State emergency officials prepare to move thousands of evacuees

With the growing threat of Rita hitting the southwest Louisiana coast, state officials are preparing to move 13,000 Katrina evacuees into more secure shelters, Col. Jeff Smith, deputy director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, said Monday.
The state is looking to shift the evacuees in flood-prone areas south of Interstate 10 northward as Rita moves closer, Smith said,
Smith said there are about 22,000 beds available in shelters north of I-10.
Evacuees in areas south of I-10 can be accommodated “with some room left over. . . .But our shelter space is being taxed to the limit,’’ Smith said
State OEP spokesman Mark Smith said that 350 buses are ready to roll for the south-to-north of I-10 evacuation if needed as early as Tuesday.
Smith said 200 buses have been staged along I-49 and another 150 are marshaled in the LaPlace area.
“We decided it was time to start taking proactive measures’’ with Rita’s threat to the southwest Louisiana coast, home to about 300,000 people, Jeff Smith said.
“We strongly suggested to officials of Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines (parishes) to stage a mandatory evacuation’’ of the residents who may have returned to the parishes.
Jeff Smith said the levees are wet and some may not withstand more battering.
“When you look at the shape of the levee systems and pumps in those parishes we are suggesting the mandatory evacuations,’’ he said. “But that is a call for the locals to make.. . .There is still a lot of room for change.’’
Jeff Smith said Jefferson Parish is not being asked to call a mandatory evacuation because it now “seems to be in a little bit better position’’ with levees and pumps working well.

Navy ships leave New Orleans in preparation for Rita

Monday, 7:30 p.m.


Three Navy ships that have been used in New Orleans' recovery efforts since
Hurricane Katrina are leaving the metro area in preparation for Tropical Storm Rita, a Navy spokeswoman said.

The USS Tortuga left the Crescent City on Monday and the USS Iwo Jima and USS Shreveport could leave Tuesday or Wednesday, the spokeswoman said.

Experts project Rita to make landfall later this week as a Category 3 storm as far east as Terrebonne Parish.

The Iwo Jima which has been berthed at the Julia Street wharf has been used as a hospital. The ship also was a launching point for helicopters involved in search and rescue missions and President Bush landed there during visits to the city and used it as a back drop for a news conference.

The ships were being moved to sea to avoid damage to the vessels being tied up to port.

St. Bernard halts re-entry, calls for evacuation

St. Bernard Parish officials on Monday halted the return of parish residents and called for a mandatory evacuation starting tomorrow, as Tropical Storm Rita churned into the Gulf of Mexico and threatened to affect the parish.

Officials made the decision after a conference call in which Corps of Engineers officials said Katrina’s damage to the parish’s levees means the area is vulnerable to even a small surge.

Earlier today, officials announced they would let in those residents scheduled to come in tomorrow, but would close the parish for the rest of the week. They said, however, that the parish is too much at risk to let people in.

The storm is projected to hit Texas. But Katrina, which flooded almost the entire parish with as much as 20 feet of water, destroyed much of the levees that protect the parish.

“We’re starting all over again. The only difference is I don’t have as many people to evacuate,” said Larry Ingergiola, the parish’s emergency preparedness director.

With exile children now in new schools, some parents face tuition squeeze

7:05 p.m.

By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

Now that many of them have enrolled their children in new schools in new cities, parents of students displaced from New Orleans area private schools are turning to a new financial question: What happens to the tuition money they paid before Hurricane Katrina chased them away?

The answers vary, with some private school officials saying the money may be transferred to new schools and others saying their disrupted schools must keep the tuition money so they can continue paying faculty members in hopes that the staff will return when the school reopens.

“It’s a frightening thing for a school,” said Chris Proctor, new headmaster of St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, which plans to reopen Oct. 3. “The thing that makes a school unique is the faculty. Schools desperately want to hang on to their faculties.”

The tuition question involves several thousand dollars for each displaced student and weighs on thousands of families who fled Katrina or its aftermath. Louisiana has the highest percentage of students in non-public schools of any state, and three New Orleans area parishes – Jefferson, St. John the Baptist and St. Bernard –rank in the Top 10 counties nationwide.

Stephenie Gaudet, mother of a fourth grader, said she is eager to return her daughter to Louise S. McGehee School in New Orleans, which she described as offering an umatched educational opportunity for girls. Her daughter is now attending an Episcopal school in Panama City, Fla.,

McGehee is not offering tuition refunds, and Gaudet said she understands the school's need to maintain solid financial footing and entice its faculty back. Still, she said, she and her husband are temporarily out of work thanks to Katrina and would welcome any help with their costs.

