jefferson and a site on Peters Road in Harvey on the West Bank, Bonano said. The cost is covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Once storm cleanup has been completed, the mulch will be used around several Jefferson public buildings. “But obviously, there’s going to be a lot of it,” he said.
Parish officials also are looking other beneficial uses for the mulch, including wetland restoration, selling it to paper mills for use as pulpwood or selling it to garden centers for residential landscaping.

Telephone service improving

Wednesday, 7:38 p.m.

By Keith Darcé
Business writer

Those irritating busy signals and congested network messages on your telephone soon may be a thing of the past.

After more than two weeks of sporadic service because of Hurricane Katrina, telephone lines in southeastern Louisiana are slowly returning to normal as phone companies not only repair storm-damaged networks but adjust their systems to contend with population shifts.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Public Service Commission on Wednesday asked wireless phone companies in the state to give customers free service for September and October because wireless phones have become the only means of communication for many evacuees. Whether they will remains a question.

Despite the overall improvement in phone service, about 150,000 BellSouth Corp. phone lines remained dead Wednesday, mostly in the parishes of Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard, said Merlin Villar, a spokesman for the region’s biggest local phone service provider. Much of those parishes remain evacuated.

Outside of the hardest-hit area, most outgoing local and long distance calls Wednesday were connected on the first try, an improvement from a couple of days earlier. But many people calling into Baton Rouge and other southeastern Louisiana cities still had to dial several times to complete their calls.

BellSouth workers have repaired more than 100 breaks in the company’s buried fiber-optic cable network that serves as the backbone of the region’s local phone system. AT&T technicians had installed a new fiber-optic line between the Mississippi state line and Bay St. Louis, Miss., to bypass a pair of flooded computer switches in eastern New Orleans that are part of the long-distance company’s high-capacity network in the region.

Wireless phone companies also have cell sites, in areas that weren’t flooded.

Verizon Wireless has restored cell sites in Armstrong Park on the edge of the French Quarter, on the roof of Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter and on top of a residence hall at the Uptown campus of Tulane University, Verizon spokesman Patrick Kimball said.

“There has been a lot of progress in bringing back up cell sites,” he said.

Cingular’s wireless network in southeastern Louisiana was 85 percent restored by Wednesday afternoon, Cingular spokeswoman Dawn Benton said.

Even with the progress, dialing into the region from outside Louisiana remained a problem for many, particularly during peak calling hours. To prevent the high calling volumes from jamming networks, some long-distance companies were limiting incoming calls so outgoing calls from storm victims and relief workers could be completed.

Other companies, such as Sprint, were rerouting many long-distance calls through other Southern cities because regional switches in New Orleans were submerged or otherwise inoperable. The rerouting caused problems for some Sprint customers along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida, Sprint spokeswoman Kristen Wallace said.

Call volume on Sprint’s network in southeastern Louisiana has doubled since the storm, she said.

Wireless service providers encouraged customers to send more text messages because they use up smaller amounts of network capacities and are easier to complete.

The request for free cell service for customers was made by the public service commissioners, who do not regulate wireless phone networks. They sent their request to the Federal Communications Commission, which has jurisdiction over the companies.

Many wireless service providers already have offered breaks on some services, phones and accessories.

For example, Sprint customers from areas affected by the hurricane will not be charged for long-distance calls, roaming on outside networks, sending text messages or exceeding the number of calling minutes on their service plan.

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

Help offered for homeowners

Wednesday, 7:33 p.m.

By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer

Two housing programs designed to assist residents impacted by Hurricane Katrina were unveiled this week.

The National Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage holders in areas declared disaster sites by President Bush may miss payments during the next 90 days without penalty.

Cheryl Crispen, spokeswoman for the group, said mortgage holders who fail to make payments will not be reported to credit agencies and will not be charged late fees. Any payments missed during the next 90 days will be tacked on to the end of the mortgage. And mortgage bankers are postponing foreclosure actions against those in the disaster states.

The vast majority of mortgages in the area, about 98 percent, are with lenders participating in the MBA program, Crispen said.

Crispen urged mortgage holders affected by Hurricane Katrina to contact their mortgage service companies and inform them of their situation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has set up an emergency mortgage program – 203(h), the “h” for hurricane – that offers 100 percent loans for housing repairs, rebuilding or home purchasing, according to Mike Anderson, president of Essential Mortgage LLC and a board member of the Louisiana Mortgage Lenders Association.

Anderson said the HUD 203(h) loan was available for borrowers whether they had an existing mortgage or not, a highly unusual provision. The HUD announcement and other disaster information can be found on its Web site at www.hud.gov.

Borrowers can get help finding their lender or service provider from the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions at www.ofi.louisiana.gov.

Further, the National Mortgage Bankers Association is attempting the set up of a Web service that will help mortgage holders to find their mortgage service company or lender. The service is not yet set up and represents a gigantic task for the agency, she said.

The Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation, or FDIC, is also putting out lender contact information and asking the institutions for their cooperation in assisting victims of Katrina. Information can be obtained at www.fdic.gov.

Sid Seymour, chief examiner of the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions, has operated phone banks to assist borrowers in contacting their lenders. Borrowers who relocated out of state can call (866) 783-5530, and those still in Louisiana can call (888) 525-9414. The phones operate seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Seymour said they have assisted more than 2,500 borrowers.

Most of the local lenders are in the same boat as their clients, dislocated and seeking temporary offices to get back in business, compounding the ability of borrowers trying to contact their lenders to discuss their financial concerns during the crisis.

FEMA opens up in Tammany

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

By Paul Bartels
St. Tammany bureau
 
Their tales of woe, told in a surprisingly friendly tone, all bore a heart-rending familiarity.

Their mobile homes smashed by trees snapped like twigs and torn apart by roaring, swirling winds. The interior walls and garage doors exploded outward by storm-surge floodwaters. Precious photographs and memorabilia of happier times turned to mush, smashed or otherwise lost forever.

They were among the Slidell-area victims displaced by the mother of all hurricanes that devastated much of metro New Orleans on Aug. 29.

Many had spent two weeks in schoolhouse shelters or the homes of a fortunate few, friends and family members whose homes had received little or no damage.

American Red Cross volunteers, church groups and others fed them and provided what little they could in the way of creature comforts, while local and parish agencies and utilities worked to restore power, water and sewerage services to their communities.

Now, they wanted – and needed – the $2,000 per family the federal government had promised them to help meet emergency housing, food and other needs. That help was slow getting here.

Finally, two Federal Emergency Management Agency community relations agents, Tom Beckham and Vernon Andrews, arrived at Slidell City Auditorium on Tuesday morning accompanied by a Church of Christ volunteer group from Picayune, Miss., to begin handling public-assistance requests.

For many, it was the first such face-to-face meeting with federal disaster relief officials. And, with the clamor of questions, it was confusing.

Peggy Kelly, now staying with friends, was among the crowd. Her home in the Bonfouca area of western Slidell was badly damaged by wind and water, “almost 6 feet of water,” she said.

Kelly showed up early, got answers to some questions and began to write her responses to the detailed questions. Some were so detailed that Kelly and others had to ask a friend or family member to try to retrieve various documents that hadn’t been lost in the storm – or simply guess or write “don’t know.”
Roxanne Witham and her daughter, Cheryl Mooney, live in the Rocket Ranch Mobile Home Park in the River Gardens area northeast of Slidell. Witham said her trailer suffered only minor damage – “Thank God, and my mom and dad went to Texas.”

It was a different story for Mooney and her children, who’ve been staying in the shelter at Riverside Elementary School in Pearl River since the day before Katrina slammed through the area. “My trailer’s got two oak trees in it,” Mooney said. “It’s really bad.”

Without electric power throughout the area, most storm victims were unable to contact FEMA by telephone or on the Internet at www.fema.com. Mooney was among the few who were able to get through to that emergency hotline, (800) 621-3362, to begin the process and obtain a registration number from FEMA. She was able to reach them Sept. 6.

A close friend of Witham and Mooney, Amanda Anthony of hard-hit Abney Estates in southern Slidell, had been unable to talk with FEMA until Tuesday. She has two children and another on the way, and she needs help.

“I got 8 feet of water in my house and a tree knocked down on it,” said Anthony, who also is staying at Riverside.

Anthony’s parents evacuated to Texas before the storm hit. They were in the process of moving out of a rental home and buying a home in Abney. Both were demolished by the storm, Anthony said.

Until the recovery center is set up, FEMA officials on Tuesday urged Katrina victims to keep trying to reach the toll-free number or, if possible, handle initial registration online. And, they said, make sure there is a phone number or numbers at which you can be reached.

Cindy Taylor, a FEMA public information officer in Baton Rouge, said those trying to call the emergency hotline may want to try doing so between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. because “we are getting a tremendous volume of calls” during the day. FEMA teams also have been trying to visit as many of the shelters as possible to get people started on registering for the cash.

The $2,000 payments, which aren’t necessarily based on family income, represent “an advance of funds until full eligibility can be determined,” Taylor said. She also noted that FEMA aid can’t be received if it duplicates financial advances and similar assistance already provided through insurance companies.

By Tuesday at 4 p.m., the auditorium in Slidell had cleared out. Beckham said about 50 people had signed up and that many people had come primarily to receive information. The FEMA group departed to make way for social services personnel who were scheduled to begin setting up a food stamps distribution center in the auditorium.

Tammany assessor try to assess damage to tax rolls


By Charlie Chapple
St. Tammany bureau

Tax assessors in hurricane-ravaged areas of the state will ask the
Legislature for changes in tax laws to give owners of ruined homes and
businesses adjustments on this year’s property tax bills, St. Tammany
Parish Assessor Patricia Schwarz Core said Tuesday.

In St. Tammany Parish, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 homes were heavily damaged or destroyed. Tens of thousands more were destroyed or damaged across south Louisiana.

Core said state tax laws do not allow assessors to re-value properties damaged or destroyed by natural disasters after Jan. 1 of the current calendar or property tax year. Those changes have to be made in the following year, she said.

But Core and other area assessors want the Legislature to call a special session and change the laws so home and business owners can be
given relief in their 2005 property tax bills scheduled to be mailed
in December, she said.

Core, like many residents, returned from Florida Tuesday to find her
home in Port Louis west of Madisonville destroyed by Katrina.

“If it were left up to me, I would remove all uninhabitable homes from
the rolls’’ and tax only the value of the land or home site, Core said,
“because I know what everybody’s going through . . . But legally, I
can’t do it because there’s no provisions in the law to account for
catastrophes or major disasters.’’

There also should be changes in the law to allow for adjustments this
year in the values of all properties which flooded, Core said.

If the laws are changed and property value adjustments for storm damage
are allowed this year, Core said there will be a negative impact on
local government agencies which levy property taxes. They will get
significantly less property tax revenues for 2005 early next year, she said.

“For example, in the Slidell area, some of the most expensive homes in
St. Tammany were completely destroyed by the hurricane,’’ Core said. If
those homes are taken off the rolls, there will be a significant dip in
tax revenues for agencies which that levy millages in the area, she
said.

Because of Katrina and possible changes in the laws to allow assessors
to re-value properties destroyed or heavily-damaged by the storm, the
state Tax Commission has removed the Nov. 15 deadline for certifying
this year’s tax rolls, Core said.

Core said Katrina hit on Aug. 29, the final day of a two-week period
for the public review of this year’s St. Tammany property tax rolls. Core said she is keeping the public review period open indefinitely for
residents to file appeals of their assessments.

