State police urge Rita evacuees to head north

BATON ROUGE -- State Police late Thursday issued a plea for Texans and residents of southwest Louisiana to head north, and not east into Lafayette and Baton Rouge, as they evacuate from the approach of Hurricane Rita.

State Police spokesman Lt. Lawrence McLeary said highways in Baton rouge are "jampacked' and troopers are “seeing a big influx (of evacuees) from Texas.

“The tendency is for people to come east,’’ McLeary said. “But lodging is at a premium'' and gasoline supplies may be depleted.

Baton Rouge is now home for many of the New Orleans area residents forced from their homes by Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago.

McLeary said State Police will work with Baton Rouge police and officials in nearby Denham Springs in Livingston Parish to rework traffic lights and other traffic flow to ease a growing gridlock on Baton Rouge streets and highways.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Bill Doran, operations director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Rita may not pose the threat to New Orleans some originally feared.

He said with Rita taking a more westward jog, the New Orleans area fallout from the hurricane “will be confined to a few squalls and some quickly moving rain bands. It is not as bad as it could have been.’’

Doran said that by Thursday night all of Cameron, Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes were under mandatory evacuation orders as well as the Jefferson Parish communities of Grand Isle, Crown Point, Barataria and Lafitte.

“Cameron should be closed now,’’ he said, referring to the sparsely-populated parish in the heel of Lousiana’s boot.

Low-lying portions of Vermillion Parish were also ordered evacuated while the rest of the parish was asked to evacuate but not ordered to do so.

Mandatory evacuation orders also applied to low-lying areas of St. Mary, Iberia and Acadia parishes as well as all residents in those parishes living in mobile homes, Doran said.

Ed Anderson, Capital bureau

LSU-Tennessee game moved to Monday

Thursday, 6:34 p.m.

Due to the threat of Hurricane Rita, the Southeastern Conference has determined the Tennessee at LSU football game, scheduled for Saturday in Tiger Stadium, should be moved to Monday.

The game will be played at 6:30 p.m. and televised by ESPN2.

Blanco phone message to southwestern La: Evacuate now

Thursday, 6:21 p.m.

BATON ROUGE – Gov. Kathleen Blanco late Thursday taped an automated telephone message for residents of nine parishes in southwestern Louisiana imperiled by Hurricane Rita, urging them to leave their homes immediately and head north.

Blanco spokesman Roderick Hawkins said the message calls were targeted at more than 400,000 homes in southwest Louisiana.

The taped telephone message opens with Blanco identifying herself and warning the resident, “Hurricane Rita is heading your way.

“If you live in the coastal areas south of I-10, you must leave immediately and evacuate to the north. Make sure you bring food, water, medicines and important documents like insurance papers and drivers’ licenses.’’

Blanco’s message urged immediate action: “If you need assistance evacuating, please call your local law enforcement or the emergency operations center in your parish.

"Again, you must leave your home now and get out of harm’s way. Please be safe.

“Thank you for your prompt action.’’

Blanco and other political figures have used the automated taped telephone messages – known as “robocalls’’-- in political campaigns. Political candidates, parties and special interest groups use them on election day to target their voters and get them to the polls.

West Bank private school openings

West Bank parochial and private schools have announced the following reopening dates.

Schools opening on Oct. 3 are: Christ the King Parish School, Terrytown; Holy Name of Mary School, Algiers; Immaculate Conception School, Marrero; Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Belle Chasse; Our Lady of Prompt Succor School, Westwego; St. Andrew the Apostle School, Algiers; St. Anthony School, Gretna; St. Rosalie School, Harvey; Visitation of Our Lady School, Marrero; Archbishop Blenk High School, Gretna; Immaculata High School, Marrero; Archbishop Shaw High School, Marrero; Concordia Lutheran School, Marrero; and Believer’s Life Christian Academy, Harvey.

Schools opening on Oct. 10 are: St. Cletus School, Gretna; Salem Lutheran School, Gretna; and Arden Cahill Academy, Gretna.

Jefferson public schools set registration sites for new students

By Sandra Barbier
Staff writer

All but five Jefferson Parish public schools are scheduled to reopen Oct. 3, school officials announced.

Students enrolled prior to Hurricane Katrina will attend their previous school, except for those at the following five schools: Alexander Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Woodmere Elementary, Terrytown Elementary and John H. Martyn Transitional schools.

On Oct. 3 at 9 a.m., Alexander students are to report to Greenlawn Terrace Elementary School; Lincoln students are to report to Joshua Butler Elementary School; Woodmere students are to report to C.T. Janet Elementary School; Terrytown Elementary students are to report to Geraldine Boudreaux Elementary School and John Martyn students are to report to Riverdale High School.

The school system also will hold registration Sept. 26 through Oct. 1 for new students enrolling in Jefferson schools and Jefferson students whose families have moved to a new location. Registration will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

The registration sites on the West Bank are Boudreaux Elementary, 950 Behrman Highway, Terrytown; Estelle Elementary School, 2800 Barataria Blvd., Marrero; Butler Elementary, 300 Fourth St., Westwego and Waggaman Elementary School, 6801 River Road, Waggaman.

Registration sites in East Jefferson are Riverdale Middle School, 3900 Jefferson Highway, Jefferson; Ella Dolhonde Elementary School, 219 Severn Ave., Metairie; Hazel Park Elementary School, 8809 Jefferson Highway, River Ridge; Bissonet Plaza Elementary School, 6818 Kawanee Ave., Metairie, and Greenlawn Terrace Elementary School, 1500 38th St., Kenner.

