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History > 2005 > USA > Natural disasters > Hurricane Katrina > Rebuilding (VI)

 

 

 

 

Thousands of New Orleans residents want to come home.

But for many of them, there remains nothing to return to.

 

Photograph:

Robert Caplin/The New York Times

 

New Orleans Is Still Grappling With the Basics of Rebuilding

NYT

Nov. 8, 2005

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/08/
us/nationalspecial/new-orleans-is-still-grappling-with-the-basics-of.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Gulf Coast,

Big Difference Between Corps

and Private Cleanups

 

December 25, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

PASCAGOULA, Miss. - There is an eerie stillness here on Edgewood Avenue. Toys, broken glass and random pieces of furniture are strewn across yards. Not a single person is in sight. The only movement, nearly four months after the passing of Hurricane Katrina, comes from the stray cats that jump in and out of the ripped-open homes.

Just west down the Gulf Coast, on Oak Street in Biloxi, the ground vibrates and the air is filled with the smell of diesel exhaust as laborers, on excavators, clean up after the storm, leaving behind empty lots, ripe for redevelopment.

There are many reasons for the difference between the lack of progress in Pascagoula and the quick cleanup in the Biloxi area. But officials here point fingers at what they consider the No. 1 culprit: the federal government and, in particular, the Army Corps of Engineers.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harrison County, the home of Biloxi, and Jackson County, where Pascagoula is located, each had about 10 million cubic yards of debris to clean up. Both counties took up the federal government on its offer to foot the bill.

But while Harrison County and all but one of its cities hired contractors on their own, Jackson County and its cities, at the urging of the federal government, asked the Army Corps to take on the task. Officials in Jackson County said it was a choice they had regretted ever since.

The cleanup in Jackson County and its municipalities has not only cost millions of dollars more than in neighboring counties, but it is also taking longer. The latest available figures show that 39 percent of the work was complete in Jackson County, while 57 percent was done in Harrison County and its cities that are managing the job on their own, according to federal records.

"Something is very wrong here," said Frank Leach, a Jackson County supervisor. "Our federal government is paying an extraordinary amount of money for services that are not being performed adequately."

The same appeared to hold true in Louisiana: The cleanup from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was 45 percent finished in jurisdictions that called in the corps, and nearly 70 percent complete in communities that employed private contractors, state records showed. The imbalance remained even when New Orleans, where the cleanup has been particularly complex and slow, was removed from the tally. Across the Gulf Coast, the cleanup was, on average, about 60 percent done, records showed.

Army Corps officials said they were moving as quickly and responsibly as they could.

"The scope of this disaster is just extraordinary," said Frank Worley, a spokesman. "There's really no comparison to it."

But that answer, to local officials, was not sufficient. Jackson County board members voted earlier this month to terminate their deal with the Army Corps, deciding that even at this late date, they would be better off with their own contractors.

Pascagoula and other Jackson County cities are sticking with the corps. But City Manager Kay Kell of Pascagoula said she was disappointed. Her city had a private contract to clean debris for $7.80 a cubic yard, but now relies on the corps, which is paying its contractor $17 to $19 a cubic yard for the same work.

"It's very depressing," Ms. Kell said. "As long as those homes are sitting there, somebody's life is at a standstill. It is dead stopped."

With a nudge from an excavator's giant steel claws, what remains of one homeowner's garage in the Point Cadet section of Biloxi shakes, then collapses in a pile of dust. The process of taking down what is left of this house is nothing special. But how the work has proceeded here in Biloxi has allowed this city and other parts of Harrison County to move far ahead of their neighbors in the race to clean up.

Instead of trying to clear one house at a time, Biloxi officials condemned entire neighborhoods. The Sun Herald newspaper recently published an eight-page list of properties, in fine print, notifying thousands of Biloxi property owners that "to preserve the public health, safety and welfare" of their neighborhoods, the bulldozers were coming soon.

"The quicker we get all of this stuff away, the faster we can start getting back to normal," Mayor A. J. Holloway said.

Not all of the homes in the condemned neighborhoods will be demolished. But unless a property owner objects, crews will remove remains of any houses or other large chunks of debris. Already, more than 740 homes in three neighborhoods have been demolished or debris on properties simply cleared away.

Some residents have complained that the cleanup is barreling ahead too quickly. "They're bullying people," said John Grower of Gulfport, whose property was cleared while he was waiting for insurance investigators to finish evaluating it. "It's martial law."

But officials said the faster pace meant that property owners could start planning for reconstruction, or at least move government-provided trailers, as temporary housing, onto their land.

"I am touched," said Nhin Tran, 58, as a trailer was set up earlier this month on her property in Point Cadet after it was cleared, allowing her to move out of a tent. "I now know what the next day will bring."

In Biloxi, whole neighborhoods are now primed for new development. But in Pascagoula, 25 miles east, only about 25 residential lots have been cleared.

Officials in Jackson County and Pascagoula cite numerous reasons for the delays.

One is the complexity of the contract the Corps of Engineers has with Ashbritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that is overseeing the debris collection in Mississippi and parts of Louisiana. Its 192 pages include sections on the type of office paper the company uses and a ban on releasing information to the news media without the written permission of the Army Corps. (Ashbritt officials declined to comment for this article.)

Simply getting an agreement from the Army Corps on the exact wording for the legal release document that residents must sign to authorize contractors to clear their homes took several weeks, officials said.

Then the Army Corps and its federal partners repeatedly gave new demands, such as satellite-based measurements on the location of each house, before large-scale clearing could start, county officials said.

[Michael H. Logue, an Army Corps spokesman, said last week that the desire to hire local subcontractors had often meant working with smaller, Mississippi-based companies without a large supply of heavy-duty equipment, slowing progress at times. The possibility that human remains may be mixed in with debris has also slowed the cleanup. "If you are going to do it right and you are going to do it safe and in way that helps the victims and makes it obvious that you care about them, you can't just go in there with a heavy hand and lots of steam," he said.]

As the demands grew, the amount of debris being cleared each day in Jackson County dropped to about 12,000 cubic yards a day from 75,000 cubic yards a day, according to local officials.

"There was just so much bureaucracy, so many levels of approvals, that nobody seemed to be able to make a decision and get things done," said Manly Barton, president of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors.

Benny Rousselle, president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, said he had encountered the same problems. Even though a house may be about to collapse and its owner has approved its demolition, the federal government requires rigorous structural, historical and environmental evaluations of each property before the Army Corps will take it down, Mr. Rousselle said.

"There are so many monitors, so much overhead, it is really slowing this down," he said.

Impatient Plaquemines officials have hired their own contractors to start doing the work, Mr. Rousselle said. They have cleaned up about 600 of the approximate 6,000 damaged or destroyed properties. The corps had not cleared a single house, he said.

By any measurement, the cleanup work caused by Hurricane Katrina is the most complex and far-reaching disaster recovery in United States history.

In the aftermath of the storm, 88 million cubic yards of debris - including tree limbs, furniture, refrigerators and shredded pieces of whole houses - were strewn across Mississippi and Louisiana, enough to fill nearly nine million dump trucks. Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992, then the most destructive on record, generated 14 million cubic yards of debris.

Federal officials declined to release any data that would allow a direct comparison of the cost of the Army Corps cleanup versus work done directly for local governments, saying it was proprietary. All that they would release is a $2.2 billion estimate for the Army Corps' share of the work, which covers about half of the debris in Mississippi and two-thirds in Louisiana.

But a survey by The New York Times of the governments on the Mississippi coast that have hired their own contractors found an average price of $14 a cubic yard. All but one community had secured a lower price than the $17 to $19 per cubic yard that the corps charges, which does not include disposal or other overhead. The Army Corps has also nearly 800 employees supervising cleanup and has paid as many as 300 inspectors a rate of $55.79 an hour to monitor the work by the private contractors.

The Army Corps work has won some praise. Homes are often cleared one at a time, instead of entire streets at once, so property owners, like Yvette Gonzales, 76, of Bay St. Louis, can be there to watch. Mrs. Gonzales even requested that the crew search for a handmade quilt that had special meaning to her family. The quilt never turned up, but the crew found the tiny wedding cake statue that Mrs. Gonzales had saved since her marriage in 1949.

"It brings it all back," said Mrs. Gonzales, whose husband died nine years ago. "It makes you remember those good times."

In some cases, the corps takes extra steps that add to the cost of the work and the time it takes to complete it. For example, the Army Corps contractors who are working to remove the thousands of refrigerators and other appliances left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina operate much differently than private contractors.

In Hancock County, Miss., where the Army Corps is in charge, contractors in protective suits carefully open refrigerators and meticulously clean them out, sanitizing the interiors with a cleaning solution. Workers remove Freon gas. Quality-control supervisors watch every step. Army Corps officials would not say how much the operation costs, but in Louisiana they are paying more than $1.8 million to process and dispose of these so-called white goods.

In neighboring Harrison County, once the refrigerators are dropped off at a landfill, the government's financial obligation ends. A recycling contractor, eager to get the scrap metal, removes the Freon. In most cases, the spoiled food is removed by lifting the refrigerator atop a lined dumpster and shaking it. No biohazard suits are involved.

Some local officials said they were glad that the Army Corps was spending the extra time and money.

"Twenty years from now I don't want young mothers giving birth to kids with birth defects because we found out we did not do proper dumping," said Representative Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, Miss., where the Army Corps is in charge of cleaning up.

Mr. Worley, from the Army Corps, said that if the agency was handling the cleanup any differently, it would also get criticized.

"Over the years we have gotten hammered for the opposite," he said. "We are doing it the way we are supposed to do it and, yes, it takes time. And it costs money, absolutely."

But John Record, a manager from Custom Recycling of Cody, Wyo., a private contractor that is processing refrigerators in Harrison County, said he was convinced that his cheaper approach was environmentally friendly, with state and federal inspectors checking regularly to ensure that.

"It's like killing a fly with a sledgehammer," Mr. Record said of the Army Corps' approach. "They seem to have an unlimited budget, so I guess they can do it that way."

