Corps criticized for levee progress

Tuesday, 8:15 p.m.

By Michelle Krupa
Staff writer

Levee breaches that led to catastrophic flooding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will be rebuilt to 10 feet by Dec. 1 and will be raised to pre-storm levels by the first day of the 2006 hurricane season, Army Corps of Engineers officials told the New Orleans City Council Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Robert Crear said teams from across the country and from Germany and Holland have been called in to fully reconstruct canal levees at 17th Street, London Avenue and the Industrial Canal by June 1. Breaks in those barriers led to the flooding of entire neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain after both storms.

"We will make those dates to get that done," he said.

Though the council applauded the Corps' efforts, several members lambasted plans to rebuild New Orleans' levee system only to pre-storm levels, saying those heights were too low. They said that they would demand that Congress provide enough money to protect the city and outlying communities from a Category 5 hurricane.

"Pre-Katrina is not going to work for us," said Councilwoman Cynthia Morrell, whose district was partially inundated when water spilled through a breach in the London Avenue Canal. "We need to go one step above."

"Why can't we go the extra mile?" asked Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson. "We can't tolerate interim."

Council President Oliver Thomas pressed Corps officials on the quality of work done between storms to shore up breaches at the three major canals.

Thomas alleged that work at the Industrial Canal, which abuts the Lower Ninth Ward, was not repaired to the same standard as at canals near Lakeview and Gentilly. The Lower Ninth Ward sustained a second bout of devastating flooding following Rita; the other neighborhoods remained relatively dry.

"That is not true," said Col. Richard Wagenaar. "The same process that was used to fix these breaches (at 17th Street and London Avenue) was used to fix the breaches in the Inner Harbor Canal."

Corps officials addressed the council during a marathon series of meetings Tuesday that began at 10 a.m. and continued past 7:30 p.m. Mayor Ray Nagin and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, along with the president of the ALF-CIO, executives from Entergy Corp., Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel and representatives of Gov. Kathleen Blanco also addressed the council Tuesday.

NOPD Police Chief Compass resigns

Abrupt departure comes as NOPD Katrina response is questioned

By James Varney
and Michael Perlstein

Staff writers

New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass, whose emotional media appearances since Hurricane Katrina made him one of the city's most recognizable figures nationwide, abruptly announced his retirement Tuesday.

The stunning departure of the city's top cop roiled New Orleans leaders, and raised questions of whether Mayor Ray Nagin forced Compass from his job. Earlier this month, on Sept. 9, Compass said, “I want to be police chief here as long as I can and as long as Mayor Nagin will have me.”

Compass made the announcement at an afternoon news conference. Neither Compass nor Nagin provided any background or explanation as to why the chief chose this moment, when New Orleans is enduring its greatest crisis, to depart. Nagin said, when asked, that he did not ask for Compass’ resignation.

Although Compass’ performance during Katrina has brought forth some criticism, his three-and-a-half year tenure as superintendent had its rocky moments before Katrina, most notably as the city witnessed a resurgence in its infamously high murder rate. Nagin picked him as chief, but he and Compass were not particularly close, according to people who know both men.
Compass appeared at the news conference at the Sheraton Hotel, flanked by Nagin, his three assistant superintendents and a handful of commanders and bodyguards, to announce his retirement. Deputy Superintendent Warren Riley has been announced as interim chief.

"Since I was a little boy, my whole life, I wanted to be the superintendent of police," Compass said Tuesday, appearing to fight back tears. "In the life of every leader the time comes to reflect on his life, and I'm very, very thankful God gave me the wisdom and discernment to make tough decisions.

"Over the next 30 to 45 days of a transition period, I will be retiring as superintendent of police," he said. "I ask you to respect my privacy and my decision, and my right to be by myself."

Nagin characterized Compass' retirement as "a sad day in the city of New Orleans," and hailed the chief as a hero. He added, somewhat cryptically, that he thought Compass would make a lot of money and asked him to send the occasional Christmas card.

"My heart goes out to the chief and his family,” he said. “I wish him nothing but the best."

The news conference ended abruptly, with Nagin and Compass quickly parting and leaving through separate exits. In response to a shouted question about whether he asked for Compass' resignation, Nagin said, "No." The mayor also declined to elaborate in an email Tuesday afternoon.

"No comment," Nagin wrote. "The chief asks everyone to respect his privacy. He requested the press conference be held the way it was handled. He is a good man. Don't mess with him!"