"I want them to flourish and be on top of their game," Gaudet said about the
school, "but at the same time I might need assistance with my situation."

St. Martin’s is not offering tuition refunds for the lost portion of the school year, Proctor said, partly because it still plans to offer a full academic year, albeit one that will run later than usual. “We’re fortunate that we’re going to offer a product, so we can charge tuition and not worry about it,” he said Monday.

Proctor and officials from other schools in the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest said many member schools in different states are offering free education to displaced students. That should help some families who cannot return to their homes even though St. Martin’s is reopening, Proctor said.

The association has 11 schools in New Orleans and surrounding parishes, including St. Martin’s, and five more across the state.

There are exceptions to the practice of taking displaced students free of charge, especially at other ISAS Louisiana schools, said Geoffrey Butler, executive director the association, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and also includes schools in Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Butler said some Louisiana schools outside the New Orleans area are not offering free tuition to families who are buying houses and appear to be settling into their new schools and towns permanently. Free tuition, he said, seems more appropriate for temporary dislocation.

“They expect the families will return to their home schools when they are available,” Butler said.

An Internet statement from Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, another ISAS school, which doesn’t anticipate a full reopening until January, said its families are expected to honor their tuition obligations because the school considers its students still to be Newman students even while they attend schools elsewhere.

The statement emphasizes the other independent schools that are helping by offering free temporary schooling. It said displaced parents who must pay tuition at their new schools will be able to apply for credits against their Newman expenses over four semesters. Parents of seniors may seek refunds or receipts treating their tuition payments as tax-deductible charitable contributions.

Hanging on to tuition money let schools maintain their long-term viability, according to the Newman statement.

“Nearly 85 percent of the school’s income is spent on faculty and staff salary and benefits,” the statement said. “If Newman refunded all the tuition and fees collected this year, there is no way we could pay Newman employees, and without them Newman is just a bunch of buildings.”

Catholic schools closed by Katrina, meanwhile, are taking a different approach, relying on donations and emergency financing by the Archdiocese of New Orleans to keep paying teachers while at the same time letting parents transfer their tuition dollars elsewhere.

“Our situation is rather simple: The tuition follows the student,” said the Rev. William Maestri, superintendent of archdiocese schools.

Maestri said the money may be directly transferred for students attending other schools in the archdiocese, such as Catholic schools that have already reopened in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes. For students who have landed outside the New Orleans area, direct transfers might still be possible, or parents may receive refunds to use in paying tuition at their new schools, Maestri said.

“That way, parents aren’t paying twice, and schools are not charging for services not rendered,” Maestri said.

Some private school parents also buy tuition refund insurance. But school and insurance officials said Monday that such policies are not designed to cover disasters that close schools.

Carl Stockfleth, chairman of A.W.G Dewar Inc., a Quincy, Mass., company that offers tuition insurance, said the policies normally cover mid-year student withdrawals from a school because of illness, parent job transfers or the student having difficulties at the school. Typically about 15 to 20 percent of parents buy the insurance, he said.

“Closure for catastrophe is not covered by the policy,” Stockfleth said. “The plan does not cover school closure for any reason.”

One wrinkle is what happens when the school reopens but the family can’t return to their home or jobs. Stockfeth said company officials are studying whether the policies would offer any assistance to these families.

U.S. Conference of Mayors pledges support for Nagin

Monday, 6:51 p.m.

BATON ROUGE -- The United States Conference of Mayors has pledged assistance and support to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in his effort to rebuild the storm-stricken city.

The group, with a headquarters in Washington, D.C., will provide staff and lobbying support and help coordinate the many offers of aide in the form of personnel and equipment pouring in from the nation’s mayors and cities.

"Mayors across this country are already sending supplies to these areas, we are providing housing for displaced citizens, and we will continue to provide cash donations for these affected areas," said the conference’s president, Mayor Beverly O’Neill of Long Beach, Calif.

O’Neill and other conference officials met with Nagin and Orleans city council members in Baton Rouge last week. The support from the conference was arranged in part by Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and his father Moon Landrieu, a former mayor of New Orleans who was once a president of the mayor’s conference.

The group made a similar pledge to communities on the Mississippi Gulf coast.

25 percent of N.O. area restaurants might not come back

Monday, 6:24 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE—An estimated quarter of the 3,400 restaurants in the New Orleans area will probably not reopen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina because of the cost of insurance, or cash-flow or staffing issues, the chief executive officer of the Louisiana Restaurant Association said Monday.

Jim Funk said that the 25 percent projection is a minimum number and could increase.

