Cleco powers up 85% of customers

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, Cleco reported it had restored power to 85 percent of its customers on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. More than 12,400 customers still had no electrical service.

According to the company, power has been restored to 83 percent of customers in Covington, 91 percent in Franklinton/Mount Herman, 96 percent in Mandeville, 80 percent in Slidell, 99 percent in Pearl River, 90 percent in Abita Springs, 99 percent in Madisonville and 54 percent in Lacombe.

With gates opens, Metairie returns home

5:35 p.m.

By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

Ernest and Rose Landry have lived in their house in Metairie since the road out front was made of gravel and shells. All through those 49 years, they said, their home never flooded. That was, of course, until Katrina.

They returned Sunday for the first time since the Aug. 29 hurricane, along with dozens more Jefferson Parish residents, and inside their house found mold flourishing and puddles of water still standing after a flood that apparently reached almost a foot deep.

“I just dreaded seeing what it would look like,” said Rose Landry, 70, who said she cried after opening the door. “I just kind of walked around and looked and went back outside and thought, ‘Where do I start?’

Now that Parish President Aaron Broussard has abandoned a phased re-entry plan and let all Jefferson residents return to their homes, more and more dust mask-clad residents are hauling out ruined carpet and furniture, and scattered gasoline stations, hardware stores, restaurants and snowball stands are opening to serve the reawakening parish.

The Landrys said they will stay in their son’s house, across Lakeshore Drive from their own, where less water invaded, while they try to clean up, dry out and salvage their own cherished belongings. Then they will return to their evacuation homes, with relatives in St. Tammany Parish and Mississippi, until they can begin the project of restoring or rebuilding the first and only house they’ve ever owned.

Ernest Landry, 76, sat under the carport carefully removing metal etchings of female figures in flowing gowns from their moldy frames. His daughter-in-law, Sharon Landry, dragged Rose Landry’s shoes out of the house in plastic bags. Ernest Landry said he has had the artwork for years and thinks the pieces will be all right.

“I think it’s beautiful,” he said of as he picked at the soggy backing of an etching. It was in a closet above the waterline but not immune to the steamy conditions of the past three weeks. “I’m going to have them reframed and everything.”

Rose Landry said she hopes the house gets condemned so they can rebuild completely. Both she and her husband said they are committed to staying in the neighborhood where the Lake Pontchartrain levee is visible just down the street.

“If I live to be a million, I’ll never move again,” Ernest Landry said. “I’ve been here too long.”

Across Metairie in Bucktown, Banghe Xing shook his head at the two-bedroom apartment where he used to live with his wife and child. Katrina’s winds inflicted severe damage on the area around Live Oak and Carrollton streets, including blowing the roof off Xing’s apartment building.

"Jefferson Parish is open to residents, but to me (there's) no way I can live here," he said, pointing to his apartment, where three rooms are open to the sky. His family is staying in a Baton Rouge shelter for now.

“The blue roof probably cannot help this building," he said, referring to a campaign to cover damaged roofs with blue tarps.

Xing is looking for a place to rent in Jefferson Parish so he can move back and resume his job as a software engineer.

A few blocks away on Lake Avenue, some businesses cleaned up and a couple even prepared to open.

Chad Nunez, owner of Daiquiris and Creams, had power and water and hoped to open his doors for Monday night’s New Orleans Saints game, as long as authorities would allow it after curfew. Across the street, Sidney Patrick Sr., who runs Captain Sid's Seafood, said he needs probably six weeks to clean up enough to sell seafood again.

"It just takes time to do everything," he said, amid the rotten smell of $50,000 of ruined shrimp, crawfish and other fish. "We were hard hit.”

At Breaux Mart in River Ridge, workers also had to dispose of mass amounts of food.

"We just about threw away the whole store and restocked it," assistant manager Willie Mendez said. But he said the store has enjoyed brisk business as residents arrive and begin restocking their home refrigerators, Mendez said.