Parents will only have to provide the child’s name and address for registration, district spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said. “We will do it electronically, no filling out paper. We want to make it easy on you.”

Parents and employees can find updated information on the Jefferson school system at www.louisianaschools.net or www.jppss.k12.la.us, Nowakowski

Slidell working on plan for utility billing

The city of Slidell is working on a plan to resume billing to residents who receive water, sewer and garbage pickup services.

Due to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, all of the city's utility billing will be delayed. All late fees and penalties will be waived in September, October and November, according to a city news release.

Residents can send all correspondence, changes of address and outstanding payments to The Utility Billing Department, City of Slidell, P.O. Box 828, Slidell, LA 70459, or may utilize the drop box at 2045 Second St. in Olde Towne. Inquiries and changes of address may also be sent online via wbilling@cityofslidell.org.

The city will provide a status update to media and post it on the city’s website, www.slidell.la.us on Oct. 16.

Entergy plants may be sites of new nuclear reactors

5:30 p.m., Thursday

Mary Judice
Business writer

Entergy Corp. plants in Mississippi and Louisiana could be potential locations for the first nuclear power plant built in the United States in more than 30 years.

A consortium of utilities called NuStart, including Entergy, said Thursday it will develop an application for advanced approval of two potential nuclear sites: Entergy’s Grand Gulf site in Port Gibson, Miss., and a Tennessee Valley Authority property in Alabama.

Entergy, meanwhile, said separately Thursday that it will develop a similar application for its River Bend Station in St. Francisville.

A decision has not been made on whether to seek an actual license for the construction of any of the reactors. The applications for advanced approval would simply allow for quicker completion of the project if a go ahead is given. A decision on whether to build any of these plants will be made at a later date.

“A new nuclear unit would also mean greater diversity of fuel, and that means more stable electric rates for our 2.7 million electricity customers,’’ said Gary Taylor, chief executive of Entergy Nuclear.
Entergy has built and operated nuclear plants for many years, but five years ago the company embarked on a program of expanding its nuclear-generating capacity by purchasing operating plants. Today Entergy operates 10 reactors in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and the Northeast and is the second-largest nuclear generator in the United States.

The plants would cost about $2 billion each and would qualify for incentives under the federal energy bill passed by Congress over the summer. Among the benefits would be federal risk insurance against regulatory delays, 80 percent loan guarantees and a production tax credit for the first eight years of operation.

Cost for the the NuStart plant applications will be split 50-50 with the Department of Energy.

Mike Bowling, spokesperson for Entergy Nuclear, said the cost of applying for a license for River Bend will be one to two percent of the total cost and will be paid by Entergy shareholders because this is an unregulated utility.

The proposed nuclear plants have already drawn criticism from at least one party.

Linda Stone, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said nuclear plants are “far too expensive and don’t provide enough benefits.’’

Grand Gulf is a 1,210-megawatt plant which began operating in 1985. River Bend is a 966-megawatt unit built by Gulf States Utilities and Cajun Electric that went into operation in 1986. Gulf States merged with the company that became known as Entergy in 1993.

Military ready for Rita

Thursday, 5:15 p.m.

By Doug MacCash and Coleman Warner
Staff writers
Trash tumbled through the streets of Mid-city on Thursday afternoon, the sky was striped with gray and occasional splotches of rain appeared on windshields for the first time in weeks, as New Orleans prepared to be brushed by hurricane Rita’s skirts.

The Texas National guard had disappeared from their digs at Loyola University, redeployed to the path of Hurricane Rita, bearing down on their home state. The Puerto Rican National Guard had also gone home. Other guard units readied themselves to stay in New Orleans. “We’ve identified high ground and multi-story buildings,” said Colonel Henry “Pat” Scully, Oklahoma National Guard public affairs officer. “Some outlying units will ride out the storm there, then come out and help with relief. We’d discussed bugging out to Baton Rouge, then rushing back.”

The Oklahoma Guard had moved their logistical operations, including food, supplies and maintenance, or, as one soldier put it “anybody but trigger-pullers” to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. At Sophie B. Wright Junior High School on Napoleon Avenue at the outer reaches of Katrina’s flooding, California Guardsmen loaded equipment on a waiting truck. One explained, “We’re not taking chances.” The California National Guard was moving across the river to Algiers where they would patrol from Bridge City to Algiers, setting up Headquarters in the Gretna Junior High, soldiers said the move had been planned pre-Rita.

Maj. Pat Simon, public affairs officer with Task Force Pelican, Louisiana’s coordinated military response to Hurricane Katrina, said at the height of the rescue effort there were roughly 30,000 National Guardsmen from across the country in the 12 Louisiana parishes affected by the storm. The current number is roughly 17,000, some having been reassigned to staging areas for Task Force Rita in Opelousas and Ville Platte. “All the while we’ve requested more forces to be sure we have enough for Task Force Pelican and Rita,” he said. “We’re continuing with as many guardsmen as possible in Pelican. Nobody’s bailed. Those missions will continue.”

Lakeview and Lakefront areas were virtually devoid of National Guard and other police forces Thursday, although members of the Oklahoma National Guard, setting up camp at Delgado Community College’s City Park Campus said there were plans to resume a visible security presence in the area. The Oklahoma unit, with 150 soldiers, replaced an Oregon National Guard group that has been sent to Alexandria — to help respond to needs in Texas.

At an afternoon press conference in downtown New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin said, “We should be in good shape from a law enforcement standpoint as we move forward.”

As it became clear on Tuesday that Rita’s path might contribute to New Orleans’ woes, the 14th Army combat support hospital began the process of relocating form the Louis Armstrong International Airport to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. It will be fully operational Friday morning, better positioned to aid in whatever mayhem Rita may visit on the stricken Crescent City and to serve as a stopgap hospital during the continued post-Katrina recovery.

Displaced Catholic students flock to Rummel, Chapelle; classes start Oct. 3

5:15 p.m.

By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

Catholic education officials are rushing to transform two Metairie schools into a kind not seen in Jefferson Parish since the population boom and crowded classrooms of the 1960s and 1970s: Platoons are returning to Archbishop Chapelle and Archbishop Rummel High schools.

Previously enrolled students at those schools, all girls at Chapelle and all boys at Rummel, will resume classes Oct. 3 from about 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Beginning around Oct. 5, from about 1:30 p.m. to 6:10 p.m., the two campuses will host a second, coeducational shift of students from as many as 16 other Catholic high schools that remain closed because of Hurricane Katrina damage in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans already is running one such “transitional” site for Katrina-displaced students, at St. Michael the Archangel School in Baton Rouge. New Orleans area students who remain there could soon be merged into the regular St. Michael student body, and others could move to Rummel and Chapelle, said the Rev. William Maestri, superintendent of archdiocese schools.

Maestri also said three West Bank schools -- Archbishop Blenk, Immaculata
and Archbishop Shaw -- will reopen in October, and one of them could take on a second shift of displaced students, if needed.

“That is in play,” Maestri said. “These things are very fluid. We just have to make sure we are flexible as we can be.”

The archdiocese lists 15 Catholic high schools in New Orleans and one in St. Bernard Parish. Some of these schools, notably Jesuit in New Orleans, are working up their own plans for educating students elsewhere.

Still, a huge increase of students seems likely for Chapelle, which enrolled 1,089 students in 2004-05, and Rummel, which counted 1,345 in middle and high school grades. Joe Serio, admissions and public information director at Rummel, said a recent Internet announcement to gauge interest in the Rummel-Chapelle transitional plan yielded 4,000 responses, crippling his electronic mail account.

Catholic schools in St. Tammany Parish have already enrolled an extra 2,000
Students since Katrina struck Aug. 29, a one-third increase in St. Tammany’s Catholic school enrollment, Maestri said. Schools in St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes also are reporting more students.

At Rummel on Thursday, crowds of parents and students gathered in the
reception room to hear announcements from officials and sign up for the transitional school.

Nancy Hernandez, principal of the storm-closed Ursuline Academy in New
Orleans, will serve as principal of the Rummel transitional school. She sought to assure parents that it will be a solid educational program.

“This is not a tutoring service,” she said. “This is going to be six classes that they will be taking.”

She also said the educators running the school will be sensitive to the myriad traumas that the displaced students have experienced.

“It’s going to be rough for many students,” she said. “We will be worried and taking care of their emotional side as well as their academic side. You have our word on that.”

Rummel President Michael Begg sought to assure parents that the transitional school will be able to complete a full semester, ending in January, because the month lost to Katrina is manageable, he said.

For students such as Matt Johnson, a sophomore from Brother Martin High
School in New Orleans, the new setting at Rummel means a continuation of unusual circumstances.

Johnson and his parents have lived with his aunt in Baton Rouge and then an apartment in Baton Rouge, all within the last four weeks. His father, Master Sgt. Gerald Johnson of the 1192nd U.S. Army Reserves normally based in New Orleans but now operating from Baton Rouge, received orders to spend most of the past two weeks searching Louisiana for Katrina-displaced members of the military or their families.

With the family’s house in Kenner in good shape and a possible return there by next week, Johnson now faces the prospect of attending Rummel, a longtime, fierce rival of his own Brother Martin on the playing fields and courts.

Still, he kept a positive outlook.

“At this time, we can’t worry about that,” he said.

Johnson said there could be some pluses to attending the transitional school. Particularly, it will be the first time since seventh grade that he has studied alongside girls.

“It’s going to be different, now that we’re older,” he said.

Southwest La. prisoners evacuated

5:20 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – About 1,800 inmates from southwest Louisiana prisons and jails were being evacuated Thursday as Hurricane Rita took a bead on the Texas-Louisiana coast, a replay of prisoner evacuations in the New Orleans area forced by Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago.

Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder said that at least 1,700 inmates were being moved Thursday to prisons in other parts of the state that are not threatened by Rita.

Department spokesman Pam Laborde said later Thursday the number of inmates to be moved from southwest Louisiana may be 2,000 or more.


“On an interim basis, we will be making space’’ for the evacuated inmates, Stalder said.

Some will go to six state facilities and others into local and parish lock-ups, he said.

Laborde said late Thursday about 800 of the inmates will go to state prisons – like Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, or Hunt Correctional Institute in St. Gabriel.

Another 700, she said, will be sent to local and parish jails north of Interstate 10, while 200 additional inmates in southwest Louisiana who are in work-release programs in southwest Louisiana will go to Monroe, Laborde said.

Stalder said that prisons in Calcasieu, Vermilion and Cameron parishes were evacuated and another 160 prisoners at Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy – who were evacuated from Katrina’s path – were being moved from their makeshift prison in the Phelps gymnasium.

Laborde said that about 7,700 inmates were evacuated from the Orleans Parish Prison for Katrina three weeks ago, including ones who had been evacuated earlier from the St. Bernard Parish.

Another 1,112 inmates were evacuated from the Jefferson Parish Prison for Katrina, Laborde said.

Some of the inmates assigned to work-release programs in St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes have returned to those parishes, Laborde said. She did not give a number.

Plaquemines Parish isssues voluntary evacuation order for Belle Chasse

Thursday, 4:50 p.m.

Plaquemines Parish officials have called for a voluntary evacuation of the Belle Chasse area as Hurricane Rita continues in its unpredictable path across the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier Thursday, officials had issued a mandatory evacuation for the east bank of the parish and all areas south of Homeplace.

Officials fear Rita might push tidal flooding into low-lying areas of the parish.

Arrest warrant issued for Kenner CAO

4:31 p.m.

By Mary Swerczek
Kenner bureau

Kenner police obtained a warrant Thursday to arrest the city’s chief administrative officer, Cedric Floyd, on a charge of malfeasance in office for allegedly diverting truckloads of hurricane relief supplies to his home.

His pending arrest not only subjects Floyd to prosecution but seems likely to fuel longstanding political differences between Police Chief Nick Congemi and Floyd’s boss, Mayor Phil Capitano, who defeated Congemi in the 2004 mayoral election.

Police said they retrieved several truckloads of donated supplies from Floyd’s home while executing a search warrant Tuesday night. They said they hauled off new clothing, tools and cases of food and medicine. Capitano suspended Floyd without pay the next day.

Until then, Floyd had been one of Capitano’s top two aides, managing the daily government operations of Louisiana’s sixth-largest city and supervising all personnel except for the Legal, Fire and Police departments. His annual salary is $82,522.

Capt. Steve Caraway, a Police Department spokesman, said officers informed Floyd’s attorney of the arrest warrant and were told Floyd would turn himself in for booking. Malfeasance in office, a felony, occurs when a public official uses the power of his office to commit a crime.

Earlier Thursday, Floyd disputed allegations that he usurped loads of supplies intended for Hurricane Katrina victims, saying he was merely a conduit for moving the supplies from a city-run relief site to a Kenner church that would later distribute them to needy people in the Susan Park neighborhood.

“We gave stuff in bulk,” he said. “What is too much?”

Floyd said the items were destined for Mark Mitchell, pastor of New Hope Community Church, and Mitchell agreed.

“We just kept missing each other to get these goods,” Mitchell said Thursday.

On two earlier occasions, Floyd took donated goods to Mitchell instead of requiring the pastor to go to the city distribution center at 25th Street and Williams Boulevard, both men said.

Military officials who had been working at the distribution site initiated the complaint against Floyd.

State Attorney General Charles Foti’s office is assisting Kenner police in the investigation.

In Bucktown: 'Life as I know it is gone'

4:30 p.m.

By Bob Ross
East Jefferson bureau

Frank Schwartz sits on a barstool inside Daiquiri & Creams Deli in Bucktown, nursing a beer and staring at the television set. He is in no rush to finish the beer. He has no place in particular to go.

"I lost everything I own," he says, with no trace of emotion. "I live day by day."

Schwartz, 58, was smacked a double blow by Hurricane Katrina, which pounded Bucktown with ferocious winds but mostly minor flooding.

Like the landmark Sid-Mar's restaurant, which was blown off its pilings on Lake Pontchartrain and swept away to parts unknown, Schwartz’s nearby apartment bore the brunt of the storm's fury. Katrina blew the roof off the Carrollton Avenue building and destroyed all his possessions.

He stayed at a friend's house to ride out the rest of the big blow on Aug. 29, likening his adventure to the Three Little Pigs: "I left the straw house and went straight to the brick house, man."

Later that day, with 40 mph winds still blowing at 11 a.m., he went out to the 17th Street Canal to check on his 30-foot Lafitte skiff.

"But it was gone, brother. Just nothing but a big pile of debris up against the bridge."

Standing on the levee with a friend looking at the debris in the canal, Schwartz said, one thought immediately came to mind: "Life as I know it is gone."

Now 3½ weeks later, Schwartz said he still hasn't seen even a piece of debris that he recognizes as the boat he used for commercial fishing. His other job, at Schaeffer's seafood restaurant, is also on hold because of storm damage.

There are plenty of other people dealing with serious damage in Bucktown, the fishing village that has grown up where the lake meets the canal. While the breach from the canal poured water east into New Orleans, not west into Bucktown, many Bucktown homes still took on anywhere from one inch to two feet of water. And the wind damage, particularly closer to the lake, was fierce in spots. Several apartment buildings lost all or most of their top floor, just like Schwartz's.

Trees and limbs were littered everywhere, and some older slate roofs were peeled off in spots.

Edward Lestrade, 84, said he was surprised by the damage to the slate roof on his Seminole Avenue home. The big, brown brick corner house had two different tarps to cover up exposed portions of the roof on Thursday, as Lestrade walked bare-footed around his property to ensure he was ready for Hurricane Rita’s rain.

"Right now, I kind of wish the storm had just taken it out completely," he said of Katrina. "There's so much to do."

Closer to West Esplanade Avenue, water was often a bigger problem than the wind.

Kim Wilkerson had about three inches of water inside her Nursery Avenue home. Her daughter, whose home two blocks away had two feet of water, tried to describe the damage in the neighborhood while Wilkerson was in Tennessee. But Wilkerson said she was still shocked when she arrived back in Bucktown earlier this week.

"You just look around, and you keep wanting to come across a block you know, that you recognize," she said. "But as you keep driving, that block never comes."

Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Tom Capella said Bucktown fared pretty well from a flooding perspective but was hit harder than many east bank neighborhoods by the wind. Sid-Mar’s, for example.

"That's kind of like a symbol of the area," Capella said. "But there's just no sign of it anymore. It is just gone."

But Capella said residents he has talked to are rebuilding, and those still evacuated are ready to return.

"No disrespect to these other areas, but people say they want to eat their crawfish here."

Capella said he has also heard, through back channels, that the folks at Sid-Mars plan to rebuild in Bucktown.

That's also the plan for Malik Masood, owner of Seminole Conveniece Store. Masood and his daughter were cleaning the front of the business on Thursday, getting ready for a health department inspection. Despite roof damage to the rear of the business, he is ready and eager to open.

Operating the 10-year-old store will keep his mind off his other store (destroyed) on Fleur de Lis just across the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans and his Metairie home (flooded).

He even manages to joke about the looters who took virtually all of the $26,000 to $28,000 in stock inside the Bucktown: "Everyone has a profession to do, so they just do their profession, which is stealing things," he said.

And though it might be easy to give up, Masood said he refuses to do that.
Resiliency also is a part of the makeup of Frank Schwartz, who said he was born in a fishing camp on the 17th Street Canal and will do what it takes to rebuild his life in Bucktown.

"There's a lot of work, and I'm getting old," he said, as his eyes started to twinkle just a bit. "But I'll do it."




Classes, football canceled in St. Tammany

St. Tammany bureau
Classes are canceled Friday for all Catholic schools in St. Tammany Parish, as well as for Cedarwood School in Mandeville, and Christ Episcopal School and Kehoe-France Northshore in Covington, because of bad weather expected as a result of Hurricane Rita.
Northlake Christian School near Covington and Our Lady of the Lake School in Mandeville are set to reopen Monday for the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit, while the parish's public schools tentatively plan to reopen Oct. 3.
In addition, the St. Tammany Parish public school system has canceled its high school football games scheduled for Friday night. The Pearl River High School-Loranger High School game scheduled for tonight (Thursday) will proceed as planned.

Prisoners evacuated from SW Louisiana

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – Up to 2,000 inmates from in southwest Louisiana prisons and jails were being evacuated Thursday as Hurricane Rita took a bead on the Texas-Louisiana coast, a replay of prisoner evacuations in the New Orleans area forced by Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago.

Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder said at least 1,700 inmates were being moved Thursday to prisons in other parts of the state that are not threatened by Rita.

The 1,700 is a beginning point,’’ Stalder said. “We don’t anticipate that is the end. That effort will be ongoing.’’

Department spokesman Pam Laborde said later Thursday the number of inmates to be moved from southwest Louisiana may be 2,000 or more.

Stalder said no incidents were reported in evacuating the inmates Thursday. He said most inmates were pleased to be getting out of the path of Rita.

Laborde said late Thursday about 800 of the inmates will go to state prisons – like Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, or Hunt Correctional Institute in St. Gabriel.

Another 700, she said, will be sent to local and parish jails north of Interstate 10, while 200 additional inmates in southwest Louisiana who are in work-release programs in southwest Louisiana will go to Monroe, Laborde said.

Stalder said prisons in Calcasieu, Vermilion and Cameron parishes were evacuated and another 160 prisoners at Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy – who were evacuated from Katrina’s path – were being moved from their makeshift prison in the Phelps gymnasium.

Stalder said about 10,000 inmates have been evacuated from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Laborde said that about 7,700 inmates were evacuated from the Orleans Parish Prison for Katrina three weeks ago, including ones who had been evacuated earlier from the St. Bernard Parish.

Another 1,112 inmates were evacuated from the Jefferson Parish Prison for Katrina, Laborde said.

Some of the inmates assigned to work-release programs in St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes have returned to those parishes, Laborde said. She did not give a number.

Jefferson battling mosquitos

Thursday, 3:30 p.m.

Jefferson Parish officials have announced they've stepped up their fight against mosquitos.

A week after Hurricane Katrina struck the region, mosquito populations increased, prompting parish contractor, Mosquito Control, Inc. to increase its spray operations to seven days a week.

As of Wednesday, the mosquito population has dropped considerably, the parish said in a news release.

Truck-mounted sprayers have treated 95% of the parish at least once since the storm. The company also has used aerial sprayers to reach the entire parish and has supplemented several areas a second time.

The mosquito population is being monitored three times per week at 20 of 24 permanent monitoring stations.

Mandatory evacuation ordered for Lafitte, Barataria and Crown Point

Jefferson Parish officials have now ordered a mandatory evacation for Grand Isle, Jean Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria.

The order is effective 6 p.m. Parish officials also are sending Jefferson Transit buses to Jean Lafitte Town Hall, 2654 Jean Lafitte Blvd., at 6 p.m. to pick up residents who need transportation and take them to a shelter at Stella Worley Middle School in Westwego.

Residents are asked to bring blankets, pillows, medicine and other supplies to last them five days.

Plaquemines Parish calls for evacuation of low-lying areas

Thursday, 2:23 p.m.

Plaquemines Parish President Benny Rousselle has called for an evacuation of low-lying areas of the parish. This includes the area south of Hopedale, as well as the entire east bank.

These areas are currently only sparsely populated because most residents have not been able to return home due to damage and flooding from Hurricane Katrina last month.

Nonetheless, Rousselle is concerned that Hurricane Rita, currently in the Gulf, might produce dangerous storm surges.

Death toll

BATON ROUGE -- A total of 832 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, state officials said Tuesday.

More bodies are expected to be found as flood waters recede and greater access to isolated homes in the New Orleans area becomes available, officials said.

Department of Health and Hospitals spokesman Bob Johannessen said 659 victims are being kept at a makeshift morgue in St. Gabriel. The rest, he said, are being held by parish coroners’ offices.

Johannessen said 68 bodies are being kept in East Baton Rouge, five in Ascension Parish, two in Assumption Parish, six in Iberia Parish, 30 in Jefferson Parish, two in Lafourche Parish, five in Livingston Parish, three in Plaquemines Parish, five in St. Charles Parish, seven in St. Tammany Parish, 22 in Tangipahoa Parish, 15 in Terrebonne Parish, and three in West Baton Rouge Parish.

Johannessen said hurricane-related deaths includes drownings or other direct deaths as well as deaths that result from failure of power for a patient on a life-support system.

Slidell company secures debris-hauling contracts

Thursday, 2:01 p.m.

By Meghan Gordon
St. Tammany bureau

Long before weather forecasters uttered the name Katrina, a Slidell firm secured contracts to clean up the wreckage of any natural disaster to strike Orleans and St. Tammany parishes. Now more than three weeks into two debris-hauling projects, the contractor predicts those agreements will bring in $100 million before the last piece of trash is buried or burned.

Brian Reine, managing member of OMNI Pinnacle LLC, runs the two massive operations from tent cities in Algiers and Pearl River. With an estimated 2,000 workers filling the ranks of his company and about 30 subcontractors, OMNI Pinnacle crews handle countless piles of tree branches, abandoned refrigerators, shattered plywood and ripped-out Sheetrock – all within an exacting protocol set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“You can’t just go out and pick up a stump anymore, put it in your truck and get paid for it,” Reine said. “They want to know exactly where the stump came from and if you back-filled the hole.”

OMNI Pinnacle trucks started pushing through St. Tammany Parish roads covered with mangled trees and power lines as soon as Hurricane Katrina’s fiercest winds ceased on Aug. 29. Meanwhile, wheel loaders and other heavy equipment lined up at the Mandeville side of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

“We were getting ready to cross, and they told us to stop,” Reine said. “The levees broke. So we weren’t able to start until the next Monday.”

The workforce grew by the day, as Reine made contact with local subcontractors and out-of-towners when New Orleans-area crews couldn’t be reached. Reine said this week that 60 percent of subcontractors are local, and more than half are minority-owned.

OMNI Pinnacle set up two camps equipped with everything the haulers would need, deducting the supplies from their eventual pay. Some workers showed up completely outfitted and trained, while others brought in a single dump truck.

“We trucked everything in,” Reine said from a recliner inside an air-conditioned RV parked at the Algiers camp in Behrman Park. “Those are our tankers over there. We sell them fuel. We give them their hardhats; we give them their gloves. We brought in $70,000 in steel-toe boots the other day.”

From the moment the estimated 1,500 trucks reported to work, every stage of their operation has been precisely recorded. They’re measured once for total capacity. In the field, a monitor employed directly by OMNI Pinnacle records details from each of the thousands of daily trips, including their departure time, loading site and makeup of the material removed. Some items, such as tree trunks obstructing rights of way and stumps that pose hazards, must be photographed and their locations recorded with a global positioning system.

As they enter the dozens of collection sites across New Orleans and St. Tammany, the trucks are photographed and viewed from above by monitors in towers. The monitors estimate how full each truck is packed, a figure usually between 85 percent and 95 percent. OMNI Pinnacle then determines pay by total cubic yards dumped. From the dumpsites, the mounds of debris are sorted for eventual disposal.

The reams of records allow subcontractors, parish officials or FEMA to challenge any stage of the mammoth project.

“If there’s any question about a certain load, we pull the ticket and pull the time and date off it,” Reine said. “All the pictures are time stamped, date stamped. We can go back and look at that truck and see if they made a mistake.”

OMNI Pinnacle works a handful of disasters each year, but the enormous job Katrina stirred up is its first this year. While Reine waits to execute contracts after ice storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, the company deploys four salesmen year-round to lobby municipalities and hunt down other possible bids. Many of the agreements expire before his crews are ever needed.

Reine said he’s running on a long line of credit for the Katrina work and doesn’t know when the two governments would begin paying him. In the meantime, his crews must meticulously document their work to assure that New Orleans and St. Tammany governments collect from FEMA every penny they pay to OMNI Pinnacle.

“That’s always a big issue, because if they don’t get reimbursed, we’re talking about millions of dollars,” Reine said. “We’re looking at $100 million. They don’t want to lose any of that money.”

Meghan Gordon can be reached at (504) 352-2551 or meghangordon@hotmail.com.

Blanco urges SW Louisiana to evacuate

Thursday, 1:53 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Staff writer

Gov. Kathleen Blanco used a Thursday morning briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge to warn the approximately 500,000 residents of southwest Louisiana and coastal areas south of Interstate 10 to evacuate as soon as possible because Rita’s slight turn to the east.

“We feel it is very, very important that everyone leave now,” Blanco said. ‘This includes evacuees for Katrina and Rita. . . .Everything is fragile. . . .Rita has Louisiana in her sights and we must move. Everyone in coastal areas south of Interstate 10 must evacuate, you must leave now.”

Asked what people should do if they decide stay and ride out Rita, Blanco said, “Perhaps they should write their Social Security number on their arms in indelible ink.’’

Blanco said that forecasters are predicting 20-foot storm surges in Vermilion Bay, which could send floodwaters into Iberia, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes. In some areas, she said, 15 to 20 inches if rain can be expected as well as storm surge flooding.

“Head north,’’ Blanco advised, not east on I-10 toward Baton Rouge.

“They are expecting eight to 10 inches of rain’’ starting Friday in southwest Louisiana.

“This is a massive storm, a powerful storm,’’ she said. “Hurricane force winds will rip much of western Louisiana.’’

