Nagin responds to NRA suit

Friday, 10:49 p.m.

Staff reports

In response to a lawsuit filed by the NRA, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Friday night that he never authorized the taking of weapons from citizens.

The National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming that the confiscation of guns from private citizens, as ordered by New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass, was a violation of the Second Amendment. On Friday, a restraining order was issued in federal court barring any further weapons from being taken.

Nagin's office issued a statement Friday that Compass made statements about taking weapons from citizens without Nagin's knowledge. Compass said no weapons had been taken.

Nagin said Friday night that he has no intention of issuing orders to confiscate weapons.

Building, flood damages predicted

Friday, 10:32 p.m.

Models used by Louisiana State University's hurricane experts estimate that
about 7,500 buildings in Louisiana have been damaged
by Hurricane Rita's intense winds so far.

Marc Levitan, director of the LSU Hurricane Center,
said the model cannot estimate damage from coastal
flooding, which will be a big problem with many
structures. As many as 115,000 buildings in Texas have
probably taken some wind damage from the storm, he

About half of the wind damage will be minor
problems, such as lost shingles, while the other half
would likely be more serious.

Levitan said that flooding will likely be a big
problem with Hurricane Rita and not just in the New
Orleans area, where damaged levees are letting flood
waters back into the city. In the southwest part of
Louisiana, storm surge could be seven or eight feet,
coupled with up to 25 inches of rain dropped by the storm as
it slowly travels over the land, he said.

Blanco requests federal disaster declaration

Friday, 10:06 p.m.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has asked President Bush to
declare "an expedited major disaster" for coastal
parishes being slammed by Hurricane Rita.

In a letter sent to the House on Thursday, Blanco
wrote that she had already declared a state of
emergency and expected because of the intensity of the
hurricane that the state would not be able to cope
with the recovery.

If the president complies with her request, the
affected parishes would become eligible for the wide-
range of federal money and and programs that are being
used for the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

Heavy rain expected with Rita

Friday, 10:05 p.m.

Strong winds and heavy rains battered southern Louisiana Friday night as Hurricane Rita headed for landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border.

The 10 p.m. update from the National Weather Service forecast that Hurricane Rita would make landfall early Saturday morning as a category three storm.

A tropical storm warming was in effect for southeast Louisiana, including metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.

Friday night, Rita was moving 12 mph and was 55 miles southeast along the Sabine Pass at the Gulf of Mexico.

A wind gust of 74 mph was reported Friday night in Lake Charles.

Storm surge flooding is forecast to be 15 feet above normal tide levels.

After Rita makes landfall, it is expected to slow down and possibly stall over eastern Texas and western Louisiana, with a possibility of up to 25 inches of rain or more.

La. Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness prepares for Rita landfall

Friday, 8:42 p.m.

(AP) - The Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said 100 trucks of ready-to-eat meals, 150 trucks of ice and 200 of water were stationed around the state, and nearly 1,000 buses and 245 boats were on standby to move in once dangers from Hurricane Rita were past.

It said 821 buses were near the areas likely to be hit, and 160 more in Alexandria. Another 450 buses have been requested to move evacuees from southwest and southeast Louisiana it said.

The office said 135 boats and drivers were ready to go into the rescue area Saturday, with another 110 boats and 123 workers "ready to follow the initial wave as needed."

Flooding worsens in New Orleans

Friday, 8:28 p.m.

Flooding in the Vista Park neighborhood near the New Orleans lakefront worsened late Friday as high tides from the eastern side of Hurricane Rita were pushed into Lake Pontchartrain. Water began filling streets of previously-dry sections of the residential area earlier Friday as water seeped through a hastily repaired levee that had been blown out on the London Avenue Canal during Hurricane Katrina. Water also appeared to be bubbling up through drainage lines in the area.

Flooding in the Vista Park neighborhood near the New Orleans lakefront worsened late Friday as high tides from the eastern side of Hurricane Rita were pushed into Lake Pontchartrain. Water began filling streets of previously dry sections of the residential area earlier Friday as water seeped through a hastily repaired levee that had been blown out on the London Avenue Canal during Hurricane Katrina. Water also appeared to be bubbling up through drainage lines in the area.

As winds from the new storm whipped through an unlit, virtually deserted city, water as much as two or three feet high covered streets in many blocks just south of Robert E. Lee Boulevard, between the London canal and Bayou St. John. Streets that had been passable hours earlier were now too deep for most vehicles and water once again invaded, this time by inches rather than feet, the ground floor of some low-lying homes.

St. Bernard officials blasts Corps' repair job

Friday, 8:5 p.m.

St. Bernard Parish President Henry "Junior'' Rodriguez wasn't surprised that the surge from Hurricane Rita poured through an area of the Industrial Canal levee that the Corps of Engineers had tried to repair after Hurricane Katrina.

Breaches in the levee were largely responsible for massive flooding in the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish last month during Katrina. And as Rita's waters began filling the 9th Ward and threatened St. Bernard Parish with another round of flooding Friday, Rodriguez let the corps have it.

Rodriguez said the repair job on the Industrial Canal levee was shoddy and accused the corps of exerting more of an effort to repair a breach on the 17th Street Canal at the Orleans-Jefferson parish line because it protects more wealthy neighborhoods than those in the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

"It's rich and poor,'' Rodriguez told a WWL-TV reporter, adding that St. Bernard Parish and 9th Ward residents are treated like "second-class citizens.''

As of Friday night, the repair job on the 17th Street Canal breach was holding steady.

"Rita's having a hell of an impact,'' Rodriguez said. "But I can't really blame Rita.''

Later Friday, state Sen. Walter Boasso of Arabi joined in the criticism, saying the Corps of Engineers should have blocked the breaches in the Industrial Canal with sheet piling as Hurricane Rita approached.

Boasso said that corps officials should have anticipated that water would overtop the gravel and sand repairs made to the breaches. Speaking
with reporters at the state Office of Emergency Preparedness, Boasso said that he understood that he had six feet of water in his house in Arabi.

"If you are going to pack something, go ahead, do it right," Boasso said.

While the majority of buildings in St. Bernard and the Lower 9th Ward will need to be torn down after sustaining extensive water damage after Hurricane
Katrina, others could have been salvagable, he said.

Perhaps with the new round of flooding, some of those will now be beyond repair.

Before the latest flooding, people in St. Bernard had begun to make progress on cleaning up debris in the streets and stripping down soggy sheetrock, Boasso

Archdiocese keeping an eye on Rita

Friday, 8:17 p.m.

The Rev. William Maestri, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said a decision has not been made whether the system's schools will be open Monday.

Maestri, speaking Friday night on WWL-TV, said since Hurricane Katrina, the archdiocese has reopened schools in St. John, St. Charles and St. Tammany parishes and parts of Metairie. Following the onset of winds and rain from Hurricane Rita, Maestri said they have gotten positive reports about the conditions of those schools.

"We're playing it by ear," he said of reopening Monday.

The catholic schools in St. Tammany have expanded by 1,800 students, Maestri said, after absorbing students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Rita expected to make landfall at dawn

Friday, 8:37 p.m.

The National Weather Service said the core of Hurricane Rita is expected to make landfall as a category 3 hurricane near daybreak along the southwest Louisiana and upper Texas coasts.

On Friday at 7 p.m., the hurricane was about 95 miles southeast of Sabine Pass, along the coast at the border between Texas and Louisiana. A hurricane warning is in effect from Sargent, Texas, to Morgan City.