On Woodvine Avenue, in a part of Old Metairie that saw as much as four feet of water, Chuck Iglesias had several fans set up on his buckled wood floors as he tried to dry his house, salvage dolls belonging to his 7-year-old daughter and save curtains for his wife. Mounds of furniture and sagging belongings lined the front walkway to the house.

Iglesias, an architect with an office on Metairie Road, said Katrina will create a lot of business for him. Maybe too much business.

“It will be overwhelming,” he said. “Taking care of your client is going to be overwhelming.”

Because the water rose and receded slowly in Old Metairie, Iglesias said, he thinks most of the stately houses probably avoided structural damage and can be restored. In places caught in a current from a levee breach, however, the damage will be insurmountable, he said.

After Katrina, Iglesias lived with his wife and daughter for two weeks at a hotel in Lafayette and drove and pirogued in to check on his house. He’s staying with friends in Kenner while he works at the house but plans to return to his family, now in Houston where his daughter has enrolled in a new school, until the contractors can come.

“I’ll be back,” Iglesias said. “Oh yeah, we’ll come back. My wife’s family’s been in New Orleans for 150 years.”

“I’m an optimist," he said. "It’s going to be just fine.”

(Mary Swerczek contributed to this report.)

From New York, a Jewish congregation comes to aid of Katrina's victims

4:35 p.m.

By Eva Jacob Barkoff
Staff writer

NEW YORK -- At 9 a.m. Sunday, an 18-wheeler sat almost empty in front of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on 85th Street in New York. Six hours later, with messages of care and concern written on one side, the truck had been filled with thousands of donations of toiletries, clothes, pillows, linens and toys, as well as several religious items that can be used for Judaism’s upcoming High Holy Day services.

The truck will now make its way to Houston, where the gifts will be distributed to thousands of people who evacuated New Orleans three weeks ago and who are now in living in Texas.

Stacy Scheinberg and Mitch Krevat, members of the Orthodox congregation on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, came up with the idea for the donation drive.

“We literally put this together in less than a week,” Scheinberg said.
“Everyone affected by the hurricane has been on my mind for days. I
knew I wanted to and needed to do something to help. So I went to our
rabbi, Haskel Lookstein), explained what we wanted to do, and he said to do whatever you can. You have the support of the synagogue.”

“As I began to think about the High Holy Days, I could not help but think about the Jewish people from the area who had to leave their homes because Hurricane Katrina,” Krevat added. "And I am sure many left without some of the traditional Jewish items used during and for the High Holy Days."

Scheinberg and Krevat worked side by side, contacting members
of the congregation, family and friends for donations of not only religious items for the High Holy Days but items for anyone in need who has been affected by the hurricane.

“From the beginning, we wanted to expand the circle of all people in
need to include Jews and non-Jews,” Krevat said. “Next was how to get the donated items to Houston.

“I literally made one phone call to a local company, Moishe’s Moving Systems,” Scheinberg said. “And as soon as I said what we were planning to do, the owner of the company told me they would donate the truck, the gas and the time of the drivers to make the delivery.”

The kindness and generosity of the 1,100 families of Kehilath Jeshurun,
as well as that of residents of the Upper East Side, made the drive “a huge success,” Krevat said.

“So many people helped to make this possible,” Krevat said. “And the
more we talked about it, the more people wanted to help. Everyone, young and old, all did performed a mitzvah, a good deed.”

“The tragedy of this storm has brought out so much good in people,”
Scheinberg said. “This is a good example of when people work together, we can all make a difference.”

The donated items will go to a warehouse facility in the Houston area
and be distributed among the participating partners in the project: Chabad, Feed the Children, Second Baptist Church, Star of Hope Shelters and the Robert M. Berne Hebrew Academy of Houston.

Also, $1,000 in debit cards to Wal-Mart and Target will be distributed.

“From the beginning, Stacy and I knew that we would not want to look
back and wish we had done something to help,” Kravet said. “And we both
now know, that with the help of so many people, we did all that we
could.”

