S&WB tells east bank to boil water

Thursday, 7:49 p.m.

Staff reports

The Sewerage and Water Board said Thursday night that all residents returning to the east bank of New Orleans should boil their water before using it.

Though Mayor Ray Nagin said Wednesday the water was safe to bathe and wash dishes in, the board said it is in agreement with the Department of Health and Hospitals assessment that the water is not safe.

“People are reminded that there is some risk to showering, bathing or washing hands. Drinking the water is not recommended,” the board said in a press release.

While the water leaving the Carrollton Water Plan is disinfected, the number and size of the leaks in the system can allow contamination to enter the water system. Of the hundreds of samples the board took throughout the Uptown, Carrollton, Broadmoor, Central Business District, Warehouse, French Quarter and Bywater areas, only a few tested positive for contamination, the board said.

As people return to their homes and businesses, they are cautioned to run the water from all of their taps, both hot and cold, for at least 10 to 15 minutes.

The Sewerage and Water Board also said that some residential customers may not have water because of damage to their service lines. The board recommends those homeowners to contact a licensed plumber to make the reconnection.

Social Security checks distributed

The U.S. Postal Service and the Social Security Administration have established
temporary, alternative locations for the distribution of Social Security checks to Louisiana residents who are unable to receive regular mail delivery service.

The Postal Service said today that in areas where normal mail delivery has not been re-established, Social Security and SSI checks scheduled for delivery at the 701 ZIP Code can be picked up at the Downtown Station, 750 Florida
Blvd, Baton Rouge, LA. SSI checks can be picked up from Friday until Oct. 7,
between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be no check distribution on Sunday.

Social Security and SSI checks for Plaquemines Parish can be picked up at mobile temporary postal units located at 9491 Louisiana 23 in Belle Chasse.

Social Security and SSI checks for St. Bernard’s Parish residents will be distributed at the Covington Post Office located at 1775 N. Columbia Street.

The exception to this are ZIP Codes, 70114, 70131,
70121 and 70123, where normal mail delivery has been
re-established.

Plaquemines schools officials frustrated by lack of FEMA assistance

Thursday, 6 p.m.

By Sandra Barbier
Staff writer

Plaquemines Parish public school system officials say they need $3.3 million in emergency assistance as they prepare for the Oct. 17 reopening of Belle Chasse schools, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not confirmed when the district will receive any money.

“It’s frustrating,” said Plaquemines Superintendent Jim Hoyle, who met Thursday with FEMA representatives. “We did everything they told us to do,” including estimating expenses, providing copies of emergency expenditures and beginning repairs to Belle Chasse primary, middle and high schools, he said.

While FEMA officials promised help, they could not provide a date for when emergency money would be provided, he said.

“I don’t know what’s holding it up,” he said. “My creditors aren’t waiting.”

Meanwhile, school officials have leased a warehouse and an office building on Woodland Highway in Belle Chasse, near the Plaquemines Parish School Board office, Hoyle said.

The buildings will house employees and services displaced from the board’s damaged Port Sulphur building, as well as an alternative school for middle and high school students and storage space for equipment and supplies, he said.

The alternative school will be for suspended and expelled students and for students in a non-diploma program, Hoyle said.

About 2,000 former Plaquemines Parish students have said they will return to the system, he said. All former students have been asked to report whether they plan to return to the district by filling out a “student intent” form on the school board’s Web site, www.ppsb.org, or by calling (504)392-9128.

Registration for new students began Thursday and will continue through Oct. 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Belle Chasse Primary School, 539 F. Edward Hebert Blvd., Belle Chasse.

Jeff. public schools to begin earlier each day

Thursday, 6 p.m.

By Rob Nelson
West Bank bureau

Attention students returning to Jefferson Parish public schools: get ready to change your alarm clocks.

In its last emergency meeting before the reopening of schools on Monday, the School Board approved a revised calendar Thursday that adds one hour to the daily schedule, beginning on Oct. 10. The additional hour will make up for lost instructional time since Hurricane Katrina shuttered the system more than a month ago.

Once the extended schedule begins, all schools will begin an hour earlier, with high schools facing the earliest start time, at 6:15 a.m., officials said. The extended schedule will last until the end of the school year.

Parents should note, however, that the first week of class, Oct. 3 through Oct. 7, the length of the school day will remain as it was in August to give students and teachers time to get into new routines, officials said.

A committee of parents, teachers, administrators and business leaders who crafted the revised calendar chose extending the school day instead of chipping away at holidays.

Students new to the parish or those who have relocated within Jefferson will receive their schedule when they register. Students returning to their same school they attended prior to the storm should contact the school to confirm the start time.

The calendar also includes the following changes:

--There will be four marking periods, each averaging about 38 days. Exams scheduled for the end of the nine-week marking period have been cancelled, and report cards will be tabulated using test grades, homework and class participation. The days initially scheduled for those exams will become full days instead of half-days.

--April 18, the last day of spring vacation, is now a full day of school. All other holidays, graduation dates and the end of school year remain the same.

--All remaining days of school will be full days, except for two half-days for parent conferences. For a full calendar, go to www.jppss.k12.la.us.

While some board members balked that they had no input into the calendar and would have preferred more than one version on which to vote, Superintendent Diane Roussel said the calendar had to be created relatively quickly before Monday’s reopening.

“These kids need as much school as they can get,” board member Libby Moran said.

The school calendar likely will be adjusted because state education officials have not yet decided how much of the missed time students must make up. Jefferson has lost 24 school days.

In other business, the School Board approved seeking a $50 million line of credit with its bank to be used if necessary. The loan, which would have to be repaid by June, must be approved by the state bond commission.

Katrina has rattled the system’s finances, taking away sales taxes that bring in about $12 million monthly. Overall, those taxes represent 41 percent of the system’s revenue. In addition, with enrollment largely unclear, the amount of state financing remains a daunting uncertainty.