Sustained Hurricane force winds of 120 and higher gusts extended 85 miles from the core of the storm and tropical storm force winds extended 205 miles.

At 5 p.m., a buoy in Calcasieu Pass, near Cameron Parish, reported sustained winds of 49 mph with gusts to 62 mph. Sustained winds of 37 mph with gusts of 54 mph were reported at Galveston, Texas.

Coastal storm surge flooding was 15 feet above normal. Tides are about 2 feet above normal along Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Tides in those areas area expected to increase 4 to 6 feet.

Rita is expected to produce rainfall of 8 to 12 inches with isolated rainfall amounts of up to 20 inches over southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Over the next several days, Rita is expected to stall over Texas and Arkansas and could produce more than 25 inches of rain.

Tornadoes are possible Friday night and Saturday morning.

I-10 underpass fills in N.O.

Friday, 6:33 p.m.

With Hurricane Rita sideswiping the New Orleans area on Friday, rainwater welled up once again in the low spot where Interstate 10 dips under the railroad bridge near the Orleans/Jefferson parish line.

The build-up was expected, according to Marcia St. Martin, executive director of the Sewerage & Water Board, because the newly installed pumps that drain the dip have been turned off to reduce stress on the damaged 17th Street Canal.

The pumps drain a 562-acre swath that includes adjacent cemeteries and parts of City Park as well as a stretch of the interstate. Ordinarily they discharge water into the drainage canal. The walled waterway can not be used now that it has been gated shut to bar storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain.

Plans for the new pumping station were implemented after cars and drivers drowned in the flooded dip during Tropical Storm Isidore in 2002.

Jefferson Parish gets housing grants

Jefferson Parish will get about $6.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which the agency said can be used to rebuild neighborhoods damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The parish government was slated to get the money before the storm hit, but it can be used to restore some housing stock that was damaged, an agency spokeswoman said.

About $4.1 million in Community Development Block Grant money can be used to restore affordable housing, while $2.4 million in another block grant program can be used to build affordable housing or help new homebuyers purchase their first house.

The parish also got $82,219 from a program that helps some first-time homebuyers handle their down payments and closing costs. Another $161,048 in “emergency shelter” grants can be used to build temporary housing or help people made homeless by the storm.

Hurricanes to cost Red Cross plenty

Friday, 6:20 p.m.

BATON ROUGE -- The combined disaster relief from Hurricane Katrina in southeast Louisiana and Hurricane Rita in southwest Louisiana is expected to cost the American Red Cross at least $2 billion, agency spokesman Jack Sheehan said Friday.

Meeting with reporters at the Emergency Operations Center, Sheehan said the relief effort from the two hurricanes will be “20 times larger than any emergency . . .we have done before.’’

He said the Red Cross has distributed about $500 million in aid.

Sheehan said that the organization has received about $879 million in pledges for relief aid so far. Sheehan said he could not say how much each hurricane will cost the Red Cross.

Crossing lines to retrieve the dead

5:39 p.m.

By Michelle Hunter
East Jefferson bureau

For 16 days, Bessie Grover’s body lay in her bed, in her house on Rocheblave Street in New Orleans, as floodwaters rose around her then fell, and temperatures soared past 90 degrees.

Her son, his wife and her daughters became increasingly despondent after getting little help from the Katrina-beseiged Orleans Parish coroner’s office, which was underwater; the Police Department, which was busy trying to save the living; and other disaster agencies that weren’t in the business of body etrieval.

“We didn’t know what kind of condition she would be in,” son Fird Grover said. “We thought she might wash out into the street and just become a number. Nobody would know who she was.”

But Bessie Grover was buried last weekend in Woodville, Miss., where she was born and raised. The Grovers were able to her home after the Jefferson Parish coroner’s office made a trip into New Orleans on Sept. 13 at the family’s request.

The Jefferson coroner’s office, which remained open throughout Hurricane Katrina and afterwards, made several “humanitarian excursions” into Orleans and surrounding parishes in addition to serving its own constituents, said Dr. Charles Eckert, the chief deputy coroner.

Eckert has been acting coroner since Aug. 28. The elected coroner, Dr. Robert Treuting, said Friday that he evacuated for Katrina because he is recovering from therapy due to recent illness.

Since the storm, the coroner’s office has collected 170 bodies, 30 of them confirmed deaths related to the hurricane, Eckert said. The others died of natural causes at hospices, hospitals and nursing homes during the storm.

Another 20 to 30 Jefferson deaths could be blamed on Katrina once records, not yet submitted because of hasty evacuations, come in, Eckert said.

At least 80 bodies, including Grover’s, have been released to relatives. Five have been sent to the makeshift federal morgue in St. Gabriel for identification, Eckert said.

With the retrieval of storm victims in Jefferson Parish thought to be over, Eckert said the coroner’s office is now focused on finding families of those whose bodies remain at the morgue, so they can be released for burial.

Of the 30 storm-related deaths, seven were from carbon monoxide poisonings, including four in one Marrero house, Eckert said.

Two people were electrocuted.

Another case was that of an unidentified 16-year-old who was hit by a car at the Causeway Boulevard-Interstate 10 interchange in Metairie, a way station for evacuation of New Orleans residens in the days after Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast on Aug 29, Eckert said. The coroner’s office also picked up three unidentified bodies at those staging grounds.

Two drowning deaths were reported, Eckert said. One man was found near the Metairie-New Orleans line around Metairie Country Club. Another was found in a
canal on the West Bank.

Most of the other 15 storm-related deaths were bodies found in private homes after the person was reported missing, usually by a neighbor or relative who had returned and had not seen the person, Eckert said.

“On a number of occasions, we did find a person deceased in the house,” he said.

The deaths were declared storm-related because there was some physical evidence the person made an effort to survive after the storm, Eckert said. But lack of water, food, medication or the heat caused them to succumb.

No cause of death was sought in Grover’s case, her son said.

It was his wife, Juanita Grover, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office correctional officer, who contacted the coroner’s office. Hers was one of several calls for aid in other parishes, Jefferson coroner’s investigator Anthony Buras said.

At first, the staff tried to direct them to Orleans authorities. But when the people continued to call after receiving no help, the staff held a roundtable discussion.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What should we do? Should we leave the body there? Or do we make an attempt to help these people?’ ” Buras said.

“It was the right thing to do.”

FEMA workers sent home for Rita

5:28 p.m.

Most of the workers at the Federal Emergency
Management Agency's headquarters in Baton Rouge have
been sent home to wait out Hurricane Rita.

The Baton Rouge office is typically staffed by about
2,500 employees, but by Friday evening all but around
200 had been sent home, said Lt. Greg Fondran with the
U.S. Coast Guard.

The emergency headquarters will remain "minimally
staffed" through Saturday, although essential
personnel will be on duty.

"We don't know what to expect" about how hard the
storm will hit Baton Rouge, said Fondran.

Jeff to Blanco: Sorry, wrong number

5:11 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Kenner bureau

Some Jefferson Parish residents got a telephone call from Gov. Blanco urging them to evacuate for Hurricane Rita on Friday, but the automated calls turned out to be wrong numbers.

The company distributing Blanco's message, Voicetouch Communciations, which has completed similar notification programs in Florida, inadvertently included Jefferson Parish in calls telling residents to get out of coastal parishes farther west in Louisiana.

"They pulled the Jefferson Parish phone numbers along with the Jefferson Davis Parish numbers," Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said. "Once they realized their mistake, they stopped the calls in Jefferson."