Core said her Slidell office in the Towers Building is out of
commission, and residents who filed appeals of their assessment at that office may need to refile their appeals “if they don’t hear from us in a couple of weeks.’’

Postal service employees to report to work

Wednesday, 7:17 p.m.

The Postal Service is asking all postal employees in the area to report back to work at their regular postal facility, if they can.

“Katrina affected many of our employees, and they are taking care of their families,” said Anthony Ruda, the lead executive for the Postal Service Recovery Team efforts for Louisiana. “We have been reconnecting with them while working to reestablish service to our postal customers,” Ruda said.

Ruda said that postal employees who have relocated outside their immediate area and have not yet returned should report to any postal facility to inquire about work that may be available to them.

Postal employees should continue to check in by calling the “PostalEase” toll-free number at 1-877-477-3273. Employees will be connected to a call-center operator and asked for their current location, contact information, and availability for work.

In addition, postal employees can call the National Employee Hotline Notification System for updates. The toll-free number is 1-888-EMERGNC (1-888-363-7436).

Texas to issue licenses to evacuees

Wednesday, 7:15 p.m.

The Texas Department of Public Safety will issue driver’s licenses, identification cards and temporary identification cards to those who had a valid driver’s license and have evacuated their homes because of to Hurricane Katrina.

A free, temporary identification card will be issued to residents who plan to return to home but now need a photo identification card. It will be valid until Jan. 1, 2006.

Texas officials are coordinating with shelter operators and local officials to provide assistance to those in shelters and elsewhere who need temporary identification cards.

Applicants may go to any driver license office in Texas to obtain a driver’s license or identification card.

Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra to perform in Nashville

Wednesday, 6:50 p.m.

The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will perform for the first time since Hurricane Katrina on Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall. The concert will be presented by the Nashville Symphony. LPO principal guest conductor Klauspeter Seibel and music director designate Carlos Miguel Prieto will lead the majority of the 68-member LPO in a program highlighted by violinist Mark O'Connor.

Net proceeds from the concert will go directly to the LPO. The concert will be produced for broadcast by NPR and Nashville affiliate WPLN and will be offered nationally and internationally via NPR and its 780 member stations in the U.S.

The LPO, the only musician owned, collaboratively managed orchestra in the United States, was set to open its 2005-06 concert season on Sept. 15 in New Orleans at the Orpheum Theater, one block off of Canal Street, but due to the storm's destruction the orchestra is facing a severely cut in its concert schedule, if not a cancellation.

"It will be such a gift for our orchestra to perform together again," Seibel said. "Our musicians are spread out all over the country, and after a tragedy such as Katrina, nothing heals the soul more than seeing our colleagues, our friends, and playing music with them again.... We are extremely grateful to the Nashville Symphony for giving us this opportunity."

The Nashville Symphony has made all logistical arrangements and has reached out to sponsors and community members alike to make the Louisiana Philharmonic benefit concert possible. American Airlines will fly evacuated LPO orchestra members and staff to Nashville, and Nashville Symphony orchestra members, staff, and board members will provide housing for the LPO. Nashville Symphony musicians will also assist by helping fill vacancies for LPO musicians not able to attend.

"The entire leadership of the LPO is overwhelmed with gratitude for this opportunity to be together and offer what we do best for the recovery of our home in Louisiana -- lifting spirits and healing wounds through the voice of music," said Babs Mollere, managing director of the LPO.

In addition to donated airline tickets from American Airlines, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center has donated its space for the concert, as well as the maintenance costs and various other services. Several local restaurants have also agreed to provide food for the musicians and staff during their stay in Nashville.

"The Nashville Symphony and our entire city has been moved by the heartache and suffering of the people of New Orleans," said Alan D. Valentine, president and CEO of the Nashville Symphony. "Reuniting our colleagues at the Louisiana Philharmonic and providing them with a forum to play together again will be an incredibly enriching experience for us all. This performance will certainly transcend all traditional definitions of a benefit concert."

Tickets to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra benefit concert on October 4 are $30-$70 and can be purchased by calling 255-ARTS (2787) or by visiting www.nashvillesymphony.org.

The LPO Relief Fund has been set up primarily to help continue health insurance for musicians and staff and instrument insurance for the musicians. Please send all donations to:

LPO
c/o Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra
P.O. Box 14209
Baton Rouge, LA 70898


Phone service gradually improving; PSC requests free cell service for two months

Wednesday, 6:20 p.m.

By Keith Darcé
Business writer

Those telephone busy signals and congested network messages soon may be an irritating thing of the past.

After more than two weeks of sporadic service because of Hurricane Katrina, telephone lines in southeastern Louisiana are slowly returning
to normal as phone companies not only repair
storm-damaged networks but adjust their systems to
contend with population shifts.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Public Service Commission on Wednesday
asked wireless phone companies in the state to give
customers free service for September and October
because wireless phones have become the only means of
communication for many evacuees. Whether they do so remains a question.

Despite the overall improvement in phone service, about 150,000 BellSouth Corp. phone lines remained
dead Wednesday, mostly in the parishes of Jefferson,
Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard, said Merlin
Villar, a spokesman for the region’s biggest local
phone service provider. Much of those parishes
remain evacuated.

Outside of the hardest-hit area, most outgoing local
and long distance calls Wednesday were connected on
the first try, an improvement from a couple of
days earlier. But many people calling into Baton Rouge and
other southeastern Louisiana cities still had to dial
several times to complete their calls.

BellSouth workers have repaired more than 100 breaks
in the company’s buried fiber-optic cable network
which serves as the backbone of the region’s local
phone system. AT&T technicians had installed a new
fiber-optic line between the Mississippi state line
and Bay St. Louis, Miss., to bypass a pair of flooded
computer switches in eastern New Orleans that are part
of the long-distance company’s high-capacity network
in the region.

Wireless phone companies also have repaired antennas, also
known as cell sites, in areas that weren’t flooded.

Verizon Wireless has restored cell sites in Armstrong
Park on the edge of the French Quarter, on the roof of
Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter and on top
of a residence hall at the Uptown campus of Tulane
University, Verizon spokesman Patrick Kimball said.

“There has been a lot of progress in bringing back up
cell sites,” he said.

Cingular’s wireless network in southeastern Louisiana
was 85 percent restored by Wednesday afternoon,
Cingular spokeswoman Dawn Benton said.

Even with the progress, dialing into the region from
outside of Louisiana remained a problem for many,
particularly during peak calling hours. To prevent the
high calling volumes from jamming networks, some
long-distance companies were limiting incoming calls
so that outgoing calls from storm victims and relief
workers could be completed.

Other companies, such as Sprint, were rerouting many
long-distance calls through other southern
cities because regional switches in New Orleans were
submerged or otherwise inoperable. The re-routing caused problems for
some Sprint customers along the Gulf Coast from
Louisiana to Florida, Sprint spokeswoman Kristen
Wallace said.

Call volumes on Sprint’s network in southeastern
Louisiana have doubled since the storm, she said.

Wireless service providers encouraged customers to
send more text messages because they use up smaller
amounts of network capacities and are easier to
complete.

The request for free cell service for customers was made by the public service commissioners, who do not regulate wireless phone
Networks. They sent their request to the Federal
Communications Commission, which has jurisdiction over
the companies.

What may result is unknown.

Many wireless service providers already have offered
breaks on some services, phones and accessories.

For example, Sprint customers from areas affected by the hurricane
will not be charged for long-distance calls, roaming
on outside networks, sending text messages or
exceeding the number of calling minutes on their
service plan.

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

Jefferson School Board releases timeline for reopening schools

By Rob Nelson
Staff writer

Facing the logistical nightmare of resuming operations of one of the state’s largest school systems, Jefferson Parish public school leaders are pushing parish officials to allow school district employees to return to the area as soon as possible.

At a School Board meeting Wednesday in Baton Rouge, Superintendent Diane Roussel said she would ask Parish President Aaron Broussard to allow teachers and administrators back in the parish, an option recently extended to Jefferson business owners and employees in an effort to breathe life back into the area’s commerce after Hurricane Katrina.

In a wide-reaching meeting, the School Board also presented a timeline ahead of a planned Oct. 3 reopening of schools that were mostly or completely spared hurricane damage. District administrators will begin returning to Jefferson this week, with the goal of having all supervisors report by Monday and all employees back by Sept. 21.

Registration for new students is tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 26 at “registration centers” throughout the parish that have yet to be established. “Reporting (to work) is critical for continued employment and compensation,” Roussel said.

After Hurricane Katrina damaged dozens of schools and ravaged the system’s administration building in Harvey, officials shifted all administrative functions to Baton Rouge. The School Board will continue to meet weekly, possibly in Jefferson, until the October reopening.

Wednesday’s meeting came amid continuing worries about the system’s finances. Its $24 million in reserves is enough to cover two payroll cycles, one today and another on Sept. 30.

Chief Financial Officer Raylyn Stevens called the situation “dire” but downplayed concerns about pending bankruptcy, saying the system is still operating with 2004 property taxes collected earlier this year.

She said additional financing could come from the state if Jefferson sees an influx of students from more devastated parishes. Typically, additional revenue from increased enrollment does not hit system coffers until the following fiscal year, but school leaders plan to lobby the state to see a boost in dollars for this school year, Stevens said.

State Superintendent Cecil Picard has asked for $2.4 billion in federal dollars to sustain metro area school systems.

Roussel is pushing for a timely reopening of Jefferson schools, saying the longer the system waits to resume, the higher the risk students and their families will not return to the parish.

The state of the school system has become particularly critical in Jefferson, which officials hope will become a recovery hub as the worst-hit parishes of Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines slowly recover and lean on their neighboring resources.

In other updates from the meeting:

• Roussel has executed several contracts for restoration of schools and technical support for the system’s facilities department. The Louisiana National Guard also is helping with the clean up of several schools, which officials said has taken great weight off local officials.

• Many of the system’s administrative offices will shift to an annex building along River Road in Marrero.

• Employees can call (866) 563-6559 for information, and the system will purchase advertising in radio and newspapers throughout the Gulf Coast to touch base with evacuees in other cities. Employees are also encouraged to visit www.louisianaschools.net to inform the system of their whereabouts and employment plans. On the site, residents also can volunteer to help with cleanup efforts.

• Officials will begin revising the school year calendar, considering options such as extended school days and weeks as well as elimination of some holidays. Officials are aiming to start high schools at roughly the same time to cluster graduation ceremonies in the summer.

• The East Bank regional office has moved to Hazel Park Elementary, and the West Bank regional office now is housed at Gretna No. 2 Kindergarten Center.

• The board will meet again Wednesday, most likely in the Jefferson Parish government building on the West Bank.

• Any decision about possible layoffs or “platooning” of students, a schedule in which some students attend morning classes while others attend evening ones, will not be made until an official student enrollment count can be made. Personnel and student records are safe.

• The system has received a waiver from the state to provide free lunches to all returning students, and the system is exploring ways to establish temporary housing for teachers.


Officials released the latest list of schools classified by extent of damage. The list will likely change and leaders hope a final assessment will be ready next week. As of Wednesday, the groupings are as follows:

• No damage or little damage and can likely open in October: Airline Park, Birney, Bissonet Plaza, Boudreaux, Butler, Cherbonnier, Clancy, Cullier, Deckbar, Dolhonde, Ellender, Ellis, Estelle, Fisher High, Grand Isle, Green Park, Greenlawn Terrace, Gretna Middle, Harris, Haynes, Hazel Park, Hearst, Janet, Jefferson Elementary, Maggiore, Marrero Middle, Matas, Metairie Academy, Middleton, Pittman, Rillieux, Riverdale High, Riverdale Middle, Miller Wall, Washington, West Bank Community, Westwego Elementary, Woodland West, Woods, St. Ville, Strehle, Waggaman, Riviere, Schneckenburger and Patrick Taylor Academy.

