Falls from roofs, steps on nails send returning residents to hospitals

6:57 p.m.

By Michelle Hunter
East Jefferson bureau

Elmore Crosby didn't give a whole lot of thought to the nail stuck through his plastic slip-on shoes or to the little cut on the bottom of his foot, which he treated with hydrogen peroxide.

"I pulled the nail out, washed the shoes out, put the slippers back on, went and sat on the porch, smoked a cigar and drank a beer," said Crosby, a 52-year-old Gretna resident.

Eleven days and no tetnus shot later, however, Crosby lost two of his toes to infection and gangrene, said Dr. Brian Cain of West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero.

Thus in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, residents returning to wrecked homes and streets without traffic signals are showing up at clinics and hospitals with all sorts of injuries that, in other times, would be considered rare. Rusty nails puncturing feet, ribs broken from amateur repair people falling off roofs and infections from untreated mosquite bites are among the complaints, along with stress and dehydration. While patients with chainsaw injuries –- usually a common affliction seen at emergency rooms after a hurricane or major storm -- haven’t begun to show up en masse at hospitals, physicians say it’s only a matter of time.

Crosby said he thinks he stepped on the nail while walking over storm debris a few days after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. It punctured his right foot between two toes. A diabetic, Crosby has limited sensation in his feet and didn’t know the wound was that serious.

Dr. Frank Culicchia, a West Jefferson neurosurgeon, has treated five fallen roofers in one week, including a Gallino who died from massive head injuries and a Hammond man paralyzed from the waist down.

“It’s very dangerous,” Culicchia said. “If I’ve seen five people in one week, imagine how many other injuries are out there that didn’t come to the emergency room.”

He said homeowners should leave roof repairs to professionals.

But even the slightest scratch could turn into a big concern.

“Simple cuts can become full-blown infections,” said Cain, recalling a New Orleans police detective who picked up a severe infection from walking on a blistered foot through floodwaters.

At risk are not only the returning residents, but the remaining rescue workers, law enforcement personnel and anyone else who slogs through the ontaminated muck in and around the New Orleans area, Cain said.

“Don’t wait to get treatment,” Crosby said Tuesday from his hospital bed at West Jefferson. He was treated only after a friend suggested he get a tetanus shot. “That’s my only regret.”

Disease can also catch a ride into the human body via mosquitoes, either through bites that later become infected or the directly from the bugs themselves.

“We don’t know what they’ve been feeding on in this toxic soup,” said Kerry Jeanice, clinical manager for the emergency department at West Jefferson Medical Center.

“Animal encounters,” a categorical catch-all Jeanice uses to include mosquito, ant, dog and snake bites, as well as cat scratches, are on the rise, he said. Dog bites, in particular, have been pretty nasty, he said. Reports of roaming packs of wild dogs have been common.

The number of patients suffering from dehydration and stress-related heart conditions also is rising. Returning residents busily ripping out wet carpet or removing ruined furniture aren’t drinking enough water, Jeanice said. And the anxiety caused by the hurricane’s devastation has given a jolt to those with long-standing heart conditions.

A surprising post-Katrina trend has been the number of motor vehicle-related injuries, said Dr. Joseph Guarisco, director of Ochsner’s emergency department. Traffic signals are not functioning in many areas, stop signs down and law enforcement agencies aren’t exactly focused on traffic control.

“Residents should be careful.” Guarisco said. “It’s a free-for-all out there.”

Amid political squabble, few residents leave damaged Kenner apartments

6:55 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

Kenner officials and owners of the storm-damaged Redwood Apartments continued efforts Tuesday to coax about 50 remaining residents into leaving, but only 17 of them boarded a bus bound for a shelter in Baker, north of Baton Rouge.

The apartment complex, normally home to about 1,800 people, has become the latest battleground in a years-old political war between Mayor Phil Capitano, who wants to move the residents to shelter outside Kenner, and Police Chief Nick Congemi, who, with City Councilman Michael McMyne, accuses the mayor of trying to drive working poor people out of the city. The complex's owner, Dorvin Development, barred news reporters from the site Tuesday, after several days of seeing the squabble play out in the news media.

Though privately owned, the apartments are governed by federal regulations designed to provide housing for low-income residents.

About 50 residents stayed through Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, and others have returned since and stayed even though their apartments in some cases are badly damaged. They say they have no other place to go.

Capitano said he's concerned that the complex is so badly damaged that power cannot be restored to it. He arranged for a bus to take willing residents to Baker.

But McMyne, whose district includes the area, said Kenner should create a temporary shelter for the residents, preferably at the Susan Park Playground gymnasium where troops assisting the city's rescue efforts were housed until today. Many of the Redwood residents are Hispanic Americans and do not speak fluent English.

"I don't think you can just tell them to leave. I think you need to have a conversation with them so they can make their own decisions," McMyne said.

Capitano countered that the owners of other private apartment complexes damaged by Katrina are refunding deposits to tenants so that they may leave and repairs may begin.

"They're telling them that they cannot provide a safe environment, and that's what's happening here," Capitano said.

A variety of relief agencies, including the Kenner Police Department, are delivering food and water to Redwood. Chief Congemi carried the precinct that includes the complex in the March 9, 2004, mayoral election, which he lost to Capitano.

Capitano said state and federal relief agencies have strongly advised him not to open any more shelters, particularly with Hurricane Rita now threatning the Gulf Coast. But he said he can't force Redwood residents to leave.

"We've got another storm bearing down on us, and if we open up a shelter, we're going to be responsible for those people," he said.

He said he did ask the state fire marshal to determine whether the Redwood complex is habitable.

"It is not fit to live in," he said.

State to hire national accounting firm and auditors to keep tabs on Katrina relief spending

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau
BATON ROUGE – A national accounting firm will be hired as a financial adviser to ensure the state is properly spending federal relief money in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday night.
Blanco said an auditing company will be hired to oversee the work of the legislative auditor and the state inspector general’s office.
Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said the financial adviser may be hired within two weeks to monitor spending “on the front end.''
She did not give a timetable on hiring an auditor.
“We want to make sure that there is accountability,’’ Bottcher said.
Blanco said interviews of national firms have already started.
“We want to make sure everything is done properly,’’ Blanco said.
Blanco told reporters that state officials estimate that Louisiana coffers will lose $750 million to $1 billion in revenues from the southeastern parishes ravaged by Katrina.
“The southeast produces an extraordinary amount of revenues,’’ Blanco said.
As a first step to keep the budget in balance, Blanco said she has ordered a hiring freeze which will save $30 million to $50 million.
“This is our first order,’’ she said. “It will be the first of many. Katrina is costing us money.’’
On another matter, Blanco said she has asked President Bush to declare southwest Louisiana a disaster area in advance of Hurricane Rita’s march toward the Texas-Louisiana border.
If the hurricane makes landfall in Texas this weekend, as predicted, she said the Lake Charles area and other parts of southwest Louisiana will also be affected.
Blanco said she has already declared a state of emergency in the area.
She said because federal officials are already in the state in response to Katrina, military personnel, officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, buses and other supplies will be easier to access if Rita strikes.

Flood insurance to rush checks to owners of devastated homes

By Jeffrey Meitrodt
Staff Writer

Faced with a deluge of complaints about long delays in getting insurance adjusters to visit flooded homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the National Flood Insurance Program announced Tuesday that it will do away with many of its usual requirements in order to speed the arrival of big checks to many victims of the catastrophic storm.

For owners of federal flood insurance, the announcement could mean the arrival of up to $250,000 in a matter of weeks, as opposed to months.

“Katrina is the largest flood disaster in our nation’s history, and it requires us to take a new look at how we process flood insurance claims,’’ said R. David Paulison, Acting Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response for the federal Department of Homeland Security. “Our mutual goal is to get families into the recovery process as quickly as possible.”

Though flood insurance is backed by the federal government, it is sold by insurance companies, which also are responsible for handling claims. The maximum benefit for dwelling damage is $250,000.

Many insurance companies have been cutting checks for $2,500 to $5,000 to help displaced policyholders with their living expenses, but they have been reluctant to pay larger settlements without first having a property inspected by an adjuster.

That has frustrated many state and local officials, who say it is obvious that whole neighborhoods were wiped out by Katrina, and that the government should fork over the cash as quickly as possible.

“We had 100 percent devastation down here, and I haven’t seen an adjuster yet,’’ said Joey DiFatta, president of the St. Bernard Parish Council. “We need some relief for these people.”

State Rep. Karen Carter, D-New Orleans, said the new policy “will permit people to move forward with their lives. This is what we have been begging for.”

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner J. Robert Wooley said Tuesday’s announcement “is a big piece of the puzzle.’

Wooley said the announcement means that thousands of homeowners in Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes will find their claims put on a “fast track,’’ enabling many of them to collect the full value of their policies without waiting for an adjuster to visit.

To determine which properties qualify for the expedited process, insurers will review aerial photographs, flood data and policyholder information.

“It will be possible to pay the policy limits through dialogue with the insured and without waiting for a site visit to adjust the loss,’’ the announcement said. “The process may be used for homes that “have been washed off their foundations, affected for long periods by standing water or when only pilings or a slab remain.”

Wooley said the new arrangement should help quicken the pace of recovery in the New Orleans area, but he said it doesn’t solve all the problems. He said he is still working on an arrangement that would dramatically reshape the way private insurers are dealing with the crisis with their homeowners’ policies.

As it stands, adjusters are spending most of their time on the fringes of the disaster, sometimes working on claims involving minor damage. Wooley said it is important to get those adjusters to areas that sustained the biggest losses as quickly as possible.

He wants to start with St. Bernard Parish, which Wooley visited last week.

“It’s the worst situation you can think of,’’ Wooley told state lawmakers last week, when describing his visit. “It will make you cry to see it. It’s horrible.”

To make sure that flooded homes don’t become a health hazard, Wooley said insurance adjusters should coordinate their activities, sending in armies of adjusters to the same neighborhood at the same time so that demolition of ruined properties can begin as quickly as possible.

As it stands, he said, adjusters are visiting homes in a “helter-skelter’’ fashion, visiting properties in Mandeville one day, and Slidell the next.

Insurers said they’ve never had to do business any other way, because gaining access to destroyed property usually isn’t a major problem.

“I cannot recall us encountering a similar situation,’’ said Mike Trevino, a spokesman for Allstate Insurance Co., the second biggest homeowners insurance company in Louisiana.