On Gulf Coast, Big Difference Between Corps and Private Cleanups,
NYT, 26.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/national/nationalspecial/26debris.html

 

 

 

 

 

Homecoming

for a Congregation in New Orleans

 

December 26, 2005
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 25 (AP) - The congregation of First Emmanuel Baptist Church drove from Baton Rouge, La., Houston and other points far and wide on Christmas, then walked past collapsed buildings and piles of storm wreckage to worship in their old church for the first time since they were driven away by Hurricane Katrina.

"This means everything; we've come home," said Lila Southall, the minister's wife. "My house is gone, but I'm still home for Christmas."

The 118-year-old church had lost much of its roof, part of the ceiling still hung precariously and the soggy carpet had not yet been replaced. But the magnificent stained-glass windows survived unscathed, as did most of the 1,200 members.

Only a handful of people swayed in the pews to the music on Christmas morning, calling out "Amen" to the pastor's words, but that number will grow, Ms. Southall said. The church, in the Uptown section of the city, will run a bus from Baton Rouge each Sunday to bring members back for the 7:30 a.m. service.

"It's a grand feeling to be back home," said Ms. Southall, whose house was submerged in eight feet of water after the storm. "We're back together. We'll go on from here."

Christmas was a lonely time in much of New Orleans. Miles of houses stood deserted. Toppled signs, flooded cars and boats that had rescued people trapped by the sudden flooding were scattered along streets, in yards and in parking lots.

In the Lower Ninth Ward, block after block of homes sat destroyed and empty. Beside the repaired breach in the London Avenue Canal, someone had spray-painted "Merry Christmas" on a wrecked car, and a stuffed reindeer sat in the driver's seat.

In St. Bernard Parish, where water had covered almost every building, Charlie and Andrea Licciardi watched their daughters Alixandria, 5, and Abigale, 4, open presents inside the tiny FEMA trailer they had called home for three days.

The girls excitedly pointed out the skylight that Santa used to bring gifts into the trailer, but seemed unaware of the wrecked houses that he had to fly over to find them.

"They really haven't noticed all of that," Ms. Licciardi said. "We haven't slept in a house since the hurricane and haven't had a real bath, the kind you can sink into and relax. But we're a step closer."

Homecoming for a Congregation in New Orleans, NYT, 26.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/26/national/nationalspecial/26nola.html

 

 

 

 

 

Immigrants find opportunity

in ruined New Orleans

 

Fri Dec 23, 2005 11:12 AM ET
Reuters
By Jeff Franks

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Much of New Orleans lies abandoned and destroyed after Hurricane Katrina struck nearly four months ago, but for Latin American immigrants the storm-ravaged city has become a land of opportunity.

While New Orleans residents are slow to return, the immigrants, most of them illegally in the United States, have swarmed in to do the hard work of cleaning up and rebuilding that others so far have shunned.

They are not here because of altruism -- New Orleans is just another place in a strange land to them -- but because there is a huge unfulfilled demand for labor and, as a result, high wages they cannot get in their homeland or in other U.S. cities.

In a sight common in the southwestern U.S., but new to New Orleans, they crowd street corners starting at daybreak, offering themselves as day laborers to anyone who needs them.

"You need worker?" asks Carlos Delgado, leaning against a light pole overlooked by a nearby statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

"I can put up Sheetrock, roofing, concrete and I can do clean-up," the 31-year-old Mexico native says in a mixture of English and Spanish.

He had been in Houston for eight years before coming to New Orleans in October and like most of the immigrants lives in a cheap hotel room with several acquaintances.

Most days, Delgado and his colleagues -- sometimes as many as 200 on this corner parking lot near the New Orleans central business district -- get hired quickly by contractors in passing pickup trucks, who whisk them off to whatever project is pending.

"Baby, we couldn't do it without them," one of the employers shouted through his truck window.

 

DAILY RATES

There is so much work to be done, the immigrants say, that often they finish, return to the corner and get hired the same day for another job.

The pay is good -- "$10, $12, $15 an hour," said Jose Del Rio, 38, from Chihuahua, Mexico -- and there are few problems.

In Houston, where many were living before the storm, they occasionally get bilked by people who hire them then leave without paying, but that has not happened as much in New Orleans.

"One time, they didn't pay me," said Delgado. "But for the most part, they have treated me well."

And so far, the authorities have not been too difficult. Local police do not hassle them and immigration agents come around only occasionally, more a nuisance than a danger.

"They came last week and once before that about three weeks ago," Delgado said with a shrug. "They came in cars and took a few people away."

Mexican Adolf Ramirez, 53, who came to New Orleans from Dallas two months ago, figured the workers were being left alone because the desperate needs in New Orleans had trumped anti-immigrant sentiments now prevalent in the United States.

The city was mostly abandoned after Katrina flooded 80 percent of it on August 29 and most of it still sits empty and in ruins, waiting to be rebuilt.

Mayor Ray Nagin said this week studies showed that as many as 150,000 of the pre-storm 462,000 residents have returned, but many doubt the figure is that high.

Nagin caused a stir in October when he was quoted as asking business leaders how he could "make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers," but on Wednesday he sounded a more conciliatory note in a news conference.

"I've been encouraging people to get a little more comfortable with working with people who don't necessarily look like them. I think there's room enough for growth for everyone," he said.

But, he added, "now, illegal people that are in the country illegally, that's a whole different story. I would not support them working in our area."

The immigrant workers do not feel too threatened by competition from the local Americans. They point to the back of the parking lot where the only "gringos" in sight are sleeping on sheets of cardboard or sitting on wooden boxes, surrounded by empty beer cans and booze bottles.

"There are a lot of drunks here," said Delgado.

When asked where the American workers were, Del Rio shook his head and said, "Who knows? It just seems like the Latin race likes to work more."

 Immigrants find opportunity in ruined New Orleans, R, 23.12.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-12-23T161136Z_01_EIC357490_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-IMMIGRANTS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Leaders in Congress Agree

on Aid for Gulf Recovery

 

December 19, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

GULFPORT, Miss., Dec. 18 - Since Hurricane Katrina hit, billions of dollars in federal aid has poured into the devastated areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, primarily for the most critical emergency needs: providing temporary housing, restarting governments and cleaning up the mountains of debris.

On Sunday, leaders in the House and Senate moved to switch from a relief effort to recovery, agreeing to appropriate large chunks of money to rebuild the region and, at least in part, to bail out some of the tens of thousands of people who were financially devastated by the storm.

The recovery package allocates $11.5 billion in new grant money, mostly for Mississippi and Louisiana. State officials have indicated they intend to use much of it to compensate some of the estimated 110,000 families whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Katrina but who did not have flood insurance.

The deal also includes $2.68 billion to strengthen the levees, protect the watershed and take other flood-control measures around New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast. There is $2.75 billion to reimburse states for highway repairs.

An additional $1.6 billion is for education aid, including reimbursement of schools that took in students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And $125 million is designated for helping state and local police departments replace lost or damaged equipment and vehicles.

The $29 billion package, which still must be approved by the full House and Senate, comes on top of action on Friday by Congress that created about $8 billion in tax breaks and incentives to stimulate the Gulf Coast economy.

The new aid is intended to not add to the deficit because it involves the reallocation of money from the original $62 billion in relief that Congress approved this summer as well as cuts elsewhere in federal spending.

To elected officials from the Gulf Coast region, the agreement Sunday was a sign that Washington was making good on the promise that President Bush made in a Sept. 15 speech in Jackson Square in New Orleans, where he vowed "to help the citizens of the Gulf Coast to overcome this disaster, put their lives back together and rebuild their communities."

In a statement Sunday, Representative Chip Pickering, Republican of Mississippi, said, "When these funds make it to Mississippi, individuals and families will be able to rebuild their homes, restore their communities, reopen their schools and hospitals, and boost the Gulf Coast economy to create and retain jobs."

News of the recovery package brought relief in such cities as Gulfport, Pascagoula and Biloxi, where Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters affected thousands of residents in areas not defined by official federal maps as susceptible to flooding.

Typically, only homeowners in areas defined as within the so-called 100-year flood zone are required to buy federal flood insurance. Yet standard homeowners' insurance offered by private companies includes a provision that excludes water damage caused by "flood, surface water, waves, tidal water, overflow of a body of water, or spray from any of these, whether or not driven by wind."

Because there is a $26,200 cap on federal disaster aid to families, many people faced the possibility of taking out a second mortgage to rebuild their homes or perhaps even filing for bankruptcy.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Bob Frederic, 51, of Pascagoula had just invested $70,000 on renovations to his home, putting in a new kitchen and living room. His neighborhood is about a mile from the beach and there are no streams, ponds or other bodies of water in the area, so it had never occurred to area residents that their homes might be flooded, Mr. Frederic and several neighbors said.

"I hate to get a handout, but then again, this is something that has never happened before," said Mr. Frederic, adding that Hurricane Katrina brought whitecaps into his backyard.

James Kirby, 74, of Gulfport had made payments for 28 years on his 30-year mortgage when Hurricane Katrina flooded his house, leaving it nearly worthless. "You work all your life on something," he said. "And then it is nothing."

Approval of the additional assistance was credited in part to two important Republican allies from Mississippi, Senator Thad Cochran, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Gov. Haley Barbour, a former Washington lobbyist and chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Louisiana officials said they too welcomed the aid, though it was probably far short of what is needed to compensate the estimated 70,000 households that were flooded but did not have flood insurance. While the new package includes enough money to rebuild the levee system in New Orleans, it is far short of what is needed to protect the city from a Category 5 storm.

"This is a shot in the arm to the recovery that will make a big difference," said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the body set up to help lead the rebuilding effort.

So far, the federal government has committed to $19.53 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief, including $3.1 billion for trailers and mobile homes, $3.5 billion for emergency housing, $2.2 billion for state and local governments and $4.35 billion to other federal agencies, particularly the Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading the debris-removal work.