Jefferson Davis Parish is about 170 miles west of Jefferson Parish.

Almost 300,000 Blanco calls were delivered. Bottcher said she did not know how many calls were mistakenly made to Jefferson Parish.

The call program is designed to ensure that residents who may not be watching television or listening to the radio get the word to get out, Bottcher said.

In the future, she said, the message will be customized for individual parishes.

Entergy New Orleans files Chapter 11

5:02 p.m.

By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

Entergy New Orleans Inc., a subsidiary of New Orleans’ only Fortune 500 company, filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization Friday after facing staggering repair costs from Hurricane Katrina with few customers to provide revenue.

Entergy Corp. had warned earlier this week that its New Orleans subsidiary was considering bankruptcy as an option after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the company’s debt to junk status. Entergy New Orleans will continue operating while it is re-organizing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which is temporarily based in Baton Rouge instead of New Orleans because of the hurricane.

Dan Packer, the chief executive officer of Entergy New Orleans, said the step will enable the electricity and natural gas utility to move forward on essential storm repairs while shielding customers from the bulk of rate hikes.

“We thought it was critical to continue our restoration efforts,” Packer said. “We really needed to be able to do something that would avoid severe rate shock. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

In tandem with the filing, Entergy New Orleans asked the court to approve up to $200 million in “debtor in possession” financing, or “DIP” loans from Entergy Corp. The company’s board has approved that financing package

Entergy New Orleans hopes to get $150 million of that money immediately so that it can pay employee wages and benefits, pay for power purchase and gas supply agreements, and continue to repair its power grid to serve its gas and electricity customers. A court hearing is set for Monday.

Entergy New Orleans believes repairing damage from Hurricane Katrina could cost it between $325 million and $475 million, though those estimates could change once utility crews can more accurately assess damage after gaining access to areas flooded by the storm.

At the same time, Entergy New Orleans lost between 100,000 and 130,000 customers, so it has very little revenue coming in. Entergy New Orleans normally serves 190,000 electricity customers and 145,000 gas customers in New Orleans. The district is made up mostly of residential customers, which are less profitable than business customers.

“It’s a timing issue for us as much as anything,” Packer said. “We just needed a cash infusion to pay our bills immediately. We intend to pay everybody.”

In the meantime, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter introduced a bill Friday to provide $250 billion in aid to Louisiana, and that bill includes $2.5 billion for utility restoration costs. Packer said he’s optimistic that the utility portion of the bill will pass because there are precedents – such as after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks - of helping out companies with extraordinary expenses from a disaster.

“I feel pretty comfortable that we’ll get there,” Packer said.

But even with the prospect of federal aid, Packer said Entergy couldn’t count on that money – or upon when it would show up. In borrowing up to $200 million from Entergy Corp., Entergy New Orleans needed to go through bankruptcy court to protect shareholders. “We thought after a lot of deliberations that this was the way to go,” Packer said.

Analysts were unfazed by the bankruptcy filing.

Clint Vince, special counsel to the City of New Orleans for utility regulatory matters, said the bankruptcy filing was done with the knowledge and support of the City Council.

“I think it was an essential step for them to get a DIP loan from their parent company,” Vince said. “It’s a very positive step. It allowed Entergy New Orleans to stay in business and continue the rebuilding efforts until we can get some federal funding.”
Given the extraordinary circumstances, it's not surprising," said Debra Bromberg, a utilities analyst with Jefferies & Co. in New York. Entergy New Orleans not only faces a huge drop in revenue, "the company is going to be incurring substantial costs to restore its system," she said.
Still, it is fairly rare for a regulated electric utility to file for Chapter 11 protection. The last major example came in April 2001 when Pacific Gas & Electric Co. of San Francisco filed for protection because of a huge run-up in costs of wholesale electricity, which it could not pass on to its customers. It emerged from bankruptcy in April 2004.
Entergy New Orleans is the smallest of Entergy’s five utilities and is the only Entergy subsidiary included in the bankruptcy filing. Entergy New Orleans represented about 7 percent of consolidated revenues and 3 percent of consolidated earnings last year, according to the company. Entergy New Orleans has about 400 employees.

The law firm of Jones Walker is representing Entergy New Orleans in the bankruptcy.

Entergy Corp.’s stock increased 97 cents Friday to close at $72 a share. However, the stock was down for the week. It closed at $74.77 the previous Friday.

Shelters open in three states

4:44 p.m.

By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE – State and federal officials Friday said they are looking at opening evacuation centers in Alabama and Arkansas as temporary homes for persons uprooted by Hurricane Rita.

Terri Ricks, undersecretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services, the agency charged with finding shelter space for evacuees, said although “several thousand’’ slots are still available in Louisiana, she has no idea how many evacuees may be headed to shelters.

Ricks said it is impossible to say how many shelters are open or what the population is because school and churches may be opening “pop-up” shelters on their own and not telling the state.

Earlier, Col. Jeff Smith, deputy director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, told an 11 a.m. news conference that in-state shelters were basically filled up, and more space was being sought in other states.

Five hours later, Ricks said that Camp Minden, a former military base in north Louisiana, was open with its 1,500 beds and ready to receive evacuees.

“FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is working with DSS to stand up shelters out of state as necessary,’’ Ricks said. “We may not have enough places in the state for the people evacuating from Rita . . . in Texas and Arkansas,” considering thousands were still in shelters following Katrina.

After Camp Minden is filled, Ricks said, evacuees will be taken to Alabama and then Arkansas.

She said the city of Anniston, Ala., has agreed to take 1,000 evacuees and Birmingham has pledged to accept 4,000.

“Then we will use (shelters in) Arkansas if we have to,’’ Ricks said.

She said her staff was on the telephone late Friday trying to identify shelters that have space or are willing to open.

Earlier, Smith said Arkansas would take 5,000 evacuees, but Ricks could not confirm that number.

The state Department of Transportation and Development is using hundreds of buses to help evacuate those displaced by Rita or evacuees in south Louisiana who were chased from their homes by Katrina three weeks ago and may have to be moved again as flooding hits coastal areas.

Earlier, plans to us aircraft to fly refugees to new shelters were abandoned when rain and high winds moved into the area, Ricks said.

Run on cleaners ends, but persists for face masks, generators

By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer

Shortages of cleaning supplies – common a week or so ago when New Orleanians were thinking of returning home – have largely dissipated, retailers reported on Friday. But that’s not to say stores are free of shortages.

Face masks, for example, are still in short supply at several home-improvement and hardware stores, as are rubber boots – items desired by those cleaning up flooded and reeking homes.

“We definitely keep having a run on those items,’’ said Tammy Patton, owner of Patton Ace Hardware on Bluebonnet Boulevard in Baton Rouge.

And generators were nearly impossible to find Friday as Hurricane Rita was closing in.

A Pep Boys Automotive Supercenter on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge received an order of 80 generators at 10 a.m. Friday and sold out in three hours, said employee Avery Duplissey. The store had to call police and locked doors to allow only a few customers to enter at a time, regardless of whether they were shopping for windshield wipers or the coveted generators.

A week or so ago, rubber gloves, bleach, antibacterial soaps and other cleaning supplies were in short supply after Mayor Ray Nagin announced that he was going to allow nearly 180,000 residents to return to non-flooded areas of the city, a decision rescinded amid pressure from federal authorities and cinched by the threat of Rita.

Several stores said they have recovered from that run. For example, a Baton Rouge Wal-Mart Supercenter on Friday appeared to have large supplies of basic cleaning supplies, such as bleach, mops, and the standard stock of soaps and detergents.