• Schools with moderate damage that could open later in the school year after October: Adams, Ames, Audubon, Bridge City, Bunche, Chateau Estates, George Cox, Helen Cox, Douglass, East Jefferson High, Ehret High, Ford, Gretna No. 2, Harahan, Hart, Harvey Kindergarten Center, Higgins, Homedale, Gretna Park, Solis, Truman, West Jefferson High, Worley, Meisler, Pitre, Roosevelt, Ruppel, Keller, Grace King, Lafitte Elementary, Livaudais, Live Oak Manor and McDonogh 26.

• Schools with significant damage that are likely not useable for this school year: Alexander, Bonnabel, Jefferson Community, Lincoln, Woodmere, Terrytown and a Gretna adult education building that was slated to house a magnet high school in the 2006-07 school year.


Salvation Army to move HQ to LaPlace

Wednesday, 6:02 p.m.

By Allen Powell II
River Parishes Bureau

The Salvation Army has announced plans to move its Hurricane Katrina headquarters from Baton Rouge to LaPlace in an effort to save money and time as it provides food and supplies to individuals in parishes affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The non-profit, faith based organization is planning to move its Florida Street offices to the former Creative Fabricators building on Airline Highway in St. John the Baptist Parish on Friday afternoon, said the parish’s chief administrative officer Natalie Robottom. Robottom said that the vacant, privately owned building should be used for the next three weeks as a staging area for the Salvation Army’s mobile feeding trucks, and in the long-term as a main food distribution point for the area.

Mobile feeding trucks have been providing hot meals to individuals in Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes since Katrina ravaged the area. Staffed by volunteers, the trucks have been the only source of food for many residents, Robottom said. In addition, Salvation Army officials have signed a three-year contract with the building’s owners to use it as a distribution center for food and supplies once the feeding program ends, she said.

Robottom said the parish was notified of the group’s plans on Wednesday, and supports the move if it will help the Salvation Army more effectively aid those in need.

“Personally, I see the need for it,” said Robottom, who noted that Salvation Army officials have told her that feeding trucks often spent four hours in transit getting from Baton rouge to affected areas. “Their attempt is to get closer to where they need to be.”

Volunteers with the program will be housed at the First Baptist Church in LaPlace, and a small opening ceremony for the warehouse is planned for Saturday morning.



Debate over wind, flood damage rages

5:55 p.m., Wednesday

By Jeffrey Meitrodt
Staff Writer
Carol Hess hoped she had shed her last tear over the ruins of what used to be her lovely four-bedroom house in Slidell. But an hour after the adjuster from State Farm came to visit her hurricane-ravaged property this week, Hess was crying again.

Though Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge dumped the contents of two neighboring townhouses into her backyard, crushing the back of her garage and driving a mountain of debris into her living room, the adjuster told Hess that virtually none of the damage would be covered by her homeowner’s policy.

His explanation: The debris came by water, not wind. And that means Hess’ claim will be filed through her flood insurance policy.

The debate about whether claims should be filed under homeowners or flood insurance policies is one that several hundred thousand policyholders are coming up against as they try to figure out how to pay for Katrina-related property damage.

“It’s not a black and white answer because each claim is different,” said Bill Mellander of the Allstate Natural Catastrophe team in Northbrook, Ill.
Homeowners policies provide compensation for damage resulting from high winds, but do not cover flood damage. The only water losses covered under a homeowners policy are those that occur after a windstorm has damaged a building, such as when water pours into the structure because a fallen tree created a hole in the roof.

Flood damage is covered by federal flood insurance, which is a type of coverage held by a fraction of homeowners. Flood insurance, however, only covers damages up to $250,000.

As a result, many homeowners would prefer to see their claims handled through homeowners insurance. And some policyholders are arguing that wind from the storm caused the levee breach that flooded the city, and that any water damage should be covered under a traditional storm policy.

“In this event, the big (question) will be: What’s wind and what’s water?” said Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.
Hunter said it will be hard to make a case that wind lead to the flooding. “I think that argument may have a class-action lawsuit to follow it,” he said.

The debate was addressed on Friday at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Insurance. At the meeting, some Louisiana lawmakers said they would like the federal government to create a special appropriation to cover the difference between flood insurance and homeowner’s policy payouts.

Carol Hess and her husband, Bobby, have paid $364 a year for their flood policy. And State Farm adjuster Steve Evans said his week that the Hesses will be able to recover a maximum of $155,800 for damage to their Eden Isles home and its contents under the policy. If the adjuster had blamed the damage on the hurricane, the Hesses could have gotten as much as $277,918, according to their homeowners’ policy, which cost $1,640 annually.

The news blew them both away.

"My house is demolished and you’re telling me it was a flood,’’ complained Bobby Hess, 58, a retired air-conditioning mechanic. "But water didn’t pick up this roof and dump it in my backyard. This furniture didn’t come by water. It was pushed here by the wind. It makes no sense to me. I am totally disgusted with the whole thing."

Carol Hess couldn’t hide her disappointment: "I paid $1,600 a year for nothing.’’
This scene will likely be replayed countless times in the coming months, as insurance adjusters spread out across southeastern Louisiana, where most of the damage from Katrina was caused by water, not wind.

While representatives of various insurance companies promise that each claim will be handled on an individual basis, they also note that the rules of the insurance business haven’t changed in Katrina’s wake. That means any damage caused to a home by rising water is covered by flood insurance, not a homeowner’s policy.

"A flood is defined as rising water, and it doesn’t matter why the water is rising,’’ said Jeff Albright, chief executive of the Independent Agents and Brokers of Louisiana. "If it rains faster than it can be pumped away, that’s a flood. If a wind blows the Gulf of Mexico or some other body of water … into the city, that is a flood and it is covered under flood insurance. Rising waters, by definition, are excluded from a homeowner’s policy."

For insurers, the distinction could save them billions of dollars. Any losses from flood insurance are covered by the federal government, and with damage from Katrina now estimated at around $200 billion, it’s easy to see why adjusters aren’t anxious to make exceptions.

In many parts of New Orleans, most of which lies below sea level, flood insurance is required by mortgage companies. But according to the Insurance Information Institute, about half of New Orleans residents still don’t have flood insurance, compared with a national average of about 20 percent.

Some homes the New Orleans area that were affected by the 17th Street Canal flooding don’t carry flood insurance because they are not in a flood plain.
Bobby and Carol Hess could have gotten rid of their flood policy last year, when they paid off their 15-year mortgage. But they didn’t even consider a change.

"I always took the advice of my insurance agent,’’ said Carol Hess, 57, an administrative worker for the IRS in New Orleans. "I asked several times if I had adequate coverage, and they said yes."

Based on several property sales near their home on Moonraker Drive, Hess figures her house was worth about $350,000 before the storm. She estimates the family’s personal property, including two small boats, was worth about $70,000.

Most of that property is now lying in her driveway or the front yard.

"This is the worst I’ve seen so far,’’ said Evans, who has visited hundreds of water-logged homes in his six years as a catastrophe specialist for State Farm.
To mitigate the damage to the two-story home, Bobby Hess removed everything that got wet when 3 feet of water inundated the property, including the kitchen cabinets, the first-floor furniture, the carpeting and the appliances.

He even ripped out four feet of sheet rock on every wall, figuring it was the only way to stop mold from taking over the entire house.

He also hauled out an eight-foot dresser that belonged to a neighbor across the nearby canal. It was one of many artifacts that washed up in his living room. The fact that so much debris made it into his house still stuns him.

As he does ever time a major storm marches its way across the Gulf towards New Orleans, Hess covered each door and window of his home with a half-inch of plywood, all of it carefully labeled. Then he and his wife headed to a hotel in Montgomery, Ala.

Despite his precautions, storm surge drove debris right through his sliding glass doors, shattering the glass and bending the frames. The water also dumped about five feet of shattered timber in his backyard, as well as a water heater and two refrigerators. The only thing Carol Hess recognizes in the mess is their riding lawnmower, which is barely visible.

"Who is going to clean up this mess?’’ she asks Evans, who works as an adjuster on behalf of both the National Flood Insurance Program and State Farm. "The majority of this is not ours. Does the parish pick this up? Does the insurance company?"

Once again, because Evans has determined that the primary cause of the damage was rising water, the answer comes as a blow. Hess is told that her policy will only cover the removal of debris that is in her house or touching it – she and her husband are responsible for everything else.

After studying a copy of her homeowners’ policy, Carol Hess walks over to Evans and points to an item marked "loss of use." She asks him what it means.
Evans acknowledges that her home is now "uninhabitable,’’ and says that if the damage had been caused by a hurricane, she would have been entitled to up to two years of additional living expenses. But the government offers no such coverage with flood policies, he notes.

For Carol Hess, the answer is the last straw. She and her husband have been living in their sons’ small Madisonville home for the last two weeks, but their daughter-in-law is expecting a baby next month. They will have to move out soon and were hoping to rent a trailer and live in their driveway with air-conditioning supplied with a generator. Now, they don’t know how they will pay for it.

"What are we supposed to do,’’ asks Hess, crying.

Evans suggests contacting FEMA, which is expected to hand out billions of
dollars in disaster relief.

"There is a lot of money coming into this state,’’ Evans says. "I’m sure a lot of it is going to help people like you with your uninsured losses."

That doesn’t console Hess. "I called FEMA a week ago. I have yet to hear from them."

Six hours after arriving at their home, Evans hands Bobby Hess a check for $10,000 to cover damage to their personal belongings. Ultimately, he says, the couple will get $31,400 for their personal property – he just needs them to finish an inventory first.

Evans said it would take another week to give them a check for the damage to their home. Again, he said it could reach their policy limit of $124,400 – or less than half of what the owners think it is worth.

Evans is apologetic. "I wish there was something different I could tell you,’’ Evans told the Hesses. "But the government wrote this policy – we’re just here to administer it.’’

Carol Hess isn’t mollified. "I know the coverage is dictated by the government, but the damage is being determined by State Farm."

Staff writers Mary Judice, Jaquetta White and Rebecca Mowbray contributed to this report.

St. John schools add 1,300 new students

Wednesday, 5:52 p.m.

John-John Williams
River Parishes Bureau

More than 1,300 new students, most displaced from their homes by Hurricane Katrina, have been added to the roles at St. John the Baptist Public School District.

Classes began Monday and the district has its first post-Katrina School Board meeting planned Thursday night at the district office in Reserve, though the agenda includes no mention of Katrina related issues. But the issue of increased students is expected to be addressed in Superintendent Michael Coburn’s report.

At last count Wednesday evening, the district had increased by 1,372 students, including 955 students who enrolled Monday.

That number is expected to grow again, school officials say.

The district has hired 24 additional teachers to help with the influx of students.

Most of the students and teachers are from Orleans and Jefferson parishes, according to Ann Laborde, executive director of personnel and legal services for the district.

LaBoarde said she plans to hire more teachers in the upcoming days.

“I have a lot of wonderful applicants,” she said.

A majority of the new hires are elementary and special education teachers. The majority of the students are in LaPlace schools.

East St. John High School has experienced the largest growth with 327 new students. Lake Pontchartrain Elementary had 318 additional students. LaPlace Elementary has grown by 243 and East. St. John Elementary, 203 students.

The district does not plan to use trailers as classrooms, although Coburn said earlier that the temporary buildings would be needed if new enrollment exceeded 1,000 students.

There has not been an increase in disciplinary problems since the displace students have been added to the roles, according to LaBorde.

“I talked to the superintendent, assistant superintendent and Debbie Schum (principal at East St. John High School) and they said no. That’s wonderful. Our new students are falling in line and meeting expectations as they should.”

U.S. commits $20.2 million to airport, roads

5:50 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Staff writer

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta toured damaged areas of Louis Armstrong International Airport and the broken Interstate 10 twin bridges between Slidell and New Orleans on Wednesday, saying he will ask Congress to remove caps on emergency aid to states stricken with disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

"Transportation will not be a chokepoint to the economic revival of this area," he said.Currently, emergency transportation aid is limited to $100 million per state and must be spent in 180 days.

Mineta committed $15.2 million to repairs to the airport and $5 million in emergency aid to repair federal highways damaged by the Aug. 29 hurricane.

"This is just a small down payment on the assistance that you need," Mineta said.

His visit showcased the Bush administration’s latest efforts to demonstrate its response to the Katrina disaster, after it took political flak and suffered a slide in public opinion in the hurricane’s immediate aftermath. President Bush has visited the Gulf Coast three times and is scheduled to return today, and Vice President Richard Cheney also paid a visit.

Mineta answered questions about the grants in the airport's Concourse C, under a gaping hole in the roof. The airport suffered about $50 million damage from the storm, and it expects to take a $70 million hit in lost revenue over the next five years due to lower traffic. That's equivalent to an entire year's revenue.

Louisiana Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry told Mineta that Katrina-related damages to Louisiana roads eligible for federal money totals $1.5 billion. He said the current federal funding formula requires the state to spend the money out of its own coffers first, then seek reimbursement. But the state is out of ready cash, he said.

"We're about to go over a cliff on that," he said.

Mineta toured the I-10 twin bridges, where 285-ton segments of roadway were tossed around like a child's toys. He asked project engineer John Horn of David Volkert and Assoc. Engineers how the existing structure could be made more resistant to future problems.

Horn said the best way would be to raise the bridge from its current eight feet above to water to 22 or 25 feet.

A temporary repair of the bridge is underway thanks to a $31 million federal grant. The emergency repairs will involve scavenging pieces of the two damaged bridges to make a single two-lane crossing. Later, the more-damaged western bridge will be repaired.

Mineta also stopped by the Port of New Orleans, where he toured two ships from the U.S. Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve fleet. They are providing electrical power and housing for port workers.

The port received its first cargo shipment on Tuesday, and Port Director Gary LaGrange said this could not have happened had the port not been able to give workers a place to sleep and office space for administrative operations.

About 600 port workers have bunks on the ships. Four more ships are on their way to Katrina-affected areas.

"Get us the cargo, and we'll get you the labor," said James Campbell, president of the International Longshoreman's Association Local 3000.

The Katrina relief effort marks the first time in the history that the ready reserve fleet has been sent to a domestic port.

"Usually, they're sent overseas when there is a disaster," Mineta spokesman Robert Johnson Jr. said.

FDIC 'bending rules' to help banks

By Mary Judice
Business writer

Federal regulators are bending some rules to help Louisiana banks recover from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, a key federal regulator said Wednesday.

Donald Powell, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which
regulates banks and insures deposits, told bankers gathered at Omni
Bank in Gretna that most banks are back in business and customers should not be concerned because some branches are not open.

“Money is safe in insured institutions,’’ he said and customers can get
access to their deposits by check, debit card, through withdrawals at
automated teller machines and at more branches every day.

Powell said the FDIC already has relaxed rules governing branch
openings, which has allowed banks in Jefferson Parish to open 13 branches this week in shared locations. Each of those 13 branches has as many as five banks or savings institutions set up at desks in the lobby.

“It is like having competitors such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs set up
a computer company under one roof,’’ he said.

The agency has also allowed banks to open 33 temporary locations in the
three states hardest hit by the hurricane.

“We’ve gotten very open minded,’’ he said of the federal agency.

Regulators also are allowing customers some leeway by reducing the amount of identification they need to open accounts. Regulators have encouraged institutions to waive fees and allow customers in the storm area to skip payments.

“I am not worried about any bank,’’ he said in answer to a question
about the health of area financial institutions. “There will be stresses.’’

After meeting with a group of about 20 bankers, he said banks are still
struggling to get power restored, to restore their infrastructure and
automated teller machines and locating employees.

Powell said as of Tuesday, 280 FDIC-insured banks in the hurricane-hit
area were operating and have 93 percent of their branches open. A total of 361 branches remain closed.

In the first days after Hurricane Katrina struck, banks experienced
heavier withdrawals, and having enough cash on hand was an issue. But that is no longer a concern, he said.

Bankers said after the wave of withdrawals, customers are again making
deposits with the relief checks from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency and from insurance companies.

John Ducrest, Louisiana banking commissioners, said his office had also
opened a hotline to help customers find their banks and to identify
branches that were open for business.

“People were displaced and needed immediate living expenses,’’ he said,
and banks helped consumers, who were not their customers, contact their
banks and obtain funds.

Peter Gwaltney, chief executive of the Louisiana Banking Association,
said bankers will ask regulators for more leeway in making loans to
customers as they return home. “Banks will make loans they ordinarily wouldn’t make,’’ he said. “Under the circumstances, banks need to make loans to get the economy moving,’’ he said.

Work continues on twin bridges

5:27 p.m.

By Meghan Gordon
St. Tammany bureau

The two bridges over Lake Pontchartrain that escaped substantial damage from Hurricane Katrina remained closed to the public Wednesday, while emergency crews and business owners continued to flow into the south shore.

Officials who govern the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and the U.S. 11 bridge have not announced when they will allow all motorists to use the over-water routes into Jefferson Parish and eastern New Orleans. But once the bridges reopen, they will provide the only access to the south shore until the battered Interstate 10 twin spans are restored.

Boh Bros. Construction crews spent their third day of a $30.9 million contract to repair the I-10 bridge. The contractor has 45 days to patch missing sections of bridge, after which they will be levied $75,000 a day. The hurricane’s tidal surge pushed about 40 percent of the roadway either askew on its pilings or into the lake.

In the first phase, Boh Bros. will use sections of the more seriously damaged span to patch the other bridge, allowing two-way traffic between Slidell and eastern New Orleans.

Next, the crews will install portable panels on the more-damaged span, creating a one-lane bridge by January. The state highway department plans to take bids early next year on a new six-lane bridge to replace the twin spans.

Meanwhile, Causeway traffic has been relatively brisk as police, military, utility trucks and other emergency crews have accessed the closed bridge. This week, Jefferson Parish business owners who secured entry permits were also given access to the bridge linking Mandeville and Metairie.

Bridge General Manager Robert Lambert said he’s in daily contact with Jefferson Parish officials to determine when to open the bridge to the public.

“I don’t think that’s too far down the road, but I don’t have any timetable,” he said.

Boh Bros. wrapped up work to both ends of the southbound bridge Sept. 5, restoring small sections of limestone and concrete that were eroded by Hurricane Katrina’s tidal surge. For several days, Causeway police routed southbound traffic on a crisscross path over sections of both bridges. “We removed the detours last week,” Lambert said. “Of course we’re quite proud we got that done in such a short time.”

The U.S. 11 bridge remains under the same restrictions, said State Police Sgt. Sgt. Emery Tumulty, who did not know when the public would be allowed to cross.

Attorney: Arrested nursing home operators are heroes

Wednesday, 5:26 p.m.

By Paul Rioux
St. Bernard bureau

A day after the owners of a St. Bernard Parish nursing home were booked in the deaths of 34 residents who died when the facility flooded during Hurricane Katrina, the couple’s attorney painted a scene of desperation where staffers tried to valiantly tried to tave off the storm and frantically began rescuing residents when raging waters swallowed the place.

James Cobb, a New Orleans attorney representing Mable B. Mangano, 62, and her husband, Salvador A. Mangano, 65, said the Manganos are “heroes’’ and called their arrest a “rush to misjudgement.’’

Parish officials scoffed at the notion.

The Manganos, owners of St. Rita’s Nursing Home near Poydras, were booked Tuesday on 34 counts of negligent homicide. Authorities say the nursing home refused the parish’s mandatory evacuation order, as well as offers by the parish to send buses to evacuate the facility.

The Manganos, who were released on their own recognizance, were not available for comment Wednesday. But Cobb, speaking on their behalf, said they described to him a hellish scene in which torrents of water consumed the home within 20 minutes. He said the Manganos also dispute that the parish made an offer to help them evacuate as Katrina bore down Aug. 29.

Cobb said the Manganos told him it wasn’t even raining after the storm when they went outside, but that they heard some noise and saw water coming toward the home. “The water kept coming and coming to the point they had to bust out the windows and float out patients on their mattresses,’’ he said.

Inside the home Wednesday, muck 6 to 8 inches deep covered the floor. Furniture, wheelchairs and mattresses appeared tossed about as if in an explosion, testament to the flood’s power. A water mark smirched the wall above most doorways. Oddly, in room after room along the long main hallway, pictures of loved ones still hung on walls, seemingly undisturbed.

Cobb said the home had never flooded before, not even during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. He blamed levee breaks – not the lack of an early evacuation – for the deaths.

Cobb said the owners and staff of the home are “heroes’’ for their efforts to rescue patients. He said the Manganos and others at the home scrambled to get boats, in some cases shooting locks off nearby gates, to help save 52 people. Of those, 24 were residents; the others were staffers and their families.

Cobb disputed that St. Bernard Coroner Bryan Bertucci offered two buses to evacuate residents before the worst of the storm hit. Cobb said the Manganos said they spoke with Bertucci before the storm, but that it was a routine conversation about removing the body of a woman who had died earlier of natural causes.

But parish and state officials say the home is to blame for the 34 deaths.

State Attorney General Charles Foti, in announcing the arrests Tuesday, said the home is required by law to follow a mandatory evacuation plan filed with parish government for hurricanes stronger that Category 2. Katrina made landfall as a Category 4.

Told of Cobb’s reference to the Manganos as heroes, Larry Ingargiola, St. Bernard Parish’s director of emergency preparedness, flashed his middle finger and asked a reporter: “Can you quote this in your paper?’’

Bertucci, meanwhile, was adamant that he had offered the home two buses with drivers who would take residents to safer ground. “They should have evacuated and people are dead because they didn’t,’’ Bertucci said.

A Fot spokeswoman, meanwhile, said there was no rush to judgement in arresting the Manganos.

Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman, said the attorney general has a responsibility to act immediately when there is evidence of wrongdoing.

“It’s pretty glaring that 34 people drowned when they should have been evacuated,’’ she said.

Parts of St. Bernard Parish might open for inspection soon

Wednesday, 5:24 p.m.

By Manuel Torres
St. Bernard bureau

In another sign that their recovery is gaining traction, St. Bernard Parish officials on Wednesday announced that they might allow the first parish residents to return to the stricken area as early as Saturday.

Parish President Henry “Junior’’ Rodriguez said officials might unveil a re-entry plan by Friday. He said the first area to reopen will be in south Arabi, where residents will be allowed to return for a few hours to view what’s left of their homes.

“We want people to come back to assess damage as soon as possible,’’ Rodriguez said.

The parish government also said business owners can come into the parish now to assess damage to their stores and businesses, but must first receive a government permit.

Wednesday’s announcements marked a day of visible progress as crews continue cleaning streets and business owners began streaming into the parish just over two weeks at Hurricane Katrina ravaged most of the area.

The positive signs included an announcement that all parish streets should be clear of water and debris by the weekend and that toxicology testing had uncovered no signs of infectious diseases in the water still draining from a few areas. But keeping their perspective in check, officials say they still believe that structures in 70-80 percent of the parish may have to be razed.

Katrina’s waters, which two weeks ago reached 20 feet in some areas, have practically drained from the parish. But a thick layer of muck still makes many streets impassable. Officials, however, says a company hired for the cleanup expects to have the streets clear soon, allowing the first returnees to come back.

The first section to open will be Arabi, extending from Jackson Barracks to Chalmette Refining and from St. Bernard Highway to the Mississippi River levee.

But officials asked residents to wait for details before making plans to return. Those returning to assess the damage should come with gloves and boots and not bring children.

“Please be patient. We don’t anybody to get sick’’ said state Sen. Walter Boasso, R-Chalmette.

In the meantime, officials are allowing business owners to come back to the parish and assess their damage. Business owners can do that now, but those returning must have identification and obtain a pass. They can register for pass at the parish website, www.stbernardparishgovernment.com. Officials say they will post details of the general entry plan on the website.

Also Wednesday, the head of a FEMA medical team working in the parish said that toxicology tests throughout the parish found no traces of infectious diseases. Don Decker, however, said that people working in the parish and planning to return should get shots for tetanus and hepatitis.

Officials will make the vaccines available for resident in St. Bernard at their makeshift command center at Chalmette Refining.

In another positive sign, Boasso said the St. Bernard Port could reopen in as soon as two weeks. He also said a cruise ship is expected to dock at the port later this week and will serve as the new command center for rebuilding efforts.

West Bank sees signs of civilization

By Joe Darby
Staff writer

Signs of normal life were popping up on the West Bank Wednesday, with increasingly heavy traffic on the West Bank Expressway and more and more businesses opening their doors to customers.

While Gen. de Gaulle Drive in Algiers remained sparsely traveled with only emergency and official vehicles in sight, grocery stores, service stations and some specialty shops in West Jefferson were up and running, as were the post offices in Gretna and Westwego.

With the West Bank taking a much lesser blow from Hurricane Katrina than other areas, businesses seemed eager to welcome customers back. One of earliest West Bank stores to reopen was the Walgreens at the West Bank Expressway and Stumpf Boulevard in Gretna. Manager Ed Mitts said the store opened on Sept. 8, staffed at first only by managers, and has dispensed several thousand prescriptions.

“There were old ladies coming in with bags full of empty prescription vials, needing their medicine, and that made it all worthwhile for us,” Mitts said. The drug store also has sold plenty of food staples, such as milk and bread, and visiting National Guard soldiers have been among its most steady customers.

Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said the Gretna store is one of 15 in the New Orleans area that are open now, including ones in Kenner, Westwego and Marrero, as well as two each in Slidell, Mandeville, Covington and Hammond and three in Metairie, he said.

All of the open stores have fully operating pharmacies, Polzin said in a telephone interview from Deerfield, Ill. “We put a priority on opening the pharmacies, especially the first week or two after the storm,” he said.

Ragusa Supermarket on the West Bank Expressway in Marrero opened on Tuesday, and Marrero residents Jerry Weaver and Lisa Bush were happy Wednesday to see signs of civilization returning to their neighborhood.

“We’re here to get a few groceries,” Weaver said. “This is important because I called some friends of mine who weren’t going to come back yet, but when I told them there was a place to get food, they said they will return soon.”

While the Nations Rent store at the West Bank Expressway and Jung Boulevard in Marrero opened the day after the storm to provide generators and light towers to Westwego police and other law enforcement agencies, it is now open to regular customers. District Manager Chris Scott said the store is renting plenty of generators, safety supplies and clearing equipment.

Kenneth Hebert, owner of the Fina service station at the corner of Avenue A and the West Bank Expressway in Westwego, also helped law enforcement officers by supplying gasoline in the days immediately following the storm and now is open to all customers.

Hebert also is offering tire repairs, a much-needed service with so much debris in the streets. “We’ve been fixing about 50 tires a day,” he said.

“Things are definitely getting better in Gretna. I won’t say getting back to normal, but definitely better,” Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris said. The city has removed the boil order for its water, but asks residents to let their hot and cold faucets run for 10 minutes to flush out any impurities.

Meanwhile, Gretna is serving as a base for relief efforts for harder hit areas, such as Plaquemines Parish, Harris said. Food, water and ice are being distributed at two locations in Gretna, Laborie’s supermarket on Lafayette Street and the Gretna Bingo Palace, at 1700 Franklin St.

Reporter Dennis Persica contributed to this story.

Prosecutors: Fraud will not be tolerated

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – Public officials at the federal, state and local level who try to capitalize on billions of dollars in disaster aid flowing to the state from public or private sources will be investigated and possibly face charges, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

U.S. Attorneys Jim Letten of New Orleans and David Dugas of Baton Rouge, said that their offices’ public corruption task forces will be closely monitoring the conduct of elected and appointed officials who may try to misuse some of the billions of dollars in disaster relief that will be flowing into the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other federal and state agencies.

“This is the FBI’s shot across your bow,” said Jim Bernazzani, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans office. “Any elected or public official … engaged in fraud will be investigated.’’

Letten said the vigilance is part of the anti-fraud crackdown launched by the U.S. Justice Department in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

He said all federal prosecutors in all parts of the country and federal agents from a variety of agencies will be on the lookout for fraud in all forms – mail fraud, contract fraud, wire fraud, insurance fraud, identity theft, submitting false claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, charity scams, Web site donation scams, and other ways of diverting Katrina-related relief money from evacuees and public agencies.

“There are, and will be, a few individuals – predators -- who will seek to take advantage of Americans, individual Americans and corporate America,’’ who are donating to relief efforts, Letten said. “This is a zero-tolerance initiative. There is no fraud too small, no fraud too great to go uninvestigated. ...

“We will continue with new vigor to prosecute anyone no matter if they are in the city, state or federal government who exploit their public trust.’’

Letten said that prosecutors have received some complaints about “fraud in general’’ but would not disclose numbers or the nature of the complaints.

“Any fraud by any public official . . . who obtains money for city or state public works assistance will be investigated and prosecuted,’’ Letten said.

Katrina-related fraud cases will be given top priority and brought to trial as quickly as possible, Letten said. “They are stealing from individual victims, and they are stealing from the government of the United States.’’

Letten said that the “vast majority of public officials are good, honest public servants, but there are far too many who masquerade for their own access to power and money. ... They will end up in prison.’’

Dugas said that all cases of fraud will be investigated.

“We don’t need $100,000 in fraud to get our attention,’’ Dugas said. “The victims need the money too badly.’’

Letten urged anyone who has knowledge of a plan to defraud the government or any of its agencies, or individuals, to report it or possibly face being charged with a felony also.

Individuals can report a crime by calling the FBI in Baton Rouge at 1-225-291-5159 or their local FBI office. Crimes can also be reported on the Internet at www.IC3.gov.

FEMA may help hotels get repairs, get business

Wednesday, 5:09 p.m.

By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

Hotel operator Michael Valentino and an entourage of insurance adjusters, Shaw Group Inc. construction experts and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, tromped through Valentino’s three French Quarter properties Wednesday, hoping that his hotels can participate in a program that promises speedy repairs and instant business.

FEMA wants 10,000 hotel rooms for 200 days to house emergency workers, and it has hired the Baton Rouge construction firm the Shaw Group to fix the damage at hotels, according to the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.

“As an independent hotel, I have a better shot of getting services to my hotel by getting involved with disaster recovery people,” said Valentino, managing partner of Valentino New Orleans Hotels. “I get my properties open, and there’s a built-in market for some extended period of time.”

With the muscle of the federal government and one of Louisiana’s biggest companies, the deal is the hotel industry’s best shot at making quick, hassle-free repairs, hanging on to workers before they take jobs in other parts of the country, and taking guests at a time there is no tourism business.

“FEMA and the Shaw Group have the firepower to speed up the opening and reconstruction of the hotels,” said Bill Langkopp, executive vice-president of the hotel association.

The six-month time frame of the FEMA hotel contract, coupled with the projected April re-opening of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, also sets a target date for re-starting the New Orleans tourism industry. If reconstruction efforts go smoothly, that means that the tourism industry needs to be ready to go in April.

Many hotels sustained water damage from flooding or blown-out windows or holes in their roofs, and hotel operators fear that mold will set in if they don’t fix the problems and get the air-conditioning turned on soon. In addition, the hotels need electricity, water and sewer service to open.

FEMA declined to talk about its efforts to secure hotel rooms, who would ultimately foot the bill for repairs or how rates are negotiated, saying that details of the contract are still being ironed out.

Hans Wandfluh, general manager of the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street, is contracting with FEMA for 200 rooms for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Wandfluh’s 500-room hotel is unusual in that it wasn’t damaged, and it’s already 60 percent full with television crews, BellSouth telephone technicians, insurance adjusters, the FBI agents and 30 employees who are living and working there.

The hotel is getting electricity from a generator and has enough water pressure to flush toilets and run showers on all floors. On Tuesday, a CNN news crew helped Wandfluh attach a chlorination system to a water pipe entering the hotel to make the shower water cleaner. Wandfluh also has a water engineer and exterminator on-site to help keep the hotel clean.

But the Shaw Group aspect of the FEMA deal will help with the Royal Sonesta’s sister property, the Chateau Sonesta, which is located in a section of Canal Street that flooded. Wandfluh said that prices for fuel, construction materials and labor are going up by the day, and getting involved with the FEMA/Shaw deal enables him to skip the hassle of haggling for goods and services.

Prices are rising and supplies are hard to get, Wandfluh said. "If I would do this work myself, it would take a little longer.”

Jeff's private schools seek to reopen

5:12 p.m.

By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

Private school leaders in Jefferson Parish are gradually pulling their campuses back together, some of them facing serious hurricane damage and others saying they are almost ready to reopen in a parish that had, before Katrina interrupted classes, one of the nation’s highest percentages of children attending private schools.

Metairie Park Country Day School suffered the same flooding that afflicted much of Old Metairie, pushing plans for a full reopening there to January.

Country Day had three feet of water in its front circle drive, two feet along one side of campus and six inches along another side. Many raised buildings escaped the flooding, but water invaded other buildings, including the lower school, the auditorium and the middle and upper school library, to levels of several feet in places, according to a message from Headmaster David Drinkwater to families and employees. Drinkwater said the school has already contracted a firm to tear out carpet and wallboard and to fight mold.

Portions of Country Day could be open before January, Drinkwater said. The school particularly wants to restore programs for high school seniors. The heads of independent private schools in the New Orleans area are working on plans to share programs, or even establish satellite locations in Houston or other places with concentrations of evacuees.

“I know from many phone conversations and e-mails that several of you have been through harrowing experiences, and that most of us have felt the kind of disruption or loss that painfully forces us to search deep within for strength,” Drinkwater wrote. “I can assure you that we are determined to see our school community whole and thriving again soon.”

Lutheran High School in Metairie also took a hard hit from Katrina, with major roof damage, some weakened walls and trees still leaning on the building. So when the 2005-06 school year resumes, Lutheran High will temporarily move to the campus of Atonement Lutheran School, also in Metairie, said the Rev. Don Little, senior pastor at Atonement.

While Lutheran High, on Cleary Avenue, serves grades nine through 12,
Atonement Lutheran, on the north side of Interstate 10, covers pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade. Little said the schools will operate in shifts at the mostly unharmed Atonement facility.