Most of the casualities, he said, will probably not be the established restaurants like Commander’s Palace or Galatoire’s, but the “mom-and-pop restaurants’’ that dot New Orleans area neighborhoods.

He said by the end of Monday there were no more than 75 of the area’s 3,394 restaurants open.

“The (financial) losses will be staggering,’’ Funk said.

He projected that the $2.1 billion in annual sales at New Orleans area restaurants will be off by at least $500 million, due to restaurants that have been boarded up since Katrina or those that cannot operate at full staff now.

One third of the state’s 10,628 restaurants are in the New Orleans area. Total restaurant sales across the state are about $5.2 billion a year, Funk said.

Katrina’s timing was also cruel – it shuttered a number of restaurants at the time of year when their sales receive a boost from the convention industry.

“September is a good month, October is a great month and November is a doggone good month,’’ Funk said. “But now, a lot will depend on the repopulation’’ of the area and how fast the tourism and convention industry can bounce back.

“The jewels of our industry are the restaurants of New Orleans,’’ he said. “That’s where people go when they think of food.’’

But Funk admitted that “a lot of restaurants will have to tough time surviving. . . .Some may open and there will be poor cash flow and it will be a matter of weeks before they close.’’

He said some of the factors that may play a role in restaurants boarding up for good include how much insurance the restaurants had and how much it will cost to get insurance in the future. Also, he said, some operators might decide that “I don’t want to fight this any more.’’
More than 53,000 of the 140,000 direct jobs supported by the state’s restaurant industry are in the New Orleans area. Funk said some restaurants trying to open with skeleton staffs.

“We have employees scattered all over the board,’’ he said. He said one New Orleans area restaurant has opened with nine employees instead of its regular complement of 30 to 40 workers.

As time goes by, Funk said, more restaurants will open. “There are a few open in the Veterans (Boulevard) corridor (in East Jefferson) now and some in New Orleans are trying to get open,’’ he said.

Although sales have nose-dived in the New Orleans area, other areas of the state are reporting an increase in sales of 5 to 15 percent because many area residents have been displaced, but are still eating out.

But the increase in business in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and other areas will not offset the losses in the New Orleans area, Funk said.

Les Guerin, an official for the Piccadilly Corp. and a member of the association’s board, said one problem that may slow the reopening of New Orleans area residents may be a shortage of health inspectors or sanitarians to check out the conditions of the restaurants before they can open their doors.

Greg Reggio, owner of Taste Bud’s, the corporation that operates some Semolina’s and Zea’s restaurants in the New Orleans area, said many restaurant operators will feel a “cash crunch.’’

To ease the cash flow problem, he said, he is trying to put together a coalition of restaurants to meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to see if it can use New Orleans area restaurants to cater to security and rebuilding forces in the New Orleans area.

“I want to see how we can get involved,’’ Reggio said. “If they have a mouth, we can fill it.’’

For the restaurants that reopen, he said, New Orleans area residents will not have the disposable income they had pre-Katrina, and restaurants will have to adapt.

“Prime rib is not going to be on my menu,’’ he said. “I can’t put a $12 hamburger on my menu and nobody else can either.’’

Deadline for St. Tammany residents to file for food stamps

Monday, 6:17 p.m.

By Kadee Krieger
St. Tammany bureau

St. Tammany residents have until 4:30 p.m. today to apply for disaster relief food stamps, unless the Food Stamp Disaster Program is again extended.

The food stamp applications will be taken from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Slidell Municipal Auditorium, on Second Street across from Slidell City Hall.

The parish’s food stamps operation was moved Monday to Slidell from the main office on Louisiana 21 in Covington because the auditorium is able to handle so many more applicants at a time, said parish food stamps manager Ann Stone.

Stone said the Covington office is still open, but anyone who is looking for food stamps as a direct result of hardship after Hurricane Katrina should go to Slidell.
In addition, she said anyone who is looking to apply for regular food stamps not related to the hurricane should wait until after Tuesday if they have received stamps in the past two weeks.

The food stamps program is meant for those who have loss of income or lost significant amounts of food because of the hurricane. The disaster program was scheduled to end Sept. 16, but was extended to Tuesday, Stone said.

She said she does not know if the program will be extended again.

Tuesday’s deadline is meant for St. Tammany residents. Residents of other parishes who are now in St. Tammany should call Sharon Tucker, director of field operations for the state Office of Family Support, at (225)342-0495.
For information, call 893-6215 or 646-4261.

Residents line up to retrieve mail at the Gretna Post Office

Monday, 5:45 p.m.

