Road damages estimated at $2.3 billion

Friday, 8:20 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – The cost to replace or repair federal, state and local highways and bridges destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina will be about $2.3 billion “and that number will grow’’ Department of Transportation and Development spokesman Mark Lambert said Friday.

Lambert said that about $1.5 billion in damage was done to Interstate highways, major state roads such as Louisiana in Belle Chasse and the I-10 Twin Span linking eastern New Orleans to Slidell.


Repairs to those roads and spans are eligible for funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Lambert said.

Another $775 million in damages was done to parts of the 9,000 mile of so-called “off-system roads’’ in the hurricane’s strike area, roads that are controlled by local government and are not repaired or maintained with federal dollars. Lambert said federal money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be available to help repair replace sections of those highways and bridges.

“That ($2.3 billion) figure is very preliminary,’’ Lambert said. For example, the numbers do not include $35 million to replace or repair traffic signals or traffic signs, especially in the flooded New Orleans area.

Lambert said the entire New Orleans traffic light system may have to be replaced because much of it was under water for days.

The $2.3 billion also does not include damages to state ports, airports, levees or mass transit systems, or possibly help to relieve traffic-choked Baton Rouge streets that are filled with vehicles of New Orleans area evacuees.

DOTD Secretary Johnny Bradberry will be in Washington, D.C., on Monday meeting with the congressional delegations and federal officials to shake lose an immediate $100 million “right now to get some work done,’’ Lambert said.

Lambert said that the department will work on two levels: pursuing repairs to Katrina damages and pushing ahead with its regular highway construction program, including construction of I-49 in north Louisiana and taking bids this year on widening the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish.

“We continue to do what we had planned to do,’’ Lambert said.

The department will also make available to local governments material and equipment to help local governments recover – a step that is usually not taken.

“We are going to provide them with any help they need,’’ he said. “We will figure out how it will get paid for later.’’

For example, Lambert said, Plaquemines Parish may have lost all or most of its road-grading and repairing equipment so the agency will loan it whatever it may need.

He said the department has already signed three contracts for $50 million for debris-removal .

Bradberry will also ask FEMA to streamline its normal process of reimbursing the state so construction projects can get under way, Lambert said.

Part of the $2.3 billion figures includes $10 million to repair “significant damage’’ to 22 drawbridges in south Louisiana damaged by Katrina.

There are 86 drawbridges in the New Orleans area affected by the hurricane, officials said. The state has 152 movable bridges, the most in the nation, said department spokeswoman Cleo Allen.

Also, tunnels in Belle Chasse and Harvey will need repairs because of damages to them, she said.

Bradberry said at least three contracts have been signed for repairs to the bridges and tunnels.

“These movable bridges affect not only vehicular traffic but vital marine traffic as well,’’ Bradberry said.

The five locally-owned drawbridges that need “significant repairs’’ are the Doullat Bridge on Louisiana23 in Plaquemines Parish; the LaPalco Boulevard Bridge in Jefferson Parish; and three in Orleans Parish, the Florida Avenue, Almonaster and Seabrook bridges.

The state bridges damaged include:
 The Bayou Liberty Bridge on Louisiana 433 in St. Tammany Parish, total repair of pontoon bridge, six months.
 The Chef Menteur Bridge over U.S. 90 in New Orleans, electrical and mechanical problems, 60 days to repair.
 The Rigolets Bridge on U.S. 90 in New Orleans, electrical, and mechanical problems, 30 days to repair.
 Bayou Barataria Bridge over Louisiana 302 in Jefferson Parish, electrical and mechanical problems, seven days to repair.
 The Judge Perez Bridge on Louisiana 23 in Plaquemines, damage to electrical and mechanical systems and the machinery house, no time estimate given.
 The North Drawbridge on U.S. 11 over Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, electrical and mechanical problems, no time estimate given.
 East Pearl River Bridge, on U.S. 90 at the Louisiana-Mississippi border in St. Tammany Parish, electrical-mechanical problems, about 30 days.
 West Pearl River on U.S. 90 at the Louisiana-Mississippi border in St. Tammany Parish, electrical and mechanical problems, no estimate given.
 Madisonville Bridge on Louisiana 22 over the Tchefuncte River in St. Tammany Parish, electrical and mechanical problems, no estimate given.
 The Bonfouca Bridge on Louisiana 433 in St. Tammany Parish, electrical and mechanical problems, no estimate given.
 The West Larose Bridge on Louisiana 1 over the Intracoastal Waterway in Lafourche Parish, electrical work has been performed to make the span partially operational but no estimate of how long it will take for other work.
 The Golden Meadow Bridge on Louisiana 308 over Bayou Lafourche in Lafourche Parish, damage to roof, no time estimate given.
 The Galliano Bridge on Louisiana 308, over Bayou Lafourche in Lafourche Parish, repairs finished.
 Yscloskey Bridge on Louisiana 46 in St. Bernard Parish, electrical and mechanical problems, no estimate given.
 The Claiborne, Danziger and St. Claude bridges over the Industrial Canal in New Orleans, no time estimate given.

Rescue operation moving to Michoud

Friday, 8:02 p.m.

By Sandra Barbier
Staff writer

A rescue effort started by a New Iberia veterinarian in St. Bernard Parish is moving into bigger quarters at the Michoud facility in eastern New Orleans.

Veterinarian Eric White started collecting pets and strays on Sept. 2, ferrying as many as he could back to his clinic and the Iberia Humane Society, where the animals were cleaned, treated and photographed in the hope of reuniting them with owners, said White's wife, Marilynn White.
"He's brought about 100 back," she said. "You cannot imagine the overwhelmingness of this endeavor," Marilynn White said. "They leave at three in the morning, and come back at 11 at night" with animals from St. Bernard."Then another whole crew bathes them, walks them," she said. Some are being sheltered at White's clinic and some are a shelter operated by the Iberia Humane Society, of which White is a board member.

White's task was made a little easier when he got the use of a barn near Aycock Street in Arabi to shelter the animals, and he received donations gathered through a Florida animal group alerted to his efforts through the Internet. He was able to construct temporary pens in the barn to separate dogs by gender, size and temperament, Marilynn White said.

Since then, the Georgia National Guard also stepped in to help, and now the effort is being coordinated by Rani Rathburn of the guard, she said.

Plans now are to move the shelter to a hangar at Michoud, on Saturday. Help now includes three more veterinarians, Marilynn White said. "They have about 250 dogs there...They are trying hard to leave the animals here (in the New Orleans area) and to reunite them with their owners," she said.

All the pets rescued by White can be viewed at the Iberia Humane Society Web site, iberiahumane.com. Donations to help the effort also can be directed to the Iberia Humane Society, care of Acadiana Pet Spa, 1919 Sugar Oaks Road, New Iberia, La., 70563. Donations should be marked "Katrina - Dr. White," Marilynn White said.