But with the approach of Rita, the store was swamped with customers buying up a new round of storm necessities, such as non-perishable groceries, diapers and beer. The store was out of bottled water and had only one large box of baking soda, something New Orleanians will desperately want once they get refrigerators cleaned out.

Air fresheners were in great demand, the shoe department was out of adult-sized rubber boots and the store had only one package of the dear facial masks. “We just can’t keep them in,’’ an employee in the paint department said.

The Home Depot operations manager on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge said he was fully stocked with cleaning supplies, but sold his last generator at 11 a.m.

But he insisted he had most everything else. “ I’ve got mops, buckets, garbage bags, gloves, dust pans, extension cords, spotlights, rags, paper towels, shop vacs,” said manager Byron Comeaux.

Well, he admitted, he was running short of face masks. “The U.S. Army came and in and took two big shipments of masks….they were cleaning up in New Orleans.’’

Kenner CAO surrenders to police

4:21 p.m.

By Michelle Hunter
East Jefferson bureau

Kenner Chief Administrative Officer Cedric Floyd surrendered to authorities Friday afternoon and was booked with one count of malfeasance in office for what authorities say was the theft of donated Hurricane Katrina relief supplies.

Kenner police served a search warrant on Floyd’s Kenner home Tuesday night and said they removed several truckloads of food, clothing, tools and medicine meant for storm victims.

But some city officials have said Floyd’s arrest is just another skirmish in the upcoming battle for the mayor’s office.

“This is just politics,” Kenner City Councilman Marc Johnson said in a Friday afternoon news conference held at New Hope Community Church in Kenner just before Floyd surrendered. “This is all about the race to city hall.”

Johnson, flanked by his predecessor, former Kenner Councilwoman Wilma Irvin, alluded to next year’s possible rematch between Mayor Phil Capitano and Police Chief Nick Congemi for the Kenner mayor post. Capitano defeated Congemi for the post in 2004.

“He may be a lot of things, but he is not a thief,” Irvin said of Floyd, who she called a political animal. “The only person I know who is more political than him is Nick Congemi. And that is what Cedric is suffering from now.”

Floyd, instructed by his attorney not to comment, watched the press conference from the pews of New Hope Church, which he has said was to have received the donations stored at his home. Floyd had been appointed to head up the city’s donation distribution effort. He has been suspended without pay.

New Hope Pastor Mark Mitchell said the church intended to distribute the supplies to residents of the Susan Park subdivision and members of the church’s affiliated drug rehabilitation program. Floyd took the donations to his home, which is close to the church.

Mitchell said he made arrangements to pick them up, but because of the storm, “we kept missing one another.”

Before the church could get the donations, Mitchell said the police had seized them in the raid.

Kenner police had no comment on Floyd’s defense.

“That’s something for the courts to decide,” said Capt. Steve Caraway, a spokesman.

Richard Bates, Floyd’s attorney, said his client surrendered to authorities at Kenner police headquarters. Bates said he had arranged with state District Judge Hans Liljeberg for Floyd to be released on his own recognizance. The case is being handled by the state attorney general’s office.

Once investigators in Baton Rouge make a fair investigation into the matter, Bates said, “They will conclude that they do not have a prosecutable case. No crime has been committed.”

State Farm won't seek receipts for customer living expenses

3:56 p.m.

By Jeffrey Meitrodt
Staff Writer

Keep the money. No strings attached.

That was the message Friday from State Farm Insurance, which issued 90,000 checks worth $2,500 a piece in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to help displaced policyholders pay their living expenses.

As long as those customers don’t seek additional money from the company for Katrina-related expenses, State Farm will not ask its policyholders to document how they spent the money or return any of it – even if they didn’t spend it on hurricane-related living expenses, State Farm spokesman Dick Luedke said Friday.

“It’s basically the right thing to do,’’ Luedke said. “We don’t see a need to go back to pursue them and said, ‘OK, We gave you $2,500 and you only spent $2,200. Where is our $300?’ That seems somewhat ridiculous.’’
Luedke’s comments mark a sharp reverse for the company, which drew scathing reviews from state lawmakers earlier this week for announcing that the $2,500 payments would be subject to a policyholder’s standard deductible. With a typical deductible running $1,000 to $2,000, that means many policyholders could have been asked to give most of the money back.

But State Farm is now following the course set by Allstate Insurance and the state’s other big insurers, which handed out millions of dollars for living expenses without such conditions.

However, if a customer wants to collect more than $2,500 for living expenses under the so-called civil authority clause, they’ll have to provide receipts – and the deductible will apply, Luedke said. Under the civil authority clause, policyholders can collect up to 14 days of living expenses because local officials ordered them out of their homes.

State Farm policyholders can get reimbursed for up to two years of living expenses if wind made their home uninhabitable, but most of the homes wrecked by Katrina sustained water, not wind, damage.

Jeffrey Meitrodt can be reached at

East Jeff levee holding

3:55 p.m.

Even as Hurricane Rita pushed water over the Industrial Canal levee into New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward today, East Jefferson Levee District President Patrick Bossetta said the Lake Pontchartrain levee in Metairie and Kenner was holding fast, just as it did during Hurricane Katrina.

“East Jefferson is in great shape, although we do have some erosion on the new levee reach that’s just been built because it’s all mud. There’s no grass yet,” he said.

But Bossetta said even that deterioration, between Causeway Boulevard and the Bonnabel pumping station, was minimized by the new rock jetty the Levee District built over the past few months. Bossetta said the dike first proved its worth during Katrina Aug. 29, by breaking waves before they could slam the levee and shoreline with their full force. He said it was pulling its weight again during the early hours of Hurricane Rita.

He said Levee District Executive Director Fran Campbell had made a priority of rebuilding the jetty, which was damaged and scattered by Katrina, so that it was able to provide a front line defense for the east bank of Jefferson Parish as Rita barreled toward the Gulf Coast.

“Fran commandeered a number of bulldozers and pushed all the rocks back up,” Bossetta said. “This project has proved to me, and I think it should prove to everyone, the value of foreshore protection.”

Although the water level in Lake Pontchartrain was up about 4½ feet by mid-day Friday, Bossetta the levee was in no danger of being topped.

“Our levee wasn’t topped during Katrina, except for a little splash in one area around Chickasaw Street, and even if it rises another four feet during Rita, it will still only get to the toe of the levee,” he said. “I’m convinced there will be no problem with our levees in East Jefferson, and I am thrilled.”

Gasoline prices could spike again

3:47 p.m.

By Mary Judice
Business writer

Hurricane Rita could cause retail gasoline prices to jump – possibly to as high as $3.75 next a gallon next week – just as they did after Hurricane Katrina, analysts said.

“There will likely be a brief (post-hurricane) spike as with Katrina,’’ said Marshall Steeves, an analyst with Refco Inc. in New York. “Hopefully it will not be prolonged.’’

Gasoline prices were expected to climb even higher when the Category Three storm’s projected track took it closer to the Houston area. But by mid-day Friday it appeared the Houston area, with its concentration of major oil refineries, would escape the full brunt of the storm.

However, the fact that many Gulf Coast refineries closed in anticipation of the storm means gas prices will likely climb next week even if those facilities are not damaged.
The Houston and Galveston areas are home to 12 percent of the nation’s refining capacity, and most of those refineries shut down in anticipation of Rita. Clusters of refineries in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Lake Charles also closed. And a total of four refineries in New Orleans and in Mississippi remain closed because of Hurricane Katrina-related damage. Collectively, approximately 20 percent of the country’s oil refining capacity was shut down along the Gulf Coast Friday.