Waiting cars overflowed from the parking lot of the Gretna Post Office Monday afternoon, spilling onto Gretna Boulevard, as residents tried to retrieve weeks worth of mail.

Inside the line of customers was moving quickly, with most people saying they only had to wait 10 to 15 minutes. Sarah Augustine, officer in charge, said her staff is trying to get people in as fast as possible. “We’re here to help the community,” she said. “We want to do whatever we can.”

The Gretna Post Office is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for residents in the 70053 and 70056 zip codes to get their mail. Augustine said she hopes to add Saturday hours as her staff expands. She also is trying to resume very limited street delivery possibly next week to some Gretna and Terrytown area businesses, but that also will depend on staffing.

“I have five or six carriers out of 45 routes right now,” she said. “At least a third of my people lost their homes. Just because they work over here doesn’t mean they live over here.”

Augustine said post offices in Harvey, Marrero, Westwego and Belle Chasse also are open. “It’s getting better everyday,” she said.

Energy companies start evacuating Gulf again; oil prices leap in 'one of largest moves'

Monday, 5:40 p.m.

By Mary Judice
Business writer

Energy companies – still struggling to restore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Katrina – have begun shutting down operations and evacuating personnel in advance of Tropical Storm Rita.

Crude oil prices jumped 7 percent and natural gas prices closed 14 percent higher Monday in anticipation of further pinched oil and gas supplies.

Oil companies began bringing construction workers and project crews ashore Sunday in the first wave of personnel clearing from platforms and drilling rigs in the Gulf. Major oil companies with operations in the deep water Gulf launched the earliest evacuation.

Rita is expected to race through the heart of the Gulf, where energy operations ravaged by Katrina three weeks ago have not been restored to full operation. The damage affected all aspects of the energy supply chain from drilling rigs to gas processing plants and oil refineries which produce gasoline.

Art Hogan, chief market analyst for Jeffries and Co. in New York, said
fear of more damage from Rita has fueled “one of the largest one day moves in modern times” in crude oil trading.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange Monday, crude for delivery in
October was up $4.39 a barrel to close at $67.39 a barrel. Natural gas rose $1.52 per million British thermal units to close at $12.66.

“It will certainly impact Gulf of Mexico volumes of gas and oil and
probably will impact the offloading of oil tankers, which is why oil futures are up and gas is up,” said Kenneth Beer, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Stone Energy in Lafayette.

There is concern that even if Rita strikes the Texas coast, it would further rough up the energy infrastructure.

As of Monday, approximately 56 percent of oil production in the Gulf of
Mexico remained shut in and 34 percent of natural gas production was not being pumped. About one-third of the shut-in production was the result of onshore infrastructure problems, which includes pipelines, production facilities and oil refineries, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that oversees Gulf leases.

If the storm ``continues westward it will threaten the Houston Ship
Channel and the many refineries along the Texas coast,” said Marshall Steeves, an analyst at Refco Inc. in New York. He said approximately 5 percent of the refining capacity is out of operation “indefinitely because of Katrina and can't afford to lose more.”

And consumers can expect to pay more for gasoline.

“What seems to be a pull back in gasoline prices may come to a
screeching halt,” Hogan said. More than $3 a gallon gasoline is a likely prospect, he said.

He said the higher prices would be fueled not only by higher crude oil prices but the availability of refining. The spot gasoline shortages experienced immediately after Katrina were not a result of a shortfall in crude supplies but “the inability to get crude and refined product delivered,” Hogan said. Refineries were damaged and the pipelines that crisscross the country were out of service at first.

Shell Oil Co. began evacuating workers from the eastern Gulf on
Sunday and said it would move employees from structures further westward as the evacuation continued. A total of 195 workers came ashore Sunday and the company was in the process of bringing in an additional 350 workers on Monday.

BP said Monday it has evacuated non essential personnel from the eastern Gulf and its deepwater platforms in the central Gulf in a recorded message.

Beer of Stone Energy said he would not be surprised if today “we would start the process of physically getting people out and shutting down facilities again.” He explained that the majors, which have more people and are further out in the Gulf, typically evacuate before smaller independent companies, like his.

Energy Partners Ltd. tracked the storm Monday and evaluated whether to evacuate workers in the western Gulf where the New Orleans-based firm has 25 to 35 percent of its production, said Al Petrie, a spokesman.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report

Power goes down in Slidell for repairs

By John-John Williams IV
Staff writer

Residents of south Slidell who had gotten their power back experienced six hours of darkness today when power was shut down to allow crews to remove boats blown into the area by Hurricane Katrina.

Power was cut shortly after 1 p.m. Cleco Corporation officials expected that power would return around 7 p.m.

Power needed to be cut to allow cranes to safely move into the area and remove the boats.

“The cranes are very tall,”’ explained Susan Broussard, manager of corporate communications at Cleco. “The energy lines could get in the way.”

Currently 9,260 residents or 88 percent of St. Tammany Parish remain without power. Only 5 percent of residents in Washington Parish do not have power.

Broussard said she did not know how many customers were affected by the shut down.

“Many of the people (in that area) have not returned because of the flooding,” Broussard said. “Our customers have been so understanding in Cleco’s efforts to get their lives back to normal.”

Power becomes the big question

5:01 p.m., Monday

By KEITH DARCÉ
Business writer

Over utility call center telephone lines, on radio
shows, through e-mails and in every other imaginable
way of communicating, the question gets asked over and
over every day: Does my house have electricity?

For thousands of evacuees, turning the lights back on
will signal the moment when they can return home and
begin restoring the life they had before hurricane
Katrina.

But answering that question is proving difficult,
especially in the hard-hit parishes of Orleans,
Plaquemines and St. Bernard.

And even as portions of the electricity grid are turned
back on in areas of New Orleans that were spared
flooding, there are no guarantees that power will flow
to any particular home or business.

Teams from the region’s biggest electricity
monopoly, Entergy Corp., are scouring the power
transmission system, looking at every pole,
transformer and wire for damage.

Where no damage is found, electricity is being
restored. But electricity is being withheld for safety reasons from
homes and other buildings that have damaged circuit
boxes or wires.

That means one person could return to his Uptown home
later this week and find lights burning and the air
conditioner running, while a neighbor returns to
darkness and steamy heat.

“If you have wind, rain or flood damage to your home
or business, we are not going to energize transformers
to those buildings even though we may have the grid up
and running there,” said Dan Packer, chief executive
of Entergy’s New Orleans utility.

“Safety trumps speed,” he said. “We are working
slowly and methodically.”

Those words might frustrate evacuees anxious to start
rebuilding their lives. Some people don’t even want to
move back home yet. They just want electricity flowing
so they can turn on air conditioners to dry out
flood-soaked furniture and walls, and halt the growth
of mold.

But the dangers of powering damaged electrical
systems are greater than those posed by lingering
dampness, Packer said. Sending electricity through
flooded or damaged circuits and wires could cause
shorts that could spark fires.

“A massive fire in a neighborhood strikes me as one
of the worst things that could happen right now,”
Packer said. “We’re assuming that people want to come
back to something with some value.”

People in damaged buildings must get circuits and
wiring fixed by a licensed electrician and cleared by
a city code inspector before power will be restored by
the utility, Packer said.

That’s a tough assignment in a city that remains
largely closed for business and evacuated.

Help could come from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, which supplied an army of inspectors to
Hurricane-damaged areas of Florida last summer in
order to speed the process of restoring power to
damaged buildings.

Officials with the city’s Department of Safety and
Permits are looking for ways to get electricians and
inspectors into the city, Packer said.
Officials with the department were unavailable Monday
afternoon.

As of Monday, power was back on in much of the
Central Business District, the Warehouse District, the
Bienville Street corridor in the French Quarter and
Uptown areas around hospitals.

Electricity should be restored by the end of the week
to the rest of the French Quarter and to Canal Street
between Interstate 10 and the Mississippi River,
Packer said.

Lights should be back on in other unflooded
neighborhoods running along the river from the Bywater
to Riverbend within two weeks.

Electricity lines running to the Superdome have been
re-energized but the landmark building will remain in
the dark until its internal electrical system is
repaired, Packer said.

Cleco Corp. had restored power to 88 percent of its
customers in the parishes of St. Tammany and
Washington north of Lake Pontchartrain by Monday afternoon. About 9,200
St. Tammany customers remained in the dark, mostly in
Slidell, Lacombe and Covington. In Washington, 41
customers still needed electricity.


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

Nagin urges N.O. residents to cancel return plans

4:32 p.m.

After receiving heat from President Bush and other federal officials, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday reversed course on a plan to reopen New Orleans. He also urged residents to cancel any plans of returning due to the threat posed by Tropical Storm Rita.

At a mid-afternoon press conference, Nagin stressed that the mandatory evacuation of the city is still in effect and urged an orderly departure for those who have trickled back to check on businesses and homes. The city’s previously planned announcement for reopening the least-ravaged parts has been postponed indefinitely, Nagin said.

The announcement came after repeated warnings from top federal officials — and the president himself — that New Orleans was not safe enough to reopen. Among other things, federal officials warned that Tropical Storm Rita could breach the city's temporarily patched-up levees and swamp the city all over again.

While the path of Rita is still unclear, but Nagin said if the threat grows more serious, officials would be “aggressive” about clearing the city of remaining residents.

The dispute over the reopening was just the latest example of the lack of federal-local coordination that has marked the disaster practically from the start.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Discover Baton Rouge

Hurricane Katrina evacuees with cabin fever can learn more about all the things to do in the Capital City -- museums, parks, libraries, bars, casinos, plantations, arts and special events -- when the different attractions are featured at a special Live After Five on Sept. 30, from 5 to 8 p.m., at Third Street at North Boulevard in downtown Baton Rouge.

Live After Five is a series of free outdoor concerts sponsored on several Friday evenings in spring and fall by the Downtown Development District and the Downtown Merchants Association, with bands, vendors and restaurants.

On Sept. 30, displaced residents from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be invited to learn about things to do and see and to listen to Zydeco muscian Terrence Simien. More information on upcoming bands (including Deacon John on Oct. 7 and the Iguanas on Oct. 21) is on the Web site http://brgov.com/dept/ddd/Events/05laf.htm.

SBA offering loans to businesses, homeowners

3:20 p.m., Monday

By Jaquetta White
Business Writer

The Small Business Administration is offering loans to businesses, homeowners and even renters to assist in paying for damages, losses and rebuilding costs associated with the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The loans range in value from $40,000 to homeowners and renters to cover uninsured losses of personal property, clothing and furniture to $1.5 million to businesses for rebuilding.

During declared disasters the SBA lends to businesses of all sizes as well as individuals, said Carol Chastang, a spokeswoman for the SBA Office of Disaster Assistance.

The SBA loans are designed to pick up where FEMA grants leave off, Chastang said. The main purpose of the loan is to assist with long-term rebuilding costs, whereas FEMA grants mostly are for temporary costs associated with displacement.

What FEMA offers is “a short-term fix,” Chastang said. “If you’re a homeowner and your house is underwater, you’re going to need an SBA loan.”
Since the storm, the SBA has issued more than 740,000 loan applications to hurricane victims along the Gulf Coast, and more than two-thirds of those were issued to Louisiana business owners and individuals. So far, eight loans have been approved in Louisiana for about $203,000, Chastang said. All were for home loans.

“With any given disaster, the majority of the loans that we make are for home loans,” she said.

But the number of loan requests for businesses as well as the number of approvals for businesses and homes will grow in the coming months as SBA appraisers, business owners and residents are able to assess damage.

The number of loan applications, so far, is comparable to those issued last year after four hurricanes tore through Florida, except that those loans went on to total $2.2 billion and were spread over 13 states. None of those areas were as densely populated as the ones affected by Hurricane Katrina. So the loaned amount is expected to be greater for this storm.

To apply for an SBA loan individuals first must complete a FEMA application, Chastang said. FEMA, which acts as the federal coordinating entity for disaster recovery, then refers individuals and businesses to the SBA. The SBA issues applications for disaster loans only to those people who are referred by FEMA.

“In some cases folks will think they need an SBA loan and they really need a FEMA grant,” Chastang said.

The SBA is offering four loans, one for homeowners and renters and three for businesses.

Home loans are capped at $200,000 for home damage and rebuilding or $40,000 for personal property loss. The interest rate on a home loan is 2.687 percent. The application deadline is Oct. 28, but Chastang said that date likely will be extended.

Of the business loans, one applies exclusively to small businesses. The economic injury loan, capped at $1.5 million, is for operations that may not have suffered physical damage, but suffered economic injury, Chastang said. It can be used, for instance, to pay employees and other bills.

“It’s aimed at helping businesses cover their operating expenses had the disaster not occurred,” Chastang said.

The interest rate on the economic injury loan is 4 percent. The application deadline for the economic injury loan is May 29.

The remaining business loans, also capped at $1.5 million with a 4 percent interest rate, apply to any sized business and non-profit organizations. They are to assist with costs associated with rebuilding a facility and replacing machinery and equipment, Chastang said. The deadline to apply is Oct. 28.

Actual loan amounts are determined on a case-by-case basis based on damage. Borrowers will be allowed to defer payments for up to one year, Chastang said.

Although it usually takes 19 to 21 days from the time an application is filed until money is received, Chastang said, waits will be longer this time around.

“This one we’ve got to say something different because we don’t want people to expect it that soon,” she said, though she could not give a new timetable. “This situation takes us out of the normal situation because people can’t get to their homes and businesses. The time frame may be beyond what we usually tell the loan applicants.”