The district also is in talks with its insurance adjusters and the Federal Emergency Management Agency about recouping some of its expenses. That money would have to be used solely for capital projects, Chief Financial Officer Raylyn Stevens said, adding that the $50 million loan could be used for items such as payroll and benefits.

Currently, she said, the system’s reserves are almost dry, but the district is still meeting all financial obligations. Several School Board members complained that they have not seen any of the federal relief money.

“It’s unbelievable to me, 30 days later and not one penny,” board member Mark Morgan said. “It’s disgusting to me.”

The School Board also approved a move seeking a construction management company to help oversee damage assessment and renovation work. Roussel said the task is simply too much for the system’s facilities department to handle by itself. The vast majority of Jefferson schools will open Monday, but five remain out of commission: John Martyn, Lincoln Elementary, Terrytown Elementary, Alexander Elementary, Woodmere Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Senior High School, a magnet school that was slated to open in 2006.

Two other schools remain shaky for the Monday opening, Grand Isle School and Lafitte Elementary. Floodwaters from Hurricane Rita devoured the small village of Lafitte, and Grand Isle also took a beating in the dual storms. Except for Lafitte and Grand Isle, students at the schools damaged by Katrina have been shifted into other schools, where they will share the building and run on a different schedule than the existing school.

Jeff. Parish chides garbage collection company

Thursday, 5:56 p.m.

Kate Moran
East Jefferson Bureau

If the Jefferson Parish Council was disgruntled with the services of its garbage hauler before Hurricane Katrina struck, the storm has only served to inflate that dissatisfaction many times over.

The Parish Council disciplined Waste Management this week for its lethargic pace in resuming service after the hurricane. It suspended the company’s September pay and, in turn, relieved residents of their garbage fee for this month and notified the firm’s bond company that the hauler was at risk of defaulting on its contract.

Waste Management collected garbage twice a week before the storm, but it is now visiting houses only once per week. Council members say they are bombarded with calls from residents grousing about the odor of garbage and the debris that gives whole streets the look of a landfill. While some complaints are coming in about power outages, the lion’s share concerns the trash.

Deano Bonano, the parish administrator who oversees garbage collection, said Waste Management took roughly two weeks to resume collection after the storm. The company told the parish that its employees had fled the hurricane and could not be whisked back into the area quickly enough to do pickup immediately.

In the days just after the hurricane, Bonano said, "We had parish employees driving Waste Management trucks so we could try to get some of this garbage out. We commandeered some of the trucks to get garbage away from where we had our employees housed."

Tim Hawkins, the market area vice president for Waste Management, said the company could not call the trucks into service right away because streets were impassible and downed power lines threatened the safety of employees. While the company did not resume curbside pickup until two weeks after the storm, Hawkins said it operated 13 sites around the parish where residents could deposit their own debris.

"We were up and running quickly. Within a couple of days after being able to return, we were assisting the parish in this cleanup," Hawkins said. "I would maintain that the response of the parish is unfair. Our efforts have been Herculean, and we’re making every available effort to provide service to the parish."

The city of Kenner also put Waste Management on notice this week, complaining that the company had picked up trash sporadically or not at all since the hurricane. Kenner officials said they were forced to turn to a New Orleans company for help.

Waste Management is not responsible for clearing away storm debris, including downed branches and ruined furniture. That task falls to the Army Corp of Engineers, which awarded three contracts worth $500 million each to contractors who can remove the detritus.

But Jefferson Parish council members are complaining that the presence of regular, bagged garbage that Waste Management has failed to cart away exacerbates the condition of neighborhoods already awash in storm debris.

"You have people who have seen millions of bags of garden variety trash that came out of their refrigerators," Councilman Byron Lee said. "It has been a bad situation. Waste was a bit in slow mobilizing their people down here. You compound the fact that there was no garbage pickup before the storm with the food and debris, carpet, and spoiled food, and you have a toxic stew on your hands."

After Wednesday’s council meeting, Councilwoman Jennifer Sneed said she said she went to the hardware store to buy three more cans to hold the refuse mounting on her curb.

"Someone’s entire life is in a pile of rubble on the front yard," said Sneed, who lives in Metairie. Her husband owns River Birch, which runs two West Bank landfills and has expressed an interest in working with the parish. "Beds, yearbooks and wedding photos are waiting to be picked up."

Council members say they expected more from Waste Management, a Houston- based company that has branches throughout the United States and Canada. If the utility companies could truck in workers and house them in tent camps, they ask, why could Waste Management not do the same?

"They’re claiming the majority of employees are displaced. Waste Management is a large enough company that if they really valued the ability to do work in Jefferson Parish, they would have been able to maintain service here. They had the ability to bring trailers in," said Councilman Chris Roberts. "To me, Waste Management has absolutely zero planning for these types of disasters."

The contract the parish signed with its garbage hauler does not require an emergency plan, but parish officials said it would have been prudent for the company to have one in place because hurricanes pose a clear and present threat along the Gulf Coast.

Hawkins said the company had an emergency plan and it worked.

"Our goal is to protect our employees, our equipment and our assets," Hawkins said. "We complied with all the requests of the leaders of the area in evacuating. This storm was of such magnitude that we’re facing the exact same issues that every other business is facing."

Representatives from Waste Management met Thursday with parish officials, but they did not resolve their disagreements. They had been at loggerheads before the storm over the hauler’s alleged failure to collect recycling, and the parish threatened in August to levy a $1 million fine of just more than the average monthly payment of $985,000.

Bonano said the fine had been deducted from the company’s payment, but Hawkins said the issue had not been resolved.

Lynn Brown, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, said the company has set up mobile recruiting stations in the New Orleans area to hire more workers to help with garbage removal. The company also dispatched workers from other parts of the country and will bring in additional trucks to eliminate the garbage more quickly.