But several sources said the sudden retirement came after a private meeting between Compass, 47, and the mayor not long before the announcement.
The announcement came two days after several comments Compass had made repeatedly about the alleged violence that had engulfed emergency shelters at the Superdome and Ernest N.Morial Convention Center were countered by others to be hyperbolic and based on faulty intelligence.

Compass had come under fire for a variety of other reasons after Katrina. At first, he seemed invisible, holed up in the Hyatt Hotel with Nagin and other city leaders. As anarchy threatened to overwhelm the city, cops on the street said they "had no chief."

Widespread looting, some of it conducted by police officers, branded New Orleans worldwide as lawless, and almost 249 officers left their posts without permission.

After that first week, however, Compass became a seemingly omnipresent fixture in media accounts, and was feted by broadcast news stars. After the crisis was in full swing, Compass was a virtual quote machine, offering a down-home mix of empathy and bravado.

"I'm still standing. I'm the ultimate warrior," Compass was quoted two weeks after the storm. "I'm going to be the last person to leave the battlefield."
While his tearful interviews made him a compelling local face of the horrors of the storm, his decision to leave the city and flip the coin at a New Orleans Saints game in Giants Stadium on Monday Night Football on Sept. 19 was criticized by some of his rank and file.

Then, on Friday, Nagin's press office issued an unusually tart news release that rescinded statements Compass had made to media outlets about taking guns from residents coming back to New Orleans, comments that prompted a lawsuit from the National Rifle Association. What's more, Nagin's staff made clear, Compass' statements "were made without the knowledge or the approval of the mayor."

After Tuesday’s news conference, as the brass got into their tinted-window SUVs and rolled away, Riley, a favorite at City Hall whom Nagin supported in an unsuccessful bid for criminal sheriff last year, eluded a question about whether he has been tapped as a replacement.

But just a few minutes after Compass quit, Riley leaned up against the hood of a black SUV, next to department spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo, smiling and talking into a cell phone. As he hung up, another colleague walked up to him and slapped his hand.

"Congratulations, bro!" the officer said. Riley smiled and thanked him.
In less than an hour, Nagin's office released a statement announcing Riley's appointment as acting chief.

The new head of the department declined any comment on his ascension to power or his boss's exit, but said he would address the topic today at an 11 a.m. news conference.

Top brass and patrol officers were jolted by the news.

"It was a little shocking," said Capt. Kevin Anderson, commander of the 8th District. "There was no indication earlier, but I'm sure he had his reasons. I can tell you this much: This has been the most trying incident anyone could go through in their lifetime," referring to Katrina.

Anderson praised Compass as an "outstanding" superintendent, who had been "a friend to me and a friend to the entire city."

Several district captains said they heard about Compass' sudden retirement through the media or by telephone as the news rippled through the department. They said they were surprised that Compass didn't follow the typical protocol of informing his officers before any public announcement.

"I'm extremely surprised by this, but these have been surprising times," said Police Association of New Orleans President David Benelli.

Two captains said they met with the chief Monday and nothing seemed amiss.
Capt. Timothy Bayard, the vice and narcotics chief who has commanded boat rescues since Katrina, said the timing of Compass' retirement was unfortunate, whether it was voluntary or forced.

"The timing is not good, man, not good at all," Bayard said. "We're in the middle of a crisis and now this? He was driving the ship. I have a lot of young officers with their heads cocked sideways, looking to someone for leadership, wondering which way they're going. It's going to have a trickle-down effect and it's not the right trickle-down effect."

Compass is the latest in a series of high-profile members of the Nagin administration to resign during the mayor's first term. Those who preceded him out the door included two chief administrative officers, an intergovernmental aide, the economic development director and a communications director.
Benelli heaped praise on a man he considered both a boss and a friend.

"The men and women of this department had a real friend in Eddie Compass. He was a cop's cop. He rose through the ranks and he experienced the department at every level," Benelli said. "He was the one who really brought the family tradition back to the New Orleans Police Department. He represented the spirit of this department and during the darkest hours of the hurricane, it was the spirit of the men and women of this department that kept this city afloat."

Other city politicians were also taken aback by the news.

"This is a big loss. He gave a damn," City Council President Oliver Thomas said. Thomas declined to speculate on whether Compass' handling of the Katrina crisis precipitated his departure.

"I have not had time to rate his performance," he said. "All I know is he managed to keep together as much of his department as possible."

Council member Jackie Clarkson said she, too, had no clue this was coming, and praised Compass for "the masterful job the police did in the saving of so many citizens of New Orleans."

On the choice of a permanent successor for Compass, Benelli said his only preference is someone from within the department.

"The next chief should be someone within the ranks of the NOPD. No outsider need apply," Benelli said. "If it's Chief (Warren) Riley or any of the deputy chiefs, I'm sure they'd serve the city well."

Staff writers Martha Carr, Meghan Gordon, Trymaine Lee, David Meeks, Bruce Nolan and Gordon Russell contributed to this report.



City Council pushing for power restoration plan

5:35 p.m., Tuesday

By KEITH DARCÉ
Business writer

In a clash over power of the electrical kind, members
of the New Orleans City Council complained Tuesday
that Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration isn’t moving
quickly enough to devise a plan for restoring
electricity to homes and businesses whose wires were
damaged by wind or flooding from Hurricane Katrina.

The city’s power utility, Entergy New Orleans,
continued re-energizing electricity distribution wires
in neighborhoods along the Mississippi, from River
Bend to the Bywater, that were untouched by flood
waters.

But for most New Orleans residents and business
owners, even some in unflooded neighborhoods, power
won’t be coming on for weeks if not months because storm
damage to building wiring and circuit boxes makes it
too dangerous to reconnect the structures.

Getting the damage fixed will require hiring a
licensed electrician and getting an inspection from a
city building code enforcer, but none of that will be
easy in a city that has been shut down and virtually
empty for more than a month.

Some council members attending a meeting of the
panel’s utility regulatory committee were running low
on patience with the mayor’s administration for
crafting a master plan for repopulating the city,
which will include a plan for getting electricians and
inspectors into the city to do the work.

“We have no information about the progression of
(restoring) utilities,” said Councilwoman Jackie
Clarkson. “People want to have an idea of when they
can come back. If adults want to come home, they ought
to be able to make that decision. We’re beyond public
safety and into personal decisions.”

Councilman Eddie Sapir, who chairs the utility
committee, echoed Clarkson. “Everybody has a role to
play in this. All we want is honest and transparent
answers today from everyone involved in the process,”
he said.

Later in the day, the city’s Department of Safety and
Permits Director Michael Centineo told council members
that his office already has asked the Federal
Emergency Management Agency to supply extra
electricians and at least 75 inspectors to the city.

A FEMA representative attending the meeting said his
agency would supply the inspectors, just as it did
last year in Florida after that state was ravaged by a
series of hurricanes.

But Councilman Oliver Thomas said the plan wasn’t
adequate. “How are you going to get enough
electricians into the city, and inspectors?
Seventy-five inspectors from FEMA are not going to be
enough,” he said.

Centineo defended the deliberate pace of his
department, saying, “I don’t want to take too much
speed and take away safety from our citizens.”

Power should be back on by the weekend in much of
Uptown between St. Charles Ave. and the river, said
Rod West, regional manger for electric distribution
for Entergy New Orleans, who spoke during the committee
meeting at Louis Armstrong International Airport in
Kenner. The committee met at the airport because New
Orleans remains closed to the public and to most
residents.

Lights already have been restored in the Central
Business District, the Warehouse District and parts of
the French Quarter. And power is back in isolated
pockets around some Uptown hospitals and municipal
facilities, as well as at a handful of manufacturing
plants in eastern New Orleans.

Electricity also is flowing in most suburban
communities except for St. Bernard and lower
Plaquemine parishes, which suffered massive destruction
from storm surge flooding.

“Once we identified the dry areas (in New Orleans),
the question then becomes how far north is it safe to
go. We can only go up to where the (flood) water was,”
West said. “If it’s safe to restore power then we’re
committed to doing it.”

Utility workers have been scouring neighborhoods,
going building to building looking for signs of
damage. When they find it, they cut the power line
connecting the structure to neighborhood distribution
lines and transformers.

That means some people returning to their homes and
businesses over the next several weeks could discover
a neighbor’s house lighted but theirs still in the
dark.

Houses flooded by less than 18 inches of water
probably will not be marked for disconnection,
Centineo said.

Staff writer Michelle Krupa contributed to this
report. Keith Darcé can be reached at kdarce@yahoo.com.

As Mississippi considers land-based casinos, Louisiana watches

By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

While Mississippi is moving forward on a proposal to allow the floating casinos damaged by hurricanes to rebuild on land, Louisiana is starting to think about the same thing.

But the prospects are more uncertain in Louisiana.

The Mississippi Legislature convened a special legislative session Tuesday that will consider, among other things, whether to allow Gulf Coast casino barges to rebuild on nearby land. Most Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, taking with it thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state, and a key driver of the coast’s tourism business.

In Louisiana, casino damage wasn’t nearly as bad. During Katrina, the Belle of Orleans vessel, formerly known as Bally’s, was ripped from its terminal at Southshore Harbor on Lake Pontchartrain and left listing at the water’s edge, its marina destroyed and buffet and nightclub building seriously damaged. During Hurricane Rita on Saturday, the two-boat riverboat complex of Harrah’s Lake Charles broke free from its moorings and drifted about 150 yards to a beach.

But the question of economic vulnerability is the same. Louisiana is losing about $500,000 a day in tax revenues while the three New Orleans area riverboats and five Lake Charles riverboats remain closed, according to the riverboat lobbying group the Casino Association of Louisiana.

Louisiana originally created casinos on riverboats in its experiment with gambling so that the boats could sail away if things didn’t work out. But with gambling apparently here to stay, some say the state’s vulnerability to hurricanes makes it a good time to re-consider having boats on water.

“Absolutely. When you look at a natural disaster that would cause the kind of destruction that’s happened in Lake Charles, everyone should pause and take a look at why we do the things we do,” said Anthony Sanfilippo, president of Harrah’s Central Division. “The whole reason that gaming was brought into Louisiana was to promote economic development.”

Rep. John Alario, D- Westwego, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said several legislative colleagues have been asking the same question.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything that makes gambling more sinful on land than on water,” Alario said. “If Mississippi in particular goes on land, we ought to give our people the ability to compete.”

But the Casino Association, whose members do not include Harrah’s, the largest casino operator in the state, does not plan to lobby for land-based casinos. “I would not look for a similar move in Louisiana,” said Executive Director Wade Duty.

Duty said non-Harrah’s casino companies with operable buildings may have trouble justifying the expense of building new land-based facilities.

Taxes are also part of the equation, Duty said. Casino companies in Mississippi can more easily afford to invest millions in land-based facilities because they only pay 12 percent in state and local taxes, but riverboat casinos in Louisiana pay 21.5 in state taxes, plus local taxes. “I just don’t look at it as a political or economic reality in Louisiana,” Duty said.

But Alario said most concerns can be resolved. For example, riverboat casinos could have the opportunity to rebuild on land, but would not be required to do so. However, if casino companies wanted to rebuild on land, Alario said, they may be required to build such amenities as hotels, restaurants and golf courses.

Sen. Francis Heitmeier, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, worries that state law allows for only one land-based casino – Harrah’s New Orleans – and deviating from that would require a statewide vote to amend the constitution.

Other state lawmakers say that nothing is off the table after Katrina and Rita because the state needs money and it needs to help businesses restart.

“I could tell you if there were casinos at the airport we’d have one up and functioning right now,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who had sponsored legislation which ultimately failed earlier this year about installing slot machines at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

Rep. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, said that he is mainly concerned about video poker operators, because they’re mostly small businesses, many of them were likely permanently wiped out by the flooding, and the state depends heavily on video poker revenue.

“I think the gaming industry is one where we may need to look at an incentive to get it going. It’s pretty much shut down right now,” said Martiny, who chairs the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice, the committee where gambling bills originate in the House. “The bottom line is this state relies very heavily on casino tax revenue.”

Rita victims urged to apply for FEMA aid

Officials urge individuals and businesses affected by Hurricane Rita in the Louisiana parishes of Acadia, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Mary and Vermilion, to register for assistance with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Additional parishes may be designated for assistance at a later date after further evaluation. People who sustained damage from Rita should register even if their parish has not been designated for individual ssistance.

Registering for aid for Hurricane Rita is separate from any past registration for Hurricane Katrina. People with damage by both hurricanes need to register again to receive aid for Rita.

The FEMA toll-free registration number is 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). People with a speech- or hearing-impairment can call TTY 1-800-462-7585. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.

Due to the large number of people still registering for assistance as a result of Hurricane Katrina, one of the best ways to avoid a telephone busy signal is to register over the Internet. People can complete an application by visiting FEMA’s online Individual Assistance Center at www.fema.gov.

The application process takes about 20 minutes. FEMA representatives encourage applicants to collect the following information ahead of time to speed the process:

•Telephone number where they can be reached
•Address at the time of disaster and the address where they are staying if they have not been able to return to their residence
•Their Social Security number
•Good directions to the location of the damaged property
•The name of their insurance company and policy number
•Bank account information (account number and routing number to receive a direct deposit).

Assistance through FEMA will not make victims financially whole, but it may help pay for repairs or can pay for temporary housing while people plan what to do next. Sometimes grants are available for personal property not covered by insurance.

Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) may also be available to help homeowners, renters, business owners and non-profit organizations that suffered losses from this disaster.

People without telephone or Internet can access those services for FEMA registration at one of the Disaster Recovery Centers located around the state. At the centers, applicants can meet face-to-face with representatives of state, federal and voluntary agencies. Customer service representatives from the SBA are also there to answer questions and provide recovery information. In addition, written materials about various assistance programs are available for individuals and business owners.

Entergy implements rolling blackouts in Texas

5:10 p.m., Tuesday

By Mary Judice
Business writer

Entergy Texas, struggling to supply power despite severe damage to its transmission network, has been forced to implement rolling blackouts in areas north of Houston this week, the utility said.

”The transmission system is so severely damaged we can’t use the
system to bring power into the area,’’ said Chanel Lagarde, a spokesman for
Entergy. Only two of the 14 power plants that serve the area are operating, Lagarde said.

Rolling blackouts are used to prevent more damage to the transmission
system. The utility said approximately 301 transmission lines and 301
substations are out of service, including key transmission lines that must be
restored first to enable service.

The utility said 142,000 homes and businesses are experiencing the rolling
outages, which last for about an hour at a time. The outages are
imposed most often during afternoon and evening hours when air
conditioner use increases power demand.
As of Tuesday morning, 417,000 Entergy customers in Texas, Louisiana,
Alabama and Mississippi remained without power, including seven oil
refineries in Texas and Louisiana. Almost 349,000 customers from those four states have had
their power restored since Hurricane Katrina moved through a month ago.

Lagarde said repairing the transmission lines to the refineries is a
priority, but a timetable for restoring power has not been determined.

Oil refineries near the Louisiana, Texas border may be down for a month
because of damage from Hurricane Katrina, Bloomberg News reported
Tuesday. Several plants reported flooding and wind damage, but managers said lack
of power was the sole problem at some and was hampering the restoration of service at
other plants.

Entergy customers in Louisiana customers have not experienced rolling blackouts
because demand has not exceeded supply.

Police Superintendent Compass retires

New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass announced his retirement at a hastily called press conference today.

Mayor Ray Nagin, who praised Compass as a good leader in a time of crisis, said the retirement would take effect in the next 35-40 days.

"Although this is a sad day for New Orleans, it's a good day for the Compass family," Nagin said.

Compass was flanked by his three chief deputies, Warren Riley, Lonnie Swain and Steven Nicholas, at the unexpected 2 p.m. news conference. Nagin and Compass refused to take press questions.

Nagin said he did not ask for Compass' resignation, responding to a question shouted to him as the men were leaving the room.

Health insurers launch national call center

Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who have questions about their health insurance or do not know how to contact their health insurance plans may call toll-free 1-800-644-1818 for assistance.
America's Health Insurance Plans, a national trade association representing nearly 1,300 member companies, has established the 24-hour hotline to help victims get reconnected with their health insurance plans, regardless of their health insurance carrier or their location.
The call center is being established because thousands of evacuees may have questions about their health insurance or may not know how to contact their insurers. Many may have lost their insurance cards. Others in the Gulf Coast region may have questions because the provider facilities to which they usually go for care are no longer operable.
Callers will talk with live call center professionals who will help locate a caller's insurer and will stay on the line until a customer service specialist at the caller's health insurance plan is reached, the association said in a news release. Callers who may be uncertain about the names of their health insurance plans will talk with specialists who will try to help callers determine the identity of their health insurance plans.
AHIP and its member companies also created a Web site, www.ahip.org/HurricaneResponse, which details a listing of news updates and services being provided by AHIP member plans for their customers.

2 East Jeff distribution centers consolidated

Two state and federal distribution points for supplies for Hurricane Katrina victims in East Jefferson have been consolidated, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Col. John Fortunato told WWL radio Tuesday. The new location is at 210 David Drive, at the corner of David and Airline drives. The locations at the Zephyr Stadium parking lot and Sam's Warehouse, 3900 Airline Drive have been closed. The center is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the supplies are given away free to victims in need. The supplies that are given away include ready-to-eat meals, ice and water.

N.O.-area United Way working on rebuilding effort

The United Way for Greater New Orleans, which suffered some damage to its Canal Street headquarters during Hurricane Katrina, is regrouping outside New Orleans and developing programs to help find housing for displaced residents and to help rebuild New Orleans, the organization’s president said.
In an e-mailed letter to past contributors, local United Way President Gary Ostroske said, “Much like you, United Way and our agencies are evaluating how best to move forward in an ongoing recovery process.”
The local United Way supports 135 member agencies serving six Louisiana parishes, including those hardest-hit by Hurricane Katrina: Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa.
Ostroske said member agencies “are retooling to develop programs to train people in carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills,” and that United Ways, both locally and nationally, are working on a project to rebuild an entire town in Plaquemines Parish.
The local United Way normally would be kicking off its general fund-raising campaign at this time of year. Ostroske said company campaigns for the 2005-06 year that have not been completed are targeted to restart on Jan. 2.
“Thank you for enabling the United Way System to be responsive before, during and after the recent hurricane and flooding,” he said. “Your generosity has provided us with the capacity to respond – thank you!”
Among the agencies supported by the United Way for Greater New Orleans are the local Red Cross, Salvation Army and Catholic Charities. Following the Red Cross-assisted evacuation, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities have been providing food, water and essential support to evacuees and workers alike, Ostroske said.
The United Way has continued to staff its 211 telephone help line, which Ostroske said has “helped people sort through the multitude of referral numbers and provided a clearinghouse for shelter availability as well as a listening ear for thousands of people.”
The number to call on a cell phone is 800-749-2673. Ostroske said case management will be incorporated into the 211 services to streamline the rebuilding and relocating process.
Those who would like to contribute to the local United Way’s efforts may go online to http://www.unitedwaynola.org.

Health insurance to continue for N.O. public school employees

The existing health insurance coverage for Orleans Parish Public Schools employees will continue in effect, at no cost to employees, at least through the end of October, the school system said in a news release Tuesday. Employees will continue to have health insurance coverage after October as well, and a plan to do that is currently under development by the public schools and Coventry, the school district’s benefits provider. Further details on that plan will be announced as soon as it is finalized, school officials said.
Normally, employees pay a portion of the premiums for health insurance, which is deducted from their paychecks. Because Hurricane Katrina has caused such enormous financial burdens, the school district will pay the entire premium for the coming month, officials said. In addition, there will be no changes to the coverage for retirees through October.
Acting Superintendent Dr. Ora Watson said in the news release: “The health and well-being of our employees is crucially important. They are the pillars of our school system, and we hope to see them back in classrooms in Orleans Parish very soon. We understand the hardship that Katrina has caused and hopefully, this announcement of continued health insurance will help ease their minds about their health care needs.”
Bill Roberti, managing director of Alvarez & Marsal and chief restructuring officer for Orleans parish Public Schools, said in the release: “We are committed to reopening schools as soon as possible. That is the best way of getting revenues flowing into the district, bringing employees back to work and giving the families of New Orleans a sense of hope for the future. Given our difficult financial position at this time, we have joined with State Superintendent (Cecil) Picard in appealing to the federal government for financial assistance for our employees. In addition to that, we are pleased that we can now reassure our employees that they will continue to have health insurance coverage.”

Not all lenders offer grace periods

9:53 a.m., Tuesday

A story in the Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005 Money section of The Times-Picayune about lending institutions providing hurricane victims a grace period on mortgage payments implied that all lenders are giving 90-day extensions on payments in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Mortgage Bankers Association says that although 98 percent of its members are offering some grace period, not all are offering the same support and some mortgage companies are not offering grace periods at all.

Furthermore, not all lenders are postponing foreclosures. Borrowers need to contact their lenders or the service companies handling their loans to find out the specifics on what, if any, grace period they are eligible for and how any missed payments will be handled.

The Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions has set up hotlines operating seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to help borrowers find their lenders. Borrowers relocated out of state should call (866) 783-5530. People still in Louisiana can call (888) 525-9414.