St. Bernard Parish residents must have ID to enter, officials said

St. Bernard Parish residents returning to assess damage from Hurricane Katrina must show appropriate identification listing the address of the residence that will be visited, St. Bernard Parish officials said.

Clarifying the rules governing a re-entry process that began Saturday, officials said returnees may bring other people along to help remove personal items. But only one vehicle per ID is being allowed to enter, they said.

Residents who cannot return because of illness or infirmity can send a family member to represent them. But the relative must carry a photocopy of the resident’s ID along with an affidavit or handwritten signed statement by the resident authorizing the relative to enter St. Bernard on their behalf.

Officials said no resident will be allowed to remain in St. Bernard after dusk, so they are not allowing campers, travel trailers or any other type of habitable vehicle in the parish. They also warned residents that mosquitoes have multiplied in Katrina’s floodwaters, and residents should come armed with mosquito repellant.

The parish also confirmed entry routes residents may follow to reach Parish Road, the only entry point into the parish. Residents traveling from east of the metro area cannot use the Interstate 10 twin span bridge from Slidell, because it was damaged by Katrina. Instead, they should take the Louisiana 11 bridge, which is open, and continue on I-10 west to I-510 south.

From the west, travelers should take U.S. 90 into the West Bank and cross to the east bank on the Crescent City Connection. Then they should take I-10 east to I-510 south.

Planned Parenthood open in B.R.

Planned Parenthood of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta (PPLAMD) announced that the Baton Rouge Health Center is open and providing family planning services for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Men and women can visit the Baton Rouge Health Center for birth control, emergency contraception, condoms and other family planning services.

"We want the people of Baton Rouge and all the men and women displaced by Hurricane Katrina to know that Planned Parenthood is here to serve them in their time of need," said Keetha Buster, Interim CEO of PPLAMD. "Many people fled their homes with only the clothes on their backs and we want to make sure that they remain healthy and avoid an STD or an unintended pregnancy."

The Baton Rouge health center is located at 3955 Government Street, Suite 2. Men and women can call 225-387-1167 for more information and an appointment.

Rita may cause evacuation problems

If Tropical Storm Rita hits southwestern Louisiana, the state will be hard-pressed to find vacant beds for evacuees, a top official of the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said Monday.

Bill Doran, operations division chief of the agency, said that although present projections have Rita hitting the Texas coast by the end of the week, Louisiana officials remain on high alert in case the storm shifts its course.

“It is still a concern,’’ Doran said of the tropical storm, which is keeping OEP officials at the highest level of alert.

He said the projected landfall area includes the southwest Louisiana parishes of Vermillion, Calcasieu and Cameron and could grow throughout the week as a better track of Rita is known.

He said that if the storm turns more eastward, the New Orleans area could be brushed. That could taxed the storm-damaged highway and bridge system needed to evcauate the thousands of residents, National Guard and other security and rescue workers in the area – thanks to Katrina.

The already-saturated levees could take a hit, Doran said, and the city could get more water, just as rescue workers complete draining the city.

“Depending on the significance of the storm,’’ Doran said, 25,000 to 60,000 coastal residents may have to be evacuated.

“We will encourage them to talk to family and friends located out of state,’’ he said. “DSS (the state Department of Social Services) has some bed space in existing shelters, about 2,000 empty beds’’ but not enough to accommodate widespread evacuees from southwestern Louisiana if it becomes necessary.

Doran refused to criticize the plans of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and other parishes officials attempts to bring residents and business back.

But a possible eastward shift in Rita could cause problems with those returning to the New Orleans area.

“You have some hasty planning going on,’’ Doran said. “They want to do it (get people and business back home) but I don’t want to put people in harm’s way.’’

-- Ed Anderson, Capital bureau.





Clarkson welcomes Algiers residents

Monday, 1 p.m.


Calling it an "opportunity and a challenge of a lifetime,'' New Orleans City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson welcomed residents back to Algiers on Monday to help rebuild New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"Welcome to Algiers, the first community to open,'' declared Clarkson, whose Council District C represents the West Bank community and portions of the east bank including the French Quarter. "Algiers is the first community to come home to begin the rebuilding of New Orleans.''

She said that 98 percent of Algiers has had power restored.

Among other utilities, Algiers has drinking water and a working sewerage system. Residents will be able to get food at 3518 Gen. Meyer Ave., and FEMA has set up an office at LB Landry High School. In addition to health centers at the Arthur Monday Center on Newton Street and Jo Ellen Smith Convalescent Center on Gen. Meyer Avenue, Clarkson said that West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero is also open for those needing medical help.

"We will be the support system for the rest of the city,'' she said.

Residents also should utilize grocery stores that are open in neighboring West Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish. "We’re very glad to be back among our West Bank neighbors,'' Clarkson said.

Clarkson's opened an office in the historic Algiers Courthouse at 225 Morgan St. and will be staffed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rita strengthens; La. now in cone

A strengthening Tropical Storm Rita is expected to threaten a large area of the Louisiana Gulf Coast with at least some winds and rain by Thursday, when it is forecast to reach Category 3 hurricane strength and be several hundred miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center forecast that Rita could hit Galveston, Texas, on Saturday morning. But areas as far east as Bay St. Louis, including the entire New Orleans area, are within the forecast path error, and forecasters urged returning New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parish residents to keep an ear tuned to weather forecasts, as Rita’s path could shift farther east over the next five days. Several computer models take the storm over Louisiana or as far east as Biloxi.

“Five days is a lot of forecast time we’re dealing with,” said Frank Revitte, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Slidell office. “We’ll have to watch carefully over the next few days to see how large and how close it gets.”

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for the southernmost part of the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys at 11 a.m., predicting that Rita would reach Category 1 strength before moving through the Florida Straits into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

More on Rita from the National Hurricane Center
Watches & Warnings | Latest alert | Storm Plot & Track
Close-up Image | U.S. Navy Forecast | Strike Probabilities | Wind Forecast

» More on TS Rita

Ochsner preforms first post-Katrina kidney transplant

Ochsner Clinic Foundation will perform the city’s first kidney transplant since Hurricane Katrina today beginning at 8 a.m. It will be a living donor procedure between husband and wife. The couple is from the Houma region. The organ recipient’s primary surgeon will be Dr. Ari Cohen, and the donor’s primary surgeon will be Dr. James Eason. The surgery was initially scheduled for the day Hurricane Katrina slammed into the city.

“This will be Ochsner’s 34th kidney transplant this year,” explains Dr.
George Loss, Ochsner Multi-Organ Transplant Center Section Head and
Director of Abdominal Transplant. “Ochsner has also transplanted 79 livers
so far this year, and with our program back on line we expect to meet
our 2004 quota of 94 by the end of the year.”

Due to damage to the I-10 Twin Span Bridge and the distance
LSU-Shreveport’s transplant program, Ochsner currently has the only functional
transplant program for many patients in the Louisiana Gulf Coast region,”
explains Dr. Loss, “We are opening our doors to all transplant patients
in the New Orleans region who need medical attention or are awaiting
donors.”

To provide additional coverage to patients needing transplant in the
region, Ochsner is opening a Baton Rouge Transplant Outpatient Clinic for
established and new patients at its Mid-City site (3401 North Blvd,
Ste. 200) and will expand transplant services at its Covington location.

Since its inception in 1984, the Ochsner Multi-Organ Transplant Center
has performed more than 2,200 life-saving heart, lung, liver, and
pancreatic transplants making it the Gulf South’s leading transplant center.

Tulane-Lakeside Hospital reopening

Tulane-Lakeside Hospital, located at 4700 I-10 Service Road in Metairie, is in excellent operating condition. The 119 bed facility has no structural damage or flooding.

''We are busy cleaning, ordering supplies and contacting employees and
physicians,'' said hospital spokesperson Karen Troyer-Caraway. ''We plan to
be up and running within the next seven to ten days.'' The medical office
buildings are open and a number of physicians have begun seeing patients in
their offices.

Patients of a Tulane-Lakeside physician and those in need of obstetric services can contact the hospital at (504) 780-6500.

All hospital employees who have not yet contacted Tulane-Lakeside via the
web site www.hcaonsite.com or by calling (800) 345-1732 are requested to contact hospital administration at (504) 780-6500.

Disaster recovery center opens in Slidell

A new FEMA disaster center opens today at 9 a.m. at the recreation center of John Slidell Municipal Park, 105 Robert Road.

This is the 12th such center to open.

Eleven centers are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week until further notice. Only the Plaquemines Parish center has hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., due to local curfews.

Disaster victims are urged to register for assistance first by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). The TTY number is 1 800 462 7585 for those who are speech- or hearing-impaired. People who have questions may visit the center to meet face-to-face with recovery specialists.

Representatives of state, federal, and voluntary agencies, as well as loan officers from the U.S. Small Business Administration will be on hand to answer questions and provide recovery information. Written materials about various assistance programs are also available to individuals and business owners.