There are reportedly thousands more animals roaming still in St. Bernard Parish, said Marie Brossard of the St. Martin Humane Society. Brossard said she has helped field hundreds of emails form St. Bernard residents who heard of White's work and who asked him to rescue their pets.

St. Charles government meets Monday

By Jenny Hurwitz
River parishes bureau

The St. Charles Parish Council will be holding its
regularly scheduled meeting on Monday at the
courthouse in Hahnville, representing a return to
normalcy for the parish’s local government.

However, Parish Council Chairman Desmond Hilaire said
that the meeting might not run in strict accordance to
the published agenda, since the council chambers are
still under renovations, having suffered damages from
Hurricane Katrina. Also, officials are unable to
televise meetings at this time, he said.

Council members had previously met in the courthouse
on Sept. 6 for a brief and informal gathering, during
which they received updates on the status of the
parish from Emergency Operations Director Tab Troxler
and Sheriff Greg Champagne, according to Council
Secretary Barbara Jacob Tucker.

They passed a resolution, authorizing Parish President
Albert Laque to spend whatever funds necessary to
ensure the care, treatment and recovery of all parish
citizens that were affected by the hurricane. The
council also deferred all the items on its agenda for
the following meeting.

Hilaire estimated that the council should have a
better idea of the status of the chambers by Monday at
noon; until then, the exact location of the meeting
has yet to be determined.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

NAACP tries to help evacuees

Friday, 7 p.m.

By Lynne Jensen
Staff writer

With about 75,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees remaining in Red Cross shelters in several states, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is trying to organize them, especially black New Orleans residents, to help them return home before next year’s political elections.
“We certainly want to get Louisiana people back to Louisiana and ultimately New Orleans people back to New Orleans,” Louisiana NAACP president Ernest Johnson said Thursday. “The first thing we need to do is get them out of shelters.”

Johnson said about 85 percent of shelter evacuees are black and “are not organized.”

“To say it’s almost three weeks (after the hurricane) and people still are living in shelters, in America this is unheard of,” Johnson said.

It is important for those living in shelters to organize and choose leaders to make certain that everyone is listed on the database of people who need temporary housing and eventually a way back to New Orleans.

Although FEMA is saying that 100,000 mobile homes and another 100,000 travel trailers will be available for temporary housing, only 300 units are ready to house evacuees, Johnson said.

“It’s a very slow process,” he said.

“We are dealing with bureaucracy on the federal level and the state level,” Johnson said.

“We need the people at the table.”

Johnson is encouraging evacuees to contact the NAACP.

“We can get the word to the people that they can get control of the own destiny,” Johnson said. “Empowerment will come through organization.

Catching a bit of breeze Thursday afternoon outside of the River Center shelter in Baton Rouge, Ronald Ellis, 47, and Henry Banks, 65, talked about going home to their Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans.

Like others sitting in chairs along the huge complex filled with evacuees, the two men have been hearing rumors of rich people turning the city into a sort of Palm Springs resort. But Ellis and Banks weren’t worried about a transformation that would rob them of the down-home 9th Ward environment they love.

“All the people I talk to are going back,” Banks said.
“As soon as they give the okay, I’m going home,” Ellis said. “And I vote every time an election is held.”

Banks, who lives on Burgundy Street, said he and Ellis, who lives a few blocks away on France Street, drove to the shelter a week after Katrina hit because a New Orleans police officer told them they could not stay in their rented dwellings.

“We only had about two feet of water in the street,” Ellis said.

“We had enough gas for three months and we had food to cook and water,” Banks said.

“There was no reason to leave. . . The NAACP should have stepped in then.”
Banks said he is counting on his landlords to welcome him back to his rental.

If he no longer has a place to live, Banks said he will still return to New Orleans and “go to the mission or sleep under the bridge.”

For information on the organization drive, call the Louisiana NAACP office at 225-334-7490.

Half of Jeff schools to open Oct. 3

East Jefferson bureau

Firming up its tentative plans, the Jefferson Parish public school system said Friday that it will reopen more than half its 87 campuses -- and possibly all but seven of them -- to students on Oct. 3.

The announcement by Superintendent Diane Roussel fulfilled some of the rosiest projections by school officials who had surveyed damage in the early days after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

Roussel said these 46 schools will open Oct. 3:

Airline Park, Alice Birney, Bissonet, Bonella St. Ville, Bridgedale, Catherine Strehle, Congetta Trippe Janet, Deckbar, Pittman, Ella Dolhonde, Ellender, Estelle, Fisher, Granville T. Woods, Boudreaux, Grand Isle, Green Park, Greenlawn Terrace, Gretna Middle, Hazel Park/Hilda Knoff, J.C. Ellis, Jefferson Elementary, Patrick Taylor Science and Technology Academy, Clancy, Cullier Career Center, Joseph S. Maggiore, Butler, Kate Middleton, Marrero, Charbonnier, Marie Riviere, Metairie Grammar, Wall, Norbert Rilleux, Phoebe Hearst, Riverdale High, Riverdale Middle, Rudolph Matas, T.H. Harris, Vernon and Gilda Haynes, Waggaman, Schneckenburger, Washington, Westbank Community, Westwego and Woodland West.

Another 34 schools could open as soon as Oct. 3, depending on storm damage and repairs. Roussel said school officials will determine in the next two weeks the status of these:

Ames, Bridge City, Chateau, East Jefferson, Douglass, George Cox, Grace King, Gretna No. 2, Harahan, Harold Keller, Truman, Harley, Helen Cox, Ford, Homedale, J.D. Meisler, Audubon, Lafitte, Jefferson Community, John Ehret, John Quincy Adams, Higgins, Russell, Livaudais, Live Oak, McDonough No. 26, Solis, Ralph J. Bunche, Johnson/Gretna Park, Stella, Worley, Roosevelt, Pitre, West Jefferson and Alice Harte.

The seven schools that suffered that most damage do not have an opening date. Repairs are pending at:

Alexander, Bonnabel, Lincoln, Terrytown, Woodmere, John Martyn and Thomas Jefferson.

Roussel said students and staff in schools that cannot open will be housed in schools that can open. An announcement concerning this will be made the week of Sept. 26, she said.

Principals reported to their schools on Tuesday, and supervisors must report on Monday. Faculty and staff must report to their original
schools or work assignment on Wednesday.

Those who cannot report as scheduled were advised to call personnel director Ronnie beginning Monday. A toll-free telephone number will be publicized that day.

Staff reassignments will be made next week, Roussel said. Immediate supervisors will be made aware of these changes.

All students were asked to report to schools on Oct. 3, with newly enrolled students registering throughout the parish. Locations and dates are forthcoming, Roussel said.

Storm will force Entergy to seek rate increases

Friday, 6:33 p.m.

By Keith Darcé
Business writer

Entergy Corp.’s southeastern Louisiana electricity
utilities will seek rate increases to pay for some of
the costs from hurricane Katrina and to compensate for
lost business from some evacuees who won’t return home soon, if ever, senior utility executives said Friday.