Long lines formed at Baton Rouge area gas stations Friday, where the average gallon of unleaded gasoline was selling for $2.55, according to AAA.

At the same time, crude oil and gasoline futures fell on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday even as Gulf Coast evacuees were making their way north to escape Hurricane Rita. Crude for October delivery closed at $64.19 a barrel Friday, down $2.31, and gasoline prices closed at $2.09 per gallon, down 5.4 cents.

“The market has effectively discounted most of the risk of the situation already,’’ said Peter Beutel, president of Cameron Hanover Inc in New Canaan, Conn., an energy consulting firm.

“We see a relief sell off,’’ Steeves said of the move downward Friday.

Oil platforms damaged by Hurricane Katrina also remain closed. The Minerals Management Service said Thursday that 92 percent of the daily oil production from the Gulf was shut down.

Displaced state workers hotline

Louisiana state employees who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina need to contact their employers or call the state civil service department to continue
being paid after the end of the month.

The Department of Civil Service’s hotline for displaced workers is 866-783-5462.

The state estimates that 28,000 employees in 11 parishes were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. While many have contacted their agencies, some have not been in touch with the state, according to a news release.

Jefferson school system pushes back registration by one day

Friday, 3 p.m.

Due to Hurricane Rita, the Jefferson Parish public school system has pushed back by one day the start of registration for new students and Jefferson students with new addresses, system spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said.

Registration will be held Tuesday through Oct. 1, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at four West Bank locations and five East Jefferson sites. The West Bank sites are: Geraldine Boudreaux Elementary School, 950 Behrman Highway, Terrytown; Estelle Elementary School, 2800 Barataria Blvd., Marrero; Joshua Butler Elementary School, 300 Fourth St., Westwego, and Waggaman Elementary School, 6801 River Road, Waggaman.

The East Jefferson locations 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 Elementary School, 6818 Kawanee Ave., Metairie, and Greenlawn Terrace Elementary School, 1500 38th St., Kenner.

Power poles fall in Rita's fury

3 p.m.

Saying that power poles and tree branches are downed already, Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano urged residents this afternoon to stay off the streets as Hurricane Rita invades the Gulf Coast.

"Entergy tells us that many of the new lines and power poles recently replaced from Hurricane Katrina damage were only temporary and therefore fragile and susceptible to the winds we are already experiencing in the city," Capitano said in a posting on City Hall's website. "People in Kenner can expect power outages due to this storm."

"But it is not safe to be on the streets, so we urge people to stay home today, tonight and tomorrow morning".

Kenner said it has pulled its work crews due to the deteriorating conditions and that contractor Waste Management has also pulled its garbage crews. Garbage service will resume Monday, the website said.

Garbage collection already was about two days behind schedule.

City Hall is closed until Monday.

However workers will be staffing City Hall's emergency operations hotline at 468-7200 today until 10 p.m. After that if it's an emergency, residents were advised to call 911.

Weather permitting, city workers plan to resume answering the hotline Saturday at 10 a.m.

Kenner's food and supply distribution center at Woodward Playground gymnasium, 2001 34th St., closed today at noon but plans to reopen Sunday from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm.

Animals moved to Dixon prison

BATON ROUGE – Dixon Correctional Institute has picked up some more residents – the four-legged variety.

Dixon, normally the home for medium security inmates, is now a haven for evacuated animals.

At the request of the Humane Society of the United, the prison -- located north of Baton Rouge near Jackson -- is now a temporary home to 155 animals evacuated from the New Orleans area.

Friday’s count included 120 dogs, 25 chickens, five geese and five red-headed ducks, officials said.

Last week, society officials complained that state and federal officials were not doing enough to round up animals left alone in Katrina’s wake.

Animals are being kept on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge and at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzalez.

Prison officials said that personnel are “housing and caring for the animals evacuated from the New Orleans area.’’

Gretna Heritage Festival to downsize

2:15 p.m.

By Joe Darby
West Bank bureau

The Gretna Heritage Festival will go on in October as planned, but will be a smaller version of the event that attracted more than 60,000 people last year.

This year's festival will serve as "a family reunion" for West Bank residents whose lives have been disrupted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Gretna City Councilman Ricky Templet, chairman of the festival since its inception 11 years ago.

The festival will be held Oct. 8-9, with officials dropping the Friday, Oct. 7 date. The smaller festival at the Gretna Market will feature a minimum of 10 bands during the weekend and two stages instead six, Templet said.

The Gretna Economic Development Association decided not to cancel the festival because residents need it, Templet said.

"This will give people whose lives have been caught up for three weeks time to get together and turn their lives back around," he said. "It will serve as a family reunion for a lot of us. I just got back with my family after almost three weeks."

In addition, this year's event will raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. It will also serve as a fund-raiser for community organizations that will set up food or craft booths, Templet said, and give local restaurants a chance to make up some of the money they lost in the days following the storm.

City Attorney W.J. LeBlanc suggested that the Gretna Economic Development Association work with a recognized relief agency to distribute hurricane relief money raised during the festival.

Floodwaters reach northern Arabi, but Chalmette dry so far

St. Bernard Parish officials said that as of 2 p.m. the Industrial Canal waters pouring into New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward have reached northern sections of Arabi in St. Bernard. But as hoped, the flood was being held there by the raised railroad just east of the parish line.

Parish Council Chairman Joey DiFatta said that up to two feet of water flooded areas of northern Arabi, which also took water during Hurricane Katrina. But the water had not crossed to the east of the tracks, which run along Alexander Street.

"The tracks are holding it," DiFatta said.

But he warned that it remains unclear how much more water the tracks could take before the flood crosses into other areas of Arabi and possibly Chalmette. The area flooded so far, as well as all of St. Bernard, has remained empty since Katrina’s flooding.

Meanwhile, parish officials said the levees on the north and eastern sides were still holding Rita's surge. Water is now covering some parts of Paris Road outside the levees, but has not topped into neighborhoods.

Cleco moves workers to north shore

Approximately 350 workers are on the north shore working to restore
customers affected by Hurricane Katrina, a Cleco spokeswoman said this afternoon.

Customers throughout the state should prepare for power outages as bands of weather associated with Hurricane Rita move through the area. The utility company is contracting with additional crews and gathering necessary materials, she said.

Jefferson remains mostly dry

12:45 p.m.

By Kate Moran
Staff writer

Rainfall started to coat the roads in Jean Lafitte by noon on Friday, but other parts of Jefferson Parish have thus far been spared flooding.

Parish officials were nonetheless nervous that the heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Rita could bring down power lines, back up the sewage system and cause flooding in Old Metairie and around the Harvey Canal.

“We're watching closely to make sure the vulnerable areas are OK,” said Walter Maestri, parish emergency management director.

Jean Lafitte, Crown Point, Barataria and Grand Isle remained under mandatory evacuations on Friday.

To stanch tidal surge flooding in New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday drove sheet pilings into the 17th Street Canal. Maestri said that repair prevents Jefferson Parish from pumping rainfall into the canal and could trap water in Old Metairie.

“Here in southeast Louisiana, there is no gravity drainage,” Maestri said. “Every drop has to be pumped out.”

The parish also fears tidal surges of three to five feet around the Harvey Canal on the West Bank.

Hurricane Katrina heavily taxed the infrastructure in the parish, and Rita now threatens to damage the stopgap repairs that were put in place to restore electricity to many parish residents.