(Eva Jacob Barkoff may be reached at ebarkoff@cox.net)

In Kenner, politics clouds Katrina response by police, administration

4:15 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

In another sign of normalcy returning to Kenner, a political storm has erupted between Mayor Phil Capitano and Police Chief Nick Congemi over how the mayor’s administration and the elected chief’s department responded to Hurricane Katrina.

Capitano says police failed to work with City Hall and sometimes blocked his administration’s rescue and relief efforts, while running an independent operation out of police headquarters. Congemi says the Police Department simply implemented its own long-standing emergency response plan, whereas City Hall had none, and that Capitano is now trying to shift blame for his own shortcoming.

The finger-pointing underscores political differences that date from the 1990s and that climaxed March 9, 2004, when Capitano defeated Congemi in a special mayoral election to complete the term of the chief’s brother, Louis, who had resigned. It also sets the stage for the spring 2006 election season, when Congemi seems likely to challenge Capitano for a four-year term.

During the chaos before, during and after Katrina ripped the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, Capitano said, the administration and the Police Department rarely communicated with each other and sometimes found themselves at cross purposes.

"The chief gave us little or no cooperation before or after the storm," Capitano said. "He would not return phone calls and in some cases, the department hampered our relief efforts."

Congemi called the allegation ludicrous.

"We had a plan for the storm, and they did not," Congemi said. "Now that their failures are becoming apparent, they are trying to shift the blame to the men and women of this department who risked their lives for this community."

Congemi said he met with Capitano's staff twice in the two weeks after the storm when they requested his presence, attended numerous meetings at the Jefferson Parish Emergency Operations Center where Capitano was present and that his staff took daily calls from Capitano's chief of staff, Phil Ramon.

"Why are they waiting until now to bring this up?" he asked.

But City Hall staffers say they got little information from the
Police Department, which ran a parallel but separate relief operation
from its headquarters at 500 Veterans Memorial Blvd., about three
miles from City Hall.

"I did call a lot. But I never got any response," Ramon said.

Asked if his department's emergency plan includes coordination with City Hall, Congemi said his department coordinates "with anyone who comes in the door."

"We give the administration a general idea of what we're doing,” said Capt. Steve Caraway. “But do we tell them how many police officers we have on the streets and where they are? No."

Capitano administration officials point to several clashes between their employees and police:

-- On Aug. 30, two police officers ordered a city truck on its way to get supplies for a shelter to stop in high water, and one of the officers began to draw his gun when the driver put the vehicle in gear to keep it from flooding, said Clerk of Court Keith Conley, who was in the vehicle.

"They wanted to know where we were going, even though we were in a city truck and had city IDs. I've never seen anything like it," said Conley, an attorney and 21-year veteran of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

Congemi said he had not heard of the event. He said Conley should have filed a complaint with the Police Department's internal affairs division if he had concerns about the matter.

"I saw him the other night at a meeting and we had a pleasant
conversation. He didn't say anything about it to me," Congemi said.

-- Sept. 9, Kenner police officers working a checkpoint at the city limits delayed a truck carrying parts to repair the municipal sewer system for two hours because it arrived after the 6 p.m. curfew set by Parish President Aaron Broussard, said Joanne Massoney, Kenner project manager for Veolia Water, the contractor that runs the sewer system.

Massoney said she drove to the checkpoint from City Hall with
permits to enter the city, but the officers still had to be persuaded to let the truck through.

"Then, they didn't want to let me back in even though I had just come from City Hall," she said.

Congemi said the officers were following the curfew orders of Parish President Aaron Broussard, whose position gives him enhanced authority during officially declared emergencies such as Katrina. Caraway said officers staffing the checkpoints had instructions to let such trucks through.

-- Fire Chief Mike Zito said that on Sept. 7, a police officer in an unmarked police car pulled over the Fire Department’s chief medical officer.

“He wanted to know where he was going and why he had his lights on," Zito said. The firefighter, Iggy Rosales, was carrying doses of tetanus shots to a shelter for evacuees, Zito said.

"The police officer said that he knew from 911 that there was no
emergency in progress, and he was right. There wasn't one," Zito said.

-- Ramon, Capitano's chief of staff, said Congemi refused to provide
security for the City Hall complex in the first days after the storm, when there were reports of looting and sniper fire.

"We had some National Guardsmen here, but they were unarmed," Ramon said.

Said Congemi: "Every business in the city wanted police protection, and they had the National Guard."

The tension between Capitano and Congemi is becoming even more evident three weeks after Katrina passed. On Friday, the police chief and Cedric Floyd, Capitano's chief administrative officer, got into a shouting match in front of a Cable News Network news crew over the fate of residents of the storm-damaged Redwood Apartments, which caters to working poor Hispanic Americans.

As Floyd made a food delivery to complex residents, Congemi accused him of trying to force them to leave Kenner. Congemi said Kenner needs to build housing for them.

"The truth is that you all don't want these people here, and you're trying to run them off. That's what this is really about," Congemi said, according to a transcript of the exchange that ran on CNN that night.

Congemi carried the precinct that includes the 1,800-resident Redwood complex in the 2004 election.

"Chief, guess what? I'm a minority. And you discriminate. You
discriminate," said Floyd, who is African-American.

"You're a rich minority. A rich minority," Congemi replied. "You run off your mouth about how much you care about these people, and you don't give them anything."


Katrina's La. death toll rises to 646

As of Sunday, the confrimed death toll by state officials and local corners for Hurricane Katrina was 646.
That figure includes:
- 490 bodies at the St. Gabriel morgue
And the following number of bodies were reported in parish coroner's offices:
- Assumption Parish: 2
- East Baton Rouge Parish: 63
- Iberia Parish: 6
- Jefferson Parish: 30
- Livingston Parish: 4
- Plaquemines Parish: 3
- St. Charles: 5
- St. Tammany Parish: 7
- Tangipahoa Parish: 20
- Terrebonne Parish: 14
- West Baton Rouge Parish: 2

Feds approve $700 million in parish, state reimbursements so far

Sunday, 3:19 p.m.

By Allen Powell II
River Parishes Bureau

Louisiana parishes, cities and various departments of state government have already been approved for than $700 million in federal public assistance for expenses responding to Hurricane Katrina, and officials expect that amount to grow exponentially in the years to come.

Mark Smith, a spokesman for the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has received reimbursement requests from dozens of parishes and municipalities across the state, and expects all 64 parishes to make requests in the future. He said the amount of public assistance sought will be several billion dollars.

Eight parishes, municipalities and state departments have already received about $218 million in reimbursements, and the remaining approved money should distributed soon, Smith said. He said the federal government has streamlined the reimbursement process, and federal funds are typically distributed a week after local governments submit their requests. Smith said federal officials understand that many local governments do not have the ability to collect taxes, which would severely limit their ability to provide essential services without federal help.

“Everything’s been expedited to the max,” Smith said.

Smith said the funds are used by local and state governments to pay for any Katrina-related expenses that were accrued after the state was declared a disaster area. Those expenses can range from repairs to existing infrastructure, to road clearing and public service restorations costs. In addition, overtime pay for local employees and law enforcement officers will also be covered by FEMA, Smith said.

Follow is a breakdown of the allocation of funds as of Sept. 18:

- New Orleans: $102,837,450

- Louisiana Office of Homeland Security: $70,386,000

- St. Bernard: $31,601,040

- Plaquemine Parish: $4,354,000

- Lafourche Parish: $6,669,000

- Louisiana Department of Transportation: $1,180,075

- Louisiana Department of Public Safety: $348,030

- St. Tammany Parish: $323,609

Causeway to reopen Monday

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway will reopen to all traffic Monday at 5 a.m., Causeway General Manager Robert Lambert said. There will be no tolls.

The Causeway bridges have been open only to emergency vehicles since Katrina struck Aug. 29.