“We are going to have to do something,” said Dan
Packer, chief executive officer of Entergy New
Orleans. “Our revenue requirement was based on 250,000
electricity customers and 150,000 (natural) gas
customers. We’re not going to have that anymore.”

Even as hundreds of utility workers move into the
hardest hit areas to restore power, senior executives
with Entergy New Orleans, which supplies power to Orleans Parish, and Entergy Louisiana, which
supplies power to the city’s suburbs, have begun
crunching numbers to figure how much more income the
utilities will need to keep their businesses afloat.

“We started meetings on (possible rate hike requests)
last week. I’ve got more meetings on it next week,”
Packer said during a morning press conference on
Poydras Street in New Orleans’ Central Business
District.

Packer and Entergy Louisiana Chief Executive Officer
Renae Conley would not predict how much rates might
increase for the two utilities’ 1.1 million customers
in the region, but Conley said requests for the hikes
could be filed with regulators fairly quickly.

Entergy New Orleans is regulated by the New Orleans
City Council while Entergy Louisiana is regulated by
the state Public Service Commission.

Entergy executives had anticipated losing some
customers from a direct hurricane hit as part of
disaster drills prior to Katrina, so they were
prepared to consider the financial implications for
the companies. But they never imagined the massive
population displacement produced by this storm, Packer
said.

“I think the reality of it is different than our war
games. I think it’s worse,” he said.

Both executives said their companies, at least for
the time being, remain financially sound. But that
could change in the coming months as revenue from
their businesses tumble because of lost customers and
bills mount from the recovery effort.

Though none of the major bond rating firms had
altered their ratings for Entergy New Orleans or
Entergy Louisiana, the New Orleans utility remained
under review by Moody’s Investor Service for a
possible downgrade.

Meanwhile, utility workers continued to restore power
to parts of the city that weren’t badly flooded and
Jefferson Parish communities in the suburbs.

About 250,000 Entergy utility customers remained in
the dark Friday, but many of those homes and
businesses were in the hardest hit areas that will not
be repopulated for weeks or months.

About 20 percent of New Orleans, including much of the
neighborhoods along the Mississippi River from the
Bywater to Uptown that escaped flooding, should have
electricity within two weeks, Packer said.

That was good news for the business people and
residents who will start returning to the city over
the next week.

Power will return more slowly in more heavily damaged
areas such as the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, St.
Bernard Parish and lower Plaquemines Parish, he said.

“The most difficult restoration after Katrina has
just begun. Some areas require complete
reconstruction. This damage was catastrophic,” he
said.

Workers must replace hundreds of utility poles and
miles of electricity lines that were blown down in the
storm, he said. In New Orleans alone, nine of the
city’s 17 substations were flooded and required
repairs.

Water remained a problem for utility crews in some
parts of the Central Business District on Friday even
though the area’s streets had been dry for days. Even
though most of the district was connected to the
regional power grid, some buildings still couldn’t
accept juice because basement utility substations
continued filling with water after days of pumping.

Utility workers were having trouble figuring out
where the water was coming from or when it might
subside, Packer said. “It could be coming from the
municipal) water system, or it could be residual
water” from the flooding, he said.

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

Fire destroys St. Rose apartments

Friday, 6:30 p.m.

By Jenny Hurwitz
Staff writer

A fire tore through an eight-unit apartment building
in St. Rose on Friday afternoon, destroying two
apartments and leaving the other six damaged by water
or smoke.

The fire, which broke out about 3:30 p.m., occurred at
River Road Apartments complex in building no. 504 along
East Club Drive.

Robert Baldwin, a maintenance supervisor at the
complex, called authorities after he saw the fire
blazing up from the structure’s roof.

“We saw the smoke and that was it; it was up in
flames,” he said.

Firefighters arrived on the scene about 4 p.m. and
had extinguished the fire within half an hour,
according to St. Rose Fire Chief Larry Cochran.

No one was in the apartments at the time, and no
residents in the surrounding area were hurt, he said.

Cochran said two apartments are completely “gone” as
a result of the fire, while two suffered from water
damage and the remaining four were affected by smoke
fumes.

Firefighters are still investigating to determine the
cause of the fire, he said.

Katrina to boost some home values

6:23 p.m., Friday

By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer

Neighborhoods that didn’t experience flooding after Hurricane Katrina will likely see their home values climb as residents looking to start over seek higher ground, metro area real estate brokers said.

Property values in West Jefferson, River Ridge, Kenner, Mandeville, Covington, and Slidell – all of which emerged from the storm relatively unscathed – are expected to jump 10 to 15 percent.

“In those areas there is just going to be substantial premiums being paid” for housing, said Wade Ragas, recently retired professor of finance at the University of New Orleans and former head of its Real Estate Market Data Center.
Ragas said he expects to see strong demand and higher prices in St. Charles Parish.

Ragas and Arthur Sterbcow, president of Latter & Blum Realtor Inc., also expect River Ridge in Jefferson Parish and Uptown, two areas where flooding was minimal to non-existent, to see strong demand and resulting price increases.

“In those areas there is just going to be substantial premiums being paid” for housing, Ragas said, though he was hesitant to put a percentage increase on every area. Specific data on post-Katrina real estate sales is not available.

West Jefferson, which also saw little if any flooding, will be another high-demand area for housing. But the incomplete levee protection system will keep prices in that area from climbing too far.

“The only reason the West Bank didn’t flood is because of the path the storm took,” Ragas said. He said if the federal government agrees to spend the estimated $70 million needed to complete the levee protection system, especially along the Harvey Canal, home prices in Harvey, Marrero and Terrytown could jump higher.

But the Katrina-related flooding in Old Metairie will likely leave some suburban buyers with a psychological inhibition about moving too close to the city.

“Buyers are more frightened about being closer because of the flooding in Metairie,” Ragas said.

Kenneth Levy, a Latter & Blum broker in the Slidell area, said the inventory of available homes is far short of demand, and that that demand will only soar once repairs begin on damaged homes.

Some contractors are finding innovative ways of getting quick starts on repairs they are scheduled to do. They are offering the owners of some damaged but inhabitable homes the chance to get their dwellings repaired for free, as long as the workmen are allowed to live in the home they are working on, Levy said.

“That’s one of the few win-wins’’ in the market,’’ Levy said.

The already bustling Baton Rouge real estate market is also experiencing a surge of activity as Hurricane Katrina evacuees in need of housing snap up properties.

When multiple offers are made on Baton Rouge properties, New Orleanians are making “outrageous” counter offers, said Nancy Abney, an owner/broker with Prudential Unlimited Properties, which was recently bought by Prudential Gardner Realtors inc. of New Orleans.

Sterbcow told of one New Orleans businessman who looked at a $600,000 Baton Rouge home as a place to relocate employees and crank up business. After hearing that a second offer on the home was imminent, the businessman “doubled (his offer) and paid cash,” Sterbcow said.

The flurry of activity has resulted in some complaints of price gouging in the Baton Rouge market. But the state attorney general’s office has said that a state law that prohibits price gouging during disasters does not address home prices.