“We will be able to open as soon as the parish reopens,” possibly Oct. 3, which is the target return date for Jefferson Parish public schools, Little said. “For us, it’s looking much better than we thought it might.”

In a message to parents at Salem Lutheran School in Gretna, Principal Joseph Althage said he is trying to find contractors to fix roof and water damage. He has been staying in Lake Charles and said he plans to visit the campus on Monday to start rebuilding.

Althage is holding a “re-registration” to determine how many students might want to return, but he did not suggest a reopening date for the school.

Many Jefferson private schools, meanwhile, survived Katrina relatively unscathed.

Milton Montgomery, headmaster of Metairie’s Ridgewood Preparatory School, said damage there is minimal, and he hopes to open soon. He hasn’t set an exact date, partly because he’s waiting for authorities to allow people into the parish more freely and partly because he’s waiting for garbage pickup, so the school can rid itself of a festering bin of 16-day-old trash.

“The trees that blew down, they fell in the right place; They didn’t hit anything,” Montgomery said on Wednesday. “So we were extremely lucky.”

Crews have already removed the trees, he said.

The wind peeled back a few spots of new metal roofing, but Montgomery said that damage will not hinder the school‘s ability to open. Electricity returned to Ridgewood on Wednesday, he said, and the phones started ringing with parents trying to find out how to return. Most of the faculty has committed to returning, he said.

Aug. 29, the day Katrina hit, was to be the first day of school at Ridgewood.

“We didn’t have one day of school,” yet in 2005-06, he said. “When we open, it’s going to be the first day of school.”

An Internet report from Arden Cahill Academy in Gretna says West Bank cleanup is improving daily and school leaders have already begun temporary
repairs of storm damage while planning to hire contractors to do further work.

The academy wants its staff to return by Oct. 3 to prepare for classes to resume on Oct. 10, although numerous uncertainties could change that date.

At St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, which had tree damage but little else, officials are preparing for an Oct. 3 reopening and have already re-enrolled 255 students. The school is asking staff members for help in clearing debris and managing clerical tasks in preparation for the students‘ arrival. It has also called a mandatory faculty meeting Sept. 27-28 in Hammond, with housing and food provided.

In a letter to parents, the new headmaster at St. Martin’s, Chris Proctor, told of working at a school in Miami a decade ago, about 10 miles from where the eye of Hurricane Andrew had passed in 1992, and hearing stories from parents there about neighbors camping together and helping each other through the ordeal.

“Two years from now, I promise you that we will look back on this time and will remember only the good times,“ Proctor wrote. “The difficulties, the uncertainties, and the loss of personal property will fade away.”

With a mostly undamaged campus, Proctor said he believes it will be an integral part of the school’s mission to help in rebuilding the community. He said every teacher, whether they have homes or not, have pledged to return for the restarting of school.

“Do all you can do to rejoin our community and know that we will always
have a spot for your children at St. Martin's, whether we see you in October, January, or next year,” he wrote to parents.

Ecole Classique School in Metairie is also aiming for an Oct. 3 reopening. Principal David Federico reported in a message to faculty and parents that cleanup there is progressing well and that he is trying to gather numbers on how many students and faculty members plan to return.

Katrina also mostly spared the campus of John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, which got back its electricity, water, phone service and even cable television this week. Jeff Curtis, a teacher, coach and member of the school’s founding family, said on Wednesday that the storm knocked down trees, scattered trash cans and put a hole in the roof of one third-grade classroom, but that staff members have already cleaned up and temporarily patched the roof.

“Our campus was perfect, the way we left it for open house,” Curtis said. “We just had to clean up the debris.“

Curtis also planned to start 2005-06 on the day the hurricane made landfall. Now the school is planning its first day for either Sept. 23 or 26, Curtis said. Because the school already had a later start than many schools, it hasn’t lost as much instruction time and can probably make up time with occasional extended school days and shortened holidays, he said.

Curtis said the school plans to resume football and volleyball on Sept. 23.

“We’ve had a high majority of our people say that they can’t wait to get back,” he said.

Death toll climbs

The state Department of Health and Hospitals today announced that 474 people have died in Louisiana so far from Hurricane Katrina and related flooding.

That includes 393 bodies at the metrowide morgue in St. Gabriel, 39 in East Baton Rouge Parish, 6 in New Iberia Parish, 27 in Jefferson Parish, 6 in St. Tammany Parish, and 3 in St. Charles Parish. The number of confirmed dead Tuesday was 423.

COAST feeds a need

The Council on Aging of St. Tammany (COAST) will reopen some centers Thursday to provide hot meals for seniors.

Nutrition director Len Beech said COAST lost several vans in Slidell and the senior center there is out of commission. But home delivery meals are up and running in Slidell, Pearl River, Folsom and Covignton.

And starting Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., seniors 60 and older can get a hot meal at the senior centers in Lacombe, Folsom and Covington.

“Hopefully we will get to open some others soon,” Beech said. For more information, call the main office at 892-0377 or Beech at 966-4817.

Notre Dame on the north shore

St. Joseph Seminary College north of Covington will host theology students from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, which was heavily damaged in the hurricane.

The seminary program only will continue for at least the fall semester on the north shore, said the Rev. Matthew Clark, St. Joseph’s director of development.

About 100 students and faculty from Notre Dame will start classes Oct. 1 for a condensed semester. Meanwhile, the St. Joseph seminary started classes on Sept. 14. “We are determined to keep going,” Clark said.

Port receives first shipment

3:54 p.m., Wednesday

By Jaquetta White
Business writer

The arrival of the Lykes Flyer to the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal Tuesday night marked a symbolic return to business for the Port of New Orleans, which has been diverting ships to competing ports in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Sunken barges and other debris in the Mississippi River had restricted maritime traffic to military vessels until the Lykes Flyer’s arrival.

The vessel’s delivery of coffee and containers is the first of what will be many steps in the port’s rebuilding process. Just two of the 27 port terminals were open for business Wednesday and operations were expected to be just 10 to 20 percent of the normal pace this week, Paul Zimmerman, port operations director, told Reuters. LaGrange has said it would take six months for the port to be fully operational.
Fully operational would mean that a steady stream of trucks once again would pour into the Napoleon terminal to pick up and drop off containers. To date that is “one of the things we have to tackle,” said port spokesman Chris Bonura.

Although a path has been cleared for trucks to move in and out of the city, truck drivers are in short supply in and around the area.

Perhaps more difficult will be repairing the rail lines that were damaged.

“With all this happening, the port will lose some of the traffic, probably to Houston,” said Anatoly Hochstein, director of the National Ports and Waterways Institute in Arlington, Va. “On the other hand, there will be so much construction; shipments could come in from overseas. “My guess, though, is that in the balance, the port will lose. But we’ll have to wait and see.”

Dock workers are ready for the cargo to begin its return. James Campbell, president of the International Longshoreman’s Association Local 3000, said he has more workers than there is cargo.

“We’re just waiting on the vessels, there’s not a labor problem here,” Campbell said.

About 300 ILA workers and other stevedores are being housed on a military ship docked at the Nashville terminal, Campbell said.

The dock workers will be rotated so that everyone who shows up can work.

“They all were unemployed until this vessel came in.”

Application deadline extended for Dow Community Grant Program

Wednesday, 1:50 p.m.

The deadline for accepting applications for the Dow Community Grant Program in St. Charles Parish has been extended for an additional two weeks. Grant applications will now be accepted until 3 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26th.

Interested parties are encouraged to apply, but officials said the program will be evaluate the program this year and the financing could be diverted to pay for a Hurricane Katrina relief program.

St. Charles Operations has allocated $40,000 for community service projects in St. Charles Parish for the 2005 Dow Community Grant Program. Grants will be selected on a competitive basis, with a maximum of $5,000 awarded per selected project. Projects may also be submitted for less than $5,000. Short-term projects with an emphasis on visible improvements are sought. Only one application per organization may be submitted.

Projects should emphasize relationship building with the community through interaction, rather than simply providing money to an organization in exchange for promotional opportunities. The project should address a specific community need, solve a problem or provide enhancement to the community. To qualify, organizations must have a 501(c)(3) non-profit tax designation, be a parish government agency, or other organization that meets the criteria.

Grant application forms may be requested by calling Stanley Dufrene, Dow Public Affairs at (985) 783-4472.

Ice cream maker eager to dish out treats

By Steve Ritea
Staff writer

When the power goes back on Uptown, David Bergeron already knows which
flavors his popular ice cream shop will be serving up first.

"Well, you've got to have vanilla. That's like a staple," he said. "And someone on NOLA.com already requested Lavender Honey, so I have to do that. Then there'll be a chocolate, but not just standard chocolate, something fun, maybe like Hawaiian Chocolate. And we'll obviously do something for the kids, probably Bubble Bear (gummy bears in bubblegum-flavored ice cream) and Cookie Monster."

The Saturday before Katrina hit, Bergeron worked to clear out as much of his stock at the Creole Creamery as possible with a "Hurricane Special" advertising two scoops for the price of one on the chalkboard outside on Prytania Street.

Business was brisk that day, taking the store through a near-record 50 gallons of ice cream.

"I guess people just really wanted something cold and got sick of boarding up," he said.

By the next morning, Bergeron had boarded up himself and was headed out to Fairhope, Ala. to ride out the storm at his sister's house.

When he returned to New Orleans this week, Bergeron found his store fine, but he had lost 300 gallons of ice cream, pointing to the token white plastic vats sitting in a stainless steel sink in back, stacked nearly to the ceiling.

In some of the vats still needing to be cleaned, it was clear ice cream does more than merely melt.

"The liquid settles to the bottom and a lot of butter fat or things like cookie pieces rise to the top," he said. "It's pretty gross."

The only thing Bergeron took from the store before he evacuated were about 150 T-shirts bearing the shop's logo that he stored in his Lakeview home.
His home and the shirts didn't fare as well as the shop.

"It's gone," he said.

As he waits for power to return to Uptown and other areas of the city that remained dry, Bergeron said he's in regular contact with his ice cream chef, Bryan Gilmore, who's created flavors ranging from Cotton Candy and Red Velvet Cake to Cucumber Dill and Blood Orange sorbet.

For now, however, Gilmore has resigned himself to working a temporary
job at a Williams-Sonoma in Houston.

"Every day he calls me and says, 'Man, tell me as soon as you're running again, and I'll be there,'" Bergeron said.

Many of his basic ingredients, the cocoa powder and the syrups, namely, should be fine and ready for Gilmore's return, Bergeron said.

Even better, he said, will be when customers return.

"It's going to be a great spot where everyone can get ice cream or not
and sit around and just talk and get a little normalcy," he said.

U.S. commits $15.2 million to airport

12:41 p.m.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta today promised $15.2 million in federal money as a “down payment” to repair Hurricane Katrina’s damage at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Mineta, in the first of three appearances in the New Orleans area, said the money will come from a program normally used for safety improvements. The department is revising the rules to allow spending on repairs, he said.

He planned later announcements of federal aid at the Port of New Orleans and the Interstate 10 twin bridges between New Orleans and Slidell.

“Transportation will not be a chokepoint for the recovery of New Orleans,” Mineta said.

Airport officials estimate Katrina’s damage at Armstrong at $50 million. And they forecast a $70 million revenue loss over the next five years as a result of being shut down to normal commercial traffic for 16 days and limited operations since reopening Tuesday.

Still, Mineta’s announcement was welcome news at Armstrong. Airport officials previously had committed much of their regular construction money this year to the rehabilitation of the east-west runway, a job that wrapped up just days before Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

West Jefferson Medical Center update

12:15 p.m.