State Adjutant General Bennett Landreneau said the state has requested 15,000 National Guard troops and another 15,000 regular military forces from the Pentagon.

Landreneau said about 4,000 troops will be taken out of the New Orleans area where they have been doing Katrina relief and recovery work. That would leave about 17,000 in the New Orleans area working Katrina aftermath, he said.

“There will plenty of soldiers in the city (of New Orleans) to handle whatever Rita dishes out,’’ Blanco said.

Presently, there are between 21,000 and 22,000 troops in the state, about 16,000 Guard troops and 5,000 to 6,000 regular Army troops, Landreneau said.

Blanco said the new troops would help in communications and transportation efforts.

She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is making 450 buses available for evacuations and the state has arranged “for more than 800 buses and drivers to move our people out of harm’s way. . . .If you live in low-lying areas below I-10 . . .you must evacuate.’’

Although Blanco urged a widespread evacuation of southwest Louisiana and areas below I-10, the only parishes by midday Thursday to have issued mandatory evacuation orders were for all of Cameron Parish, low-lying parts of Calcasieu, Vermilion, St. Mary and Acadia parishes.

Terri Ricks, undersecretary of the Department of Social Services, said the agency is now moving many of the 9,000-plus Katrina evacuees in shelters south of Interstate 10 to areas north of I-l0. Ricks said the agency has about 12,000 vacant slots in shelters north of I-10.

Ricks said that almost 4,000 of Katrina evacuees who are in shelters south of I-10 have been moved north, including about 2,400 from the from various locations in Calcasieu Parish who have moved to Monroe and Alexandria, and another 1,464 at he Cajundome in Lafayette who have been taken to Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport.

Blanco said Louisiana officials are also working with other states, including Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, to possibly house evacuees.

Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Dwight Landreneau said his agency has set up an armada of 50 boats at Woodworth in central Louisiana and has more than 50 on standby for search and rescue missions.

State Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry said even after Katrina dealt a blow to levees in the New Orleans area, the levees at the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue have been strengthened.

“A (tidal) surge of five to 10 feet can be handled,’’ in those areas, he said.

In St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, where parish officials breached the levees to help drain the areas -- and where Katrina also eroded the levees -- he said those levees could possibly handle a two- or four-foot storm surge.

“They are weakened in sections of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes,’’ he said.

Consumers warned about rip-off contractors

1:34 p.m., Thursday

By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer

With at least 360,0000 residences in the metro New Orleans area suffering “extreme to moderate’’ damage from Hurricane Katrina, building experts and insurance investigators are urging consumers to beware of rip-off contractors who may try to take advantage of storm victims.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau has established a Baton Rouge office and, in coordination with the Louisiana State Police, is investigating complaints of both unscrupulous contractors and consumers who may turn in bogus claims, said Fred Stadtler, a special agent with the NICB, an association representing more than 1,000 auto, homeowner and commercial insurance companies.

“A major portion of the population is going to get fleeced,’’ said Philip Hoffman, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans and owner of Hoffman Custom Built Homes of LaPlace.

Hoffman said that after a disaster like Katrina, unlicensed workers often move into the area and go door to door trying to line up jobs with desperate homeowners.

“They’re already here,” said Hoffman, who has already heard horror stories of homeowners being ripped off.
For example, the standard charge for the removal of flooded carpeting, sheetrock and furniture should be $3.50 to $4 per square foot. But Hoffman said he’s heard of contractors who are charging twice that amount.

“They’re desperate consumers and they’re making decisions on emotions. They want their homes back,” Hoffman said of those being taken advantage of.

It’s going to take years to repair all of the damaged homes in the area, Hoffman said, and many will probably have to be demolished, increasing the need for contractors, which are already in short supply.

One of the problems is that the massive reconstruction effort will require more builders than Louisiana has. Hoffman said reconstruction could require as many as 100,000 workers to get the job done. But members of the Home Builders Association normally employ just 10,000. And many licensed contractors in the metro area are now shorthanded because crew members have evacuated, lost their homes, or are out of contact.

The labor shortage could worsen if Hurricane Rita introduces a new round of devastation.

Local and state governments are establishing new policies and procedures to prevent rip-off contractors.

Some parishes and the state are setting up streamlined licensing processes so that all out-of-state workers will be checked out before they begin work, Hoffman said.

And recently passed legislation means more contractors must obtain a state license. Up until 2003, only general contractors performing work valued at $50,000 or more were required to have a state general contractor license. But that year, the Legislature passed a law requiring contractors performing jobs valued at $7,500 or more to have a license through the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors. The board also licenses mold remediation contractors and includes on its Web site, www.lslbc.state.la.us, information on state licensing requirements.

Stadtler recommends that consumers demand to see a contractor’s state license, check references, even if the contractor is from out of state, read contracts carefully, pay invoices for work completed and never give a down payment of more than 10 percent for materials. He also advised to carefully watch out for the theft of delivered buildings materials.

He and Hoffman also urge consumers to ask the contractors they are working with for proof of their state licenses and the liability insurance they carry. Consumers should also take a picture of the contractor’s truck and license plate.

Stadtler will be on the watch out for bogus insurance claims also. “You’ll be surprised how many people suddenly claim that they had a wide-screen television, or two.’’

He added that consumer insurance fraud usually occurs when property owners file supplemental claims “after hearing what other family or friends’’ were able to file and claim from their insurance companies. Another fraud is “bogus’’ additional living expenses while displaced and “claiming damage for property that didn’t exist.’’

“We’ve been to areas where one blown down satellite dish is just moved from yard to yard’’ as adjusters schedule appointments with home owners in a neighborhood, Stadtler said.

Out-of-state contractors can apply under a streamlined process for a state license by picking up an application at 2525 Quail Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70809 between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday though Friday or request an application be e-mailed by going to capplications@lslbc.louisiana.gov.

Consumers with contractor problems can file complaints by calling (866) 310-7879 or by e-mailing the board at complaints@lslbc.louisiana.gov . Consumers can also verify a contractor’s license at the same above phone number.

Voluntary evacuation set for Jean Lafitte, Crown Point, Barataria

Jefferson Parish officials have called for a voluntary evacuation of Jean Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria as of 6 p.m. today in preparation for Hurricane Rita.

For those needing transportation, a Jefferson Parish Transit bus will pick up residents at Jean Lafitte Town Hall, 2654 Jean Lafitte Blvd., at 6 p.m. and bring them to Stella Worley Middle High School at 801 Spartans Drive in Westwego. This shelter is only for residents of Jean Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria.

Residents should bring pillows, blankets, medicines and other supplies for at least 5 days.

Cameron a "ghost town"

Thursday, noon

CAMERON – This southwest Louisiana city is a ghost town.

Less than two days before Hurricane Rita is expected to slam the Gulf Coast, fewer than 500 of Cameron Parish’s 9,000 residents remain. They are chiefly oil-rig workers, a few business owners and a handful of families who refuse to leave Sheriff Theos Duhon said.

The National Guard is working with the sheriff’s office to round up stragglers and urge them to evacuate, he said.

Even though Rita is predicted to make landfall somewhere in east Texas, storm surges as high as 25 feet are expected in this city about 40 miles east of the state line, Duhon said.

“This is going to be worse than Audrey,” which killed about 530 people when it struck this part of the state in 1957, he said.

By 6 p.m. today, the emergency operations center will close and move north toward higher ground in Lake Charles.

-- David Grunfeld

St. Bernard officials monitor Rita track

Thursday, 11:46 p.m.

St. Bernard Parish officials said they are monitoring the path of Hurricane Rita, but at this point they do not plan to evacuate the essential personnel who remain in the parish.

The parish is largely deserted, due to the massive destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29.

Parish spokesman Steve Cannizaro said Thursday that work continues to close gaps in levees along the northern and eastern flanks of the parish. The gaps were created after Katrina to help drain the floodwaters that swamped the parish.

Jefferson Human Services Authority sets staff meeting

All Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority employees are required to report to West Jefferson Medical Center, 1101 Medical Center Blvd., on Sept. 30 for a mandatory all-staff meeting from 1 – 3 p.m. The meeting will be in Fonseca Auditorium located on the first floor of the hospital.

Those staff members who are unable to attend are to call Connie Dupard, director of Human Resources, at 504-914-7284 by Sept. 28.

Staff members, who do not plan to return on or before Sept. 30, may be subject to changes in pay and employment status. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Jeff Human Services Authority workers sought

Thursday, 11:22 a.m.

Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority employees are required to report to West Jefferson Medical Center, 1101 Medical Center Blvd., for a mandatory all-staff meeting Sept. 30 at 1 p.m., the agency said in a news release Thursday.

The meeting will be held in the Fonseca Auditorium located on the first floor of the hospital.

Those staff members who are unable to attend should call Human Resources Director Connie Dupard at 504-914-7284 by Sept. 28.

Staff members who do not plan to return on or before Sept. 30 may be subject to changes in pay and employment status. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, the news release said.

Plaquemines Parish officials watching Rita's course

Thursday, 11:16 a.m.

Plaquemines Parish officials said they will watch the course of Hurricane Rita today and decide later if they should issue an evacuation order.

But even if they do issue an evacuation order, it would likely only affect the lower portion of the parish - which is largely devoid of people now because of the extensive damage and flooding brought by Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29.

"We're keeping track of the storm and we'll make a decision some time today,'' John Marie, a spokesman for the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office, said Thursday.

Marie said oil company workers who had returned to the lower portion of the parish began evacuating Wednesday. If a formal evacuation call is made, he said, parish employees, deputies and emergency workers would also leave the low-lying areas of the parish.

Parish workers, meanwhile, are working to close gaps in the marsh levee in lower Plaquemines Parish and hope to complete the job today or Friday.

Newspapers draw internet interest

Thursday, 10:18 a.m.

By Doug MacCash
Staff writer

Copies of the Aug. 28 issue of The Times-Picayune presciently predicting the damage Katrina would bring and copies of the paper printed in the days after the storm are for sale on Ebay, an electronic auction company, for prices from $3 to $100.

One sales pitch assures: “This is the last edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper that went to press before Hurricane Katrina shut down the city. Since this was a Sunday edition, it is over 100 pages thick and we purchased these off newsstands before the evacuation, so nothing is left out. Condition is excellent and this will be a great way to save a piece of history for future generations to appreciate. The next day after this paper was printed, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded so there are only a limited amount of these papers that survived.”

Another reads: “Everybody is talking about Hurricane Katrina. Now you can own 3 copies of New Orleans own Times-Picayune newspaper. Understand these papers have been read, but sill in good condition: Sunday Aug. 28, 2005; Saturday Sept. 3, 2005 and Saturday Sept. 10 2005.''

Somewhat incongruously, an issue of The Times-Picayune Sept. 22, 1935 Magazine Section is also for sale, featuring articles titled: Believe It Or Not! By Robert L. Ripley, When School Boys Ditched Football For The Rodeo, War Against The Border Cattle Rustlers, Sign Language The Same The Whole World Over and Darryl Zanuck Hollywood's Little Man With The Big Ideas.