“It’s an unbelievable market,” said Barbara Dixon of Dixon Realty Inc. of Baton Rouge. “I’ve had sellers call and say they want to double the asking rice for their homes. I’m sure I’m going to make a lot of enemies, but that just shouldn’t be. I want business but I don’t want bad business. I won’t take their listing.”

In Baton Rouge, Ragas estimates that the premium being paid on single-family homes in Baton Rouge is probably about 30 percent. “That’s the typical premium being paid, and that’s a mistake for many buyers,’’ Ragas said.

Terry Moore, a broker whose territory includes the Mandeville-Covington area, said the scope of the metro area reconstruction effort will most assuredly result in shortages – and price run-ups – in key building materials.

As a result, home values will not only rise in southeast Louisiana, but across the country.

“Think of it as the ripples caused by a pebble thrown into a pond. They just haven’t hit the shore yet,’’ Moore said.

Local governments receive more FEMA money

Friday, 6:17 p.m.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to release an extra $460 million to state and local government agencies as reimbursement for costs they incurred responding to Hurricane Katrina, federal authorities said Friday.

That brings to $763 million the total amount that FEMA has paid out under its public assistance program, which pays local and state governments, as well as some non-profit groups, for disaster-related costs. The total is expected to climb exponentially in the weeks and months ahead as debris clean-up continues and local governments begin making permanent repairs to roads and buildings damaged by Katrina.

The largest chunk so far, $102 million, went to Orleans Parish, with St. Bernard Parish getting $31.4 million and the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness receiving $70 million. The Louisiana Military Department received $11 million and the Jefferson Parish government is due $10.6 million.

Recipients are normally expected to put up 25 perccent of the cost, with the federal government paying the rest, but President Bush has waived that cost-sharing requirement for the first 60 days following the storm, meaning the federal government will pick up 100 percent of emergency-related costs. Gov. Kathleen Blanco on Friday sent a letter to Bush called on Bush to extend that waiver until Aug. 29, 2006, the one-year anniversary of the storm.

Oil spills being cleaned up

Friday, 6:17 p.m.

Staff reports

Nearly one-third of the 160,000 barrels of oil that spilled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been recovered, and much of the rest has either evaporated or been dispersed naturally, state and federal authorities said Friday.

Capt. Frank Paskewich, who is helping coordinate oil-spill recovery efforts for the U.S. Coast Guard, said contractors have recovered about 50,000 barrels of oil, or 2.1 million gallons, from six major spills along the Mississippi River caused by Katrina. All of the spills occurred below New Orleans, most of them at tank storage facilities in lower Plaquemines Parish.

The only spill that occurred near a metropolitan area was a 20,000-barrel spill at the Murphy Oil Chalmette Refining, parts of which escaped a protective berm around the refinery and seeped into the surrounding neighborhood. The biggest of the spills occurred at tank farms operated by Bass Enterprises on the east bank of the river near Port Sulphur.

Although oil was reported to be several feet thick in some areas of Chalmette near the refinery, Paskewich said clean-up crews are well on their way to containing the spill. "We have some of the most experienced pollution recovery experts in the world on this case,"ť he said.

Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator Roland Guidry said recovery efforts have picked up considerably since the immediate aftermath of the storm, when communications was poor to nonexistent and clean-up crews had trouble accessing the spills. "We had to just beg, borrow and steel to get to where we were going,"ť in the beginning, Guidry said.

Customers getting living expenses from insurers

Friday, Sept. 16

By Jeffrey Meitrodt
Staff Writer

Like many New Orleans residents, Mackie Shilstone’s first post-Hurricane Katrina conversation with his insurance company didn’t go well. Though he had run up thousands of dollars in expenses after evacuating his family to Houston, the Chubb agent he reached on the telephone refused to offer a penny of assistance.

“They said they refused to recognize that this was a forced evacuation,’’ Shilstone recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I suggest you go pick up a newspaper and look at it.’ It really surprised me.’’

But two days later, Shilstone said, the company agreed to send him a check for $6,800 to cover his hotel bills and a bunch of other living expenses, including food and clothing – even though Shilstone didn’t know if his Garden District home had sustained as much as a scratch.

After a few days of confusion, in which many legitimate claims for living assistance were rejected by insurers, most companies are now paying off like slot machines. In fact, money typically is being handed out before a claims adjuster has even looked at a policyholder’s home.

At State Farm, the largest residential insurer in Louisiana, representatives said they have sent out 90,000 checks to homeowners in the three states affected by Katrina. Each of those checks was for $2,500.

“In some cases, $2,500 may be more than the legitimate claim is,” said Mike Tucker, a State Farm executive who testified at a joint legislative hearing this week.

So why is State Farm handing out the money without first peeking at the damage?

“We realized this was a drastic situation,’’ said Robert Phillips, a team leader for State Farm’s catastrophe team. “A lot of people didn’t have the money they needed to feed themselves or house themselves. They were in a bad situation and we wanted to get help to them as quickly as possible.’’

But don’t get used to the assistance. In most cases, policyholders in the New Orleans area won’t receive money for so-called additional living expenses – ALE in insurance jargon – for more than 14 days, insurers said. That’s because the vast majority of homes in this region were damaged by water, not wind, and there are major differences between flood insurance and homeowners insurance when it comes to providing such assistance.

In short, flood insurance – which is issued by the federal government – provides no money for living expenses.

By contrast, a homeowners policy provides at least 14 days of assistance, as long as the civil authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation or didn’t allow residents to live in their homes in the aftermath of the hurricane, which includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and portions of St. Tammany parishes. That benefit is paid even if your home sustained no damage whatsoever, insurers said.

There is no dollar limit to the amount of such help, but insurers said policyholders must support their expenses with receipts and may be asked to repay any unspent advances. What’s more, payments will be reduced if someone went beyond their normal standard of living, such as a splurging on a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan or eating every meal at an expensive restaurant.

“The idea of this benefit is to accommodate your normal standard of living,’’ said Michael Trevino, spokesman for Allstate Insurance Co., the state’s second-largest residential insurer.

Allstate customers received up to $5,000 to cover their post-Katrina living expenses, Trevino said, but he declined to say how many policyholders received such checks or provide a total dollar figure.

Not all insurers have been so generous. Louisiana Insurance Commissioner J. Robert Wooley said a number of companies have called his office to “apologize” for not providing such assistance to their customers. Wooley told state lawmakers that some of those companies simply couldn’t afford to take the risk of shelling out the money without knowing the actual damage suffered by the policyholders’ homes.

Wooley’s office declined to identify the companies that have refused requests for living assistance.

For policyholders whose homes sustained major wind damage, the customer could be reimbursed for virtually all of their living expenses while their homes are repaired or rebuilt. This benefit usually lasts one or two years, depending on the company. Typically, there is no dollar limit.

Because most damage in this area was caused by flooding, which limits living assistance help to 14 days, some lawmakers are concerned that people will need much more assistance with living expenses than their insurers have provided.