"On an ordinary day, they use 35 trucks to pick up garbage in Jefferson Parish," Bonano said. "Our volume is three times what it normally is. They need to bring in 60 trucks to get caught up."

Bonano said the parish asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funds to assist with garbage removal because the parish was having problems with its hauler. The government contractor handling storm debris, Ceres Environmental, is trying to identify available trucks. Bonano expects more to arrive by Friday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will pick up refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances containing hazardous materials. A pickup schedule has not yet been determined.

Residents can drop off their own debris at the intersection of Lapalco and Ames boulevards in Marrero and at David Drive between Airline Drive and West Metairie Avenue in Metairie.

Feds announce looting arrests

By Martha Carr
Staff Writer

Nearly a month after the airwaves were flooded with footage of desperate residents pillaging homes and stores, federal authorities say 237 people have been arrested in Orleans and Jefferson parishes on looting charges, and another 230 have been booked with other crimes.
The numbers were released this week as New Orleans began reopening to
residents and shopkeepers in the least ravaged parts of town. Jefferson Parish, responsible for most of the looting arrests, has been open for business for on the east bank since Sept. 18. The West Bank opened shortly after the storm.
According to statistics provided by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, the vast majority of looters – 199 – were arrested in the week after the Sept. 4 opening of a temporary jail at Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue.
That’s because arrests were virtually impossible in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when 80 percent of the city was engulfed by floodwaters, anarchy had taken hold, and most jail facilities were rendered useless, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said.
“In the early days, you didn’t have the National Guard, the NOPD was stretched thin, and federal resources had not been brought to bear, not to mention that so much of the focus of law enforcement was search-and-rescue missions,” said Letten, whose office compiled the statistics. “Civil order had to be established before traditional law enforcement could take hold.”
It took five days after Hurricane Katrina for authorities to establish the temporary jail, where they continue to process offenders before shipping them out of town to other holding facilities, Letten said.
While looting arrests have dropped dramatically in recent weeks, the region is not crime-free, FBI Special Agent in Charge Jim Bernazzani said. For example, authorities picked up seven armed looting suspects Tuesday night at one location. That same night, authorities arrested three people in a carjacking.
“I think overall, the city is much safer than it was before the storm,” he said. “That’s not to say we won’t have some unique challenges as the criminal element tries to return.”
Both Letten and Bernazzani said they anticipate an upswing in white collar fraud and corruption as millions of dollars in federal aid starts streaming into the area. Both offices are temporarily headquartered in Baton Rouge.
To report fraud related to Hurricane Katrina, call 1 (800) CALL-FBI. If you receive unsolicited e-mail requests for donations or have information about false Web sites requesting money or personal information, you can report it via the Internet at www.IC3.gov.
@tail: Martha Carr may be reached at marthacarrweiss@hotmail.com.

Curfew lifted in Jefferson

Jefferson Parish officials have lifted the curfew as of midnight tonight, the parish has announced.

The restriction has been removed from unincorporated Jefferson as well as its cities.

Planners assigned to help New Orleans

The American Planning Association has assembled a team under contract to the
Federal Emergency Management Agency to advise New Orleans' city staff
as they regroup after Hurricane Katrina. Fernando Costa, city planning director
of Fort Worth, Texas, will lead a five-member team that includes Bob Lurcot, former planning director of Pittsburgh; Chandra Foreman, an urban
planner from Tampa, Fla.; Richard Roths of URS Corp.; and Grover Mouton, urban design professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.
>

Reprieve granted for taxpayers

5:26 p.m., Thursday

Taxpayers affected by Hurricane Katrina have been granted an additional reprieve for filing returns and paying taxes. A bill passed by Congress now gives taxpayers across south Louisiana automatic extensions until Feb. 28, 2006.

Administrative orders from state and federal agencies have given taxpayers a delay in filing their income tax returns if they haven't already filed for 2004. The same applies to quarterly tax filings.

Taxpayers will not have to pay interest and late-filing fees and penalties that would otherwise apply. The relief applies to estimated tax payments due Sept 15 and Jan. 15 for individuals and Sept. 15 and Dec. 15 for corporations. It also applies to the Sept. 15 due date for certain corporate returns, the Oct. 17 deadlines for individuals who received a second extension for filing their individual returns and deadlines for filing federal employment and excise tax returns.

Phone, Internet service remains spotty

5:19 p.m., Thursday

By KEITH DARCÉ
Business writer

Even as New Orleanians begin to re-enter their neighborhoods, metro area phone and Internet service remains spotty at best, and the major service providers don’t know when connections will be restored.

Neither BellSouth Corp., the local telephone giant that also offers high-speed Internet service, nor Cox Communications, the region’s biggest cable television service, is willing to say how many of their metro-area customers have high-speed Internet service or how many are still waiting to be restored.

The companies compete intensely for customers under normal circumstances. Since Hurricane Katrina moved through the region, disrupting service and decimating the local customer base, that rivalry has only increased.

Internet service, while not as necessary as water and electricity, is an essential means of communicating. Individuals depend on Web pages, e-mail and instant messaging to connect with customers, bank, pay bills, conduct research, and shop. With phone service shaky throughout the metro area, consumers have been relying even more heavily on Internet-based communication, said New Orleans Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson.

“This is a horrible barrier. What else do they have?” Clarkson said of her constituents.
And as businesses reopen, they too will find that not having a reliable Internet connection is a hardship. They may be unable to run credit card transactions or update customer data bases, said Gabriel Venturi, a telecommunications industry consultant and
director of strategic accounts for Global Internetworking Inc., a telecommunications company in McClain, Va.

“You are going to see many signs (in local stores) saying ‘cash only,’” Venturi said.

Resolving the problem could take a while. Even as BellSouth and Cox repair local fiber-optic cables, overhead
wires and network routers, their high-speed digital pipelines continue to suffer breaks from the swarms of
storm repair crews digging underground and moving equipment under overhead lines.