“Entergy made some quick fixes,” Maestri said. “In many cases, there was not time for permanent repairs. Wind and squalls could cause many neighborhoods to lose power.”

If the parish loses electricity, the sewage lift stations will likewise be knocked out of service. With the stations down, the sewage cannot travel to the treatment plant.

The parish issued an advisory to East Jefferson residents on Thursday to limit their use of toilets, sinks, showers and washing machines, but Maestri said Friday morning that residents did not have to suspend normal activity.

“We do want everyone to be alert about potential problems,” he said.

The parish is operating a shelter at Stella Worley Junior High School. Maestri said about 60 people had sought refuge there by Friday morning, a number far below the shelter's capacity of 600 people.

Causeway restricting southbound traffic

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is restricting its southbound bridge to
emergency vehicles and other official work crews, General Manager
Lambert said at about 12:30 p.m. Friday.

"We're open, for sure, northbound so that anyone who wants to evacuate
for whatever reason, they're welcome to use the Causeway," Lambert said.
"Southbound, we're trying as hard as we can to limit it to emergency

Lambert said Causeway police would initiate convoys like those they use
during fog should winds on the outer edges of Hurricane Rita pick up
past 45 mph. He said the roads leading to the northbound bridge typically
become inaccessible before weather forces his crews to close the Causeway.

4,000 Guardsmen shifted to southwest La.

Brig. Gen. John Basilica, commander of the National Guard units overseeing Hurricane Katrina rescue-and-recovery efforts, said that about 4,000 Guard troops which had been positioned in southeast Louisiana to deal with Katrina have been shifted to southwest Louisiana to deal with the aftermath of Rita.

He said there are “adequate forces in both areas.’’

Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the National Guard, said there are still 16,000 Guard troops on duty in the state -- about 4,000 in southwest Louisiana for Rita, about 9,100 on southeast Louisiana for Katrina and another 2,100 in Baton Rouge and other parts of the state providing security at evacuation centers and food distribution centers.

Basilica said there has been no additional troops sent to the state despite Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s request for 15,000 more National Guard troops and 15,000 active-duty military forces.

“It is being considered,’’ Basilica said.

Col. Jeff Smith, deputy director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that 36 parishes have been place under a state of emergency and “and that number will grow’’ with Rita’s approach and aftermath.

Smith said Rita is expected to do “significant damage’’ in the parts of the state. “I think Cameron Parish is going to be tore up pretty bad,’’ he said.

Smith said public shelters in the state are full, and about 2,000 additional evacuees were looking for shelters.

He said that state officials have located about 5,000 additional shelter beds in Arkansas and other shelters are being sought in other states.

He said two planes capable of carrying a total of 252 passengers will be pressed into service to fly some evacuees from south Louisiana to north Louisiana or out of state.

-- Ed Anderson, Capital bureau

Keep heading north, officials say

People leaving southwest Louisiana as Hurricane Rita approaches looking to wait out the storm in a hotel room will have to keep driving north to Little
Rock, Arkansas, according to the emergency center for Caddo and Bossier Parishes.

Capt. Ken Viola with the Bossier City Police Department said they are telling people who call to keep going straight through to Arkansas because all
hotel rooms are full along Interstate 20 from Jackson, Miss., straight through Texas.

Emergency shelters are beginning to open up to accommodate the people coming from coastal Louisiana and Texas, although those too are filling up quickly, Viola said. The Hirsch Coliseum, already housing evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, is already full, although an exposition hall in downtown Shreveport is still taking people. Churches are also being to open
up smaller shelters in the area, Viola said.

Voodoo headed for Memphis

By Bruce Hamilton
Staff writer

The Voodoo Music Experience, an annual rock festival held in New Orleans since its 1999 inception, is relocating to Memphis, Tenn., because Hurricane Katrina wrecked plans to hold the concert at its scheduled venue, City Park.

Voodoofest, to be held at Tom Lee Park on Halloween weekend, Oct. 29-30, is being recast as a fund-raiser to aid victims of Katrina and New Orleans itself. Proceeds will benefit the New Orleans Restoration Fund, an arm of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, according to concert organizers.

“Since our home base is New Orleans, it’s been an especially difficult time for us, with staff losing homes and offices,” said Stephan Rehage, the event’s founder, in a press release under the heading, “Restore. Rebuild. Rebirth.”

“Moving a festival of this magnitude has been no easy task,” Rehage said. He expressed gratitude “to all the artists dedicating their time and energy to support the cause and to our incredible fans for their dedication and support.”

Some of the event’s profits will be allocated to national humanitarian organizations such as Mercy Corps and Habitat for Humanity; remaining proceeds will go to local, grassroots organizations and cultural institutions such as WWOZ and Young Artists, Young Aspirations Inc.

To boost fund-raising, VH1 will broadcast highlights from the performances Nov. 5 in a primetime showcase. Its broadband Internet channel, Vspot, also will feature portions of the event.

Nine Inch Nails is the first confirmed act from the concert’s original lineup of more than 40 acts, including local favorites Dr. John, Neville Brothers, Kermit Ruffins, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Bonerama and World Leader Pretend.

Organizers are working to confirm or reshape the bill, which also featured such national acts as the Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, The Flaming Lips, Social Distortion, Cake, Ryan Adams and Billy Idol.

Former New Orleans resident Trent Reznor, frontman of Nine Inch Nails, told MTV he would support the festival. “I look forward to being a part of this amazing New Orleans tradition,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s great that other cities have opened their doors to this year’s event, and the New Orleans spirit will definitely remain in the air – that’s something the floods cannot wash away.

“We are going to be part of the rebuilding process, and we are asking the entire music community to join us.”

For more information about tickets and lineup, visit the festival’s Web site at

Flooding update

Friday, 12:30 p.m.

Floodwater continued to flow over the west bank levee of the Industrial Canal extending several blocks into the city from the canal. Water was approaching the intersections of North Tonti and Bartholomew, North Miro at Desire and North Miro at Piety streets.

The water appeared to be overtopping the levee and no breaks were observed.

Flooding was worse on the east side of the canal were a repaired section of levee was overtopped earlier. The water appeared to gouge out a section of the repair and serious flooding was reported throughout the Lower 9th Ward.

St. Bernard officials hope raised railroad contains flooding

Friday, 12:16 p.m.

St. Bernard Parish officials are hoping that a raised railroad located just east of the parish line with Orleans Parish will contain, at least partially, the Industrial Canal waters now pouring into the city’s Lower 9th Ward.

St. Bernard Parish Council Chairman Joey DiFatta and a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said that as of 11:30 a.m. the waters had not yet entered the parish, though they had reports of flooding of two feet or more moving eastward towards Arabi.

"The water should stop at the railroad tracks, but the one thing we don’t know is how high the water will get," DiFatta said.

The canal's waters began pouring this morning into the Lower 9th Ward as Hurricane Rita's surge topped the repairs in a section of levee that breached during Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29.

Col. Richard Baumy, spokesman for the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office, said the parish’s levees on the north and eastern sides were holding Rita's surge. But he said the office was going to suspend vehicular patrols due to the flooding threat. He said if the area floods, deputies would patrol by boat as long as wind conditions permit.

Water pours into Ninth Ward

Hurricane Rita-driven winds pushed floodwaters from the Industrial Canal into the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and Chalmette as water topped a section of the levee that was under repair, Secretary of Transportation and Development Johnny Bradberry said Friday.