“A lot of that money has been exhausted,’’ Wooley said. “We’re rapidly reaching the point where everybody needs that assistance.’’

To help fill the gap, many residents will turn to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, there are strict limits on how much help FEMA will provide for living expenses.

The agency will only cover housing expenses, such as hotel bills or the rental of apartment, and not food or clothing. The assistance is limited to 30 days, and starts once an applicant has been denied further help from their insurance company, according to Annette Monet, FEMA’s deputy housing officer for Katrina.

To obtain the FEMA housing assistance, an applicant must provide receipts proving that they actually spent the money they received from their insurer on living expenses, and they will also have to provide a letter from their insurer denying more such assistance, Monet said.

Though there is no specific dollar cap on housing assistance, such help is subject to FEMA’s overall grant limit of $26,200. Also included in that cap is money for home repairs or reconstruction, and any assistance someone received for medical or funeral expenses.

Also, to obtain a housing assistance grant, a resident must fill out a loan application from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is part of the package of information sent to anyone who registers with FEMA, Monet said.

Jeffrey Meitrodt can be reached at meitrodt@cox.net.



Avoid unnecessary shots, state officials say

By Allen Powell II
River Parishes Bureau

Due to a limited supply of several vaccines, Louisiana health officials are urging local residents to avoid unnecessary vaccinations before they return to their homes in Hurricane Katrina affected areas.

State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry said officials have received a rash of requests in the aftermath of Katrina for vaccinations for diseases ranging from Hepatitis A to cholera, although there is little to no danger of residents contracting those disease in the course of normal clean-up activities.

In fact, Guidry said that concerns that outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and typhus could occur are completely unfounded since none of those diseases existed in large numbers in the Greater New Orleans area before the storm. Guidry blamed the fear of outbreaks on rumors and erroneous reports from some media sources, and said many residents are straining the health care system by requesting unnecessary vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B and tetanus.

Those requests are taxing the supply of vaccinations needed for first responders and others at-risk individuals, he said.

Guidry noted that most residents only need a tetanus shot if they are returning to the areas affected by the storm. He added that most of the medical problems in Katrina’s aftermath have dealt with injuries sustained during rescue and clean-up efforts, not communicable diseases.

However, officials are still on the ground watching for possible disease outbreaks in areas where standing water is prevalent and mosquitoes could be breeding.

“It’s still not yet safe for all of these residents to return to their homes although we’re making great progress,” Guidry said. “If you don’t have to be there don’t go there.”

Guidry reminded residents that water boil orders are still in effect for many areas, and added that residents should not take showers in places with contaminated water supplies.

Dr. Raoult Ratard, a state epidemiologist, agreed with Guidry’s advice, and noted that there have only been about 50 reported cases of Hepatitis A in the state of Louisiana this year. Ratard acknowledged that the disease can be underreported, and estimated that maybe 40 people in the New Orleans are had the disease. However, he noted that that is far too few people to cause a mass outbreak.

But, both Ratard and Guidry said that residents who have been evacuated to shelters are at greater risk for disease outbreaks due to the large numbers of individuals confined to the small shelters. Ratard said the state has seen 20 outbreaks of dysentery,which includes vomiting and diarrhea, and skin irritations in shelters. Each outbreak—which typically involved about 10 to 15 people—was handled within 48 hours by isolating patients from other evacuees, Guidry said.

Ratard said many outbreaks could be avoided by better hand washing procedures, but he recommended that shelter residents receive tetanus and Hepatitis A vaccinations. Guidry said mobile health units across the state are handling those vaccinations.



Jefferson updates garbage pickup

East Jefferson bureau

All homes in unincorporated Jefferson Parish and Jean Lafitte will have had at least one garbage collection by Monday, parish officials said as they continue working with the contractor Waste Management to resume regular curbside pickup.

Next week's collection schedule will be announced on or before Monday.

Curbside collection of storm debris has already begun and will continue for several weeks to months. Parish crews will make several passes in front of each house to collect debris.

These two drop-off sites will open Saturday and every day until further notice from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

-- 5990 Lapalco Blvd. at Ames Boulevard, Marrero, parking lot of the former K mart.
-- 3769 W. Metairie Ave., Metairie, between Waltham Street and North Turnbull Drive across from Cleary Playground.

Food waste and tree debris will be accepted at these sites, but chemicals and other household hazardous wastes, such as bleach, fertilizer, petroleum products and paints that were contaminated by floodwaters will not be accepted.

Jefferson Parish said it is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a date for household hazardous waste disposal.

Also, officials said, Jefferson Parish non-essential personnel must return to work on Oct. 3 at their regularly scheduled time. Because Hurricane Katrina damaged many Jefferson government buildings, parish officials will decide over the next 2-1/2 weeks where employees should report for work.

Employees may the Jefferson Parish government website, www.jeffparish.net, for future information.

Operation Blue Roof operating in Jefferson, Tammany

Friday, 6 p.m.

FEMA is reminding residents who suffered roof damage because of Hurricane Katrina that they can take advantage a program providing temporary roofing.

Operation Blue Roof began earlier this month. The program has officials with the Army Corps of Engineers placing blue
tarps over damaged roofs to prevent further water from
entering homes.

Interested residents should call 1-888-ROOF-BLUE.
Residents must first sign a waiver giving FEMA
permission to do the work. In Jefferson, those waivers
are available at the Kenner Police Department and the
Marrero-Estelle Volunteer Fire Company. Those
facilities are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In St. Tammany, residents can sign waivers at Church
of the King on Highway 59 near I-12 or at the St.
Margaret Mary School on Robert Drive. The latter
location will move to the Founders building on
Saturday.

The waiver locations in Orleans, St. Bernard and
Plaquemines parishes are still unknown.

Algiers ready for residents, business

Friday, 5:55 p.m.

By Rob Nelson
Staff Writer

As both residents and businesses prepare to make their
way home to Algiers in the coming days, New Orleans
City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson made
assurances Friday that the neighorhood is not only
ready for their return but continues as a hub of
recovery as the rest of the city more slowly marches
toward normalcy.

Calling the bedroom community of about 60,000
residents the "headquarters to rebuild New Orleans,"
Clarkson said fire and emergency officials have
relocated to Algiers, in addition to many police
officers and the Sewerage and Water Board. The
latter is housed at the Algiers water plant on
Lamarque Street and many of its employees who lost
their homes, are living in a tent city on the site, she
said.

Algiers largely escaped Hurricane Katrina's destruction, most
notably the floodwaters that devastated large portions
of New Orleans. In recent days, facilities near Gen.
DeGaulle Drive and Woodland Highway have been
converted into a command center for emergency and
miltary officials. An additional 7,000 troops are
housed at the Naval Support Activity on Gen. Meyer
Avenue.

About 98 percent of power as been restored in Algiers,
allowing a few stores to open. Officially, businesses
are allowed to return Saturday and residents can
return Monday, according to Mayor Ray Nagin's
"repopulation" plan announced this week. Clarkson
encouraged returning residents to bring cleaning
supplies and food since there are not yet grocery
stores or restaurants open in Algiers.