The problem is so bad that some BellSouth workers are patrolling network lines not for damage but for other
repair crews that might cut a line accidentally, said Bill Smith, chief technology officer for BellSouth in
Atlanta.

“That’s one of our biggest concerns right now. We’re trying to make sure we don’t get additional damage
from the crews working in the area,” he said.

Another problem is that local and state regulators have little authority over the region’s broadband
networks.

The backbone of BellSouth’s Internet service, a web of underground high-capacity, fiber-optic cables, weathered the storm fairly well and the company’s central Internet hub in a bunker-like building on Poydras Street never went down, Smith said. But flooded communications switches and broken copper wires that carry Internet and phone signals to neighborhoods and buildings caused many of the company’s customers in the region to lose services, he said.

Snapped wires are the biggest problem facing Cox, whose network primarily runs along utility poles in the air, said Olin Kropog, vice president of sales for the company in metropolitan New Orleans.

“Downed trees caused a lot of outages. What we are doing is literally walking house to house and business
to business” looking for damaged lines, he said. “It’s going to take a long time to do that.”

There are pockets where services have been restored or never failed.

In the Central Business District, French Quarter and Lower Garden District, most phone and DSL services
from BellSouth remained on during and after the storm, Smith said. Both services should be restored in the
coming days in other unflooded areas of Uptown between St. Charles Avenue and the Mississippi River, he said.

Cox, meanwhile, has restored most services in St. Charles Parish and parts of Kenner, Kropog said.

Some cable modem service has been restored in parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain by Charter Communications, said Anita Lamont, spokeswoman for the St. Louis based cable television company.

A more long-term question is whether companies will fully rebuild networks in areas that suffered the
most destruction, such as eastern New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

Cox, for its part, plans to restore its local network “bigger and better than before,” said Cox New Orleans
spokesman Steve Sawyer. “Our commitment is to rebuild.”

Don’t bet on that, warned Venturi, the telecommunications consultant.

“Do you spend millions of dollars fixing infrastructure that might be underutilized?” asked Venturi, the telecommunications consultant. “They all are talking about it, but until they do it you won’t know. There could be huge losses if New Orleans is a
smaller size.

The problems facing BellSouth and Cox are unprecedented, he said. “There hasn’t been a situation like Katrina affecting a telecommunications network.”

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

Thousands of residents return to New Orleans

By Bruce Hamilton
Staff writer

As thousands of residents return to New Orleans today one month after Hurricane Katrina, they will find a city that is recovering but still short of adequate goods and services. For much of what they need, they will have to leave again.

Although a handful of retail operations were open or trying to open in the city Thursday, including a smattering of drug stores, banks and a hardware store, most businesses remained empty and unattended. Formerly busy commercial corridors remained desolate strands of debris boarded with plywood. In the short term, New Orleans’ consumer economy will be based mostly in East Jefferson or on the West Bank

While utility crews worked feverishly to get the electricity on in the neighborhoods being reopened, a number of areas are likely to be without power. Water on the east bank of New Orleans remains undrinkable, and some residents might discover their water service has been turned off due to damaged pipes.

Residents who live in the re-opened zip codes can enter the city beginning at 8 a.m. Residents will need a driver’s license or utility bill to prove they live in one of the specified ZIP codes, while business owners must show a business license or card. No special credentials are required.

“This is somewhat of an honor system. We are asking people to stay in those ZIP codes and be conscious of the fact that other areas of the city are not ready for re-entry,” said Sally Forman, a spokesperson for Mayor Ray Nagin.

Nagin toured the city on the eve of its reopening Thursday, saying that Algiers businesses are bouncing back and he expects the same on the east bank “once we can get a few businesses open.”

Some residents will no doubt arrive with plans to stay, while others want to take a look at their homes before deciding.

“We’re probably going to stay in Metairie until we can get the house cleaned up,” said Uptown resident John Mullen, who stopped in the CVS at Prytania and Upperline streets with his wife, Lori, and their three children.

The Mullens had evacuated to Little Rock, Ark., and Lori Mullen said she was considering taking her children back there.

As one CVS employee said moments before the family walked in, “you can’t bring your kids back to this.” Residents were “traveling back and forth,” he said, “but they can’t live here.”

The drug store was using generator power to open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We anticipate people coming in,” the manager said. “But if there’s no power and the water’s not safe, people won’t stay.”

The Walgreens on Tchoupitoulas Street in Uptown is open and was crowded with customers.

Grocery stores, many of which had looting damage, were struggling to replace inventories, clean up and dispose of spoilage. Some stores expect to reopen within the next week, while workers at others, such as the Whole Foods Market on Magazine Street in Uptown, said they could be closed up to another month. Marla Hubble, store director of the Winn-Dixie at the Riverside Market, said she hoped to open by Oct. 6, barring any further disasters.

The Winn-Dixie at Toledano Street and Claiborne Avenue was closed, its doors broken and its interior dark. The parking lot outside was ghostly, and a hearse was parked on the neutral ground out front.

Workers were busy cleaning Uptown institution Langenstein’s at Pitt and Arabella streets, but co-owner Michael Lanaux said the grocery store won’t be open for another 10 to 14 days. “I think a lot of businesses will see things get back to normal close to the Christmas holidays,” he said.

Until that time, Lanaux said, business owners should be happy to get half of their previous customer base back.

Sav-A-Center on Royal Street in the French Quarter is expected to open Saturday morning, said Glen Dickson, the company’s regional vice president of operations. The chain hopes to open the Sav-A-Center on Tchoupitoulas Street by Thursday and perhaps as early as Wednesday night, Dickson said. Oct. 8 is the targeted opening day for the Sav-A-Center on Magazine Street, he said.

Dickson said all of his stores in Orleans Parish are facing staffing shortages and in the process of hiring part-time and full-time employees. He said the Uptown stores on Tchoupitoulas and Magazine streets suffered extensive looting and had to replace 250 to 300 shopping carts that were stolen.

At 6000 Magazine Street, Clement Hardware opened Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Owner Leon Clement said the store had been looted, “but all they took was batteries.” His shelves were stocked, but he ordered brooms, mops and buckets. “I know what people need,” he said.

Across the street, Uptown Shell owner Mark McAdams said he has gas, power and a plan to open Friday. The Tchoup Shop gas station wasn’t so lucky. Manager Jerry Butler said he needed power to open. “They told us three days ago, three days ago,” he said.

The Lee Circle Shell station at 919 St. Charles Avenue was selling only “Plus” fuel on Thursday, at $3.11 per gallon.


Hibernia vice president Kyle Waters waved from the open door of the bank branch on St. Charles Avenue, which was open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The branch’s ATM is working, and Waters said the branch is offering basic banking services, including small business loans.

“I just made a payment on my loans,” said Metairie resident Wayne Zeringue, who visited the branch with his wife.

Other banks referred customers to Metairie branches.

At 4924 Poydras Street, David Bergeron was waiting for a shipment so he could open his Creole Creamery. The store had been clean for more than a week, his power had just been restored, and he was waiting for product.

“When word gets out that people can get ice cream, that will be a good day,” he said.

On the West Bank, lunch business boomed at Dry Dock Café in Algiers Point, where owner Maureen Pignona said she hoped an influx of residents, coupled with the dearth of other open shops, would bring more customers to her restaurant. “Yeah, I think it will be great for business,” she said.

The crowd was upbeat despite waits of up to a half-hour. Jim Ballard, 75, with beer in hand, was grateful that the establishment reopened about two weeks ago.

"I helped them myself get back in action a couple of weeks ago," Ballard said. "This place is like family."

At the nearby Tout de Suite coffee shop and restaurant, Algiers resident Bruce Elliott said the business, which reopened Sept. 21, was a safe haven and a piece of home.
"We are a close community, and we look out for each other," he said. "It's been amazing, but I'm not really surprised," Elliott said.

Owner Jill Marshall was skeptical about business prospects for her small shop, but predicted a sales surge for the supermarkets and big-box stores on the West Bank.


Uptown residents heading west on Jefferson Highway in search of goods will have to drive four miles before they reach an open supermarket, passing a Winn-Dixie set to open Saturday and a Wal-Mart that doesn’t expect to open at least until Oct. 10.

Huge bundles of flattened cardboard in front of the doorway sent potential Wal-Mart shoppers away with the spray-painted message: “STORE CLOSED.”“We have absolutely nothing fresh or cold or frozen at all,” supervisor Jason Bain said as he pressure-washed carts in the parking lot.

Workers at other open stores just inside the Jefferson Parish line from New Orleans said they expect a whirlwind of shoppers from the Uptown and Carrollton neighborhoods on top of the Jefferson Parish crowds they’ve already witnessed.

“With Winn-Dixie closed and Wal-Mart closed, we’re it over here, so we’ve been really, really busy,” said Sheila Fortier, manager of Rite Aid at 4115 Jefferson Highway, where beer, milk and ice have been flying out the door.

Residents looking to escape the drudgery for a little while can kick their heels up at Cooter Brown’s, the Uptown landmark at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Carrollton Avenue. Owner Larry Berestitzky said the store received little damage from the two storms and that he hopes to open the bar Friday with a limited menu in the kitchen.

Berestitzky said the bar is fully stocked and its extensive satellite television system is operable. He plans to have a full slate of football this weekend, including the LSU-Mississippi State game and Saints-Bills game.

“We’re ready to go,” Berestitzky said. “There might not be a lot of people around but there’s thousands of military, law enforcement and relief workers that need a place to go. Tell everyone to come on in.”

Staff writers James Varney, Meghan Gordon, Jeff Duncan, Frank Donze and Mike Montalbano contributed to this story.

Battered Gulf energy companies stir to life

By Mary Judice
Business writer

Energy companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico started bringing more oil and gas wells into production Thursday, and refiners in the Houston area began to restart their plants after hurricanes Katrina and Rita roared through the Gulf, roughing up refineries and offshore platforms.

On Thursday, 98.6 percent of the oil produced in federal waters of the
Gulf of Mexico, or 1.5 million barrels, remained shut down, the Minerals Management Service reported. That was a slight improvement from the previous day, when 100 percent was shut down.

Operators also reported that 80 percent of the natural gas normally produced was also shut in, or eight billion cubic feet per day, due to storm related damage. That was a very slight improvement from the day before.

MMS, a federal agency, gathers data from companies that operate in the Gulf. A total of 76 companies reported, which represents the majority of the companies. Gary Strasburg, a spokesman for MMS, said there may be a few small companies that do not report, but the data represents MMS’ best guess.

However, analysts in contact with oil companies said there was some production that apparently was not reported.

Gene Gillespie, research director for the energy investment
firm of Howard Weil in Houston, said that since Monday, such operators as Pioneer Resources, Kerr-McGee Corp. and Nexin had brought oil fields back into production, which represented more than the production the government reported Thursday.

The government report also showed that companies were returning workers to platforms in the Gulf. The number of platforms evacuated stood at 491 Thursday, down from 593 the day before.

Gillespie said the production would rise slowly until major platforms were brought into operation. The production figures will rise sharply, he said, when such platforms as Shell’s deep water Augur are brought back on stream. The company expects to be producing in a week.

Meanwhile, oil refiners began the complex process of bringing their plants back into operation. The American Petroleum Institute reported that close to 23 percent of the nation’s refineries were still down after plants in Corpus Christi and San Antonio, both in Texas, had returned to full operation.

Citgo, which operates a 324,000 barrel-a-day refinery in Lake Charles, said it would partially restart the plant on Monday.

Twice-daily rail service between B.R./N.O. considered

Thursday, 4:14 p.m.

By Matt Scallan
Staff Writer

A group of rail and mass transit organizations hopes to begin twice-daily rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The proposal, which involves asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to subsidize the service to the tune of at least $25 million over three years, is designed to allow New Orleans residents who have relocated to Baton Rouge to get back to work, as well as ease gridlock on I-10, said Cleo Allen a spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

"We believe that this is a way to help the people from New Orleans who moved to Baton Rouge get back to work while the housing situation works itself out," Allen said.

An estimated 200,000 New Orleans-area residents have moved to the Greater Baton Rouge area since Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, causing massive damage to tens of thousands of homes in the metro New Orleans area. Many evacuees lost their cars in the storm, as well.

The initial plan involves running two commuter trains per day between the two cities, starting at the Kansas City Southern rail depot near Memorial Stadium in Baton Rouge and running to the Union Passenger Terminal in downtown New Orleans, Allen said.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaged some of the track that runs across the LaBranche Wetlands in St. Charles Parish, but railroad officials say repairs should be finished soon.

The group making the proposal includes Regional Transit Authority of New Orleans, Amtrak, the Capital Area Transit System, which operates the bus system in Baton Rouge, the KCS Railroad, the DOTD and Amtrak. RTA spokeswoman Rosiland Blanco Cook said the agency is "very interested" in the concept and has been holding discussions with all parties.

Dwight Brashear, director of Capital Area Transit, said the idea is "a great opportunity to provide a needed service. We want to assist in this any way we can."

Ridership has risen 30 percent on the Baton Rouge bus system since Katrina.

Allen said the trains could be scheduled around scheduled freight runs on existing tracks. The RTA and CATS would re-route buses to bring passengers to the terminals.

"This is something that we could put into place very quickly," she said.

Each train would have a capacity of 600 passengers.

Details of the plan, including fares and specific schedules, have not been determined, but Allen said stops in places such as Gonzales and Reserve also are being considered.


Waiting for an insurance adjuster? Keep waiting

By Jaquetta White
Business Writer

Returning New Orleans residents face longer waits than the usual one to three days to meet with an insurance adjuster. But just how long is uncertain.

“It is likely that it is going to take a little bit longer than what you usually expect to see your adjuster,” said Bill Mellander, a spokesman for Allstate Insurance Company’s national catastrophe team. “That is the reality of working in this post catastrophe environment.”

There are two reasons for the delay. First, there just aren’t enough adjusters to go around. And those on the ground can’t get access to many of the most damaged areas.

“Certainly the biggest problem that we’re facing right now at least in the south and the southeastern parts of the United States is a manpower shortage,” said Johnny Michalek, a regional vice president for the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters and president of Houston-based independent adjusting firm, Gulf Coast Claims Service.

Michalek said the shortage stems from last year when four hurricanes struck Florida and Hurricane Ophelia banged along the Carolinas.

“That in itself sort of taxed the industry in terms of manpower. At least for adjusters in our region,” Michalek said. “And just when it seemed that the industry had a handle on the situation in Florida, these other events crept up with (Hurricane) Katrina, certainly, and then with Hurricane Rita.”

About 10,000 primary adjusters from companies represented by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America have been deployed to the areas ravaged by Katrina and Rita. That’s half the number of adjusters that were deployed to Florida last year when companies ran out of primary adjusters, said John Eager, director of claims for the association. The association represents such companies as Allstate, Geico and Progressive that together write 41 percent of insurance in the country.

But with adjusters still working cases in Florida, the shortage now is more acute.

“We really can’t put a calendar on it,” Mellander said. “What I can say is that if you are a customer and you feel that it has been too long and you haven’t seen or spoken to your adjuster yet, call them. Ask the adjuster where they are physically located, how many people are in front of you. An adjuster should be able to give you a fairly accurate timetable.”

Mellander, however downplayed the idea that a workforce shortage is causing the delays. Instead, he said, the problem is with access to the affected areas.

“Allstate, as has been the case with other insurers, has been experiencing challenges with getting people back into the areas of the danger zone,” Mellander said. “We as adjusters are dealing with and living in the same environment as many of our customers.”

Some have to set up shop two or three hours away from the ravaged areas, so they simply can’t service as many customers, he said.

Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley agreed.

“There’s no shortage of adjusters,” he said. “What there is a shortage of is a place for them to stay. It’s a logistical problem.”

Allstate began inserting its “disaster specialists,” which include adjusters, into the Gulf Coast region 48 to 72 hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Mellander said. The number of specialists on the ground now numbers 4,000, he said.

“From Allstate’s perspective, we haven’t had issues with staffing,” Mellander said. “Right now, from our perspective, we have what we need. When you talk about the appropriate staffing, what it is not possible to do is provide one adjuster for each customer.”

Tom Crawford, who heads Atlanta-based Crawford and Co., the world’s largest independent adjuster, estimates an adjuster’s case load is about 10 percent higher with this catastrophe than usual. But there was no way to increase staff numbers ahead of time, he said.

“The interesting thing about this event is, you would never be able to handle an event of this size,” Crawford said. “You could not prepare for an event of this size and remain a profitable company.”

Crawford’s company usually deploys 100 to 150 adjusters for a “normal” Category 3 hurricane, he said. It now has about 320 adjusters and plans to increase that to about 400 soon. The number easily could grow to last year’s Florida level – about 500 adjusters.
The company has hired some contract workers for the job.

Crawford has increased the number of three-week training classes it offers to would-be adjusters and plans to allow the beginners to hit the ground running instead of being slowly phased in.

“There is great need for adjusters on the ground,” Crawford said. “And I don’t think the industry can be prepared for what this type of need requires.”

Likewise, Harold Anderson, president of the Culver City, Calif.-based Adjuster Academy, which typically does not train property adjusters, said he is considering offering those classes now – perhaps to displaced New Orleanians looking for work. The idea is in the very early stages and would need funding from insurance companies interested in hiring the people who pass through the program. He’s hopeful the idea will find takers.

“The reconstruction program is going to be very elongated,” Anderson said. “If it would take two to three weeks to train folks, it would be a worthwhile investment for the companies.”

AIA warns against temporary fixes

3:29 p.m., Thursday

By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer

The American Institute of Architects is warning New Orleanians against relying on a series of temporary fixes to rebuild the city. Those emergency measures could become permanent, and without proper planning and cooperation, the city's unique culture and architecture very well many not be preserved.

"New Orleans is a city unlike any other in the country. In the world, I guess,'' said Norman Koonce, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the AIA in Washington, D.C.

Koonce and a host of national and local AIA members met with Lt. Gov Mitch Landrieu earlier this month to offer their assistance in planning the city's revival. Landrieu has appointed AIA national president Douglas Steidl of Akron, Ohio, to head an advisory board that will govern the post-Katrina rebuilding effort. The board will be part of Landrieu’s Louisina Rebirth Initiative Plan for post-Katrina rebuilding.

Jim Dinegar, AIA's chief operating officer, said the group has also volunteered to bring teams of planners and architects from across the nation to New Orleans. The teams, given the name Regional/Design Urban Assistant Teams, will make detailed restoration proposals for various neighborhoods, according to New Orleans architect Steve Dumez of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple Associates. Dumez is immediate past president of the Louisiana AIA chapter and a past president of the New Orleans chapter.
Pres Kabacoff, Chief Executive Officer of HRI Properties Inc., said AIA’s involvement is critical, but that time is of the essence.

“Planning is essential,’’ Kabacof said, who has relocated his operations temporarily to Houma. “But we need far more than architects. We need planners, financial people, and we must be cautious and not let it take an extraordinary amount of time. We need to send a message out that the city is going to be rebuilt and be rebuilt in a better way then it was before…And they need to include a lot of social organizations, not just government.’’

Kabacoff thinks other national organizations, such as the Urban Land Institute and the Brookings Institute, should be consulted. But so far, government groups haven’t officially brought AIA or any other national urban planning organization on board.

That’s because agencies such as the lieutenant governor’s office and the Louisiana Economic Development department are being overwhelmed with “pro bono’’ offers from organizations across the nation and are reeling from the nation’s most devastating natural disaster to strike an American city. Scott Shalett, Landrieu’s chief of staff, said the lieutenant governor told AIA officials not to wait for an official go-ahead from specific government agencies.

“What (Landrieu) intended to convey was that as experts and stakeholders in the architecture (and culture) of the city and its rebuilding they should be part of the strategic thinking. If they have a vision they should go take it and put it into a plan,’’ Shalett said. “Everybody needs to come and be part of what we’re doing,’’ Shalett said.

Lana Sonnier, press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, said that AIA’s involvement fits what Secretary Michael Olivier “has talked about repeatedly… the opportunity to plan the region for smart growth using sustainable growth principles, such as residential areas with health care facilities, good schools, feature attractions…so (rebuilding) is not just suburban sprawl. This is an opportunity for smart planning with smart growth,’’ Sonnier said.

Both Landrieu and the AIA are concerned about restoring the city while at the same time addressing the socio-economic injustices that have segregated portions of the city, according to the New Orleans AIA Chapter President Angela O'Byrne.

O'Byrne said that one local area community already demonstrates how a diverse and functional neighborhood can look and work. "It's Algiers. It's diverse, functional'' with a blend of African-American middle class, de-centralized poor, affluent and blue collar whites, families living and working together.

Another major concern is the construction of vast blocks of temporary housing -- trailers, normally -- which in past disasters have remained full for years after the events without proper social services, Dumez said.

As AIA Chief Executive Officer Koonce puts it, the fear is that with the billions of federal dollars expected to pour into New Orleans, the rebuilding will be improperly done, and perhaps millions misspent. "If we don't have time to do it right now, then when will we ever have time to do it over?''

Rail traffic through New Orleans stifled

By Matt Scallan
Staff Writer

Nearly a third of the nation's east-west rail freight normally crosses the Mississippi River on the Huey P. Long Bridge, but damage to railroad tracks by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has forced a major re-route.

"It's going to take awhile for it to come back," said Jim Bridger, the chief executive of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, which owns the bridge.

The primary alternate crossings are in Memphis and St. Louis, Bridger said.

Though a 100-mile section of track owned by the Jacksonville-based
CSX railroad was heavily damaged in Katrina, other rail lines, such as those owned by Kansas City Southern and the Illinois Central Gulf railroads, are operating.

The NOPB also was hurt by the storm. About 10 miles of track between
Poland Avenue and Gentilly are damaged. Repairs will take four to six weeks and cost as much as $8 million.

Still, the temporary loss of CSX's coast-hugging rail route is the main reason that the flow of rail cars through the city is stifled. Before the storms, about 17,000 cars a month crossed the Huey, Bridger said. Now traffic is down to about a third of that.

"We're not really going to be back until the CSX tracks are repaired," Bridger said.

CSX spokesperson Meg Scheu said six bridges and 39 miles of track between New Orleans and Pascagoula, Miss., were damaged by the storm and will cost an estimated $250 million and six months to repair.

Work has begun to repair the railroad's Gentilly yard, and to move the locomotives and cars out of the area so they can be used elsewhere in the system," she said.

Another major rail route into the city is owned by the Canadian
National Railway. The segment that runs across the LaBranche Wetlands in St. Charles Parish, was damaged first by Katrina, then by Rita.

Wave action from the storms washed out the roadbed beneath the tracks where they cross the wetlands, but repairs should be complete "in a matter of days," said Jim Kvedaras, a spokesman for Canadian National.

"We had some washouts during the two storms, but had no bridge damage. We consider ourselves very fortunate," he said.

De La Salle classes resume Oct. 18

De La Salle High School will resume class on Oct . 18 at the temporary location of St. Rita School, 194 Ravan Avenue and Jefferson Highway, Harahan.

Classes will be from 4 to 7 p.m. at St. Rita School until civil authorities approve moving back to 5300 St. Charles Avenue.

De La Salle parents are asked to attend an informational meeting Monday at 6 p.m. in St. Rita's gym. Registration will take place Monday after parent meeting through Thursday Oct. 6 from 5-7 p.m.

For more information visit www.dlsneworleans.com or e-mail Kirby at kirb01@aol.com.

Chef Austin Leslie dies of heart attack

Chef Austin Leslie, the internationally recognized face of “Creole
Soul” food who’s cooking underscored the debt New Orleans cuisine owes the
African-American kitchen, died this morning in Atlanta, where
he and his wife evacuated after Hurricane Katrina.
Leslie suffered a heart attack, said family spokesperson Julie Sardie.
He was 71.
Leslie’s career extends back a half-century, when as a teenager he took
a job delivering fried chicken by bicycle for Portia’s Fountain on
Rampart St. His star rose in 1975 when he purchased Chez Helene from his
aunt Helen Pollack.
The North Robert Street restaurant’s popularity was such that it became
an inspiration for a network television show, “Frank’s Place.” It
featured a chef decked out in Leslie’s signature garb: chef's whites and a
captain’s hat.
After leaving New Orleans for a period to work in Europe, Leslie
returned to the city in the mid-90s, landing at Jacques-Imo’s Café, where
Leslie turned a new generation onto his soulful, signature dishes: spicy
stuffed pork chops, butter-drenched corn bread, and particularly fried
chicken.
Leslie left Jacques-Imo’s last year to become the chef at Pampy’s
Creole Kitchen on Broad Street.
“Austin called me two days ago, and we had
an extensive conversation,” said owner Stan “Pampy” Barre. “He wanted to
go back to work. He wanted to get back in the kitchen.”
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Health officials against repopulating Lake Charles at this time

State health officials advise residents of the Lake Charles area who evacuated before Hurricane Rita to avoid permanently returning to the city and repopulating the area at this time because of public health concerns in the area.

“This area remains under a boil advisory, meaning that potentially harmful bacteria are still in the water supply and could be ingested if people use the water for drinking, cooking or for any other daily activities such as bathing, brushing their teeth or washing their hands,” said Regional Medical Director Dr. B.J. Foch. “Also, the area does not yet have electricity restored and is lacking proper sewage disposal services. All of these raise very serious health concerns and people who re-enter the city may be exposed to diseases if they do not allow time for the necessary relief work to ensure public health and safety. We know that many people are returning to their residences temporarily to survey
damages and collect their important items and we ask that while doing so, they follow these health precautions.”

In addition to these public health concerns, the area also lacks full medical capacity, since many area hospitals and health care facilities are currently inaccessible, Dr. Foch said.

“In addition to diseases, injuries are a great concern, and without access to emergency care and response, this could result in a serious injury or even death,” he said. “For this reason, we ask that people consider the health and safety risks involved with repopulating the area immediately after the storm and ask that they wait to return here until the area has been declared safe for permanent re-entry by the appropriate officials.”

Health officials also warn the public that retail food establishments
will be inaccessible for most of the area, as restaurants must undergo a
health survey before they can reopen for business. Food establishments
that have not been surveyed by the health department may not meet the
state sanitary code and have not yet been cleared to reopen.

“If people choose to eat in places that the health department has not
had a chance to properly survey the facility and ensure compliance, they
could be putting themselves at risk for food poisoning or foodborne
illness,” Dr. Foch said.

The Department of Health and Hospitals has set up a medical triage site
at the Lake Charles Convention Center on Lakeshore Drive for people who
remained behind and need to be treated and evacuated away from the Lake
Charles area. Medical volunteers who wish to staff this area are asked to contact the department at (225) 763-5770.

Lake Charles area medical facilities trying to reopen after Hurricane
Rita should contact DHH at (225) 342-4997 to begin this process.

Belle Chasse animal shelter seeks help

Thursday, 11 a.m.

From staff reports

A Belle Chasse emergency animal shelter that has rescued 300 dogs and cats and is working to save horses and cattle in the southern end of Plaquemines Parish is seeking donations to help with its mission.

Belle Chasse veterinarian Stephen Hebert is working with volunteers, parish workers and National Guard troops to shelter and care for the animals. About 52 have been returned to their owners.

Hebert said he needs donations of vaccines, heartworm test kits and preventative, food and sturdy fencing. Most of the supplies and equipment being used have been donated by veterinarians and supply companies, he said.

Hebert can be reached at (504) 231-1854, or contact the shelter, located at the Belle Chasse Council on Aging at 3712 Main St., (504) 392-7154.

As floodwater from Hurricane Rita recedes in areas south of Jesuit Bend, Hebert said he expects more animals to be rescued.

National Guard troops are assisting by delivering hay and tubs of fresh water by air boat to stranded livestock.

SLU returns to St. Tammany Center on Monday

St. Tammany bureau

Southeastern Louisiana University will resume classes Monday in its St. Tammany Center north of Mandeville.

Director Stella Helluin said classes were temporarily housed at Fontainebleau Junior High School while the center, located on Koop Drive in the parish government administrative complex, was used in conjunction with Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

Southeastern’s Community Music School classes and lessons also are moving back into the center, Helluin said. Music school students are advised to contact their instructor or the school office, 985-549-5502, for more information.

For more information on St. Tammany Center classes, call 985-893-6521.