The Physicians Center at West Jefferson Medical Center is open, and the following physicians are seeing patients in their offices or at the hospital: Dr. Robert Bostick, orthopedics; Dr. Brian Cain, podiatry; Dr. Thomas Cashio, orthopedics; Culicchia Neurological Clinic; Dr. Dean Edell, pediatric pulmonology; The Family Doctors, family and internal medicine; Dr. Matthew Grimm, orthopedics; Heart Clinic of Louisiana; Dr. Richard Helman, obstetrics and gynecology; Dr. David Hutchinson, cardiology; Dr. Thomas Irwin, ear, nose and throat; Dr. Mark Juneau, orthopedics; Dr. John Kimble, ear, nose and throat; Dr. Rhonda Kroll, family medicine; Dr. Scott Nicholson, obstetrics and gynecology; Dr. Hong Nguyen, internal medicine; Pulmonary Medicine Associates; Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Fierro, cardiology; Dr. David Treen, general surgery; and West Bank Nephrology.

More updates on medical practices openings will be posted at www.wjmc.org.

Several West Jefferson physicians remained at work at the hospital during Hurricane Katrina or returned right after the storm. They include: Drs. Imelda Bautista; Wesley Bryan; Jonathan Boraski; William Borron; Frank Culicchia; Arlette Delcham; Dean Edell; Michael Friley; David Hutchison; David Joseph; S. Kedia; Rhonda Kroll; Maria Labadie.; Pablo Labadie; Elaine LaNasa; Keit Le; Sheelagh Malloy; Kenneth Malmstrom; Robert Matheny; William Procell; Michael Puente; S. Reddy; Charles Simonson; Paul Staab; Mark Workman; Walter Truax; John Steck; and Doctors Elizabeth Blanton; Mohammed Fustok; Richard Helman; Jeanne Hutchinson; E.C. Labadie; Juan Labadie; Ralph Lupin; Scott Nicholson; and Laura Winkeler; the Family Doctors, and Dr. Sam Edelman.

No shots needed

Wednesday, 11:40 a.m.

People returning to the New Orleans area to clean up their homes do not
need shots, according to the state health department.

However, anyone who is cut should get a tetanus booster, especially if
more than five years have elapsed since the last shot. And anyone
exposed to dirty water should consider hepatitis shots, too.




EPA warns of cleanup dangers

Cleanup activities related to returning to homes and businesses after Hurricane Katrina can pose significant health and environmental challenges. People may be exposed to potentially life-threatening hazards posed by leaking natural gas lines, and carbon monoxide poisoning from using un-vented fuel-burning
equipment indoors.

During a flood cleanup, failure to remove contaminated materials and to reduce moisture and humidity may present serious long-term health risks from micro-organisms, such as bacteria and mold.

When citizens are authorized by local authorities to return to their homes and businesses, federal authorities urge people to take the following precautions:
Be Aware of Possible Combustible or Explosive Gases - Many natural gas and other fuel lines were broken during Hurricane Katrina and highly explosive gas vapors may still be present in many buildings. In addition, methane and other explosive gases may accumulate from decaying materials.

Open all windows when entering a building. If you smell gas or hear the sound of escaping gas: Don't smoke, light matches, operate electrical switches, use
either cell or conventional telephones, or create any other source of ignition.
Leave the building immediately; leaving the door open and any windows that may already be open. Notify emergency authorities. Don't return to the building until you are told by authorities that it is safe to do so.

Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning - Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced when any fuel is burned and that can kill you at high levels.
Do not use fuel-burning devices such as gasoline-powered generators, gasoline-powered pressure washers, camp stoves and lanterns, or charcoal grills in homes, garages, or any other confined space such as attics or crawl spaces, or within 10 ft. of windows, doors or other air intakes. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO buildup in the home. Have vents and chimneys checked to assure that debris does not block or impede the exhaust from water heaters and gas furnaces. If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. The CO from generators can readily lead to full incapacitation and death.

Avoid Problems from Mold, Bacteria and Insects - Standing water is a breeding ground for a wide range of micro-organisms and insects, such as mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can spread diseases like West Nile Virus. Micro-organisms, including bacteria and mold, can become airborne and be inhaled. Where floodwater is highly contaminated, as it is in many areas of the Gulf Coast, infectious disease is of concern. Remove standing water as quickly as possible. Remove wet materials and discard those that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried, ideally within 48 hours. While smooth, hard surface materials such as metal and plastics can often be cleaned effectively, virtually all building contents made of paper, cloth, wood and other absorbent materials that have been wet for longer than 48 hours may need to be discarded as they will likely remain a source of mold growth.

Dry out the building. The heavily contaminated flood waters resulting from Hurricane Katrina contain micro-organisms and other contaminants that can penetrate deep into soaked, porous materials and later be released into air or water. Completely drying out a building that has been immersed in contaminated flood waters will take time and may require the extensive removal of ceiling, wall, insulation, flooring and other materials as well as, in some cases, extensive disinfection.

The growth of micro-organisms will continue as long as materials remain wet and humidity is high. If a house or building is not dried out properly, a musty odor, signifying growth of micro-organisms, can remain long after the flood. When fumes are not a concern and if electricity is available and safe, closing windows and running a dehumidifier or window air conditioner can be an effective way to remove moisture if the damage is moderate.

Reduce your exposure to air and water contaminants. Every effort should be made to limit contact with flood water. This includes the breathing of water vapors or mists formed from the contaminated water; this may occur when water is pumped or sprayed. If removing materials or furnishings already contaminated with mold or when cleaning significant areas of mold contamination or generally disinfecting areas soiled by flood waters, federal authorities recommend limiting your exposure to airborne mold spores by wearing gloves, goggles and wearing an N-95 respirator, if available, or a dust mask.

Avoid Problems from the Use of Cleaners, Disinfectants and Pesticides -
Disinfectants, sanitizers and other pesticides can contain toxic and potentially hazardous substances. Mixing certain types of household cleaners and disinfectants can produce toxic fumes and result in injury and even death. Do not mix them or use them in combination. Read and follow all label instructions carefully. Provide fresh air by opening windows and doors. Remain in a room
no longer than necessary. Allow adequate time for the area to air out.
If there is no standing water in the building and it is safe to use electricity, use fans both during and after the use of disinfecting, cleaning and sanitizing products. Be sure that before using any electrical appliances, that they are properly grounded, and where possible, connected to a ground break equipped electrical source. Keep all household products locked, out of sight and out of
reach of children. Use child-resistant packaging properly by closing the container securely after each use. Keep items in original containers. Call 1-800-222-1222 immediately in cast of poisoning.

EPA Urges Avoiding Problems from Airborne Asbestos and Lead Dust - Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur if asbestos-containing materials present in many older homes are disturbed. Pipe or other insulation, ceiling tiles, exterior siding, roof shingles and sprayed on-soundproofing are just some of the materials found in older buildings that may contain asbestos. Buildings constructed before 1970 are more likely to contain asbestos. Airborne asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal
linings. Lead is a highly toxic metal which produces a range of adverse health effects, particularly in young children. Many homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. Disturbance or removal of materials containing lead-based paint may result in elevated concentrations of lead dust in the air.

If you know or suspect that your home contains asbestos or lead-based paint and any of these materials have been damaged or will otherwise be disturbed during cleanup, seek the assistance of public health authorities and try to obtain help from specially trained contractors, if available. If possible, removed materials should be handled while still wet or damp, double bagged and properly labeled as to contents. In handling materials that are believed to be contaminated with asbestos or lead, EPA recommends that, at a minimum, you wear gloves, goggles, and most importantly, OSHA-approved respiratory protection, if available. While still wearing a mask, wash hands and clothing after handling such materials. If at all possible, avoid activities that will generate dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming debris that may contain asbestos or lead. Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling or renovations that disturb surfaces that may contain lead-based paint (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls): Have the area tested for lead-based paint. Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper, or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and potentially harmful fumes. Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can't move your family, completely seal off the work area.

Properly Dispose of Waste - Caution must be exercised to assure that all
waste materials are removed and disposed of properly. Open burning of materials by individuals should be avoided. Improperly controlled burning of materials not only represents significant fire hazards but can also produce additional hazards from the vapors, smoke, and residue that are produced from the burning.

Finances, school damage report top today's agenda for Jefferson School Board

Wednesday, 11:45 a.m.

By Rob Nelson
Staff writer

As the Jefferson Parish School Board meets today for the second time in as many weeks, they do so facing myriad hurdles: a precarious budget verging on bankruptcy, more than 80 schools with varying degrees of damage and continuing uncertainty about the state of their work force and student body.

The board will meet today at noon at the state Department of Education office in Baton Rouge and plans to meet weekly until the planned reopening of schools the week of Oct. 3.

As of Tuesday, school system spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said reports showed: 28 schools suffered no damage; 14 had isolated damage; 18 had "fairly moderate damage;” 14 suffered "serious damage;" and 9 were not useable. Overall, 42, or roughly half, of the system's schools are useable while those with "fairly moderate" or isolated damage could open later in the school year, Nowakowski said.

Today, the board is expected to decide the fate of the nine most damaged schools, which could include razing the campuses, Nowakowski said. The schools are: East Jefferson and Bonnabel high schools, Woodmere, Solis, Ruppel, Ames, Lincoln and Shirley Johnson/Gretna Park elementary schools. The ninth school is an adult education building in Gretna that was being converted into a magnet high school for the 2006-07 school year.

Nowakowski said the system is still uncertain about the composition of its student body because of the number of Jefferson families who have relocated as well as students from more devastated parishes who might choose to attend Jefferson schools. Nowakowski said he learned Tuesday in a meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials that 6,000 students from the devastated region have already enrolled in Baton Rouge schools.

Depending on the number of students who return to Jefferson, one option could be "platooning,” a setup in which students attend a school for a morning schedule while another set of students would attend an afternoon shift. Monitoring enrollment when school begins will be a high priority, Nowakowski said. "We will have to keep track of students from literally the moment they hit the door."

Jefferson teachers, too, have been displaced by Hurricane Kartrina. The system is asking employees to register at www.louisianaschools.net to inform the system of their whereabouts and if they plan to return to work.

So far, about 1,300 of the system's 7,000 employees have registered that they will return to their jobs, he said. The system would like returning teachers to get back into their classrooms the week of Sept. 26. Employees with questions are directed to call (866) 563-6559.

In addition, the system is pleading for more federal dollars to avoid bankruptcy once its $24 million in reserves dries up. The reserves will cover two more payroll cycles, one on Thursday and another on Sept.
30, Nowakowski said. Officials are hoping a request by state Superintendent Cecil Picard for $2.4 billion in federal money will help keep New Orleans area school systems financially viable.

The status of Jefferson public schools is as follows:

• Schools with no damage or isolated damage and still useable are: Adams, Airline, Alexander, Audubon, Birney, Boudreaux, Bissonet, Cuillier, Deckbar, Dolhonde, Ellender, Ellis, Ford, Greenlawn, Gretna Middle, Gretna Kindergarten, Harris, Harvey, Hazel Park, Haynes, Hearst, Helen Cox, Higgins, Janet, Jefferson, Keller, Livaudais, Live Oak, Maggoire, Matas, Metairie Academy, Rillieux, Riverdale High, Riviere, Roosevelt, Schneckenburger, St. Ville, Truman, Westwego, Woods, Worley.

• Schools with moderate or serious damage: Chateau, Clancy, Douglass, Grace King, Harahan, Hart, Kate Middleton, McDonogh 26, Meisler, Riverdale Middle, West Jefferson High.