Bradberry said the flooding was waist-deep near the levee.

He said there have not been any reports of flooding in other parts of the area, such near the 17th Street Canal or the London Avenue Canal, two troublespots during Hurricane Katrina.

Bradberry said that it appears that some of the gravel was used to fix the Industrial Canal levees may have been washed away by Rita’s rains and winds.

“We are just hoping and praying the winds will shift and the flooding will stop,’’ he told reporters at a morning news conference. “But we expect this flooding will continue to happen for the next few hours.

Water tops both banks of Industrial Canal

Water was pouring over both banks of the Industrial Canal Friday morning, reflooding areas recently drained of floodwaters left by Hurricane Katrina.

Observers said water was spilling over the repaired levee breach in the east side of the canal causing major flooding through the Lower 9th Ward and into St. Bernard Parish.

Alan Abadi, legal counsel, referring to the east bank levee break, said “It’s crumbling as the water goes through it. You can bet on that.”

Armored vehicles from the Oregon National Guard were headed into that area this morning, but their purpose was not apparent.

On the west bank of the canal, water was pouring over a long stretch of the levee north of the Claiborne Street Bridge, ponding in the areas along the levee but not causing any significant flooding as of midday Friday. There was no apparent break in the levee.

Ochsner status

Ochsner Clinic Main Campus-Jefferson Highway and Ochsner Hospital
will remain open.
·Ochsner Clinics in Mandeville, Covington, Slidell and Abita Springs
will close at 2 p.m. on Friday and reopen on Monday.
·Ochsner Clinics in Baton Rouge will remain open on Friday.
After hours clinics are closed.

New call center for missing persons available

Concerned relatives who are unable to find a missing loved one and fear the worst should call the Find Family National Call Center at 1-866-326-9393. This is the nationwide collection point and official coordination center for information on persons missing from the storm. It is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Ttis number is specifically for those concerned that a loved one may be deceased. Callers will be asked questions aimed at identifying and reuniting family members. The center will treat the information with the utmost care and confidentiality.

The Find Family National Call Center is a joint effort between the State of Louisiana and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The center includes specialty staff members from the state, mental health professions, and FEMA’s National Disaster Medical System and Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team branches.

Flood waters move into Plaquemines Parish; St. Bernard still dry

Friday, 10:19 a.m.

Plaquemines Parish officials said Hurricane Rita has begun to push water into the parish's lower regions, with storm surge from Hurricane Rita pushing into areas south of Port Sulphur.

The flooding is in the same areas totally devastated last month by Hurricane Katrina.

Sheriff Jiff Hingle said that as of 10 a.m. officials have reports of water blocking Louisiana 23 in Port Sulphur.

"It's a little earlier than we anticipated,'' Hingle said.

Officials did not expect flooding until later this afternoon.

On the east bank, Hingle said there are also reports of water starting to erode a temporary repair on a marsh levee. Hingle said the temporary repair at East Pointe a la Hache was beginning to fail, although he didn't know how seriuous the flooding would be.

All areas taking water now had already been left deserted of residents by Katrina's wrath.

Meanwhile in St. Bernard Parish, officials said Friday morning the levees were holding, although they had received reports of water creeping through the Lower 9th Ward from the Industrial Canal.

Still, officials said if the flooding of the Lower 9th is not too severe, they think the raised railroad tracks near Jackson Barracks would prevent the water from entering most of St. Bernard.

Officials said they do expect some flooding along Paris Road, but nothing too serious if the levees hold.

Death toll rises to 841

BATON ROUGE – A total of 841 Louisiana residents have died as a result of Hurricane Katrina, state officials said Friday.

Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals, said that 664 are being kept at a temporary morgue in St. Gabriel in Iberville Parish, and the others are dispersed among 13 parishes in southeast Louisiana.

He said that the firm hired by the state to recover the bodies, Kenyon International of Houston, has suspended body recovery operations in Orleans Parish Friday and Saturday because of spinoff weather effects from Hurricane Rita on southwest Louisiana and Texas.

“Weather permitting, the operations will resume Sunday,’’ Johannessen said.

He said officials are confident that the morgue site in St. Gabriel, will withstand tropical storm-force winds that are expected in southeast Louisiana from Rita.

Besides St. Gabriel, coroners’ offices with the most bodies being stored are East Baton Rouge Parish with 68 and Jefferson Parish with 30.

Despite having "seceded," defiant Uptown lawyer arrested

Media darling booked with public drunkenness

'I am now an independent nation'

By Leslie Williams
Staff writer

An Uptown man who gained national attention by publicly defying New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's mandatory evacuation order and boasting of living a "Lord of the Flies/Robinson Crusoe" post-Hurricane Katrina existence at his spacious home on St. Charles Avenue was arrested this week for public intoxication, police said.

A Louisiana State trooper arrested Ashton O'Dwyer on Tuesday at 12:10 a.m. in the 6000 block of St. Charles Avenue, said Officer Garry Flot, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman. The 57-year-old lawyer was booked at the Amtrak Station, which temporarily has replaced the Orleans Parish Prison. O'Dwyer was released later that day, Flot said.

In a relatively short span after Katrina hit Aug. 29, O'Dwyer appeared on ABC News' Good Morning America, CNN and the CBS Early Show. He was featured in articles published by Newhouse News Service, The Baltimore Sun, The Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle and USA Today, which quoted him as saying: "This is the highest ground in the city. That's why the rich white men who built this city put their homes here."

In other articles, O'Dwyer described Nagin as "incompetent."

He showed reporters his weapons - a pistol and a shotgun - and declared his willingness to use them. At one point, according to The Houston Chronicle, he announced "that I have seceded from the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the United States."

"I am now an independent nation," he continued.

In a CNN Newsnight piece, O'Dwyer put his situation in perspective for a national television audience.

"I will leave when I'm dead. OK? Let them be warned, they come to my house, they try to evict me, they try to take my guns, there will be gunfire."

Social Scene in Houston

Here we go again!

By Nell Nolan

Houston -- Two days again, I was in a Walgreens buying basic toiletries: toothbrush, Crest, body lotion, etc. As a post-Katrina evacuee -- my husband and I left two days after the storm and then headed to St. Joseph, LA, for refuge with friends -- I was running out of the basics. The Walgreens cashier looked at me and said, "Are you preparing for the hurricane?"

Her question hit me like a bolt of irony. When I feebly responded that I was a Katrina evacuee and just getting over that upheaval, I was forced to confront the new rage of nature. It was Rita who was on the roll and an all-too-familiar scenario was reshaping. Katrina was yesterday's hurricane.

My husband Robert and I have been living at the comfortable home of my sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and John Parsley, for a bit more than two weeks as we wait to get into a suites-hotel. During this time, the Parsley home has been a haven for several evacuated family members, as well as my mother, who left New Orleans before the ravages of Katrina. Thank God!

Some normalcy has returned to our lives. We've been fortunate to have a car in Houston; Robert is working here; a slew of our family members have settled in; and we've started the New Orleans nexus.
A few social events have included us, and as the social columnist of The Times-Picayune, I have reported on them. Friends have been getting a feel of the city (the fourth largest in the nation), by scoping some of the stores and restaurants, finding work and lodging, and locating schools for their children. Not too bad for the Big Easy in exile.

Now Rita has threatened all that.

Yesterday, our whole household of six -- Nancy, John, daughter Meredith (who celebrates her 18th birthday on Friday), Robert and I -- agreed to stay put during the hurricane. Then came the scramble for provisions. Wait, I thought, I've just done all that! Earlier today, John and Robert made a final trip to Home Depot, and Nancy picked up the last round of groceries.