Water pressure has been returned to normal and Algiers
never lost drinkable water or sewer service, Clarkson
said, adding that the area has a separate water system
from the rest of New Orleans, where the water is still
unsafe to drink.

In addition, she said, "massive' amounts of debris
have also been cleared from streets, and several city
courts might abandon their plans to bring their
operations to Baton Rouge and instead come to Algiers.

"We're hot to trot, honey," Clarkson beamed.

As the fate of New Orleans public school system
remains in limbo and the district contends with a
possible school-year-long hiatus, many Algiers parents
are clamoring for schools in their neighborhood to
reopen, Clarkson said. The School Board has not yet
decided that issue, and board member Lourdes Moran,
who represents Algiers, could not be reached for
comment Friday.

Beginning Monday, Clarkson will move her City Council
office from City Hall into the Algiers Courthouse. She
previously maintained a satellite office there, but is
now moving her full staff since City Hall is still
without power. Depending on courthouse conditions, the
office will tentatively be open during business hours
and can be reached at 364-5609 or 5610.

In damaged apartments, the poor face dilemma: Asked to leave, no place to go

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

Miguel Ramos rode out Hurricane Katrina in his home at the Redwood Apartments in Kenner, and he heard the roof come off the building.

"Plywood was flying everywhere," said Ramos, a gardner who has continued to live in the sprawling 53-building complex that caters to working poor people.

Dorvin Development, owner of the complex, is asking residents to to leave as quickly as they can so it can begin repairs. But many residents say they have no other options.

"My apartment is destroyed. I don't know where else to go," said Carla Rosales, holding her nine-month-old son, Alfredo, in her arms. Rosales, an immigrant from Honduras who has lived at Redwood for five years, spoke through an interpreter.

The residents' dilemma is one faced by tens of thousands of New Orleans-area residents whose homes were damaged by the Aug. 29 storm.

Temporary housing is available for some. As many as 1,000 Port of New Orleans workers, for example, could soon be living on a docked ship. Government-supplied mobile homes are being set up at manufacturing plants for hard-hat workers who have lost their homes. Kenner Police Chief Nick Congemi said more than a dozen officers who lost their homes are sleeping on air mattresses at the police station.

"All they have is the clothing on their back," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that Louisiana needs 200,000 mobile homes for storm victims.

There seems to be plenty of demand. Real estate developer Henry Shane said half of the 7,000 apartment units that he owns in the New Orleans area were damaged in the storm.

"We have a 100 percent occupancy on the units that are undamaged,” he said. "If I had a choice, I would fill them with people trying to rebuild the city like policemen and firemen."

Many of Shane’s current tenants have lost their jobs and are unable to pay rent.

"Under normal circumstances, if you don't pay your rent, I evict you very quickly. But these aren't normal times," he said.

The Redwood Apartments have long attracted immigrants from Central America. The privately owned complex operates under a federal program that provides affordable housing to working poor people.

"This place is like a little city on its own. It's a trampoline into the American Dream,” complex manager Jorje Picado said. “People start out here and go on to buy houses in Kenner."

Still, Picado is trying to discourage the 1,800 residents from returning to the complex.

"We couldn't handle it," he said.

Dorvin executive Howard Raymond said he is concerned about the residents’ safety, and is asking Kenner officials to help relocate them.

"What I'm worried about is what happens when it starts raining again," Raymond said. "Some of these units still have electricity. What happens when the water starts pouring in?"

Kenner City Council President John Lavarine III said he is trying to persuade FEMA to locate mobile homes on a city playground near the complex.

"We want these people to stay in Kenner," he said. "We want them to continue to participate in our community and our economy."

Kenner rebuffs 'quick-buck artist'

5:45 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

A land developer sought to erect a Lowe's Home Improvement outlet in tents or trucks on the post-Katrina landscape near The Esplanade mall, but Kenner officials derided the proposal, with Mayor Phil Capitano calling the developer a “quick-buck artist.”

The pitch came from Greg Clayton of Hahnville, representing an investment group that is trying to buy the property from Louis Armstrong International Airport. He asked the Kenner City Council on Thursday to speed the rezoning and resubdivision of a 26-acre tract, saying Lowe’s is interested in selling merchandise immediately from tents or trucks while a permanent store is built.

"Kenner is going to be able to use all the building material that it can get for the next five years," Clayton said.

But most council members shot down the idea, saying the move would set a bad precedent and plenty of empty retail space is available in Kenner if Lowe's wants a presence there. Council member Michele Branigan cited the vacant former Wal-Mart store at 1000 W. Esplanade Ave.

Clayton's investment group includes Latter & Blum owner Robert Merrick, Barriere Construction Co. and Clancy Developments. The group is negotiating to buy the 26 acres from the airport. Any sale of the property would need approval of both the New Orleans Aviation Board and the New Orleans City Council.

The property abuts 32nd Street, eastern entrance to The Esplanade. It was a residential neighborhood until the airport bought out the property owners as part of its noise mitigation program in the mid-1990s.

Kenner owns the rights of way for streets and controls the zoning as well as whether the residential lots are consolidated into large parcels. Clayton said the investment group would pay the city $1 million immediately for the streets if the council approves the deal.

Capitano criticized the proposal for a temporary store and called Clayton a "quick-buck artist" trying to take advantage of the post-Katrina situation. He said a tent store would violate many of Kenner’s building code regulations, and he added that he would prefer to negotiate directly with Lowe's.

"We want people who will take a stake in this city, not a tent stake," he said. "If we allow this, where will it end?”

Capitano later apologized for the "quick buck" remark, saying that he had gotten only an hour's sleep the night before.

Councilman Dominic Weilbaecher, who has often clashed with Capitano in recent months, told Clayton that the mayor doesn't have the final say-so on the property.

"These seven people up here are the ones who are going to make the decision," he said, referring to the council.

Clayton said his group has been working on the project for some time, and that the idea for a tent was simply a "wild idea" to help residents after the storm.

"We'll go back and do this the regular way," he said.

Census soars at B.R. home

5:40 p.m.

By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

BATON ROUGE -- Into the third week of the Hurricane Katrina evacuation at the Emery household, the laundry machines still ran nonstop, a tower of bottled water remained stacked by the carport and parking all 10 vehicles in the driveway continued to pose a daily puzzle centered on the question of who needed to leave first in the morning.

At the peak of its population, 25 visitors, mostly relatives whom the storm chased from Jefferson Parish, slept in the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house that is usually home only to Caleb and Thelma Emery and their two children. At night every bed, couch and patch of carpet was occupied.

Seventeen people from four generations continued to live there this week, already well beyond the time they expected to stay. Yet they managed to maintain jovial spirits as they cooked assembly-line style and crowded in front of the big-screen television set.

The Emery family contributed more than its share to the suddenly
overpopulated city of Baton Rouge, where thousands of people from the New Orleans area have temporarily settled, pushed there by Katrina. And among the family members were examples of several major types of hurricane hardship: employment uncertainty, education uncertainty, ruined houses and a lost loved one.

There was the matriarch, Verlina Lewis, 65, of Kenner, mother of eight children, including Thelma Emery and five others staying in the house, along with their children. Lewis had a 60-year-old brother, Jake James, who was weak with cancer. But on Sept. 1, amid the post-Katrina confusion, he died.

He had been in hospice care when the storm threatened. He moved to Kenner Regional Medical Center while his family evacuated. Lewis figures the abrupt move and loss of family by his side might finally have overwhelmed him.

With parts of the New Orleans area slowly restarting now, she said she had no idea how to plan her brother’s funeral. She couldn’t even be sure where to find his body.

“I guess all the funeral homes are under water, too,” she said.

Then there was Lewis’ daughter Diana; Diana’s daughter, Taneika; and Taneika’s four-year-old daughter, Zaire. They returned to their Kenner house when officials first let people back in to check their property in Jefferson Parish, only to discover the roof caved in and the place ransacked, presumably by squatters.

They found unfamiliar clothing, an unfamiliar TV, a different computer in place of theirs and a mess on their gas stove. The little girl’s monogrammed jewelry set was gone.

“They turned over things. They dumped every single last drawer out the dresser. They were probably looking for money,” said Taneika Lewis.

However, she said, “They were courteous enough to set buckets and trash cans to catch the water.”

And there was Verlina’s daughter, Valencia, and Valencia’s daughter, Brianna, a senior at East Jefferson High School in Metairie, whose plans for football games, dances and a timely graduation are now in doubt. Enough water got into their Metairie house to make it a lair of mold and stench.

“She wants to go wherever all of her friends are, and now everybody’s separated,” Valencia Lewis said of her daughter. “She’s like, ‘I have five friends in Texas. Can we move to Texas?’”

This week Brianna registered to enroll at Baton Rouge’s Bellaire High School and begrudgingly tried on her new school’s uniform. Some Jefferson Parish public schools aim to reopen Oct. 3, but East Jefferson High suffered some of the worst damage in the Jefferson system and could remain closed indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Valencia awaited news of when she could return to work as a criminal minute clerk in the 24th District Court in Gretna, thinking Oct. 3 is a possibility. Taneika, a medical assistant at a Kenner doctor’s office, had no specifics on the return of her job. Another of Verlina’s children, Andrea Thomas, who works for Lakelawn Metairie Funeral Home in New Orleans and lived in a Bridge City house that now has three holes in the roof, searched Baton Rouge funeral homes for temporary employment.

Seeing all the cars in the Emery driveway, neighbors donated food and supplies. Lacking space for all the suitcases indoors, family members went out to their car trunks to retrieve clothing. Those with beds had to be careful not to step on someone when getting up.

There were a few perks, however. Thelma Emery said it was as if her house had morphed into a full-service hotel: Everyone else did the cooking, cleaning and even lawn-mowing.

“It surprised us that so many could be congested in a small area and manage to get along pretty well,” said Caleb Emery, who, in contrast to his wife, came from a smaller family unaccustomed to such crowding.

The situation may even have drawn the family closer together,
figuratively speaking. As relatives came and went late in the week, trying to get back to check on their houses, and the census at the Emery home fluctuated, Thelma Emery said the experience made her reflect on growing up with seven siblings.

“It’s something we just had to do,” letting everyone stay at her home, Thelma said. “Everybody was welcome. So many family members (who) came in needed a place to stay because of a lack of hotels.”

“We never complain,” she said. “It just felt like old times again, like a big family reunion.”

Shortage of workers vexing shopowners

Friday, 4:55 p.m.

By Ronette King
Business writer

Keeping the pizza ovens stoked at Domino’s Pizza is a job that usually
requires six workers to assemble the pizzas, four managers and more than a dozen delivery drivers.

But in the post-Hurricane Katrina workplace, with workers still scattered, just six people are working at one Domino’s in Slidell.

Of course, that means things aren’t normal. For one thing, the menu is limited to cheese or pepperoni pizza. And forget about deliveries.

The hours are much shorter, too. “People show up at 10:30 and just stay until we close” – which is only 8 ˝ hours later, said assistant manager Nick Guidry. The store’s 7 p.m. closing time of is much earlier than the usual midnight or 2 a.m. closings.

For business owners who have returned to the hurricane ravaged area, one of the biggest problems – after cleaning up and getting electricity and water service restored – is finding enough workers.

To fill the void, many local entrepreneurs are relying on family members – and their own stamina – to get their shops open. Some national drugstores and restaurant companies have recruited volunteers from other states.

The Domino’s location, for example, opened a week after the storm with help from out-of-state workers who volunteered via the Domino’s corporate office. Guidry returned to work after fulfilling his Army National Guard duties in Chalmette, on the Westbank and in Slidell.

Rite Aid Corp. was ready to reopen some of the 43 stores shut down in
Katrina’s wake but also didn’t have enough people.

“Some (store) buildings were ready but needed staff to run them,” said
Jody Cook, spokeswoman for Rite Aid. So the company recruited workers from around the country, she said. For that plan to work, the company had to set up four of its own shelters to house the workers. Hotels weren’t an option as they were filled with evacuees. So Rite Aid turned some of its vacant storefronts into shelters, setting up cots, portable showers and kitchens.

By this week 18 stores were reopened, each with a complement of imported staff living in shelters that Cook acknowledges aren’t posh.

“We’re trying to make them as comfortable and convenient as possible,”
Cook said.

Anthony’s Ace Hardware owner Brian Tobin fled the area as the hurricane approached, as did the dozen or so workers at his Destrehan store. Most haven’t returned to work because they live in Jefferson where parish officials aren’t allowing residents to remain full-time.

So Tobin reopened the store with a limited staff. “Four people and my mom,” he said. Normally about a dozen workers keep the place going – not including Tobin’s mother.

At first, the Anthony’s Ace was open just a few hours each day, but now
Tobin is there from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Several store operators explained that the shorter store hours are partly dictated by police curfews that require everyone be off the streets by a certain time. But limiting hours of operation also avoids overworking the few staffers who can and do show up.

Other stores used ingenuity to stay open. Randy Gros closed his Dekle Drugs store in Marrero only on the day the storm hit. Since the store is near West Jefferson Hospital, immediately after the storm the hospital called on him for help. With no electricity to run the cash register, Gros kept notes on what they picked up, and he stored drugs that needed to be kept cool in his home refrigerator, which was powered by a generator.

“Sheriff’s deputies and Jefferson officials knew where I lived and they
would contact me through my wife and let me know there was a need and
I’d go there and take care of what they needed,” he said.

But for those stores that managed to open, business has been good. Demand for goods and services is high, and competition is low.

The Slidell Domino’s, for example, did more than double its usual business, and that was without delivery service, Guidry said. One recent night, the store sold 120 pizzas in the last 30 minutes of the day.

And Tobin of the hardware store said residents of the nearby Ormond Estates area want chain saws, masks, bleach, blades to cut out soaked carpets, and chemicals to clean darkened pool water, among all manner of items to help clean up. In fact, as soon as the storm passed, customers started leaving notes on the memo board Tobin keeps posted at the store.

“Chainsaws are mostly what we’re dealing with,” Tobin said. Residents want them because of a worker shortage in another discipline: tree services.

“All the tree services are booked solid so they can’t get to residences. So residents are dealing with the trees themselves.”


Insurance filings come before FEMA

4:30 p.m., Friday

By Mary Judice
Business writer

Making a claim on your insurance policy, if you have one, should come before filing for FEMA assistance, insurance industry representatives sad this week.

As a rule, individuals should get insurance settlements first and then talk to FEMA “to determine if you qualify for government public assistance,” said Jeff Albright, chief executive of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Louisiana in Baton Rouge

That’s because FEMA does not duplicate the coverage provided by insurance policies.

“If you get FEMA money, insurance companies wouldn’t refuse to pay,” said Don Beery, a vice president at Eustis Insurance Co. in New Orleans. However, if you receive an insurance settlement you may have to reimburse FEMA because the federal agency will not duplicate coverage.
But Louisiana insurance brokers say many people file for
everything – homeowners insurance and FEMA assistance -- and “sort things out as they go,’’ Allbright said.

FEMA offers a wide range of financial assistance.

The agency may be best known among Hurricane Katrina victims for its $2,000 disaster relief grants.

But FEMA also issues grants for a variety of other needs, including personal property replacement and medical, dental and funeral expenses, said Dean Cushman, a Baton Rouge-based spokesman for the agency.

These income-based programs mostly benefit those who have no insurance, Cushman said. But those who have insurance may also apply.

“If it looks like insurance is not enough to complete your home repairs, FEMA will come out and see if we can make an adjustment to add to your funds,’’ Cushman said.

FEMA programs provide up to $26,200 per individual or household for
housing and other needs. This includes up to $5,200 to make home repairs, said Pam Glasschroeder, a FEMA spokeswoman

The FEMA program also includes assistance for repairing or replacing
and automobile.

FEMA awards $500 for auto repair, as long as the vehicle is inspected, insured and registered. The assistance is most frequently made available to drivers who do not have full insurance. However, consumers with full insurance may still get an award.

Glasschroeder said a consumer may submit receipts for additional repairs, up to a total of $4,500.

The FEMA grants are not intended to cover deductibles for those with
insurance. Consumers with full insurance protection, which includes
comprehensive and liability coverage, will generally be ineligible for
assistance.

Salvation Army moves to LaPlace

Friday, 3:09 P.M.

By Michael J. Montalbano
Staff writer

The Salvation Army moved its entire Hurricane Katrina recovery operation from Baton Rouge to LaPlace on Friday, the largest one-day move by the group’s North American branch since its inception in 1865.

“This one-day mission has never been attempted,” said spokesman Major Timothy Lyle.

With a caravan of 250 trucks and 100 support vehicles, the agency, established to provide material, physical, emotional and spiritual comfort in times of need, headed Friday to its new camp at 2100 West Airline Highway.

St. John the Baptist Parish President Nickie Monica met the new arrivals.

Lyle said his organization’s two-mile long caravan would reach its destination while continuing to provide relief throughout the Gulf States.

“People are still being fed, he said. “It is quite a challenge, but we are up to the task.”

When The Salvation Army established its disaster relief operations, its aim was to meet the basic needs of those who were affected, both survivors and first responders.

Since Hurricane Katrina roared ashore across the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, The Salvation Army has served more than 1 million meals. Its emergency service vehicles remain on the front lines of disaster relief.

“The scale of this operation, especially today, has been enormous,” Lyle said.”

The Salvation Army was intent on “doing the most good,” and their goal of reaching those most affected in the New Orleans area moved one-step closer Friday.

“This will be a busy day, but it will all be worth it,” Lyle said.
Monetary donations may be sent to the Salvation Army earmarked “Disaster Relief,” made online at www.salvationarmyusa.or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY.


Murphy refinery to reopen in two months

Friday, 3:30 p.m.

The Murphy Oil Corp. refinery in Meraux, one of the largest employers in St. Bernard Parish, is expected to be back in operation in about two months, the company treasurer said Friday.

An initial inspection of the 125,000-barrel-a-day refinery has revealed no major damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, said Kevin Fitzgerald.

“We need to take apart the pumps to clean them and check our electrical systems,” he said. “Nothing major, just a lot of tedious, time-consuming stuff.”

The company is arranging for a barge to be docked on the Mississippi River to house about 200 workers and family members, Fitzgerald said. Other employees will stay in trailers at the plant, he said.

Crews are continuing to clean up an oil spill from one of the refinery’s holding tanks, which ruptured during the storm. An estimated 880,000 gallons of heavy crude leaked and were dispersed by floodwaters over a residential area in east Chalmette. Parish officials have said as many as 2,000 homes have been affected by the spill.

“The clean-up is going well,” Fitzgerald said. “But obviously if you’re in the affected area, you’re going to think it’s horrible.”

He said it is unknown when areas affected by the spill will be safe for people to live there.

Harahan Senior Center to open

The Harahan Senior Center will re-open on Monday with its regular hours from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Harahan officials said Friday.

Meals will not be served, and transportation to the center may not be available, director E.J. Mouney said. Residents will be able to participate, however, in the center's usual social activities, he said.

Omni opens four branches

OMNI BANK opened four more of its bank branches, including a temporary facility at its corporate headquarters in Metairie. As of Monday, eight OMNI BANK locations are open in the metropolitan area.

Beginning Monday, customers can visit OMNI BANK facilities on Ridgelake Drive in Metairie, in Elmwood and in Mandeville. A drive-up window will serve customers at its Causeway location.

Corruption tip line

The FBI has opened a tip line to receive complaints of public corruption and government fraud resulting form Hurricane Katrina aftermath. The line, open 24 hours, seven days a week, is 1-800-CALLFBI or 1-800-225-5324.

FBI officials said the phone lines will be manned by bureau personnel who will collect, analyze and investigate the information or share it with state, local or other federal law enforcement agencies.

Public corruption cases involve elected or appointed officials or those under contract to a public agency, as well as individuals who have allegedly engaged in a corrupt scheme involving abuse of the individual’s powers or whose actions undermine the integrity of federal, state or local operations, officials said.

FBI officials said the tip line will also take calls dealing with “fraud activity and corruption by businesses or persons engaged in purported contract fraud, procurement or purchasing fraud or fraud of federally-funded programs.’’

Hurricane Katrina online scams, such as fake donation Web sites, can be reported to the FBI’s Web site at www.ic3.gov, while identity theft complaints should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or to the agency’s toll-free ID theft hotline, 1-877-ID-THEFT, federal officials said.

-- Ed Anderson, Capital bureau