• The list of nine schools with significant damage could change. For example, Ginny Dufrene, principal at Paul Solis Elementary, said her school could be up and running after some relatively minor cleanup and roof repair.

Officials said parts of the damage report were prepared using aerial views of the schools instead of walk-through tours. A visit to Solis showed that while debris was scattered throughout the campus, the inside of the school is largely in tact.

Animal rescues in St. Bernard Parish

Wednesday, 11:42 a.m.

An LSU animal rescue team reports that it has saved 50 horses in St. Bernard Parish. That's about a quarter of the known horse population there.

The group has also rescued more than 200 dogs.

The animals were taken to the Lamar Dixon Expo Center, 9039 St. Landry Rd., Gonzales.

Housing programs unveiled

11:39 a.m., Wednesday

By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer

Two housing programs designed to assist residents impacted by Hurricane Katrina were unveiled this week.

The National Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage holders in areas declared disaster sites by President George W. Bush may miss payments during the next 90 days without penalties.

Cheryl Crispen, senior vice president of communications for the group, said mortgage holders who fail to make payments will not be reported to credit-reporting agencies and will not be charged late fees. Any payments missed during the next 90 days will be tacked on to the end of the mortgage. And mortgage bankers are postponing foreclosure actions against those in the disaster states.

The vast majority of mortgages in the area – about 98 percent – were issued by lenders participating in the MBA program, Crispen said.

Crispen urged mortgage holders impacted by Hurricane Katrina to contact their mortgage service companies and inform them of their situation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has set up an emergency mortgage program -- 203(h) (“h’’ for hurricane) -- that offers 100 percent loans for housing repairs, rebuilding or home purchasing, according to a board member of the Louisiana Mortgage Association.
Mike Anderson, president of Essential Mortgage LLC and a board member of the Louisiana Mortgage Lenders Association, said the HUD 203(h) loan was available for borrowers whether they had an existing mortgage or not, a highly unusual provision.

The HUD announcement and other disaster information can be found on their Web site at www.hud.gov.

Borrowers who can not find their lender or service provider can access the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions at www.ofi.louisiana.gov.

Further, the MBA is attempting the set up of a Web service that will help mortgage holders to find their mortgage service company or lender. The service is not yet set up and represents a gigantic task for the agency, she said.

The Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation, commonly called the FDIC, is also putting out lender contact information and asking the institutions for their cooperation in assisting victims of Katrina. Information can be obtained at www.fdic.gov.

Sid Seymour, chief examiner of the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions, has had a pool of staff manning phone banks assisting borrowers in contacting their lenders. For borrowers who relocated out of state, they can call 866-783-5530. Borrowers still in Louisiana can call 888-525-9414. The phones are manned from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. seven days a week and Seymour said they have assisted more than 2,500 borrowers.

Most of the local lenders are in the same boat as their clients, dislocated and seeking temporary offices to get back in business, compounding the ability of borrowers trying to contact their lenders to discuss their financial concerns during the crisis.

Ochsner update

OBSTETRICS INCREASE: Ochsner Clinic - New Orleans treated 10 obstetrics patients Tuesday who could not locate their original physician. Ochsner is available to assist evacuees who have lost their physicians and will have their medical records to continue care when they return home to the New Orleans region.

OCHSNER HIRES WITHIN STAFF: Ochsner is offering existing employees, whose jobs were affected by the storm, the opportunity to take on different roles
within the organization until their prior duties are once again needed.
Many of the additional roles needed in New Orleans include: Communication Operators, Drivers, Environmental Services, and Cooks.

OCHSNER ELMWOOD MEDICAL CENTER RE-OPENS: Elmwood Medical Center on
Clearview Parkway will reopen its Internal Medicine Clinic Monday.

PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES: Today, Ochsner is opening psychiatric services at its pediatric facility across from Main Campus. For an appointment, call 504-842-4025.

SHUTTLE SERVICE: Ochsner is shuttling patients from St. Charles United
Methodist Church and the Baton Rouge Bluebonnet clinic into Ochsner
Hospital for outpatient appointments and medical procedures. The buses are
running daily to accommodate patients who need medical attention.

PATIENT NUMBERS: NEW ORLEANS SURGERY/CLINIC APPOINTMENTS:
* Ochsner patients who have scheduled surgery in New Orleans can call
(504) 842-4900 to confirm their appointment.
* Ochsner Clinic New Orleans appointments can be addressed by calling
Ochsner On-Call (504) 842-3155.

N.O. teachers to get Sept. 2 paychecks

Alvarez & Marsal, the restructuring firm that has been working with the New Orleans Public Schools said pay checks for school employees will be available at Western Union locations beginning today.

The payments will be an estimate of the amount due to employees. Payments to teachers will cover the payroll that was due Sept. 2 for work from Aug. 11-24 and also will cover work from Aug. 25-28, the last day before the hurricane.

Payments to non-teachers, who had a different payroll calendar than teachers and who received a paycheck on Aug. 26th for work from Aug. 4-17, will receive payments that cover August 18-28.

These payments will be an estimate because, when a team of A&M and NOPS employees returned to Algiers to retrieve the back-up computer tapes containing the payroll information, they found that the building was severely damaged by the hurricane and the IT department was flooded. The A&M and NOPS team has been working since then at an IBM Disaster Recovery Center in Tuxedo, New York to recover the data, but this is a complex and time consuming effort. Rather than have employees endure continued delays while exact payroll data is restored, a decision was made to distribute payments that were estimates of the amounts due. Adjustments will be made once the data recovery process is complete.

Bill Roberti, managing director of Alvarez & Marsal who is serving as chief restructuring officer for NOPS, said that, given the school system's precarious financial situation, there would not be another payroll after this one, until schools begin to reopen.

He urged the federal government to provide financial assistance to help NOPS employees who may be living on unemployment insurance or lower paying temporary jobs.

More Catholic schools opening

Wednesday, 9:50 a.m.

Sacred Heart School in Norco welcomed students on Wednesday, the last of the New Orleans Catholic Archdiocesan schools to open in the St. Charles, officials said.

Father William Maestri, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said all schools operated by the archdiocese also are open in St. John the Baptist Parish.

He said the demand from students is strong, saying many schools are opening new classrooms for the influx being received. For example, at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace, officials have seen a surge of 178 additional students.

And officials are going to set up an evening school there to accomodate an additional 400 to 500 students, Maestri said.

Elsewhere in the area, Maestri said officials are working to be ready to go by Oct. 3 when Jefferson Parish officials have said they plan to start public schools. "We certainly want to be on board and open at that particular time," he said.

He said schools on the West Bank of Jefferson are ready to take on students and St. Tammany schools will open on Monday.

Maestri said he is encouraged by the response where schools are reopening.

"We have to begin thinking of children and families. (The schools) draw families and they draw people back to the area and that will get the infrastructure going."

SLU to resume classes in St. Tammany

HAMMOND--Southeastern Louisiana University will resume class offerings in St. Tammany beginning Monday at Fontainebleau Junior High School until further notice.

Located at 100 Hurricane Alley off Louisiana 59, the school is adjacent to Fontainebleau High School. Classroom assignments will be posted outside the main office.

The university’s St. Tammany Center, located on Koop Drive in the parish’s administrative complex, is currently being used in conjunction with Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

For more information, call 985-893-6251 or visit ww.selu.edu/sttammanycenter.

Bus service offered from St. Tammany to SLU

HAMMOND – A short-term bus service has been established between St. Tammany Parish and Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

Sponsored by the university and the St. Tammany Parish School Board, the service will be offered Thursday through Sept. 30. The service is free to Southeastern students.

The service is intended to deliver students to the campus at 7:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. each day. Buses will leave the campus at 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily to return to St. Tammany. The old university police department on Virginia Avenue near Cefalu Coliseum will serve as the campus drop-off and pick-up point.

The shuttle will use the following schedule:

Slidell Area: 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., 150 Northshore Blvd. near the Dillards Men’s Department; 6:15 a.m. and 7:15 a.m., 39142 Natchez Drive, near WalMart and Lowe’s.

Mandeville/Covington Area: 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., 4100 Hwy. 59 (Mandeville) in the Winn-Dixie parking lot: 6:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., 401 N. Hwy. 190 (Covington) at the Books-A-Million lot behind Sicily’s Restaurant.
Times are approximate depending on traffic conditions.

For more information, call 985-549-5250.

Lusher teachers, students surveyed

Lusher School, the Uptown New Orleans public elementary that had recently initiated action to become a charter school, has updated its Web site to inform parents, teachers and students who have evacuated the city because of Hurricane Katrina.

The Web site -- www.lusherschool.com -- includes a survey of teachers and students. The results, as of Tuesday morning, show that about 80 percent of teachers hope to return to the school if it reopens in January. Also, 80 percent of students have enrolled in schools elsewhere, 10 percent plan to be enrolled soon and 10 percent currently have no plans to enroll in other schools.

Web site set up for disabled people

A Web site had been setup to provide information to people with disabilities and their families who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina. The Web site is serving as a central location for Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council,
Louisiana Citizens for Action Now (LaCAN), Families Helping Families of Louisiana and Arc of Louisiana all of which serve people with disabilities.

The Web site is http://www.katrina-la.net/

40 percent of city's pumps now operating

Wednesdy, 7:15 a.m.

The latest estimate for the water to be drained from St. Bernard Parish is late October, Col. Richard Wagner of the Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday morning.

Wagner said New Orleans East and the area in the city east of the 17th Street Canal should be dry by the first week of October, while the area east of the Industrial Canal should be dry by the end of October.

However, Wagner said there still are areas in the city with as much as 8 to 10 feet of water, particularly as water settles in isolated low locations before it is pumped out. He said there were a total of five levee breaches - one at 17th Street Canal and two each at the London Avenue Canal and the Industrial Canal.

He said the current focus is on the levees surround the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet that were severely damaged.

Wagner said officials also will be trying to figure out just what happened at each levee location that led to the breaches. He said officials will study the designs for each levee and suspect that different factors may have played a role at the three locations.

"Probably within the next month we will do a hard aggresive look at what happened at each site."

Entergy update

Wednesday, 7 a.m.

About two-thirds of Entergy customers, or more than 260,000 homes and businesses, now have power, a company spokesperson said Wednesday.

Of that total, about 47,000 customers are in Jefferson and the rest are in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes.

In St. Bernard, there is no power and the focus of Entergy crews is to assess the situation as the water continues to recede.

Much of the CBD has power, as well as parts of the French Quarter, and the entire grid in those areas is expect to be online within 10 days, officials said. On Tuesday, power was restored to Children's Hosptial and Touro Hospital.

The process is slow in many areas because workers often have to go house to house to check for and fix any gas leaks before turning on power to that area.

Entergy officials continue to warn returning residents to be careful of downed power lines and to make sure generators are handled according to manufacturer's specifications.

Also, officials ask that residents try to refrain from stopping work crews to ask when they will reach a particular neighbor, because it only slows down the process.

CLECO update

Wednesday, 6:35 a.m.

As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, CLECO officials reported that 67 percent of their customers have had their power restored.

Out of 80,800 total customers, officials said Wednesday that power had been restored to 53,742 customers. In Washington Parish, 567 out of 800 total customers had power. In St. Tammany Parish, 53,175 out of 80,000 customers had power.

Company officials urge residents not to pile debris under power lines. Also, if there is any damage to homes or to the electrical service entrance that may pose a danger if power is restored, Cleco crews may not energize service to that home until repairs are made by a licensed electrician. Crews will leave a door hanger indicating repairs need to be made.