Friends and associates are assessing the situation, and have decided (as of now) to remain in Houston. On Wednesday, civic-social-and cultural leader Anne Milling, whose husband is Whitney Bank President R. King Milling, said that they weren't planning to evacuate, but mentioned that pals Dottie and John Charbonnet had already departed.

"We're all so tired and discouraged," said Anne, who was deferring her hurricane preparations until today.

"When I'm up to it," she added.

Just hours ago, Dr. Rian and Teri Tanenbaum were stocking up at Rice Epicurean Market. A physician at West Jefferson Medical Center in New Orleans, he had hoped to get back to work within days, but Rita is making all that doubtful. Earlier, the couple made an effort to leave Houston, only to get stuck in motionless traffic. They abandoned their departure and returned. The same was true for her parents, who had plane tickets to Florida, and who made it to the airport. However, they were so disheartened by the long lines, and the fear of the unknown, that they too came back.

The situation at the airports was compounded by the fact that dozens of the security personnel didn't show up for work. Jeff Smisek, president of Continental Airlines, addressed the dilemma by bringing in 150 Transportation Security Administration workers from Dallas and Cleveland to check out the passengers and move them on. Those "imports" had a condition, though. Continental had to promise that they would be back in their homes tonight.

So many people who had planned escapes were in the same situation as the Tanenbaums and abandoned thoughts of evacuation. "I could walk faster to Dallas," said Yvette Semmes.

At about 3:30 p.m. today, The Galleria area of Houston -- usually usually teeming with shoppers, Lexuses and SUVS -- was devoid of any usual activity. With a pass, Robert and I were able to get into The Galleria itself, which was completely closed. Workers were putting thick plastic over the escalators; shops were uncharasterically dark; and yellow "Caution" strips were placed in the front. We had difficulty finding an unlocked exit, but when we did, I looked around to see a white paper posted on a door. It said that trespassers into The Galleria would be prosecuted. Nearby, the front desk of the Embassy Suites hotel was fielding a battery of phone requests from people begging for rooms. There were none, and the hotel was in a state of emergency.

As with Katrina, Houstonians -- and folks like us, temporary Texans -- are glued to their TVs and planning for the last-day onslaught of bunkering down. Our family will also have a birthday cake for Meredith.

Then we will await Rita.

Red Cross sites close in Jefferson

Friday, 9:45 a.m.
Due to Hurricane Rita, Red Cross assistance sites in Jefferson Parish will be closed until Monday, Jacquie Bauer, the parish’s public information officer, said Friday morning.

All curbside trash collection in the parish also has been suspended and will resume when weather permits, she said.

Jefferson suspends garbage collection

Due to Hurricane Rita, Jefferson Parish garbage and trash collection will be suspended today, and the temporary trash drop-off sites at 5990 Lapalco Blvd., Marrero, and 3769 West Metairie Ave., Metairie, will be closed.

Weather permitting this weekend, the parish will reopen its two permanent trash drop-off sites at 6250 Lapalco Blvd. in Marrero and at 400 David Drive in Metairie.

Flood waters are visible west of Industrial Canal

Friday, 8:50 a.m.

Water apparently has flooded back into part of New Orleans on the western side of the Industrial Canal. From the Interstate 10 high rise over the canal, water was visible at the New Orleans Cold Storage Facility and in other port facilities Friday morning. Water also had spilled onto Alvar Street and neighboring roads.

Tornado warning

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for Hancock County, Miss., until 9 a.m. Friday.

State police urge northward evacuations

BATON ROUGE -- State police 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 troopers are “seeing a big influx (of drivers) from Texas’’ and highways in Baton Rouge are “jam-packed.’’

“The tendency is for people to come east,’’ McLeary said. “But lodging is at a premium (and evacuees) will deplete gasoline supplies.’’

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 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 potions 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

Satellite school proposed

The administrators of St. Augustine, Xavier Prep and St. Mary's Academy are condering plans for a satelitte school to be conducted on the campus of Xavier Prep in New Orleans.

They are asking students to e-mail notice of interest to to help gauge the viability of the proposal. They asks those responding to indicate whether they perfer a session that begins in October or January.

Rita continues on course toward La./Texas line

HOUSTON (AP) - Hurricane Rita roared toward the Texas and Louisiana coasts early Friday, a major Category 4 storm that spurred a traffic-snarled exodus toward higher ground and fears it could cripple the heart of the nation's petrochemical industry.

Forecasters said it appeared Houston and Galveston could avoid a direct hit as Rita veered slightly to the east, threatening its 140-mph winds at the Beaumont and Port Arthur area about 75 miles east of Houston.

The unprecedented flight from the flood-prone Houston area left clogged highways at a near standstill, frustrating hundreds of thousands of people whose cars and tempers were overheating.

"It can't get much worse, 100 yards an hour," steamed Willie Bayer, 70, who was heading out of Houston and trying to get to Sulphur Springs in far northeast Texas. "It's frustrating bumper-to-bumper."

The first rain bands were expected before nightfall Friday with the full fury of Rita expected into Saturday. Forecasters warned of the possibility of a storm surge of 15 to 20 feet, battering waves and rain of up to 15 inches along the Texas and western Louisiana coast.

Federal, state officials prepare for Rita

Vice Admiral Thad Allen, principal federal official and federal coordinating officer for the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco assured residents of southwestern Louisiana that federal, state and local agencies are working together to make sure adequate resources are available should Hurricane Rita cause major damage.

“We are pre-positioning resources such as food, water and meals ready-to-eat ,” Allen said. “We have secured supplies for 500,000 people. We are coordinating our efforts to provide emergency transportation to evacuees and identifying out-of-state resources for sheltering purposes.”

Allen was joined in a press briefing held today at the Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge by Blanco, who urged residents living on the southwestern coast to evacuate. “I am hoping and praying that people leave. Some people believe they can ride out the storm. Please take heed and go to safe ground,” Blanco said.

United States military forces are also positioned to be able to provide support after the storm hits. Five Navy ships staffed with 800 Marines are located off the coast of Florida and will follow the storm into the Gulf once it makes landfall. Aviation resources will be ready to give immediate search and rescue assistance and medical aid. Helicopters have been moved to southeastern Louisiana.

Federal troops now on duty in New Orleans will remain in place. Four thousand National Guard troops from various states are moving into southwestern Louisiana.

Allen said that his role as the principal federal official and federal coordinating officer is to evaluate resource requests and “make sure that resources get to the right place.”

Allen and Blanco were joined at the press conference by Major Gen. Bennett Landreneau with the Louisiana National Guard.

While preparing for Hurricane Rita, response, rescue, recovery and law enforcement personnel continue to work around the clock to bring critical aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

More flights canceled from N.O.

2:40 p.m.

Nine flights out of Louis Armstrong International Airport have been canceled today as Hurricane Rita bears down on the Gulf Coast, spokeswoman Michelle Duffourc said.

Continental Airlines scrubbed four of today's flights, as well as its entire Saturday schedule. Northwest canceled three of today's flights, and Southwest Airlines canceled two to Houston, Duffourc said. Southwest did bring in one flight from Houston but rerouted its return to Dallas instead of Houston, she said.

Passengers should check with their individual airlines later in the day to make sure more flights aren't canceled, Duffourc said.

Duffourc said at mid-morning tht officials had no plans to close the airport because of Hurricane Rita. For airport information, travelers can also check the airport's website: