Evacuation update

Mark Smith, a spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that 2,662 of the 9,113 Katrina evacuees south of Interstate 10 in Vermilion, Calcasieu, Jefferson Davis and Cameron parishes have been evacuated to areas as far north as Alexandria and Monroe.

He said that about 5,000 more in low-lying parishes south of I-10 will be moved north of I-10 Thursday.

Smith said the 1,397 in Ascension Parish – most housed at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center – will remain in the parish although of it is south of I-10.

N.O. City Council to meet Tuesday

New Orleans City Council will meet 3 p.m. Tuesday at Louis Armstrong International Airport, council president Oliver Thomas said Wednesday.

The council’s utility committee will meet at 10 a.m. The committee is expected to address the financial stress on Entergy New Orleans, the electricity and gas provider to the city that lost its customer base overnight due to Hurricane Katrina. Entergy New Orleans is a division of Entergy Corp.

The council’s budget committee will meet at noon.

Some in southwest La. evacuate

Col. Jeff Smith, deputy director of emergency preparedness of the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the only parish in southwest Louisiana under a mandatory evacuation order is Cameron Parish which has a population of 9,700 people.

Smith said a decision will be made by Friday on whether other parishes must be evacuated.

He said less than 2,000 residents of other coastal parishes – such as Iberia, St. Mary, St. Martin, Vermillion and Calcasieu – have voluntarily left their homes as Rita neared.

“It is a very small number’’ because a lot of the coastal area is sparsely populated, he said.

Smith said that “as a matter of precaution,’’ some of the evacuation centers located south of Interstate 10 have been evacuated, but no precise numbers were given. As of Wednesday, there were about 9,100 Katrina victims in shelters south of I-10.

Signs become storm landmark

Doug MacCash
Staff writer

It’s become a post-Katrina landmark, the set of large-scale messages painted on the plywood protecting the plate glass windows of the Sarouk Oriental rug shop on St. Charles Avenue near Lee Circle.

They appeared over time.

On Aug. 30, a semi-satirical anti-looting warning appeared: DON’T TRY I AM SLEEPING INSIDE WITH A BIG DOG AN UGLY WOMAN TWO SHOTGUNS AND A CLAW HAMMER

On Sept. 4 the satire continued: STILL HERE. WOMAN LEFT FRI. COOKING A POT OF DOG GUMBO

On Sept. 5 the tone turned somewhat sentimental: YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS YA’LL COME BACK FOR CARNIVAL I HAVE MY PARADE SPOT COME BACK REX, IRIS, ZULU, BACCHUS, TOTH, PROTEUS, HERMES, MUSES, L’ETAT, ELKS, BABYLON HEY THROW ME SOMETHING MISTER

Asked how much of the first message was true, Sarouk owner Bob Rue, 59, said, “Well, let’s see, I got a claw hammer.”

He went on to explain that not only had there never been a woman, guns or guard dog, but that he’d not stayed in the St. Charles storefront. Instead he’d weathered the storm and chaotic days after alone in his girlfriend’s uptown home, busying himself painting LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT signs on his friends’ homes, feeding neighborhood dogs with meat found in abandoned refrigerators and keeping his carpet business up and running.

The Sarouk shop had never lost phone service he said, which allowed him to receive requests from out-of-town carpet dealers to buy up unwanted rugs in the wake of the disaster and local carpet owners in need of emergency cleaning.

“A lady calls me from Lakeview and said ‘Can you clean a rug with a dead body in it?’ I did charge them more money for that.”

In addition to his other activities, Rue’s enigmatic signs made him a catastrophe celebrity, indulging visits by the New York Fire Department, female guards from the Kentucky state prison and of course soldiers in the vast army of international media scouring the city for stories.

His advice to New Orleanians with soaked oriental rugs is to “Roll it up, stand it up, let it drain, put it out on the hot sidewalk and get them dry, then bring them to me or somebody else to clean.”

Kenner mayor suspends top aide amid inquiry into diverted relief supplies

5:55 p.m.

By Mary Swerczek
Kenner bureau

Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano suspended a top aide, Cedric Floyd, without pay on Wednesday amid an investigation into whether Floyd took more than his fair share of Hurricane Katrina relief supplies from the donation center he supervised.

Police said they raided Floyd’s home Tuesday night and hauled off several truckloads of relief goods, including new clothing, cases of food, medicine and tools.

Military officials at the city-operated distribution site, located in a parking lot in the 2500 block of Williams Boulevard, had initiated the complaint against Floyd, said Capt. Steve Caraway, a Police Department spokesman. Based on the military’s information, a 24th District Court judge issued a search warrant for Floyd’s house, Caraway said.

Floyd, Capitano’s chief administrative officer, said the items at his house weren’t stolen but were destined for an outreach program in the Susan Park subdivision, for people who couldn’t get to the Kenner distribution center. Also, he said, some of the goods that police seized were his personal property, not items from the distribution center.

“The chief overreacted not knowing anything about the program,” Floyd said.

Floyd has been a controversial figure from the moment he was hired as CAO on Jan. 1, 2004, by then-acting Mayor Dominic Weilbaecher. Capitano kept Floyd, previously a self-employed demographer, in the position when he became mayor 2½ months later.

In some respects, Floyd has been caught up in a larger political struggle between Capitano and Police Chief Nick Congemi, whom Capitano defeated for mayor on March 9, 2004.

But state Attorney General Charles Foti, whose staff is assisting Kenner police in the Floyd investigation, said he doesn’t think that political infighting is behind the raid.

Capitano said he placed Floyd on administrative leave without pay pending the outcome of the inquiry. He said City Hall had already started its own investigation and had heard differing reports on Floyd's behavior as head of the supply distribution effort.

"We were still looking into it," he said.

Allegations that Floyd helped himself to relief supplies were first publicized over the weekend, after which he was relieved of supervising the distribution site. He had headed the effort from Sept. 1 until the distribution location moved on Friday.

While the National Guard is still in the parking lot handing out ice, water and food, Kenner moved its center of donated goods to the Wentwood Playground gymnasium at 2001 34th St. on Monday.

Labor shortage hampers reopening businesses

5:53 p.m.

By Bob Ross
East Jefferson bureau

At Houston's restaurant in Metairie, workers completed repairs to the Katrina-damaged floor Wednesday morning while a cable technician rewired a television set near the bar. Darren Newell, service manager for the usually crowded restaurant, said Houston's has the OK from state health officials and enough supplies on hand.

"I could open today, to be honest," he said.

The problem for Houston's these days, and for many restaurants and other companies throughout East Jefferson, is finding enough workers to staff the businesses. With Jefferson Parish stirring to life and owners and managers pushing to reopen quickly, some lower-paid employees – the dishwashers, wait staff, clerks and manual laborers -- remain dispersed across the country by the Aug. 29 storm, leaving these businesses in a bind.

"Our people are in Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and elsewhere, and they don't have places to live here," Houston’s kitchen manager Dan Maloney said. Some tell him they can't return without a home for themselves and their families.

For example, the Houston's location on Veterans Memorial Boulevard normally has about 35 people working each of the two daily shifts, for a total of at least 70 people, plus managers. Newell and Maloney said only about 42 employees have returned.

And Houston's won't open until it has enough employees and can offer a full menu, they said. Newell said he and Maloney called every apartment complex in East Jefferson to find places for their workers.

"Whenever I could, I asked to get on a waiting list," Newell said. "One place told me I was number 259."

The crunch for employees is evident just by driving by some of the major thoroughfares. Signs are sprouting up announcing businesses are looking for workers.

For many restaurants that are open, the crowds are huge. At the Burger King in the Lowe's parking lot on Veterans near Division Street, the drive-through line Wednesday extended onto Veterans. A Domino's in Fat City had four customers crammed on a bench in the small store and two more waiting outside. The Raising Canes on Veterans was filled with customers inside and in the drive-through, with some parking in the Veterans median and dashing across three lanes of traffic to the store.

The wait at Chevy's on Veterans Boulevard near Severn was 20 minutes shortly before noon, and Frank Ortolano sweated heavily as he carried a plastic container filled with dirty plates, glasses and silverware.

Before Katrina hit, Ortolano was general manager of the Chevy's location on West Esplanade Avenue in Kenner. Now with many employees still out, Ortolano and other managers of Chevy's bus tables, greet customers and wait on tables.

"You do what you've got to do," Ortolano said.

The Metairie location opened on Monday, with the staff from Kenner and Metairie merged, said Darryl Morrissey, front-of-the-house manager for the Kenner location. The two locations have 120 employees, but that's down to just 15 since the storm, Morrissey said. Twenty-five others are manager.

"The biggest problem is no housing," he said of getting more Chevy's employees back in the area and on the job. "Many would come back right now if we could find a place for them to stay."

Morrissey said at least six employees lost everything they own to Katrina, and he knows of 15 who have said they don't plan to return to the area. Some call and ask if they still have a job.

"We tell them whenever they can come back, we need them," he said.
Chevy managers also are trying to hire new workers, but there is virtually no time to train them.

Large chains such as Outback Steakhouse have an advantage because they can bring in workers from other locations. The Outback location on Severn Avenue was finishing preparations early Wednesday for its re-opening later in the day, manager Elizabeth Lecky said.

But if she had to do it only with the employees from her store, it would be extremely difficult. Lecky said. Only about 20 of the 100 employees have returned.

With help of other Outback locations, Lecky said, the store is actually overstaffed and prepared to handle large crowds.

"But we are really trying to locate our employees," she said. "We are just worried about everyone."

The same is true at Canes, manager Tom Register said. The store has help in from locations in Baton Rouge, Slidell and elsewhere, because only about one third of the staff from the Veterans store has returned. Register said the total devastation in parts of New Orleans hit many Canes employees hard.

"A lot of our people are from New Orleans, and that is a big part of it," he said.

Across the large parking lot from Houston's, Khalil Khalil, owner of Phoenicia Restaurant, said he is hiring because only one of his 10 employees has returned. Katrina pushed nine inches of water into the restaurant, and Khalil worked hard to get it cleaned and ready to open Tuesday.

He needs to get new employees and continue to work to try to help his current crew get back. He needs to put more signs up on Veterans so people will know his business is open and that he will hire waiters and waitresses. And there are insurance and a host of other issues that consume his time.

Still, he manages to smile as he looks out to a largely empty parking lot, waiting for customers.

"I am the person here who is doing everything," he said. "But there is only so much you can do."

After three weeks off, mail returns to Jeff

5:50 p.m.

By Michelle Hunter
and Sheila Grissett
East Jefferson bureau

Thelma Landry shuffled into the Kenner post office on Williams Boulevard on Wednesday and dropped four birthday cards into the outgoing mail
slot, including a belated one for her grandson, Keith, who turned
10 back on Sept. 1.

Although she got to share cake and a birthday dinner with her grandson at a restaurant in Lafayette, where she and other relatives had evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, Landry was adamant about mailing the card to his
Marrero home once she returned to Jefferson Parish.

“I put a lot of faith in birthday cards,” Landry said. “I like to receive them, and I like to send them. We always mail birthday cards.”

Her birthday greetings, along with tens of thousands of Other pieces of mail, are likely to be delivered soon now that the U.S. Postal Service has resumed partial operations in Jefferson Parish for the first time since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. Letter carriers returned to the streets of Jefferson on Tuesday, postal service spokesman Stephen Seewoester said.

Still, limited staffing will make daily deliveries to every residence and business impossible for now.

“At this point, we’re just trying to deliver as much as we can as fast as we can,” Seewoester said.

So far, mail is being delivered in portions of Metairie, Kenner, Gretna, Harvey, Belle Chasse, Jean Lafitte, Marrero and Westwego in Jefferson Parish, and in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes.

“Two days in a row,” shouted Ron Chapoton with a grin as letter carrier Pam Butler walked into his Kenner office and placed a stack of letters on the
counter. Chapoton, a financial planner, said his business depends on mail delivery.

“We need to place investments, and clients need to receive distribution
checks,” he said. “Some of them are retirees and that’s their income.”

Butler and other carriers have been given marching orders to avoid homes and businesses that appear unsafe, Kenner postmaster Charles Candilora said. If storm debris prevents delivery, the mail will be returned to the post office
and carriers will try again later.

“It’s pretty bad out there,” Butler said as she moved swiftly down a line of business on Williams Boulevard. “A lot of trees down, a lot of power lines
down and a lot of refrigerators. And it doesn’t smell good at all. You kind of need a gas mask.”

Carriers also will hold on to mail for houses or businesses where it appears residents have not returned from evacuation, Candilora said.

Mail service for customers and displaced residents who filled out change-of-address forms won’t be restored to theirr original address until they notify the
postal service that they are back, spokeswoman Darla Stafford said.

“Until a change-of-address order is canceled, mail won’t be delivered to the permanent address,” said Stafford, who added that residents shouldn’t worry
about filing multiple forms. “Our system will supercede prior changes and go to the most recent address on file.”

For people still displaced, it takes seven to 10 days after they complete a change form for their mail to catch up with them.

Mail service in New Orleans and St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes has not been restored due to safety issues, Seewoester said.

But postal officials were able to save almost 1 million pieces of mail thanks to steps taken before Katrina arrived, said Tony Ruda, the Postal Service’s
recovery manager. All inbound mail was diverted away from the processing and distribution center in New Orleans to other sites, primarily in Houston. Postal
employees in the New Orleans processing center also moved all in-house mail awaiting delivery to an upper floor to save it from flooding, Ruda said.

“We have since gone back in several times, removed all the mail from the New Orleans plant, processed that mail in Houston and sent it on to Baton Rouge” for later distribution, Ruda said.

By next week, Ruda said the Postal Service plans to have set up temporary sites to hand out mail to residents living in the devastated areas such as St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. There, normal postal operations won’t resume for weeks or months.

Displaced postal employees from those areas have found their way to the Jefferson Parish mail stations, Candilora said. Although the two Kenner post offices are up to about 75 percent of their normal staffing levels, many of the employees there usually work out of the New Orleans offices, he said.

Only one third of the staff is back at the 17th Street post office in Metairie, which services zip codes 70002, 70005 and 70006. Letter carriers are staggering the routes, meaning customers may receive mail only every other
day for now, Candilora said.

Still, residents have seemed overjoyed to receive mail, even on such an irregular schedule. Letter carrier John Brehm said he’s seen smiles, laughter and
even a few tears.

“It’s like things are getting back to normal,” he said.

After hearing the metal flap on her mail slot clang shut, Lena Morina, 70, rushed to the door to catch Brehm and ask him to take some of her outgoing
bill payments.

“It’s so great to see a mailman,” Morina gushed. “The garbage man passed by here this morning for the first time in three weeks. We were glad to see him too.”

For more information, residents can go to the United States Postal Service website at www.usps.com or call (800) ASK-USPS.

Blanco calls for independent probe

An independent commission is needed to investigate the errors in the response to Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a letter sent Wednesday to President Bush.

“This disaster was of such a magnitude that it will certainly have significant national implications regarding the response to future events such as a natural disaster or a potential terrorist attack,” Blanco wrote. “For these reasons, it is imperative that the investigation into the response to Katrina be comprehensive, probing and non-partisan.”

Bush has appointed a top aide to head up an internal White House investigation into how the federal government responded to the crisis. He has resisted calls by congressional Democrats to establish an independent commission like the one created to examine the preparedness and response to the 9-11
terrorist attack.

With Rita in Gulf, St. Bernard levees can hold small storm surge, official says

5:45 p.m.

St. Bernard Parish’s levees will be ready to hold a small storm surge from Hurricane Rita as the storm barrels through to our south later this week, a St. Bernard levee official said Wednesday.

Bob Turner, executive director of the Lake Borgne Levee District, said his agency is completing repairs to the 56 miles of levees protecting the northern and eastern flanks of the parish.

“Assuming the storm’s path remains the same, our levee system should be able to handle the high tide of two to four feet above normal that’s predicted,” Turner said.

Hurricane Katrina toppled those levees on Aug. 29 with a surge estimated to have reached more than 22 feet, washing out some sections of the levees.

Turner said officials have inspected the entire levee, except for a section between Violet and Verret, which has too much debris to allow access by boat or helicopter.

But he said crews have plugged several manmade gaps on the levee from the Orleans Parish line to the Violet Canal. The gaps were created to drain the waters of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded almost the entire parish Aug. 29. Crews have also repaired sections of the levee washed out by Katrina.

2 charged in fraud scheme

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – Two men were arrested Wednesday on charges of promoting a fake charitable activity that targeted more than 2,500 New Orleans area police officers, firefighters and emergency workers involved in Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, Attorney General Charles Foti said.

The two were arrested shortly before 5 a.m. Wednesday in Green Bay, Wis., for falsely impersonating Salvation Army employees in the scam and for conspiracy to commit identity theft of the rescue workers.

Foti identified the two as Scott Benson, 47, of Green Bay; and Chris Armstrong, 35, of Orlando, Fla.

Foti called the scheme “despicable’’ since it promised to pay the officers and firefighters $5,000 each for their roles in rescue and recovery efforts. They claimed the money was donated by the national media giant Viacom, Foti said.

Besides New Orleans police officers and firefighters, those who were eligible to sign up for the vouchers included Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies, emergency personnel, and state and federal law enforcement agents.

Foti said the two men posed as Salvation Army volunteers and convinced the officers and others to sign up for the free $5,000 in the last week.

Foti said the two set up a registration table behind Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans. He said the two set Tuesday as day to hand out the $5,000 vouchers, and about 1,500 recipients lined up to receive the money but then found out that the money and the men were not there.

Foti said his office and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee worked on the case and tracked the men down in Green Bay. He said the pair will be extradited to the state.

Foti called the scam “a heartless scheme. . . . to promise these men, some of whom have lost everything’’ a chance to get quick cash to help them and then take that hope away.

“This is a cruel joke,’’ he said.

Foti said Armstrong has “a lengthy (arrest) record in South Carolina’’ on charges of credit card fraud and other alleged scams. He did not say if Armstrong has been convicted on any charges.

Foti said he does not think any money was obtained fraudulently from Viacom but the investigation is ongoing.

He said the scam resulted in the pair obtaining the identities of the victims and their family members based on forms that had to be filled out. Foti said the data could be used to files false claims with the Small Business Administration and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief.

If convicted, Foti said, Benson and Armstrong face a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for conspiracy to commit identity theft, and a fine of up to $100 or up to 90 days in jail for falsely impersonating the volunteer workers.

Ruth's Chris to relocate

4:34 p.m., Wednesday

By Mary Judice
Business writer

The newest publicly traded company in the New Orleans area plans to leave the city as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which began trading on Nasdaq last month, has decided to make its temporary relocation to the Orlando area permanent.

The company said its Metairie headquarters was damaged, communications were down, and that the New Orleans area “would not be able to support our corporate office and our support center for an extended period of time.’’

The move affects 58 executives and corporate staffers who worked out of the Metairie office.
Ruth’s two company-owned restaurants in New Orleans suffered flood and
wind damage. Craig Miller, Ruth’s president and chief executive, said he is optimistic the company will be able to reopen its Metairie restaurant on Veterans Highway. But company officials are far less optimistic about the Broad Street restaurant because they have been unable to assess the damage at that location.

A Ruth’s restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, which was scheduled to open the weekend Hurricane Katrina hit, suffered significant damage and will not open until next year, the company said.

Miller said the company chartered a couple of prop planes and flew to New Orleans the first weekend after the storm to retrieve computer equipment.

“The first thing people took out were three pictures of Ruth and I,” Miller said.

Miller said the company carried insurance on all of its facilities and
expected to report a one-time gain in the third quarter because of the insurance settlements. Ruth’s may also incur one-time charges for uninsured losses and asset write-downs.

Ruth’s Chris is a national presence with 88 restaurants. But its New Orleans influence is seen in all of its restaurants, and the company has used its ties to the Big Easy in its marketing. Miller said executives considered this identity issue and questioned the impact of not being anchored in New Orleans.

“It is not merely an office building in Metairie, Louisiana, that
dictates who and what Ruth’s Chris Steak House is,’’ Miller said.

Miller said central Florida is a vibrant economic area with several major restaurant chains and an available work force. The company received tax breaks from Seminole County, where it is renovating a 21,000-square foot building to house its headquarters.

This is not the first time Ruth’s has faced such a setback. In
1965, three months after founder Ruth Fertel opened her first restaurant, Hurricane Betsy devastated New Orleans. Fertel was able to reopen her restaurant and cook several thousand pounds of steak over a gas stove. She served the steaks to victims and relief workers.

Hurricane Rita could push gas prices higher

4:31 p.m., Wednesday

By Jaquetta White
Business Writer

The price of retail gasoline easily will shoot to and perhaps exceed the $3 mark if Hurricane Rita, which is tearing through the Gulf of Mexico, touches down in Texas where about a quarter of the nation’s oil is refined, energy analysts said.

Supply already is tight following Hurricane Katrina, which severely damaged oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and is responsible for the shut-down of four refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In the worst case scenario, Hurricane Rita would deliver an even more crippling blow if it rips through the energy capital, Houston, and comes in contact with the nation’s largest refinery or any of the other 18 refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

“It’s like a one-two punch,” said Fred Schuster, manager of the commodities trading desk at DRW Investments LLC. “We’re already on our backs and we’re trying to get up and you’re kicking us while we’re down.”

Shuster said the aftermath of Hurricane Rita could bring “new highs in gasoline.”
“It’s just going to put such a strain on the system that we’ll for sure see gasoline rise,” he said. “It’s very difficult to find this thing not having an ugly ending.”
Schuster said he expects prices to rise to at least $3 a gallon and said there could even be shortages if those refineries are disrupted. He pointed to the explosion and fire at a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas in March, as an example of the non-storm disruptions refineries can face.

“When this thing went down because of the explosion prices leapt,” Schuster said. “Pump up the tires to the Old Schwinn. You might be riding it.”

Already four refineries responsible for 5 percent of the nation’s refining capacity are still closed following Hurricane Katrina, said Sharon Day, a spokeswoman for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. One of the facilities, a Chevron site in Pascagoula, is on track to open again in mid-October. The others, however, will be closed for months. Those include a Conoco refinery in Belle Chasse, an Exxon facility in Chalmette and a Murphy Oil site in Meraux.

“That’s the last thing we need is to see another refinery shut out,” said Ed Silliere, a floor broker for Energy Merchant Brokerage, Inc., in New York. “We have a tight situation without this storm existing and now you add to this another storm, that could cause financial devastation.”

Silliere said that wholesale gasoline alone would jump at least a 50 cents to $1 on the shut down of a refinery.

“There’s no question gasoline would move,” he said.

But a bigger concern, Silliere suggested, will be the availability of diesel fuel. While the United States is receiving some gasoline from other countries, he said, diesel fuel already is in short supply. If that supply became even more strained the effects on crops in the Midwest, for example, would be disastrous, because farmers use diesel to power equipment.

“If you knock out those refineries, you won’t have diesel and you won’t be able to pull the crops in.”

While much of the worry surrounding Hurricane Rita involves refineries, there are still concerns about offshore oil and gas production. According to the Minerals Management Service, 469 platforms and 69 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico had been evacuated by mid-day Wednesday. The shut down will result in the loss of production of more than 1 million barrels, or 73 percent, of daily oil production and 4 billion cubic feet, or 47 percent, of daily natural gas production.

“If these guys have to shut down for any longer its really going to put a crimp in our supply,” Schuster said.

Since Aug. 26, about 5 percent of the yearly production of oil and 3.4 percent of the yearly production of natural gas have been shut-in.

Not everyone is predicting doom and gloom from Hurricane Rita. Gene Gillespie, an energy analyst with Howard Weil Labouisse Friedrichs, said that unlike in Louisiana, refineries in Texas are spread out over miles, meaning that not all of them would be affected by any storm that hit the massive state.

He called the current situation of four closed refineries “manageable.” That’s in part because the Fall season comes between the high demand summer driving season and winter heating season. This is the time refiners typically perform maintenance on their facilities, Gillespie said.

“Three to five percent would normally be offline anyway,” he said. “That cushions the impact.”

It would take a substantial hit to Houston, particularly the Houston Ship Channel where the preponderance of refiners are located, to do much damage, he said. A hit south of Houston, in Corpus Christi, Texas for example, would not have the same impact.

“It wouldn’t be a calamity unless we lost another 5 to 10 percent of capacity,” Gillespie said.

A shut down of that magnitude, however, most certainly would raise gasoline prices.

“I don’t think the market could absorb those outages,” he said.

SLU changes bus schedule in St. Tammany

HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University has made several changes in
the free short-term bus service between St. Tammany Parish and the Hammond
campus.
Effective Thursday, Sept. 22, the bus pick-up times and
locations are:
6 a.m.: 39142 Natchez Drive near Wal-Mart and Lowe’s in
Slidell
6:15 a.m.: 150 North Shore Blvd. near Dillard’s Men’s
Department in
Slidell
6:45 a.m.: 4100 Louisiana 59, north of Mandeville near Winn Dixie parking
lot
6:55 a.m.: 401 N. U.S. 190, south of Covington near Books-A- Million
(not behind Sicily’s Restaurant, as originally planned.)
The bus should arrive at Southeastern at approximately 7:45
a.m.
and will leave campus at 4:30 p.m. The old university police department
on
Virginia Avenue near Cefalu Coliseum will serve as the campus drop-off
and
pick-up point.
The bus service will continue until Friday, Sept. 30. For
more information, call 985-549-5250.

Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office gets cash infusion

The state provided $10 million to the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office Wednesday, money that will allow the department to continue operations in the storm-strickened parish.

Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle had warned that he would pull deputies from the parish Wednesday night unless his department received an infusion of cash from state government.

Shortly after 3p.m., Hingle said the money was deposited into the Sheriff's Office's account. The money will allow the Sheriff's Office to make payroll and continue to partrol and help with cleanup operations in Plaquemines Parish.

The southern part of the parish remains largely inaccessible due to flooding and extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Flood insurance program tips

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to help policyholders rebuild their lives and recover losses from flooding, officials said.

Residents of declared areas who have suffered flood damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina are reminded to start the claim process; they must first contact their insurance company or agent as soon as possible—even if they are residing in shelters or with a host family or relatives outside of Louisiana. When placing the call, residents should have the name of their insurance company (agents may write policies for more than one company); policy number; and a telephone number or e-mail address where they can be reached.

The insurance company will then assign the claim to an adjuster, who will provide any additional information and forms necessary. When filing the claim, policyholders should ask for an approximate time frame during which the adjuster can be expected to arrive. If residents are displaced outside of the state of Louisiana and unable to meet the adjuster on their property, arrangements can be made to permit someone of trust who is in state to act on their behalf.

While waiting for the claims adjuster:

•Residents should review their NFIP policy to become familiar with what is covered and what is excluded.
•If possible, save damaged property and gather receipts.
•Get wet items, like rugs, out of the house to allow things to dry and avoid mold and mildew. Wipe down surfaces to speed drying. When disposing of items such as carpet and wall paper, keep a swatch or other sample of the damaged item for the adjuster.
•Take photos of any water in the house and damaged personal property. The adjuster will require evidence of the damage and the damaged property to prepare the estimate. But do not throw out any damaged property without the adjuster's agreement.
•Begin the clean-up process. Do a room-to room search and separate damaged items from undamaged items, and wet things from dry things. Often items such as clothing and wooden furniture can be restored by simple cleaning and minor repairs.
•Displaced residents may arrange to permit someone of trust to act on their behalf.
•Make any damage estimates prepared by a licensed contractor available to the adjuster. The Disaster Contractors Network is an online information source (www.dcnonline.org).
•Residents are encouraged to take charge of their claim to ensure they receive the maximum settlement to which they are entitled.
•Residents should follow up with the insurance company if an adjuster has not been assigned within several days.

FEMA encourages victims who have experienced a flood loss to take an active part in managing their claim. By working with the adjuster, policy holders will receive the insurance benefits due them. For more information about the NFIP and flood insurance, contact your insurance company or agent, or call the NFIP at 1-888-CALL-FLOOD, or 1-800-427-5593 (TDD).

Wound clinic opens at EJ hospital

Wednesday, 3:01 p.m.

East Jefferson General Hospital announces that the Wound and Diabetes Management Center has opened a temporary clinic located on the 6th floor of the hospital.

For more information on the Wound and Diabetes Management Center or to schedule an appointment, please call 504-456-5062.

Database to track damaged cars

2:53 p.m., Wednesday

By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

Public officials and the insurance industry are creating a database that will track vehicles flooded by Hurricane Katrina and prevent them from turning up on used car lots around the country.

“Our concern is that vehicles that were affected by the storm will be turned around and resold to unsuspecting consumers if they’re not cataloged properly,” said Lt. Allen Carpenter, supervisor of the Louisiana State Police insurance fraud unit.

Each time an insurance company takes a flood claim for a car, it will pass on the vehicle identification number, or VIN, to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which is building a database of flooded cars. That database will then be distributed to public officials in Louisiana, insurance companies and departments of motor vehicles across the country.

“We’re keeping a running log on every vehicle that we can locate,” said Dennie Huggins, vice president of field operations for the insurance crime bureau, which has set up an office in Baton Rouge. “We have thousands of VIN numbers already in it.”
While the National Insurance Crime Bureau has tried to track flooded vehicles from previous storms, the Katrina database represents the group’s most ambitious flooded vehicle effort yet. The Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Department of Insurance, the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality are all involved in the database initiative. They’re working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has formed a Hurricane Katrina Task Force.
The title of each car in the database will be stamped to indicate that the car was flooded in Hurricane Katrina. In case someone tries to alter the title to sell the car to an unsuspecting consumer, motor vehicle registry officials around the county will also have access to the database, and will refuse to register any car that had been deemed a flood loss.

“We’re here to protect the insured,” said Huggins, whose non-profit, investigative group is funded by the property casualty industry.

The insurance crime bureau will also be on the lookout for car-theft rings that take advantage of a hurricane to steal cars and dispose of them elsewhere in the country, stolen boats, identify theft and false insurance claims from Hurricane Katrina.

Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade association also sponsored by property casualty industry, said insurance companies total a car when the cost to fix the car exceeds its value.

If a car’s electrical system is gone, it’s generally totaled, Worters said. If only the brake pedals or carpeting is wet, the insurance company may say the car can be fixed.

When an insurance company totals a car, it sells it to a salvage yard for scrap, Worters said, but “unscrupulous people could go in there and try to sell it to unsuspecting buyers who are unaware of the vehicle’s history.”

When shopping for a used car, Worters said that people should go to reputable auto dealers and ask lots of questions to make sure a car isn’t flood damaged.
Potential buyers should ask to see the bill of sale, ask to see the title, and ask if the car came from a state where there has been flooding. It’s also a good idea to run the VIN and take the car to a mechanic to be checked.

In the meantime, consumers should look for signs that the vehicle has been wet. Look for water lines in places where it would be hard to clean, such as under the hood, around the engine, or inside the trunk. Also check for unusual wear and tear, such as rust in the glove box, mud in the trunk, discolored carpet and instruments that don’t work, all of which are signs of flood damage, Worters said.

“It’s something to think about,” Worters said.

Special needs shelters set up

Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.

People with special medical needs who think they will need help in finding shelter when they flee from Hurricane Rita can call special telephone lines that the state health department set up today.

The numbers, which are not designed for the general public or nursing-home residents, and people must call them before seeking shelter. To qualify for a special-needs shelter, people must be homebound, chronically ill or disabled; they must need medical or nursing care; and they must have nowhere else to go.

By region, the numbers are:
-- Alexandria, 1-800-841-5778
-- Baton Rouge, 1-800-349-1372
-- Houma/Thibodaux, 1-800-228-9409
-- Lafayette, 1-800-901-3210
-- Lake Charles, 1-866-280-2711
-- Shreveport, 1-800-841-5776
-- Monroe, 1-866-280-7287
-- Slidell/Hammond, 985-871-1300

When people call, they will be speaking to nurses who will determine
whether they meet qualifications for admission and, if so, where they
should go.

Everyone accepted must bring a caretaker and necessary supplies, such
as bedding, according to the Department of Health and Hospitals.

SBA provides home disaster loans

Disaster assistance loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration are not just for businesses. Homeowners may also qualify for low-interest loans to help rebuild or repair their homes or repair or replace uninsured or underinsured flood damaged personal property. Renters may qualify for loans to repair or replace personal property. The majority of all SBA disaster loans are made to homeowners.

Hurricane Katrina victims who receive an SBA loan application after they register for disaster assistance with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency should complete the home disaster loan application and return it as soon as possible, even if they don’t think they’re interested in a loan. Individuals who do not qualify for SBA loans may be referred to other disaster assistance programs, but they must complete the SBA loan application before they can be considered for other programmatic assistance. The loan terms are designed to be affordable, with terms extending up to 30 years with interest rates around 3 percent.

Loans amounts are based on the actual cost of repairing or rebuilding a flood-damaged home and personal property, minus any insurance reimbursements for the same loss. Current loan limits are as follows:

•Homeowners – Up to $200,000 to repair or rebuild a primary residence to its condition before the disaster.
•Homeowners and renters – Up to $40,000 to repair/replace personal property such as clothing, furniture and automobiles.

Individuals who have not registered with FEMA for disaster assistance can register online at www.fema.gov or by calling FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362); (TTY) 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing and speech impaired. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Businesses and non-profit organizations such as charities, churches and private universities may apply for business physical disaster loans up to $1.5 million to repair or replace property owned by the business, including real estate, plus machinery, equipment, fixtures and inventory not covered by insurance.

For information about how to complete the loan application, or for more information on SBA assistance, call the SBA helpline at 1-800-659-2985, or visit www.sba.gov.

Flu shots offered in hurricane shelters

To prevent a potentially catastrophic outbreak of influenza in crowded hurricane shelters, the state Office of Public Health is giving vaccines to occupants of about 80 shelters around Louisiana.

The shots aren't being offered to the general public at this time because they might not be effective when flu season peaks in January and February, said Dr. Frank Welch, the Office of Public Health's medical director for immunization programs.

"But in shelters, where people are living in very close quarters in a very close environment, if flu were to get in there, it would spread like wildfire," he said.

About 10,000 shots have been given since the eight-day program started Friday, he said.

In addition to flu shots, people are administering hepatitis A and tetanus shots to ward off infections when people return to their homes, frequently by wading through foul water, and try to clean up.

Even though it is unlikely that people could contract hepatitis A from contaminated water, the vaccine is "a protective measure we can offer,"
Welch said.

Childhood vaccines also are available to shelter residents, he said.

Working with the Office of Public Health have been teams from other organizations, Welch said, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Public Health Service, Louisiana State University and the Mayo Clinic.

-- John Pope

Mail returning to Jefferson Parish

1:45 p.m.

The U.S. Postal Service said it has resumed mail delivery on some streets in these Jefferson Parish ZIP Codes:

Belle Chasse -- 70037, from the post office at 8710 Louisiana 23.
Gretna -- 70053 and 70056, from 406 Gretna Blvd.
Harvey -- 70058, from 2801 Manhattan Blvd.
Kenner -- 70062, from 2300 Williams Blvd., and 70065, from 390 W. Esplanade Ave..
Jean Lafitte -- 70067, from 2730 Jean Lafitte Blvd.
Marrero -- 70072, from 5351 Lapalco Blvd.
Metairie -- 70002, 70005 and 70006, from 3301 17th St., 70001, from 3517 Johnson Street, 70003, from 6550 Park Manor Drive
Westwego -- 70094, from 1507 Bridge City Ave.

Customers who visit these post offices to pick up their mail will be advised at that time if service has been restored to their address.

For residents in these zip codes who have completed a change-of-address form, their mail likely will go to the temporary address, not their permanent address.

While the Barataria Post Office, 70067, has not resumed mail delivery,
customers may pick up their mail at 4164 Privateer Blvd.

For updates on the status of any post office, customers may check the website USPS.com or (800) ASK-USPS.

SATs seeks displaced students

Students either displaced by Hurricane Katrina or who were scheduled to take the SAT at a location affected by the storm must make arrangements to take the test elsewhere, according to The College Board, which administers the exam to college-bound high school seniors.

Any student scheduled to take the test Oct. 8 should call (866) 392-3017 or (609) 771-7600 to make arrangements to take it in whatever city they have evacuated to, provided spots are still available. Students remaining in the New Orleans area may have to travel outside the region, said Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the College Board.

Spots for additional test-takers are being added to current test-taking sites across the nation, she said. The College Board is planning to release on Monday a list of sites with available spots for the Oct. 8 exam.

All fees normally associated with such changes will be waived, Coletti said.

High school students not applying for early college admission can take the test for free in November and December at no cost if they were displaced by the storm.

All high school sophomores and juniors in storm-affected areas can also take the PSAT at no cost. Those students or their parents should call (609) 771-7070.

Curtis starts Monday, seeks students

John Curtis Christian School could become the first school in East Jefferson to start classes since Hurricane Katrina when it opens Monday. The River Ridge school said it is resuming classes for its own students and taking applications from those displaced from other schools. For information, call (504)737-4621.

Jefferson Parish monitoring storm

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.

As Jefferson Parish officials continue to monitor Hurricane Rita which has swirled into the Gulf of Mexico, authorities are urging residents to monitor catch basins in their area.

Walter Maestri, the parish's emergency management director, said there were no plans Wednesday morning to evacuate about 200,000 Jefferson residents who have returned since Hurricane Katrina.

Meanwhile, parish crews are cleaning up and disposing of large debris from Katrina. Residents are asked to make sure catch basins in their neighborhoods are free of leaves and other debris which could clog drains and cause possible flooding in the event of substantial rainfall.

Chamber offers help to businesses

9:46 a.m., Wednesday

The St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce has established a "Business Recovery Center" designed to serve the entire metro area business community on its Web site.

The site offers information on Small Business Administration loans, applications for the Small Business Disaster Relief Fund and a link to the Small Business Development Center at Southeastern Louisiana University.

The center can be accessed by visiting the Web site www.sttammanychamber.org and clicking on "Business Recovery Center."

Cleco power update

Wednesday, 7:20 a.m.

Cleco has restored 92 percent of its customers in St. Tammany Parish
and 99 percent of its customers in Washington Parish. A total of 6,335
customers remain without power in the Eastern District.