Trevino applauded the idea, and said the logistics of coordinating adjuster visits with competing insurance companies isn’t a problem. But he said such cooperation poses other obstacles.

“We are not going to reach out to them voluntarily and run the risk that it would be perceived as doing something devious,’’ Trevino said. “If the commissioner wants to bring us together, we’re happy to do that. In the meantime, we’re going to focus on our customers.”

Wooley said he is aware of the public-relations aspect of the situation, and he said he wants to address that by giving the coordinating job to a committee made up of citizens, insurance industry representatives and state and federal officials.

He said local officials will also have a key role in notifying residents of what is going on, and arranging for the demolition of properties in such a way that residents can go into the properties and remove any items of sentimental value.

If he can get the process started in St. Bernard, Wooley said it could be rolled out to other parts of the metropolitan area, including Plaquemines Parish and parts of Orleans Parish.

He said the process could help New Orleans avoid becoming a “trailer city,’’ in which large numbers of displaced individuals are forced to live together while waiting for the adjusters to finish their work.

This way, he said, residents could move into their neighborhoods as soon as their homes are demolished, living in a trailer in their own backyard while construction of a new home takes place in front of them.

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

Tourism industry pledges to rebuild

5:37 p.m., Tuesday

By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and national tourism industry leaders said the New Orleans hospitality industry can rebuild by leveraging Louisiana’s cultural assets, lobbying for federal financial assistance, and learning from New York’s comeback after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

We’re here today to announce our plan to rebuild the cultural economy of the State of Louisiana,” said Landrieu, whose office is in charge of state museums, parks and tourism advertising. “We have to rebuild the metropolitan area of the City of New Orleans because this area is the soul of America.”

Landrieu’s news conference Tuesday at the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge was the first official gathering of the tourism industry since Hurricane Katrina hit three weeks ago. At Landrieu’s side were tourism and convention leaders from across the state and national tourism industry executives, all wearing stickers that said “New Orleans Louisiana Rebirth: Restoring the Soul of America.”
Landrieu called for business assistance and workforce development for all entities in the state’s tourism industry, which employs 120,000 people and generated $9.9 billion in visitor spending last year. A national and international advertising and public relations campaign is also needed to restore the image of New Orleans and Louisiana after images of flooding and looting were beamed around the globe.

Landrieu has created the non-profit Cultural Economy Foundation to handle relief donations related to the arts, and has created a national advisory board of tourism and arts leaders from around the country to help guide New Orleans’ reconstruction.

National industry groups the Tourism Business Roundtable and the Travel Industry Association of America pledged their support and lobbying muscle for rebuilding the Louisiana tourism industry after the hurricane.

“I can promise you as an American and a New Yorker that you were there for us, and we will be there for you,” said Jonathan Tisch, chief executive of Loews Hotels, which has a property in New Orleans, and chairman of the Tourism Business Roundtable.

TIA and the Tourism Business Roundtable sent an open letter to federal policymakers Tuesday detailing the economic impact of the Gulf Coast tourism industry and asking for federal help.

The groups recommended federal funding for local tourism promotion because groups like the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau have no budget now that their members are shut down and tourism taxes are not being generated. They also recommended Congressional action to increase the business meal tax deduction and restore the spousal travel deduction to spur visitation and spending along the Gulf Coast. Other recommendations called for a variety of tax programs to assist displaced tourism employees, help companies that continued to pay or house workers after the storm, and help small businesses get loans and make business investments.

Tisch said that New York was able to respond quickly to the challenges of the 2001 terrorist attacks because its tourism industry was well-organized, and the same mobilization is apparent in Louisiana.

“We did it in New York City. We put aside our individual concerns and worked together,” Tisch said. “The same thing will happen in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

While there are some similarities between New York and New Orleans, the situations differ because New Orleans is completely shut down and will be unable to accommodate visitors as quickly as New York did. And, while Americans had a patriotic response to the terrorist attacks by wanting to travel to New York, it’s unclear whether Americans will want to make the same sympathy visits to New Orleans after seeing the widely broadcast images of looting in the city after the storm.

But Tisch said he’s confident that travelers will return to New Orleans. “Americans’ desire to help and to travel can overcome what they saw on television,” he said.

Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association, emphasized the economic reasons why the New Orleans tourism industry will bounce back.

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast tourism industry is critical, Dow said.

“I’m asked all the time, ‘Will this area rebuild?’” Dow said. “The answer, is unequivocally, ‘Yes.’”

Other tourism industry leaders at the meeting pledged that their attractions would re-open as soon as possible.

Ron Forman, president and chief executive of the Audubon Nature Institute, said that most of the damage at the Audubon campuses was at the Aquarium of the Americas, where about 10,000 aquatic creatures died. The sea lions were saved and went to Houston, and the penguins and the sea otters are staying at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

In order to reopen, the Audubon Institute needs to stabilize its facilities by getting the water and electricity running, and it needs to replace the animals that died. Forman estimates that bringing back the Audubon Institute will cost about $25 million. He’s been doing fundraisers in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, and about 250 zoos, aquariums and other institutions across the country raising money for the Audubon Institute in October.

“Audubon will do everything humanly possible to be one of the first to open,” Forman said. “We want to have a place where kids can come, see their favorite animals and connect to the city they left and feel at home again.”

Although Six Flags New Orleans was flooded during the storm and its parent company, Six Flags Inc. has put itself up for auction, Terry Prather, the park’s general manager, pledged that the park will re-open.

“Six Flags committed the day of the storm to come back to New Orleans,” he said.

In anticipation of re-starting operations in New Orleans, Six Flags has helped employees relocate to other parks and is holding weekly conference calls to keep in touch. But Prather said it’s too early to say how much damage was done to the park because it’s been too flooded to get in and inspect the property. “Once we get in, we’ll do an assessment,” Prather said.

For second time in four weeks, energy companies evacuating the Gulf

By Jaquetta White
Business Writer

Energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday continued evacuating workers and halting production in preparation for Hurricane Rita.

For Stone Energy the task is discouraging. Stone had returned to about 80 percent of its production capacity in the three weeks since Hurricane Katrina churned through the Gulf. Now the company is faced with perhaps losing any gains it had made while production is stopped for as long as four days, said Kenneth Beer, the company’s chief financial officer.

“With Rita, everyone is going to have to come off the platforms again,” Beer said. “Obviously from a safety standpoint and security standpoint, it’s the right thing to do. But with energy prices so high, it’s hard to turn off the tap.”

Stone isn’t alone. Majors and independents throughout the Gulf, including Shell Oil, Chevron Corp. and BP PLC, continued to evacuate Tuesday as Rita, which grew to a Category 2 storm on Tuesday, approaches.

According to a report released by the Minerals Management Service, 136 platforms and 15 rigs were evacuated in the Gulf as of Tuesday afternoon. The amount of oil flow halted, called shut in, corresponded to about 58 percent of daily production in the Gulf and nearly 35 percent of daily natural gas production.

On Friday, before news of then-Tropical Storm Rita was widespread, 56 percent of daily oil and 34 percent of daily natural gas production remained shut-in following Katrina.

Since Aug. 26, about 26 million barrels of oil and 120 billion cubic feet of gas have remained shut in. That’s equal to Gulf oil and gas production of 4.7 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively.

Beer said the current shut-in could cost Stone about $8 million over four days of lost revenue. That doesn’t include such costs as hiring helicopters and boats to move personnel ashore.

“The big, big cost is, we’re not able to produce and get revenue for four days worth of volume. (Four days) is a big number right now,” Beer said.

For Marathon Oil, the shut-ins will be a step in the wrong direction. Just one of the four platforms the company operates in the Gulf escaped damage from Hurricane Katrina. That one, its largest, had started producing again during the Labor Day weekend and had reached its daily maximum production capability of 17,000 barrels of oil and 17.5 million cubic feet of gas.

It was evacuated Tuesday.

“As quickly as possible, we’ll reboard and continue the work that needs to be done.”

Dominion Resources, which has several undamaged platforms in the Gulf and has received clearance from the MMS to resume production, has not done so because it has nowhere to send its product, said David Auchter, a company spokesman. Pipelines on the floor of the gulf that carry oil and gas to shore were damaged during Hurricane Katrina.
The worry now is that Hurricane Rita could further damage those lines and leave production shut in for a much longer period.

Markets shook off the news. Crude oil futures prices, which surged more than $4 a barrel on Monday, on Tuesday fell $1.16 to $66.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Entergy N.O. considers bankruptcy

4:50 p.m.

By Keith Darce
Business writer

The high cost of repairing hurricane-damaged power networks and a potentially crippling loss of customers is forcing Entergy New Orleans, the electricity and natural gas utility, to consider filing bankruptcy, the utility’s parent company said Tuesday.

Even if Entergy New Orleans does move to reorganize its finances through a bankruptcy proceeding, the company will continue operating.

News of the bankruptcy consideration came on the same day Moody’s downgraded Entergy New Orleans’ debt five steps to junk status.

Repairs from Hurricane Katrina could cost all of
Entergy’s Gulf Coast utilities between $750 million
and $1.1 billion, the company said. Entergy New Orleans’ portion of those costs could run between $325 million and $475
million.

Those figures are estimates and could change as
utility crews gain access to more areas that were
flooded during the storm and make a more accurate
damage assessment, Entergy Corp.
warned.
The costs could prompt some of the company’s
utilities to seek higher rates from regulators, a move
that could be especially painful to utility customers
who already are facing higher cooling and heating
bills because of rising prices for natural gas, the
main fuel that runs power plants in Louisiana.

A bankruptcy filing could help shield customers, many
of whom lived in poverty before the storm, from
bearing a larger portion of the recovery costs while
protecting the integrity of the utility, said Entergy
Chief Executive Officer Dan Packer.

Entergy earned $933 million in 2004 on revenue of
$10.1 billion in 2004.

Entergy New Orleans has lost business from as many as
130,000 customers who evacuated the city. Another
35,000 to 40,000 Entergy Louisiana customers have been
displaced.

The utilities don’t know when those customers will
return to their homes and businesses and reconnect
utility services, Entergy said. Those displaced
customers account for $160 million to $190 million in
annual revenue for Entergy New Orleans and $50 million
to $60 million in annual revenue for Entergy
Louisiana.

And while Entergy New Orleans accounts for about 3
percent of the parent company’s earnings, Wall Street
is closely monitoring the crisis, said Debra Bromberg,
a utility stock analyst with Jefferies & Co. in New
York. “Investors in the near term will be mostly
concerned about being able to adequately recover costs
from the hurricane,” she said.

“I think investors will stand back and look at (the
crisis) for what it is, a real disaster,” Packer said.
“The question they will ask themselves is whether
(Entergy New Orleans) is still a viable operation that
will continue to grow and do well. I think most
investors will say, ‘Yes.’ ”

The company hopes to recover some of its storm costs
from insurance payments, federal assistance and
changes in the rates that its utilities charge
customers.

Entergy New Orleans holds about $400 million in
property insurance policies, Bromberg said.

Already, company executives have talked to federal
lawmakers about providing money for utility
restoration and repair work through the Robert T
Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act,
Community Development Block Grants and other relief
programs created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist’s attacks.

Rules governing regulated utilities largely prevent
Entergy from shifting costs for the storm to other
utility divisions without the approval of regulators.
In a statement, Entergy said it believes it has the financial liquidity to meet its obligations as well as pay for its restoration efforts. But the combination of lower revenues and increased costs because of the storm, which are concentrated at Entergy's New Orleans unit, "are expected to create liquidity constraints at that company."
In addition to considering filing for bankruptcy protection, Entergy said it is considering advancing money to the New Orleans unit, taking on debt and some other possibilities.
Some storm-related losses might be offset by
increased business at the company’s utilities outside
of New Orleans because of the surge of evacuees who
have relocated to Baton Rouge, Jackson, Miss., and
other outlying cities and towns, Entergy said.

About 226,000 Entergy customers, mostly in New
Orleans, remained without power on Tuesday. At the
peak of the disaster, 1.1 million Entergy customers
were in the dark in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In the most heavily damaged areas of Orleans,
Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, as many as
170,000 Entergy customers are unable to receive
electricity and gas services because of damage to
their homes and businesses.

Six electricity generator units at Entergy’s A.B.
Paterson and Michoud power stations in New Orleans
remained inoperable following extensive flooding, the
company reported. Crews had repaired 7 of 19
transmission lines and 12 of 24 substations in New
Orleans that were damage by the storm and flooding.

Shares of Entergy fell 85 cents Tuesday to close at $74.39 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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

Cleco establishes Katrina victims fund

Tuesday, 4:43 p.m.

St. Tammany bureau
Cleco Corp. has established a fund, called the EmPowers Fund, to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.

The company, headquartered in Pineville, kicked off the fund-raising effort this week with a $300,000 corporate donation.

Currently, the emphasis is on soliciting and collecting donations to the fund. In coming weeks details on how the money will be distributed and who qualifies for the assistance will be announced, Cleco spokeswoman Robbyn Cooper said.

Two of the company's executives and the officers of two vendors who do business with Cleco, which serves 265,000 consumers across much of central and southern Louisiana, have also made undisclosed private contributions to the fund.

"It is hard to see our friends and neighbors go through this hurt,'' said Cleco President and CEO Mike Madison.

"Complete recovery from Katrina is going to take a lot of time and a lot of money and we had to do something to help. We started the Cleco EmPowers Fund as a way to show our support and commitment to the people who have lost so much,'' he said.

Cleco is a major electric provider in hard hit St. Tammany Parish and in Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.

The fund will provide financial assistance to qualified customers of Cleco and to its employees in the region affected by the hurricane.

The fund is being administered by the Central Louisiana Community Foundation. Cecil Myers can provide potential contributors with more details on the foundation by calling him at (318) 445-7702.

Details on making donations can also be found at www.cleco.com. Checks can be mailed to CLCF-Cleco EmPowers Fund, P.O. Box 1266, Alexandria, La. 71315. Checks should be made payable to Cleco EmPowers-CLCF. All donations are tax deductible.

More than 200,000 cars lost to Katrina

2:35 p.m.

By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

If you lost a car in Hurricane Katrina, you’re not alone.

Louisiana State Police estimate that more than 200,000 cars were lost in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. So far, State Farm Insurance, the largest insurer in Louisiana, has recorded 48,140 auto insurance claims in Louisiana – 62 percent of State Farm’s auto insurance claims from the four states affected by the storm.

“I would imagine those numbers will continue to rise,” said Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for State Farm.

Unfortunately, the owners of those 200,000 cars are likely to be reaching into their own pockets to buy new ones.

Basic liability insurance, the kind that’s required by the state to protect drivers against hitting another vehicle, or collision coverage, which covers a car if it hits something regardless of who is at fault, won’t cover losing a car in a storm.

And if the car was parked on its owner’s property when it was destroyed, a homeowner’s insurance policy is unlikely to help. “Homeowners insurance excludes losses to automobiles,” said Michelle Levy, spokeswoman for Farmers Insurance. State Farm and Allstate, the state’s second largest insurer, agree.
Those with comprehensive auto insurance are likely to fare the best. Comprehensive insurance, which is often required if a car is financed, covers damage from floods, fires, theft, vandalism and civil unrest – essentially any type of damage that’s not caused by a collision.

While the Louisiana Department of Insurance doesn’t track what percentage of Louisiana vehicles carry comprehensive insurance, Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade association sponsored by the property-casualty insurance industry, said that many people don’t carry comprehensive insurance because it’s too expensive.

Most people drop comprehensive insurance by the time their car gets to be five to seven years old, Worters said, because the value of the car usually is not worth the cost of the insurance.

But even with comprehensive insurance, many Louisiana drivers are likely to face out-of-pocket expenses to replace a vehicle. Comprehensive insurance pays according to the value of the car that was totaled, not the amount of the loan that bought the car or what it would cost to replace the car.

“It would always be what the (Kelley) Blue Book value of the car is,” Worters said. “The Blue Book value may not be the same as what it would cost you to replace it.”

So if a person bought a car for $25,000 two years ago, a comprehensive auto insurance policy may only pay, say, $20,000 for a flooded car, because car values depreciate quickly. If a person had a loan for that $25,000 car, the insurance may not cover the amount remaining on the loan.

“It’s not necessarily replacement of your loan cost. It’s replacement based on the value of your automobile,” said Bobby Ann Clark, director of public information for the state insurance department.

That is, unless a driver has supplemented the comprehensive policy with something called “gap insurance,” which, as the name implies, fills any gap between the value of the car and the cost of replacing it or paying off the loan.

But the good news is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency may be able to help where insurance leaves off.

Mike McCormick, a public information officer at FEMA, said that after a person receives housing assistance from the agency, if they still have unmet financial needs, their application is forwarded to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which handles disaster loans for FEMA. Loans granted through the SBA are low-interest loans.

McCormick said it’s reasonable to use that some of that money to replace a car. “If one of those needs is for a primarily vehicle to get to work, and insurance won’t replace that car, and it’s disaster related, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to use that money to buy a car.”

But it’s a good idea to set priorities, McCormick said, because there’s a limited amount of money that will be available, and it may not cover all the needs created by the disaster.

If a person fails to qualify for a loan through the SBA, their application gets kicked back to a FEMA grant program dealing with unmet needs. As much as $4,400 is available through that program for replacing transportation lost during the storm. But McCormick said disaster victims may not be able to use that money toward a more expensive car, because FEMA’s role is to replace items to restore people’s basic capacity to live their lives, not to replace luxury items.

“It’s basic,” McCormick said.

The Internal Revenue Service also offers relief. People can claim a tax deduction for things such as cars, furniture or property damage, either by amending this year’s tax return or filing the damage on next year’s tax return, when other federal programs may also be available. IRS publication # 547 offers details on casualty loss deductions, and citizens can order disaster tax loss kits from the IRS by calling 866-562-5227.

Utilities update

Power has been restored to about 78 percent of the approximately 900,000 homes in southeast Louisiana that were blacked out as a result of Hurricane Katrina, state Public Service Commission officials said Tuesday.

Arnold Chauviere, chief of the commission’s utility division, said that as of Tuesday 22 percent or 239,904 households – mainly in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes – were without power.

“We would like it to be faster,’’ he said. “Utility companies have hired extra work crews. I think they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. . . . The commission wants them to do as much as they can as quickly as they can.’’

Chauviere said that Entergy in New Orleans has 201,369 customers who lost power and 169,308 are still without it three weeks after Katrina’s hit.

In Algiers and the nearby parishes – Jefferson, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, St. Bernard and Plaquemines -- there are still 47,259 Entergy customers that without power.

He said only 1 percent of the customers in St. Bernard have had power restored and 20 percent of Plaquemines Parish has service.

Jefferson Parish, meanwhile, has 95 percent of its service restored, Lafourche Parish is at 99 percent and St. John, St. Charles and Tangipahoa parishes are at 100 percent.

For customers of Washington-St. Tammany Electric Co., 13,674 cusomers are without power, Chauviere said.

About 73 percent of Washington Parish has power and about 85 percent of St.Tammany is back.

CLECO, who also provides service in the Northshore area, has 9,301 customers without service, Chauviere said.

He said 213,739 BellSouth telephone customers remain without service in the New Orleans area as of Tueday and another 85,082 Cox Communications were without telephone service.

Chauviere said of the 894 cellular telephone towers in southeast Louisiana, 397 are still down and 497 others are now operating.

-- Ed Anderson, Capital bureau.

FEMA housing aide tops $1 billion

More than $1 billion has been approved for temporary housing assistance to residents whose homes were damaged in the storm since Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana three weeks ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Louisiana. Assistance is in the form of grants for temporary housing for minor repairs to make a home safe and habitable.

To date, 818,253 Louisianans have applied for state and federal disaster assistance by calling the toll-free registration line, 1-800-621-3362 (FEMA). The TTY number for speech- and hearing-impaired individuals is 1-800-462-7585.

Night and early morning are easiest times to get through.
• Register on-line at www.fema.gov.
• Yesterday, 1,902 Louisianans registered for FEMA assistance.
Hundreds of truckloads of materials have been delivered to distribution points by the federal and state Unified Logistics Element, providing food, water and ice to hurricane victims.

The American Red Cross and other voluntary agencies have served more than 3.6 million meals throughout the disaster area. Another 1.3 million meals have been served by the Salvation Army. Currently, 348 shelters are open in Louisiana providing emergency housing for 55,064 evacuees. Five special needs shelters are open serving 289 evacuees. For Red Cross donation information, call 1-800-435-7669 (HELP NOW). For Red Cross volunteer information, call 1-866-438-4636 (GET INFO).

A national toll-free number has been established for people who may have a family member who may have perished during Hurricane Katrina. Concerned relatives who have been searching and are unable to find a missing loved one should call the Find Family National Call Center at 1-866-326-9393.

In its role as a federal coordination agency, FEMA has tasked 30 federal agencies with 285 missions related to the recovery valued at $3.3 billion. Some examples of that work include:

• Currently, 20 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) – units of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals – are providing direct patient care at 12 locations. An additional DMAT is assisting at Kelly AFB in San Antonio, providing patient care. DMATS in Louisiana and Texas have treated more than 27,000 patients. In addition, they have provided more than 34,000 immunizations, 27,000 of which were provided in the past week.

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Operation Blue Roof has 270 staff installing plastic sheeting to patch damaged roofs to provide shelter. The program is available in the 31 hardest-hit parishes declared for Individual Assistance. Homeowners with minor damage can receive smaller tarps for self-installation from a local emergency operations center.

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and the National Guard have removed more than 546,146 cubic yards of debris from seven parishes and four cities. FEMA’s Public Assistance Program will provide 100 percent reimbursement to state and local governments and certain private nonprofits for the eligible costs of debris removal in 32 Louisiana parishes.

• A cooperative effort by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality continues to remove oil from 12 spill sites along the Mississippi River. The joint effort has removed approximately 2.44 million gallons of oil.

• The US Public Health Service (USPHS) veterinary team, comprised of veterinarians and other USPHS health professionals is staffing two main emergency rescue shelters at Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales and the LSU Parker Coliseum in Baton Rouge, along with veterinary support for the entire disaster area. More than 4,000 animals have been rescued, including more than 400 horses. Approximately 2,200 animals are in shelters, including horses, mules, goats, dogs, cats, birds, snakes, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, ferrets and an alligator.

Thirteen Disaster Recovery Centers are in operation throughout Louisiana to provide information and face-to-face assistance. These centers have assisted 20,448 residents since opening. The easiest way to register for assistance is to call the toll-free registration line, 1-800-621-3362 (FEMA).

“Sweep” registration teams of FEMA personnel are visiting shelters and special populations that cannot reach a disaster recovery center. The teams are equipped with computers and phones to assist with the registration process.

More than 850 community relations staff, including 725 firefighters from throughout the country, are going shelter-to-shelter, some door-to-door in affected neighborhoods and to local college campuses providing disaster assistance information to victims. Their emphasis is on providing helpful information to resolve disaster needs.

A Joint Field Office has been established in Baton Rouge. The federal response to Hurricane Katrina includes 2,112 FEMA employees and 966 non-FEMA staff representing federal and state agencies.

La. Endowment for the Humanities relocates to Prairieville

The New Orleans-based Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, displaced from the Louisiana Humanities Center in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, has set up temporary offices in Prairieville, to provide vital humanities programming to organizations, museums and other community groups throughout Louisiana.

"No time in the history of our people has there been a greater need to remind ourselves of our cultural heritage and what makes Louisiana so special," said LEH director Michael Sartisky. "Our shared history, literature, music and art will help us all survive and triumph over this terrible disaster. The LEH staff will do all that it can to help communities and citizens affected by this catastrophe to regain that sense of who we are as a people. It is times like these that the arts and humanities help us overcome such tragedies."

The LEH, among the largest state humanities council in the nation, is the Louisiana affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its programs are supported by grants from the state of Louisiana, private corporations, the National Endowment for the Humanities and private donations.

Until the LEH is able to return to its New Orleans offices, LEH staff will be located at 38069 Post Office Road, Suite 15, Prairieville, LA 70769.

The LEH website is www.leh.org .

UNO class offering update

12:02 p.m.

An initial list of electronic course offerings for the University of New Orleans’ fall semester 2005 is now available on the UNO website at www.uno.edu.

A preliminary list of traditionally taught courses that will be offered this semester is also on the site. These courses will be taught at satellite locations throughout the metropolitan New Orleans area including UNO’s Jeff Center, Slidell High School, Mandeville Junior High School and a location on the West Bank.

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

Students are asked to continue to monitor the website for instructor information and for updates on additional course offerings. UNO anticipates offering a total of approximately 900 course sections during the fall 2005 semester, the unversity said in a news release. Students needing further assistance also may call the UNO phone banks at 225-578-7816 from 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

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

St. Bernard sets hotline for cleanup jobs

St. Bernard Parish officials have set up a telephone hotline for residents seeking jobs with the company hired to clean up the parish after Hurricane Katrina.

The parish has hired Unified Recovery Group to coordinate the cleanup and reconstruction effort. The firm is seeking employees with construction skills, including people who can operate heavy equipement.

Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez said that under the contract with St. Bernard, the firm is required to give preferential treatment to parish residents.

People interested in applying for jobs should contact the company at (800) 730-4874 or fill out a job application form at www.unifiedrecoverygroup.com.

Jefferson mental health clinics update

10:57 a.m.

Beginning Wednesday, people who receive pharmacy services from the East Jefferson Mental Health Clinic or West Jefferson Mental Health Clinic who need prescriptions refilled can call 349-8708 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, for assistance.

People who need prescriptions re-filled will be required to bring their used prescription bottles obtained from the JPHSA Pharmacy and a picture ID. Prescriptions will be refilled only for JPHSA clients.

Any resident of Jefferson Parish in need of mental health, addictive disorders or developmental disabilities services can call the JPHSA Help Line at 349-8833 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, for assistance.



Call center established for questions on health insurance

The American Health Insurance Providers has launched a national call center for victims of Hurricane Katrina

The national toll-free telephone number, 1-800-644-1818, can help victims find answers to their health coverage questions

AHIP and its member companies have established the call center to help victims of Hurricane Katrina get reconnected with their health insurance plans, regardless of their health insurance carrier or their location.

“Your health insurance should be the last thing you need to worry about after a natural disaster,” said Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of AHIP. “If Hurricane Katrina victims have any questions about their health insurance, they should call 1-800-644-1818 for help.”

Staffed by live operators 24 hours a day, the toll-free call center connects those whose lives have been disrupted by Katrina to their health insurance plans, regardless of the carrier.

Callers will talk with live call center professionals who will help locate a caller’s insurer and will stay on the line until a customer service specialist at the caller’s health insurance plan is reached. Callers who may be uncertain about the names of their health insurance plans will talk with specialists who will try to help callers determine the identity of their health insurance plans.

AHIP and its member companies also created a Web site, www.ahip.org/HurricaneResponse, which details a listing of news updates and services being provided by AHIP member plans for their customers.

W-ST Electric update

10:35 a.m.

Washington-St. Tammany Electric reported 75 percent of its customers had power as of Monday morning.

That's in line with company predictions that 80 percent of its customers would have power within a month after Hurricane Katrina.

"We feel as though we're making significant progress, although we
recognize
that's little consolation to those who still don¹t have power," said
General
Manager Jeff Kilpatrick, whose home south of Franklinton is one of
about
12,000 still without electricity.

"But we have more than 1,400 men from
all
over the country working on rebuilding our system and it just takes
time."

Anyone with questions or concerns can visit any of the co-op's offices in Abita Springs, Folsom,
Franklinton
or Slidell, which is staffed by customer service representatives in
temporary quarters at 2081 Gause Blvd. East.

Coop officials also are keeping a close eye
on
Hurricane Rita, which is forming in the Atlantic and appears to be
heading
into the Gulf of Mexico. As of Tuesday morning, national hurricane center officials were predicting a landfall early Saturday in Texas.

Consumers seeking restoration information can visit www.wste.coop, call
866-672-9773 for outage reporting, or stop by one of the branch offices
to
speak to a representative in person.

CLECO power update

10:10 a.m.

Cleco officials reported Tuesday morning the company has restored power to 88 percent of its customers.

There were 41
customers without power in Washington Parish and 9,260 customers
without power in St. Tammany Parish.

If there is any damage to your home or to the electrical service
entrance
that may pose a danger if power is restored, work crews may not energize
service
until repairs are made by a licensed electrician, company officials said.

Crews
will
leave a door hanger indicating repairs need to be made.

FEMA seeks public's help with housing

10:15 a.m.

FEMA has an immediate need for large housing resources such as commercial mobile home parks with a large number of unoccupied lots, large lots with built-in utilities or vacant commercial buildings that could be converted to multi-family housing, a Federal Emergency Management Agency news release says.

Individuals or businesses who can help fulfill this need can register large housing resources at the Southwest Emergency Resource Network (SWERN), www.swern.gov. The service is free. FEMA officials search SWERN daily for potential large housing resources.

For property owners who have an apartment or house for rent, Florida State University operates the Disaster Housing Resource Online (DHRO), www.DHROonline.org. Individuals may list their available properties at this Web site. Information needed includes: the city, parish or zip code where the property is located; price range for rent; the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. The DHRO Web site can be easily searched by any disaster victim seeking temporary housing There is no cost for the service.

Three new FEMA centers openings

9:15 a.m.

Three Disaster Recovery Centers were to open this morning in Lafourche, St. James and St. Charles parishes, said state FEMA and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness officials.

This brings the number of centers now open to assist Louisiana victims of Hurricane Katrina to 16.

In Lafourche Parish, the center will be located at Jake's Department Store, 513 St. Mary Street. Thibodaux, 70301. The center in St. James Parish is at the Lions Health Club Building, 29126 Health Unit St., Vacherie, 70090. And in St. Charles Parish, the center is at Bingo Hall, 13415 Highway 90, Boutte, 70039.


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.

Fifteen 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. An applicant may visit any one of the 16 DRCs. A list of DRCs is on page two.

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.

Free counseling set for disaster victims

BATON ROUGE—Individuals and families who need help recovering from the trauma of Hurricane Katrina can get free counseling by calling any one of the following toll-free, helpline numbers:

•1-800-273-8255
•1-866-615-8700
•1-888-622-6470

The local Baton Rouge crisis line number is (225) 924-3900.

All of the crisis lines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When a person calls one of the helplines, a crisis counseling representative will provide the needed assistance. Individuals are eligible for crisis counseling services if they were in the disaster area at the time of Hurricane Katrina.

The crisis counseling program is funded by FEMA and administered by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Office of Mental Health. Currently the program has received a grant of $1 million to provide services.