Leaders in Congress Agree on Aid for Gulf Recovery, NYT, 19.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/19/national/nationalspecial/19gulf.html

 

 

 

 

 

The City

Demolition of Thousands of Houses

Is Set to Begin

 

December 17, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 16 - The city will begin demolishing several thousand of the most severely hurricane-damaged houses in the next few weeks, marking the completion of an arduous door-to-door inspection of more than 120,000 structures that began months ago.

Officials here have provisionally identified about 5,500 houses as being unsafe to enter or in imminent danger of collapse. Of those, they have marked about 2,500 for demolition in the coming weeks, said Greg Meffert, the New Orleans official heading the inspections. He did not supply a precise date, but suggested that it would be soon.

The highest concentration of these red-tagged houses - so called because of the bright orange-red stickers the city's building inspectors have slapped on them - are in the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly, neighborhoods ravaged by levee breaks from the storm. The water's force pushed houses in these areas off their foundations, into neighbors' yards, and sometimes collapsed them altogether.

The sensitivity of demolishing houses here, a subject city officials mostly avoid discussing, is reflected in the fact that all houses tagged red are subject to a reinspection, to make certain they qualify. Some are likely to lose the red designation, city officials said, meaning that the figure of 5,500 will drop.

The vast majority of the inspected houses fall into a middle, or yellow, category, meaning they have some damage - for example, a flooded first floor - but are still structurally sound. That so many of the city's houses sustained this degree of damage reflects the extent of the flooding, which affected 80 percent of New Orleans at its height. Lakeview, a middle-class neighborhood bordering Lake Pontchartrain, contains block after block of houses in this category and remains largely uninhabited.

Many of these yellow-tagged houses "still represent a headache for the city," said Bill Pioli, an official of the Army Corps of Engineers who helped manage the inspections. Salvaging them will be difficult, considering the limited resources that many homeowners and the local government have for repairs. That quandary is captured in the cautious attitude New Orleans officials are adopting toward these dwellings, neither advocating their destruction nor suggesting that all can be saved.

"The city will not be making any unilateral demolition decisions," Mr. Meffert, an aide to Mayor C. Ray Nagin, said in an e-mail message on Thursday. "With the exception of those 5,000 homes that are collapsing and endangering others, the individual owner, in that yellow designation, will make the financial and personal decision of whether it makes sense to demolish or do a gut rehab."

Heaps of housing rubble, including Sheetrock and flooring, that line many blocks here suggest that some homeowners have already made that decision and are plunging ahead with rehabilitation, despite worrisome costs.

The swath of undamaged houses marked in green closely tracks the historic high ground of the city, along the Mississippi River. The elevation is imperceptible from the ground, consisting of only a few feet, and is the result of hundreds of years of silt deposited by the river. This slight rise was nonetheless just enough to keep these houses out of the "bowl," as it is known locally, referring to an area largely undeveloped in the 19th century. Even before Hurricane Katrina, those areas were subject to periodic flooding during heavy rains.

Out of 180,000 houses in the city, 110,000 were flooded. Half of those sat for days or weeks in more than six feet of water.

The Corps of Engineers will have responsibility for the demolitions, using track excavators. But in many cases, these huge pieces of equipment will have to do little more than scoop up heaps of rubble, because wind and water have already taken care of the demolition.

Demolition of Thousands of Houses Is Set to Begin, NYT, 18.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/17/national/nationalspecial/17demolish.html?fta=y

 

 

 

 

 

Medical Care

Dispute Over

Historic Hospital for the Poor

Pits Doctors Against the State

 

December 17, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 16 - Charity Hospital, an institution that for nearly three centuries has been dedicated to treating the poorest and sickest here - the shot, stabbed, overdosed and uninsured - has been abandoned downtown since Hurricane Katrina. It is now at the center of a battle over whether it will continue that tradition, or become a more conventional hospital.

The state officials who manage Charity say Hurricane Katrina dealt this Huey Long-era landmark a deathblow and want it torn down. In its place, they say, they want to build a hospital with a "new mission," one that treats both public and private patients and relies less on government money.

But doctors who work there sharply disagree with that plan. They say Louisiana officials are using the storm as an excuse to achieve the state's long-sought goal of demolishing Charity, getting millions in federal dollars to build a new hospital, and then moving away from a promise that has long been made to the city's poor.

"People want to use these disasters to get insurance money," said Dr. James Moises, an emergency room physician at Charity who helped clean up the hospital after the storm. Louisiana officials, he said, "saw it as a great opportunity to get the federal government to pay for a new facility."

For months now, officials have barred doctors from the building and forced them to practice in a tent field hospital, even though the doctors say the hospital is ready for use. The doctors say the makeshift arrangement is inadequate for the severe trauma cases the hospital specializes in treating.

As one of the two oldest hospitals in North America - it was founded in 1736, the same year as Bellevue Hospital in New York - Charity has from the beginning been a symbol of a social commitment to the poor, and its wards are empty at a moment when thousands of poor New Orleans residents are struggling to return home and fear that government has abandoned them. In many ways, the debate over its future parallels that of New Orleans itself, as it chooses whether to become a more middle-class city or to return to earlier traditions.

Louisiana is the only state with a network of hospitals dedicated to serving the indigent. Before the storm, the hospital network - of which Charity was the linchpin - was the main source of care for some 900,000 uninsured patients, about a fifth of the state's population.

Don Smithburg, chief executive of Louisiana State University Hospitals, which runs Charity, said any replacement for the hospital should be based on a "new model, less reliant on public dollars," with a "new mission" - one serving both private and indigent patients. "This storm has told us you can't rely on government resources," he said.

University officials vigorously deny any ploys, insisting that the building is now simply unsafe. "The facility is not usable," said Dr. Larry H. Hollier, acting chancellor of the university's Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. "It has tremendous deterioration." On a televised media tour in October, the officials insisted that reporters wear full-body protective gear in the basement and sign a health release, precautions regarded as laughable by doctors who cleaned the facility wearing shorts and T-shirts.

Walter Adams, the state's consulting engineer from Atlanta, assessed the building two years ago and recommended in a report to the state that it come down because of problems with its infrastructure and its outmoded layout.

Mr. Adams inspected the building after Hurricane Katrina and cited asbestos in fallen ceilings tiles as one of his concerns; veteran doctors at the hospital said the tiles were made of bagasse, a traditional Louisiana building material made from sugarcane residue. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it took two samples for airborne asbestos and found none.

State officials said they were not aware of any comprehensive environmental assessment of the building. Mr. Adams issued another report, restating the need for demolition and saying that 65 percent of Charity's building was damaged by the storm, which is more than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's 51 percent threshold for a replacement.

Officials from the federal agency confirmed that the state had been seeking federal aid for a new hospital; Louisiana officials said it would cost more than $600 million.

The state has mounted "a very impressive public relations campaign to publicize their desires," said David Fukutomi, a coordinating officer with FEMA, who expressed skepticism about the state's estimate of the damage to Charity. Mr. Fukutomi said the agency would make its own determination of the damage.

Charity Hospital, originally known as "L'Hopital des Pauvres de la Charité," or "Hospital for the Indigent," has been at the same downtown site since 1833, and has occupied its current M-shaped, 20-story, Art Deco-style building since 1939. Both the building and the institution have for generations played a unique role in the life of this impoverished city, a place the destitute and the working poor could always count on for help.

Criminals who were handcuffed would be treated as readily as construction workers with no insurance. Many of the city's famous musicians and politicians were born there, like Ernie K-Doe, the eccentric rhythm-and-blues master of "Mother-in-Law" fame, and the current mayor, C. Ray Nagin. Allen Toussaint wrote a song to celebrate Charity's 250th anniversary, in 1986 ("Charity's Always There"), and the current building abounds with Art Deco touches.

An evocative aluminum grill over the entrance shows stylized Louisianans in characteristic roles - fishermen, trappers, dockworkers and sugarcane cutters - as well as two ducks, a cheeky reference to Mr. Long's "de-duct box," his practice of deducting "contributions" from workers.

For years, legislators and officials in Baton Rouge, traditionally hostile to New Orleans, have slashed Charity's budget, and in recent decades the old hospital has lurched from crisis to crisis, including stretches when, because of the facility's dilapidation, it lost its accreditation.

Even its most ardent defenders acknowledged that the building, with its open-ward layout and vintage mechanical systems, needed an overhaul, if not outright replacement, before Hurricane Katrina. But they say that now, with the city in crisis, it is not the time to close any health care option, even one that is less than ideal.

With Charity ordered shut by the university, the city is facing an acute shortage of patient beds, doctors say. And Charity's historic teaching role - for decades the principal learning arena for medical students at two universities, Tulane and Louisiana State University - is no more.

"We need more inpatient beds, and we need a place to take care of patients that are unfunded," said Dr. Juliette Saussy, director of emergency medical services for New Orleans. "Inpatient facilities are absolutely swamped."

Dr. Saussy added: "In the past, we had Charity. Now we don't."

Like other doctors who have been inside the old hospital since the cleanup effort, she asserted that the crews had made the building usable again.

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, doctors, nurses and dozens of military personnel worked feverishly to restore Charity. Army, Navy, Coast Guard and civil engineers from Germany, equipped with giant hydraulic pumps and with the help of the medical staff, pumped water from Charity's basement, removed excrement and trash from the halls and clambered up 19 flights of stairs to mop floors.

But then, with the first three floors cleaned and ready for use, a half-dozen of the doctors said, they were abruptly ordered out of Charity, while state officials began their campaign for a new building. Dr. Peter Deblieux, director of resident and faculty development and a leader in the restoration effort, and Dr. Moises said the cleanup teams were deeply frustrated by the orders to desist.

"We were naïve enough to believe people would want to do the right thing by the community, and ensure health care," Dr. Moises said. "On numerous occasions they ordered us out. They said, 'we want you out, stop cleaning the building.' "

State officials said the doctors were told to get out for their own safety.

"I ordered that be stopped, based on the environmental assessment reports I was getting from the consulting engineers," said Mr. Smithburg, the Louisiana State University executive. "We had guys in there who were very well-meaning. But we had to keep telling them and telling them."

A series of photographs taken by doctors and military personnel, after most of the cleanup effort had been completed, appear to show the emergency room and other rooms in the hospital in clean condition. No trash is visible; the floors look scrubbed.

On a recent warm day here, the emergency room at Charity was empty and silent, worn-looking from decades of hard use, but hardly derelict. The only sound was from a security guard's television set. She had seen it all: gunshot victims, stabbing victims, rape victims, enraged arrestees, inmates, as well as legions of the uninsured.

"We had all that going on here," said the guard, Donna Jennings. "Now, we have nothing. This is just about where the average person came. Now, I don't know. Where are all the gunshot victims going to go?"

Dispute Over Historic Hospital for the Poor Pits Doctors Against the State,
NYT, 17.12.2005,
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/17/national/17charity.html?fta=y

 

 

 

 

 

Congress sets $29 billion Katrina aid plan

 

Sat Dec 17, 2005 7:32 PM ET
Reuters
By Richard Cowan

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional negotiators have agreed on $29 billion in funds to help rebuild Gulf Coast states devastated by Hurricane Katrina, with most of that money being drawn from previously approved emergency spending, aides to lawmakers said on Saturday.

About $24 billion of the funds will be taken from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a Senate Republican aide, who asked not to be identified.

The official said that the remaining $4 billion will be offset by a 1 percent cut to all government agencies, except for veterans' programs. The across-the-board spending cut would generate an overall $8.5 billion in savings, according to sources in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The hurricane aid initiative will be attached to an unrelated military spending bill for the current fiscal year that Congress hopes to pass in coming days. But passage of the bill is not guaranteed, as Democrats and some Republicans may try to defeat the bill because they oppose a controversial Alaska oil drilling initiative that is expected to be incorporated into the measure.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi in late August, Congress approved about $62 billion in emergency funds to help rescue and evacuate residents and provide other essential services.

Most of those funds were given to FEMA.

Now that Gulf Coast needs have mostly moved from emergency aid to rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure, Congress has been debating how to reprogram more than $30 billion that has been unspent from the $62 billion approved.

President George W. Bush has asked Congress to reprogram about $17 billion. But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, was seeking about $34 billion in either reprogrammed money or additional emergency aid.

The $29-billion compromise would dispatch most of the funds to community development block grants that would finance rebuilding, according to the Senate aide.

The aide did not yet have details on how the rest of the money would be spent.

Throughout the fall, Gulf Coast lawmakers have been pressing for more help from the federal government. But those requests have been slowed because of conservative Republican demands that new hurricane aid be paid for by cutting other government programs.

    Congress sets $29 billion Katrina aid plan, NYT, 17.12.2005, http://today.reuters.com/News/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-12-18T003209Z_01_SPI784709_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-CONGRESS-FUNDING.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Congress Passes Tax Plan

to Aid Gulf Coast

 

December 17, 2005
The New York Times
By CARL HULSE and RACHEL L. SWARNS

 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 - Congress sent President Bush an $8 billion tax plan on Friday intended to spur redevelopment along the Gulf Coast as Congressional negotiators struggled to pull together other contentious budget and spending bills.

As lawmakers moved haltingly through their work, the House passed a Republican-sponsored measure intended to curb illegal immigration by tightening security along the nation's borders. But that legislation was not going to be taken up by the Senate in the closing days of the session and was mainly a preview of a larger immigration debate expected next year.

The tax measure creates an "opportunity zone" in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and grants significant tax incentives to those who reconstruct housing and businesses.

"This funding is essential to jump-starting recovery efforts in the gulf region," said Representative Jim McCrery, Republican of Louisiana and an author of the bill.

In a concession to conservatives, the bill limits tax breaks for companies that rebuild casinos, though associated restaurants, hotels and stores could qualify.

The tax package was half of the hurricane recovery plan lawmakers hope to enact before adjourning. House and Senate leaders were still negotiating the scope of a separate plan to provide money for communities affected by the hurricane. The House offered $25 billion to a Senate push for more than $30 billion, and lawmakers were also haggling over how the money would be distributed.

The hurricane aid was just one element of a lengthy to-do list facing Congress as members itched to leave town for the holidays. Leaders still hoped to wrap up a package of budget cuts, two major spending bills, a Pentagon policy measure and an extension of terrorism insurance. The prospects for each and the schedule itself remained uncertain.

"We are trying to get it all done, and we will get it all done," said Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "But I don't know when."

Responding to a conservative push for budget savings, negotiators said Friday that they had agreed to impose a 1 percent across-the-board cut in current federal spending, a decision that would reduce the budgets of federal agencies by a total of about $8 billion. House and Senate leaders said they were still trying to reach agreement on a broader plan to reduce spending by an additional $45 billion over the next five years.

The outlook for that measure continued to hinge on the fate of a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, which has kept the budget bill in limbo. Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, said he was making progress in his efforts to round up a filibuster-proof majority for his proposal to remove the drilling from the budget package and add it to a military spending bill.

That tactic continued to provoke outrage from opponents of drilling.

"This shameful act should demonstrate clearly to the American people what is most important to the party that controls the government," said Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, who accused Republicans of holding military money hostage to the oil drilling plan.

Mr. Stevens countered that unrelated measures were often added to must-pass legislation in the closing days of a Congressional session. "It has happened every year that I have been here," he said.

The war in Iraq continued to fuel partisan tensions as well. The House voted 279 to 109 for a Republican resolution opposing an "artificial timetable" for withdrawing from Iraq and declaring that the House is "committed to achieving victory."

"With this resolution, a majority of the House of Representatives stands in agreement that while we have set the course, we must also stay the course until victory is achieved and then bring our men and women home," Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said.

Democrats criticized the resolution as a political stunt intended to embarrass those who have called for consideration of withdrawing troops. And they said the language was drawn up without consultation with Democrats.

"Sadly, this Congress is not an example of democracy to the world," said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.

Fifty-nine Democrats joined 220 Republicans in supporting the resolution; 108 Democrats and one independent opposed it; 32 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted present.

On the immigration measure, Republicans for a second day beat back a challenge from moderates in the party who had hoped to scuttle the tough border security bill, criticizing it for failing to grant temporary legal status to the millions of workers in the United States illegally.

The border security measure would for the first time make it a federal crime to live in the United States illegally, a provision that would turn millions of undocumented immigrants into felons. Currently, living in this country illegally is a violation of civil immigration law, not criminal law. The bill would require the mandatory detention of many immigrants, stiffen the penalties for employers who hire them and broaden the immigrant-smuggling statute to include employees of social service agencies and church groups who offer services to illegal workers.

It would require the Department of Homeland Security to build fences along the United States border with Mexico to block the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into this country. And it would eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery, a State Department program that provides 50,000 green cards each year to people from countries that do not send large numbers of immigrants to the United States. Critics of the lottery say that it has been dogged by fraud.

The bill would not create the temporary guest worker program that President Bush has urged to legalize the status of the 11 million immigrants believed to be living in the United States illegally. And several Democratic and Republican members of Congress said they doubted it would become law in its current form.

Many conservatives are critical of the president's proposal, saying they and their supporters view it as an amnesty for illegal immigrants. And with mid-term elections on the horizon, many Republicans said it was important to pass legislation that addressed voters' concerns about securing the border.

Representative Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia, hailed the border security bill as "a response to the American people who are demanding that we secure our borders first."

Several Republicans, along with Democrats, said they would have to pin their hopes on the Senate, which is expected to take up a comprehensive immigration bill that includes a guest worker provision next year.

Congress Passes Tax Plan to Aid Gulf Coast, NYT, 17.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/17/politics/17congress.html

 

 

 

 

 

Harrah's to reopen

New Orleans casino on February 17

 

Fri Dec 16, 2005
8:24 PM ET
Reuters

 

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Harrah's Entertainment Inc. said on Friday that it plans to reopen its New Orleans casino, shut down by Hurricane Katrina in late August, next February 17.

"We'll be putting people back to work -- and once again helping draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to New Orleans," Anthony Sanfilippo, president of Harrah's central division, said in a statement.

Harrah's, the world's largest casino operator, said repair work at the casino began as quickly as possible after the storm and is now well underway.

Work also continues on a new 450-room hotel, conference center and restaurant at Harrah's New Orleans. The $150 million expansion project is expected to open in September 2006.

Sanfillippo said Harrah's "will continue to work with government and community leaders to reestablish a thriving tourism industry in the Big Easy."

    Harrah's to reopen New Orleans casino on February 17, NYT, 16.12.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-12-17T012421Z_01_KNE705047_RTRUKOT_0_TEXT0.xml&related=true

 

 

 

 

 

Bush Requests Additional $1.5 Billion

for New Orleans

 

December 15, 2005
The New York Times
By DAVID STOUT

 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - President Bush asked Congress today for an additional $1.5 billion to fortify New Orleans against future hurricanes and floods like the disaster that ravaged the Mississippi Delta city a few months ago.

"The president believes deeply in New Orleans and is deeply committed to its future," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. The new money will help assure "the rebirth of this great American city," he added.

The $1.5 billion will be devoted to improving the city's much-criticized levees, which were breached in the floods accompanying Hurricane Katrina, allowing water from nearby Lake Pontchartrain to inundate vast sections of low-lying territory, killing hundreds of people and triggering an exodus of hundreds of thousands.

The money requested today will "armor the levee system with concrete and stone," Donald Powell, the top federal official for New Orleans reconstruction, said at the White House announcement. In addition, he said, it will be used to close three interior canals and to provide "state-of-the-art pumping systems" to enable water to flow from the remaining canals into the lake.

The improvements will make the levee system "better and stronger than it has ever been in the history of New Orleans," Mr. Powell said. The money request announced today is in addition to $1.6 billion already committed to repair the city's flood-protection system.

When asked whether the stronger levee system, which is to be in place by mid-2006, will be able to withstand the strongest hurricanes as measured by wind speed, Mr. Powell said that if a storm like Katrina strikes again, there will be "some flooding, but no catastrophic flooding."

Mr. Powell said that, rather than focus on wind speed alone, engineers rightly focus on factors like tides, storm surges and the like. Katrina was a category 4 hurricane, one notch below the most powerful in terms of wind speed, but was accompanied by devastating flooding and surges.

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, a Democrat who has been highly critical of the federal response to the destruction in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, was beaming today. "This is a great day to be in D.C.," he said alongside Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Powell.

Noting that the levees will be as high as 17 feet in some sections - higher than ever - the mayor said the newly fortified protections should send a message to people who fled New Orleans, and to businesses uncertain of their future: "Come back to the Big Easy."

The mayor said he had another message, for all Americans: "We thank you for helping New Orleans and the gulf region."

Mr. Nagin promised that federal money committed to his city would be spent in "a wise and efficient manner." Louisiana has a long tradition of colorful politics occasionally seasoned by doubtful spending of public money.

New Orleans, its European-style charms and fun-loving spirit notwithstanding, has historically been vulnerable because of its sea-level location. But Mr. Powell said the new levee protection will pass "the grandchild test."

That means, he said, that he would feel safe with his four precious grandchildren in the new City of New Orleans.

Bush Requests Additional $1.5 Billion for New Orleans, 15.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/15/national/15cnd-levee.html


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Loans to Homeowners Along Gulf Lag

NYT

15.12.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/15/national/nationalspecial/15loans.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Loans

to Homeowners Along Gulf Lag

 

December 15, 2005
The New York Times
By LESLIE EATON and RON NIXON

 

Hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast families, hoping to rebuild their homes after the hurricanes using low-interest government loans, are facing high rejection rates and widespread delays at the federal agency that administers the disaster loan program.

The Small Business Administration, which runs the federal government's main disaster recovery program for both businesses and homeowners, has processed only a third of the 276,000 home loan applications it has received.

And it has rejected 82 percent of those it has reviewed, a higher percentage than in most previous disasters, saying that many would-be borrowers did not have incomes high enough, or credit ratings good enough, to qualify. The rejections came even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency has referred more than two million people, many of them with low incomes, to the S.B.A. to get the loans.

To a large degree, that high rejection rate appears to reflect a mismatch between existing government aid programs and the large number of low-income people affected by this year's hurricanes. Despite the widespread poverty in the most damaged regions, the Small Business Administration has not adjusted its creditworthiness standards, which are roughly comparable to a bank's.

In fact, the loans that have been approved appear to be flowing to wealthy neighborhoods in New Orleans but not to poor ones, according to a list of loans released by the government and mapped by The New York Times.

Under the disaster loan program, homeowners can borrow up to $200,000 at low interest rates to repair houses. Owners and renters can borrow up to $40,000 to replace damaged furnishings.

As of Tuesday, the agency had approved 17,463 home loans, for almost $1.2 billion, although only $62 million had been disbursed to homeowners, who must be ready to start repairs to get the money. More than 77,000 applications have been rejected.

The high rejection rate and the slow processing of applications are causing concern among government officials, academic experts and homeowners. Many say the problem undermines government pledges of aid, embodied by President Bush's promise in September to "do what it takes" to help citizens rebuild.

One such homeowner is Albertha Hastens, 55, a member of the school board in White Castle, La., which is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Strong winds damaged the roof and tore siding off her house, Ms. Hastens said, but the Small Business Administration turned her down for a loan, citing her low income. (She receives a small stipend from the school board along with her Social Security payments.)

"It makes you tired and disgusted," Ms. Hastens said of her experience with the agency. "For poor working people, you don't know what to do."

Agency officials say they are doing their best under difficult circumstances, noting that they recently approved $44 million in home and business loans in a single day.

They lay the blame for any problems on the huge size of the disaster and the small size of the agency, which has hired thousands of temporary workers to help process hurricane-related requests.

"We don't have tens of thousands of people waiting for a disaster," said Hector V. Barreto, the agency administrator. "We had 800 people. Now we have 4,200 people working, most brand new."

As for the rejection rate, agency officials say the Small Business Administration's loan program could not risk taxpayer money by lending it to people with low incomes or poor credit. "We're just dealing with the demographics in the area," said Herbert L. Mitchell, the associate administrator who runs the agency's disaster assistance program.

Both agency officials and some critics of the federal government say that many applicants do not really want loans, but must go through the agency's loan process - and be rejected - in order to be eligible for certain grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (FEMA does not dispute this but says it cannot give these grants to people who have enough money to take out loans. It gives other grants for home repair in certain circumstances, but only for up to $15,600.)

The slow pace of the agency's response to the hurricanes is a reason Representative Nydia M. Velázquez of New York, who is the senior Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, called on Mr. Barreto yesterday to resign.

"We have reached a point where we need to get someone who can run the office in an effective way," Ms. Velázquez said. "He doesn't have what it takes at a moment of crisis."

In addition to the problems with the homeowners program, Ms. Velázquez cited the even slower pace of loans to businesses in the Gulf Coast States. The Small Business Administration has also allowed large corporations to get $2 billion in federal contracts under the guise of being small businesses, she said, and morale at the agency is low.

Responding to the criticism, Raul E. Cisneros, the agency's director of communications, said in a statement: "Unfortunately, the current political environment in Washington, D.C., is not lacking for individuals who are anxious to throw stones. This administration is focused on helping the people of the Gulf Coast rebuild after these devastating hurricanes."

Mr. Cisneros said the agency had passed the billion-dollar loan approval mark five weeks faster than after the hurricanes in Florida last year.

But Republicans have also been critical of the agency's response. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, the Maine Republican who is chairwoman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, has sharply questioned agency officials at two hearings.

Ms. Snowe also sent members of her staff to investigate the situation at the agency's loan-processing office in Fort Worth, where they found that workers have been putting in long hours but have been hampered by management missteps and a new - and, by some accounts, balky - computer system.

To get Small Business Administration loans, homeowners must submit applications and give the agency access to tax returns so loan officers can see if applicants have enough income available to cover the debt.

The agency also sends out inspectors to check the damaged homes, and makes sure that the loans are not used for costs already covered by insurance. The agency checks applicants' credit histories and, for loans over $10,000, also requires collateral, just as home mortgage lenders would.

For borrowers who could not borrow elsewhere, the interest rate is about 2.7 percent on loans that can extend for 30 years; those who do have access to other credit have to pay about 5.4 percent.

For weeks, small business organizations and government officials have been criticizing the pace of similar loans the agency makes to companies; fewer than 3,000 such loans have been approved, and roughly 800 checks have been sent out, for less than $11 million.

Housing is a crucial issue in the Gulf Coast States, where hundreds of thousands of houses were damaged and close to 170,000 were destroyed, according to the American Red Cross.

Historically, insurance proceeds, not government programs - and certainly not the Small Business Administration - contributed most of the money to rebuild houses, said Mary C. Comerio, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of a 1998 book on disaster recovery. But, Ms. Comerio added, "There is still this expectation that the government is going to do something to make people whole."

Indeed, less than 20 percent of Louisianans think that insurance should cover the costs of rebuilding, while more than 50 percent say that the federal government has the primary responsibility to pay for it, according to a survey of 653 state residents released in late November by the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University.

But for even the most fortunate victims of the hurricanes, it may take both insurance proceeds and a Small Business Administration loan to give them even a chance of rebuilding.

Craig S. Sciambra, 34, describes himself as blessed, even though his two-year-old house in the Lakeview section of New Orleans had five feet of water inside and has been declared a total loss. He still has his job as an engineer, his wife still has her job as a certified public accountant, and they had a lot of flood insurance.

Mr. Sciambra has also been approved for an S.B.A. loan and mortgage refinance. "It would be really hard to make ends meet without it," he said.

Many of Mr. Sciambra's neighbors have also been approved for such loans, according to a list of loans released by the agency and mapped by The New York Times. Well-off neighborhoods like Lakeview have received 47 percent of the loan approvals, while poverty-stricken ones have gotten 7 percent.

Middle-class black neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city have lower loan rates, too, the data suggest, at least so far.

Some residents, like Diane Fleming, 57, are in limbo. A schoolteacher who lost her home of 26 years in New Orleans East, along with most of her possessions, Ms. Fleming has been shuttling between Houston and a friend's house in New Orleans.

FEMA referred her to the Small Business Administration, which said it would not make a decision about her application until she heard from her insurance company, Ms. Fleming said.

"Meanwhile," she said, "I have no place to live."

    Federal Loans to Homeowners Along Gulf Lag, NYT, 15.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/15/national/nationalspecial/15loans.html

 

 

 

 

 

Bright Spot on Gulf

as Casinos Rush to Rebuild

 

December 14, 2005
The New York Times
By GARY RIVLIN

 

BILOXI, Miss., Dec. 9 - Anyone visiting this town in the days after Hurricane Katrina might reasonably have concluded that it would be a long while before slot machines were again ringing their incessant chimes. The storm destroyed 9 of 10 floating casinos in Biloxi, and the tenth suffered significant damage.

Yet so well financed is the gambling industry - and so profitable the facilities that line the beaches here - that one casino is set to open its doors to the public on Dec. 22. Another is to reopen the day after Christmas. A third, the Palace Casino, will have spent $23 million in four months to reopen by New Year's Eve, said the general manager, Keith Crosby.

All 10 Biloxi casinos have told the city they will rebuild, and most plan larger, more elaborate facilities. One, Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the world's largest gambling company, has told city officials that it plans to invest as much as $1 billion in a new resort-casino - a figure sizable enough to catch people's attention even in Las Vegas. And a growing list of investors, looking to take advantage of a new state law allowing the first-ever land-based casinos, is seeking an audience with city officials or state regulators in Jackson.

For better or worse, casinos are the source of that rarest commodity along a Gulf Coast battered by Katrina: optimism. "Legalized gaming," said Biloxi's mayor, A. J. Holloway, "is going to be what saves us."

By contrast, inaction and uncertainty dominate the story line in New Orleans, which remains largely in stasis as businesses wonder if their customers will return and weigh the wisdom of rebuilding.

"It's not a question of whether the business community will take a huge hit, but how bad that hit will be," said Jay Lapeyre, a local businessman who, as chairman of the Business Council of New Orleans, speaks on behalf of more than 50 of the area's largest corporations.

Casinos, of course, can make unpleasant neighbors. Biloxi residents complain about the traffic and the noise. The gambling palaces tower over a once-quaint beach community of modest homes, as if exotic, outsize creatures crawled up from the beach and took root. One casino-hotel in this town of 55,000 stands as the tallest building in Mississippi, another reigns as the state's most expensive.

Still, these garish Las Vegas refugees are proving resourceful, resilient neighbors by serving as an economic lifeline in a town that lost one-fifth of its housing stock and well over 10,000 jobs.

Elected officials and industry executives alike are bullish about a local economy they expect to grow significantly over the next few years as casinos take advantage of a Katrina-inspired change in Mississippi law that allows them to construct their gambling halls on land, as long as they build within 800 feet of the coastline.

Before Katrina, the state permitted operators to erect hotels, parking structures and the like on land, but the casino itself had to float on water, forcing them to place on barges elaborate two- and three-story casinos that still lie in ruins along the coast.

Officials in Biloxi were among those aggressively lobbying in Jackson, the state capital, to allow the casinos to rebuild on land.

The casinos have meant a new set of problems for the city to contend with, Mayor Holloway said, including an increase in embezzlements and bankruptcies. But they have also meant jobs and tax dollars for the city government, which was on the verge of bankruptcy when voters approved a 1991 ballot initiative permitting the construction of casinos along its shores. "The good far outweighs the bad," he said.

In New Orleans, in October, Mayor C. Ray Nagin floated the idea of a downtown casino district as a quick fix to an economy in desperate need of one, but then hurriedly backed away from the idea after it was roundly criticized. Under a deal with the city, Harrah's, which has been closed since the storm, pays the city roughly $1 million a month for rights as the city's sole casino operator - which has served as the city's "single most reliable source of revenue" since the storm, said the city finance director, Reginald Zeno.

Pre-Katrina, Biloxi's casinos employed 15,000 and in the most recent fiscal year contributed $19.2 million to municipal coffers. That's more than twice the amount the city raised in property taxes, and more than 50 percent more than it collected in sales taxes - a large portion of which were rung up inside the casinos.

"The city needs the casinos to come back home and come back fast," said William Stallworth, a member of the Biloxi City Council who spent time in Jackson in October to make sure the law was changed.

There seems no shortage of investors. "Since the storm, I've had 10 to 12 developers express interest in coming to Biloxi to open a new casino," said Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. "I suspect we'll end up with at least three or four more new facilities operating in Biloxi over the next two years."

Mississippi's casinos pay 12 percent in taxes on their revenues, "which is on the low side of casinos nationwide," said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., chief executive of the American Gaming Association. Of the taxes collected, two-thirds go to the state and one-third goes to localities like school boards and city and county governments.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos, including two in Gulfport and a third in Bay St. Louis, generated $1.4 billion in profit last year and paid $168 million in state and local taxes. Mr. Gregory predicted that, within two years, the coastal casinos would clear $2 billion and contribute more than $240 million to state and local coffers - a prediction that might be overly conservative, said Timothy M. Hinkley, president of the Isle of Capri Casinos, a chain based in Biloxi that opened the first casino here in 1992.

"This has proven to be just an incredible market," Mr. Hinkley said. "I've consistently underestimated its potential."

Isle of Capri had every reason to consider abandoning its Biloxi property in the days after the storm. Mr. Hinkley estimated that the company had to shutter its doors nine times in the last 10 years in anticipation of a hurricane. And not only did Katrina destroy its existing casino, but it also rendered worthless a new $90 million barge the company was to open this month.

Yet the Biloxi operation, though small, consistently ranks among the top one-third of the 14 properties that Isle of Capri operates across the United States. So though it is moving its corporate offices out of harm's way to St. Louis (closer to the archipelago of casinos it operates across the Midwest), the company is hardly abandoning Biloxi.

The Isle of Capri is working on plans for a new land-based casino that Mr. Hinkley expects to be at least twice the size of the old one. And earlier this month he met with the mayor to present a plan to build a second, 2,500-room hotel-casino that would be more than three times the size of its existing property.

Meantime, the company has gutted the new convention center it opened this summer to create a temporary casino it plans on opening the day after Christmas.

Across the road from the Isle of Capri, the Palace is doing much the same as it converts almost every square foot of the first two floors of its hotel - everything but the front desk - to house hundreds of slot machines and dozens of tables for blackjack, craps and other casino games. That, too, is a temporary casino, scheduled to open Dec. 30.

"We're putting machines anywhere we can to get our numbers up," said Mr. Crosby, the Palace's general manager.

The Imperial Palace, the only casino that survived Katrina, has announced that it will reopen its casino on Dec. 22. Its new post-Katrina slogan: "The luckiest casino on the coast."

Most of the remaining casinos will take another six to nine months to open - probably without any federal assistance. Last week, the House overwhelmingly approved a multibillion-dollar package of tax breaks for Gulf Coast businesses that excludes casinos, liquor stores, strip clubs and country clubs.

"To be just one of three casinos open for six months - these casinos will see profits you just won't believe," said William N. Thompson, a professor of public administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

But while an oligopoly will be good for the casinos, Mr. Thompson is not so sure it will be good for Biloxi and other ravaged communities along the Gulf Coast. In better times, Biloxi drew visitors from around the South and snowbirds seeking to escape Midwest winters. But given the devastation in the area, he predicts that it will be mainly locals playing inside Biloxi's casinos for the foreseeable future.

"It's going to take money out of the local population at a time the local population can ill afford to be gambling," he said. "These are people who haven't rebuilt their homes yet. These are people out of work."

    Bright Spot on Gulf as Casinos Rush to Rebuild, NYT, 14.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/14/business/14casino.html

 

 

 

 

 

Residents Place an Ad

to Plead With Congress

 

December 13, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 12 - Members of Congress, soon returning home for the holidays, will get a stark message on Tuesday that tens of thousands of this city's people are still unable to do so.

A full-page advertisement - set to appear in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, paid for by former residents of the ravaged middle-class Lakeview section and billed as a "Message From Homeless New Orleanians" - pleads with Congress to pay for stronger levees.

It also reminds the lawmakers that things are far from normal in a city where block after block remains ghostly and dark.

"Since the breakdown of the New Orleans flood protection system on August 29, 2005, we have lived like refugees in our own country," the advertisement says. "The residents of Lakeview and countless other displaced New Orleans communities are sending you this holiday wish in one voice - 'We want to go home.' "

The advertisement was born of desperation, said Nancy McSwain, who helped put it together. Ms. McSwain, whose Lakeview home took in over eight feet of water and has been looted three times since, is now living in a one-room apartment in Jackson, Miss.

"Our lives are on hold right now," she said. "I feel so cut off from everything familiar."

The advertisement cost nearly $10,000, which was collected online from Lakeview residents, organizers said. The idea, they said, followed a crowded meeting for which residents returned here in early October and where a sense of common purpose was fostered.

Since then, with little apparent activity in Washington and with rebuilding slow in New Orleans, frustration and determination have grown in equal measure, said Cherie Melancon Franz, another organizer. "I just want to make it clear we're not complaining," Ms. Franz said. "We just want to gain some awareness for our situation."

Ms. Franz is now living in an apartment in Allen, Tex., outside Dallas, with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. Their Lakeview home was flooded with seven feet of water, but she wants to return to New Orleans.

"It's Christmastime, and we're still not home," she said. "We miss our family and friends. Everybody I've spoken to who's had to leave is having serious culture shock."

    Residents Place an Ad to Plead With Congress, NYT, 13.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/13/national/nationalspecial/13advertisement.html

 

 

 

 

 

On Gulf Coast,

a Conflict Over How to Rebuild

 

December 12, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

LONG BEACH, Miss., Dec. 11 - Standing on the slab that was once her Gulf Coast retirement home, Jocelyn Turnbough has a clear vision of her own Hurricane Katrina counterpunch: a new seaside estate, with a wraparound veranda, a sunroom and a small wading pool out front.

Central to this rebuilding plan is Ms. Turnbough's intention to ignore a plea from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that her new home be elevated on stilts.

"At my age, I don't want to have to go up steps," said Ms. Turnbough, 69, a retired middle school teacher. "I want to be able to walk in at ground level."

The conflict between FEMA's request and Ms. Turnbough's desires demonstrates a broad clash here along the Gulf Coast over whether to cede large swaths of land to nature, to rebuild much as it was, or to rebuild homes, at a higher price, with more robust foundations and on structures that raise them above the ground.

The debate is playing out on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, with a cast that includes storm victims, coastal engineers, mortgage lenders, the insurance industry, and local, state and federal government officials.

FEMA ignited the discussion by issuing late last month a jigsaw puzzle of 228 new maps that, when pieced together, make up the entire 80 miles of Mississippi coast and reach as much as 22 miles inland. These maps represent the biggest simultaneous proposed expansion of federally defined flood zones in the history of the 37-year-old National Flood Insurance Program. The maps for the Louisiana coast will be published early next year.

The maps for the two states, based on damage caused by Katrina and other hurricanes in the past 20 years, are advisory for now because it will take FEMA at least a year to confirm their accuracy. During this critical rebuilding period, it is up to the local governments to decide if they will honor the agency's request to adopt the more conservative and more costly standards.

But when the maps become final, the federal agency will have the power to force the hands of local governments, since it can ban cities and their residents from the flood insurance program if they do not respect the official maps.

"These are very hard decisions," said Todd Davison, FEMA's regional director of mitigation. "There is no denying that. The local officials have to balance the need to allow people to fix up houses that can be repaired and to take some hardship off of the crisis they are in, and at the same time not knowingly put people in harm's way."

The looming changes are already causing divisions along the coast.

In Mississippi, elected officials from Long Beach, Pass Christian and unincorporated sections of Hancock County have decided to allow residents to rebuild, at least for now, according to the existing flood maps. In Jackson County and communities including Waveland, D'Iberville and Bay St. Louis, local officials have agreed to add about four feet to the required minimum elevations in existing flood zones, but have declined, so far, to expand the flood zones according to FEMA's recommended boundaries.

The biggest cities on Mississippi's coast, Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula, have not yet taken a formal position, but at least some elected leaders in these communities have made it clear they have objections. Only unincorporated Harrison County and Moss Point, a small city, have voted to adopt entirely the new FEMA standards.

In communities that have resisted, elected officials say they fear now is the worst time to radically increase land-use standards, forcing residents who have already lost almost everything to dig deeper into their pockets to rebuild.

"For us to hit them with an additional burden after what they have been through - to me, that is ludicrous," said Richard Notter, a Long Beach alderman and electrical engineer, who voted to reject the FEMA maps. "No one who has a heart and soul would ever vote to do that."

Many of the homes wiped out by Hurricane Katrina were built on lots that were swept clear in 1969 when Hurricane Camille hit.

Yet even with that knowledge, Chip McDermott, alderman at large in Pass Christian, said that in a community where only about 900 of 6,000 residents remain - and many of those are in trailers or a tent city - trying to plan now for the next catastrophe is hard.

"Survival right now is the main thing," Mr. McDermott said. "We are not going to have a town unless we get some people back here. We are going to be a town in name only."

Raising a new house off the ground to comply with the proposed FEMA standards would cost $2,000 to $30,000 depending on the value of the house and the type of foundation required to meet the potential flood intensity. The work could be as simple as an elevated foundation or as complex as reinforced, deep-set structural columns that would support a house entirely on tall stilts. How high the house would be off the ground would depend on its location, but the heights would be from a few feet to 20 feet, with more typical range being 8 to 14 feet, Mr. Davison said.

For years, geologists and flood plain engineers said that the rush to build along the fragile coasts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico was the brick-and-mortar version of irrational exuberance. And with the recent surge in the frequency and violence of hurricanes, the stakes have never been so devastatingly laid bare.

More than 1,075 people have been confirmed dead in Louisiana and 230 in Mississippi, with dozens of others still missing. More than $23 billion in flood insurance claims are expected from along the Gulf Coast, from more than 200,000 property owners. The single biggest previous payout was Hurricane Ivan last year, which cost the federally backed program $1.45 billion in claims. A federal bailout of the insurance program, which is supposed to be supported by premiums, will most likely be required.

Some engineers say the only rational solution, in some sections of the Gulf Coast, is to cede these fragile areas, and not rebuild.

"It is time to cut our ties with the most vulnerable of our nation's coastal areas," said Robert S. Young, an associate professor of geology at Western Carolina University, in testimony last month before Congress.

More than $1 billion in federal disaster aid will be available in Mississippi to help buy out homeowners who live in extremely flood-prone spots, elevate whole neighborhoods in some cases or rebuild schools or community centers more robustly or in safer locations. People like Ms. Turnbough who choose to rebuild soon in areas that do not comply with the new proposals will still be eligible for flood insurance if construction predates the adoption of the FEMA mandates by their local governments.

But here along the coast, FEMA officials said, they realize they must do more. They are trying, they said, to strike a balance between protecting life and property and allowing coastal communities like Long Beach to rise again.

"There are proven techniques for building housing in these flood-prone areas that can withstand these flood forces and significantly reduce damage," Mr. Davison said.

The last time large flood zones along the Mississippi coast were comprehensively remapped was in the mid-1980's, at the end of a relatively quiet hurricane period, Mr. Davison said.

With major hurricanes like Elena in 1985, Andrew in 1992, Georges in 1998, Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005, the area vulnerable to flooding in a so-called "100-year storm" is much bigger, and the projected flood depths along the coast are much deeper.

Some local officials say that the new FEMA advisory maps call for unreasonable standards that will drive up housing prices and threaten whole neighborhoods.

"This is not realistic. It's not practical. It is overkill, and we can start a push back," Mayor Brent Warr of Gulfport told the City Council at a workshop last week at City Hall, in Gulfport's devastated downtown.

Mr. Warr says he recognizes that the maps will need to change to expand the flood zone. The question, he said, is by how much. FEMA's redrawn maps would put 6,233 houses and other structures in Gulfport in the flood zone, more than twice the current number. That, he said, is just too many.

"We are going to be more conservative," Mr. Warr said in an interview. "But we have to come up with a plan that still offers an opportunity for neighborhoods to exist."

Officials at FEMA said they recognized that Hurricane Katrina was an extraordinary storm, creating a wall of water as high as 30 feet in some communities. So the flood zones in the new FEMA maps, in certain areas, are smaller than the area inundated by water from Katrina.

The conflict between the agency's advice and the stand taken by many of the local governments has left many residents confused.

James Kirby lives on 39th Street in Gulfport, about a mile and a half from the coast. After a neighborhood bayou overflowed with waters forced inland by Hurricane Katrina, the floors of his small house collapsed, his brick walls cracked and everything inside was destroyed. On FEMA's proposed flood map, his neighborhood is a tiny yellow square surrounded by blue, indicating that it was flooded and will now be included in the flood zone. Residents in these areas are generally required to get flood insurance, and those outside them typically are not.

The Gulfport City Council has not yet acted on FEMA's recommendations, and Mr. Kirby said he had not decided whether to move elsewhere, stay put and rebuild higher, or repair his home where it is.

"It's a sad situation," Mr. Kirby, 74, said. "There are no good choices."

If homeowners were insured for flood damage before the storm, they were eligible to get as much as $30,000 in extra assistance to comply with new, more demanding flood requirements. But like thousands of Gulf Coast residents who did not previously live in a designated flood zone, Mr. Kirby did not have flood insurance.

In Long Beach, where Ms. Turnbough lives, little new construction is under way. The scene is postapocalyptic, with smashed cars in living rooms and household items strewn about. Yet with the many American flags placed, after the storm, at the edges of yards, as well as hand-painted signs with slogans like "We Can Do It, Y'All," there is a sense of defiance here, almost as if residents feel they must prove that they are stronger than the storm.

Mr. Davison and other FEMA officials said future builders should take note of the few homes along the coast where property owners, prior to Hurricane Katrina, chose to build houses that were higher off the ground than required.

One such elevated house in Pass Christian is built of concrete and stands 22 feet above sea level, compared with the current 14-foot requirement.

"It survived," said John Plisich, a civil engineer with FEMA, as he stood outside the fortresslike house, surveying the slabs of destroyed homes surrounding it. Yet even this house, which was built by a structural engineer, was flooded by Hurricane Katrina's extraordinary surge.

"The coastal environment is a harsh one," Mr. Plisich said, as the afternoon sky turned dark and a heavy downpour began. "People should understand that."

    On Gulf Coast, a Conflict Over How to Rebuild, 12.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/12/national/nationalspecial/12flood.html

 

 

 

 

Wealthy Blacks

Oppose Plans for Their Property

 

December 10, 2005
The New York Times
By GARY RIVLIN

 

BATON ROUGE, La., Dec. 9 - True Light Baptist Church is located in a down-and-out part of town here, but on Monday nights its parking lot fills with BMW's, Mercedes-Benzes and other late-model sedans that shine with a new-car sparkle.

Since September, hundreds of displaced residents from New Orleans East, the neighborhood that was home to the largest concentration of the city's black elite, gather there for a small taste of the camaraderie and community that they sorely miss. But the residents - whose ranks include lawyers, judges and a few elected officials - are also anxiously mobilizing to save their low-lying corner of the city, which some planners argue should revert to marshland.

So far, the group has used its clout to extract a promise that electricity will be turned on in the neighborhood next month, instead of waiting until June. It has also speeded the return of water service. Without either, many residents say, they must wait in Baton Rouge longer even if their neighborhood is open.

New Orleans's mayor, C. Ray Nagin, spent an evening at one of the group's meetings recently, hearing of the residents' longing to return home. But despite the group's considerable resources, the plan taking shape to remake the city lumps New Orleans East and its 90,000 residents with the Lower Ninth Ward and other deluged neighborhoods as the last priority of the city as it struggles to rebuild. The Urban Land Institute, a planning group advising the city, recommended that the city begin rebuilding less damaged neighborhoods first, provoking outrage from residents of the flood zones.

"It would kill the black psyche if New Orleans East wasn't rebuilt," said Talmadge Wall, an interior designer who for 15 years has lived with her husband and children in New Orleans East. "Think of what it would mean if the city successfully chased off so many African-Americans who had money, its doctors and successful businesspeople and lawyers and such. People who were aspiring to attain that kind of success would no longer feel like they have a chance."

At last Monday's meeting, organizers handed out black, white and green lawn signs that read, "I am coming home! I will rebuild!"

The meetings, which date to mid-September, have drawn upward of 1,000 people. Organizers say they have helped inspire the formation of similar support groups for displaced New Orleans residents in cities throughout the South.

"There's a real lonesomeness, a real yearning to connect with the familiar that I think everybody feels," said Tangeyon Wall, who with her sister Talmadge and their two other sisters and a cousin formed this neighborhood organization in exile.

Other, poorer neighborhoods have received more attention since the storm. The Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Wards, for example, have for decades been home to a majority of the city's blue-collar African-Americans: waiters, construction workers and custodians. New Orleans East, which barely existed in the 1970's, has been the site of most of the city's development over the past 30 years. It has become the next stop for children of blue-collar workers who moved up after securing better-paying professional jobs.

That has been the trajectory of Alden J. McDonald Jr.'s life. Mr. McDonald, the chief executive of Liberty Bank and Trust, New Orleans's largest black-owned bank, is the son of a waiter and grew up in the Seventh Ward. In 1974, the younger Mr. McDonald was a trailblazer when he moved his family into New Orleans East. A dozen years later, he bought a larger home there, complete with a swimming pool and an exercise room.

"New Orleans East represents the first time in New Orleans history that the African-American community has seen significant wealth creation that they can hand down to the next generation," said Mr. McDonald, who has attended several meetings at True Light.

The Wall family took a path similar to the McDonalds'. The sisters' father was a contractor, and their mother was a schoolteacher. The first two Wall sisters moved to New Orleans East in the mid-1980's, the last at the start of the 90's. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, the Wall sisters hunkered down in a set of rooms at their temporary new home, a Microtel Inn and Suites along Interstate 12 on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, surfing television news in a vain search for information about New Orleans East.

A predominantly black community that was also prosperous, it seemed, did not fit the broad-brush story as it played out on the television. "Our neighborhood was never talked about," Tangeyon Wall said. "Never, ever, ever. We'd hear about the Ninth Ward, we'd hear about Algiers and the Quarter and Uptown, but it was as if our community didn't exist."

At the Wal-Mart, Walgreens and other stores around Baton Rouge, the sisters ran into neighbors who all expressed the same frustrations. That prompted them and their cousin Robyn Braggs to post fliers at local motels proposing a meeting for Sept. 20, an event that drew 700, they said. Most, but not all, were from New Orleans East.

"That first meeting was more like a reunion," Tangeyon Wall said.

The second meeting was more like a rallying cry. At that point, New Orleans East was still off limits even to residents. But a group of neighborhood residents decided to defy the restrictions, and shortly thereafter, in late September, they drove a caravan of 75 cars to their neighborhood. City officials allowed them to pass through police blockades.

"It was all very civil rights and spirit of the 60's-like," said Ms. Braggs, prompting giggles among her four cousins. The five of them, along with Wayne Johnson and Mack Slan, two other longtime New Orleans East residents marooned in Baton Rouge, make up a seven-member steering committee that meets every Wednesday to set the next week's agenda.

"We didn't know what we were getting into when we started," said Mr. Slan, a contractor with a barrel chest and preacher's voice who has emerged as the group's de facto master of ceremonies. "But we're growing into it."

The focus each Monday shifts as new frustrations and worries take center stage in the lives of evacuees. Last Monday those included complaints about insurance adjusters and the foreclosure notices some are receiving three months after the storm.

"Let me encourage you not to panic," said Patricia G. Woods, who runs a real estate and mortgage company in New Orleans East.

Ms. Woods advised the people at the meeting to respond with a hardship letter spelling out the reasons they could not make their payments. "Make them cry," Ms. Woods told the group.

Much of Monday's meeting focused on the Urban Land Institute's draft report, released on the Monday after Thanksgiving. "It places less value on our neighborhood than other areas," said Terrel J. Broussard, a lawyer who took a turn at the lectern to criticize the report. "If we don't stand up to fight this, I don't know what we would stand up for."

Organizers passed out stacks of preprinted postcards that they hope homeowners in New Orleans East will send to the mayor, respectfully requesting that he reject the institute's recommendation. They also urged those in attendance to spread the word about a march on New Orleans City Hall scheduled for Saturday morning.

"We can't allow ourselves to be the last ones back in the city," one resident, Margaret Richard, said.

    Wealthy Blacks Oppose Plans for Their Property, NYT, 10.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/10/national/nationalspecial/10exile.html

 

 

 

 

 

Critics say Bush,

Congress neglect hurricane victims

 

Thu Dec 8, 2005 10:23 AM ET
Reuters
By Alan Elsner

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior Republicans and Democrats are accusing President George W. Bush and Congress of not fulfilling the promise to do "whatever it takes" to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Bush made that commitment in an address to the nation delivered from New Orleans two weeks after the devastating hurricane that hit Louisiana and Mississippi on August 29.

But some Republicans and Democrats say the administration has failed to come forward with a comprehensive recovery plan beyond the immediate cleanup and Congress has failed to appropriate the necessary funds.

"We are at a point where our recovery and renewal efforts are stalled because of inaction in Washington, D.C., and the delay has created uncertainty that is having very negative effects on our recovery and rebuilding," said Mississippi's Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, a staunch Bush loyalist, in a speech on Wednesday.

Barbour said there was no money to rebuild highways and bridges; school districts were close to bankruptcy; homeowners whose houses were destroyed were awaiting help with their mortgages, and long-term state and local budgets were shrouded in uncertainty because of Congress' failure to act.

Sen. Trent Lott, another Mississippi Republican, said last week, "Mr. President, we need your leadership to ensure that the federal government fulfills its commitment to help Mississippians get back on their feet."

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd was even blunter. "It is December, the hurricane struck in August, and yet the victims seem forgotten by the White House," he said.

 

BUSH ACTIVELY INVOLVED

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Wednesday that Bush was actively involved in discussions on how to house people who lost their homes as well as whether to fund rebuilding the levee system that is designed to protect New Orleans.

"This is very much a priority that we are focused on and that we're continuing to work to address with state and local authorities," McClellan said.

Another White House official, Dana Perino, said the administration hoped and expected Congress to appropriate more funds for disaster relief before the end of this month.

Following the disaster, Congress appropriated some $62 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But $37 billion of this was never spent, according to Brian Richardson, press secretary to Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.

"This has become a federally sponsored disaster. The Republican leadership in Congress has been disengaged, distracted and unwilling to appreciate the scope of the tragedy," he said.

In his September 15 speech from Jackson Square in the heart of New Orleans, Bush declared that New Orleans would rise again.

"We will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," Bush pledged.

But others involved in the local recovery effort see only inaction. Monica Sussman, a housing expert with law firm Nixon Peabody, said she saw no signs of a plan to rebuild New Orleans so that its former citizens could return.

The administration has yet to say whether it will fund the reconstruction of the New Orleans levee system to protect against Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. The previous system only protected against Category 3 storms and was overwhelmed by Katrina.

"There has been an amazing reluctance on the part of the White House to commit to rebuilding New Orleans. The only explanation I can think of is that the president has looked at the situation and decided that victory in Iraq is more important and there's not enough money to do both," said Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland.

Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wants to add $18 billion to the budget for hurricane relief, much of it to help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild or repair their homes, on top of the $17 billion suggested by the administration.

But many Republican conservatives, especially in the House of Representatives, have resisted new spending, saying the country is already running a massive budget deficit.

Critics say Bush, Congress neglect hurricane victims, R, 8.12.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-12-08T152254Z_01_RID852317_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-RECOVERY.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Mortgage Aid Set

for 20,000 Storm-Hit Homes

 

December 6, 2005
The New York Times
By LESLIE EATON

 

The federal government will help an estimated 20,000 families make 12 months of mortgage payments on homes that were damaged by the Gulf Coast hurricanes, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced yesterday.

The program, which officials called unprecedented, is meant to allow homeowners to "come back home and concentrate on putting their lives in order without having to worry about making mortgage payments," said Alphonso R. Jackson, the housing secretary.

But the assistance program will apply only to a small group of homeowners in the disaster areas: those whose mortgages are insured by the Federal Housing Administration and whose houses can be repaired. Recipients must also pledge to return to those houses.

Estimates range widely, but state and federal officials have said that at a minimum tens of thousands of houses were damaged or destroyed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that about three million people have asked the agency for help.

The aid will not apply to families whose houses must be completely rebuilt. "That's something we're looking at right now," said Brian Montgomery, commissioner of the housing administration. The government has other insurance and loan programs that are meant to help pay for repairs, and has already instituted a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of its insured loans in the states hit by the hurricanes.

Despite its limits, the new program is a significant, long-term commitment on the part of the government and will be a big help to those who qualify, said Linda Couch, deputy director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group in Washington.

"It's terrific that these homeowners can breathe a sigh of relief," Ms. Couch said. "We'd like to see the same sort of assurances given to renters."

The agency estimates that the new program will cost about $200 million, which will not come from taxpayers; rather, it will come from reserves the agency has built up from fees it charges borrowers and lenders.

Unlike other federal assistance programs that have resulted in huge backlogs and long delays, the housing administration's program will work through the banks and other lending institutions that made the original mortgages; they will contact eligible homeowners and will file claims with the agency.

While the agency has offered similar assistance to individual borrowers in the past, it has never done so on such a scale, officials said.

A homeowner with an $80,000 mortgage and monthly payments of $745 would receive assistance of about $8,900, Mr. Jackson said.

The F.H.A. insures mortgages of up to $172,632 in most areas, including Louisiana, though limits rise to almost $313,000 in "high cost" areas like Key West, Fla., and New York City. Most of the borrowers tend to be low-income or first-time homebuyers, accounting for less than 10 percent of the mortgage market.

There are about 300,000 F.H.A.-insured loans in the five states hit hardest by the hurricanes: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. About 52,000 of them are now in default, about half of them in Louisiana, according to the F.H.A.

Under the program, the agency will give lenders up to 12 months of mortgage payments, taxes and insurance on behalf of eligible homeowners, who must have been in default for four months because of the disaster. Borrowers will have to repay the money once their mortgages are paid off, but they will not be charged interest.

People who have lost their jobs because of the hurricanes but whose homes are not damaged are also eligible, but they will have to demonstrate that they are likely to return to work soon.

Mortgage Aid Set for 20,000 Storm-Hit Homes, NYT, 6.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/06/national/06mortgage.html

 

 

 

 

 

Wearying Wait

for Federal Aid in New Orleans

 

December 3, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 2 - They are the faces and voices of a city's desperation. Stepping wearily up to a Federal Emergency Management Agency help center here, all have a similar story of ruin in the past, anxiety over the future and frustration in the present, suffered differently each time.

Young, middle-aged and old, these citizens of New Orleans, wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and now urgently seeking government assistance, spoke Friday of sleeping in a truck and on a floor, living out of a car and waiting for the help that never seems to come. Trickling into the crowded center in the Uptown neighborhood here - hoping for a trailer, a loan, cash, anything - they were grimly resigned to waiting, and waiting some more.

"You come to these FEMA centers, you sit all day," said Myrna Guity, 43, whose import business was wiped out by the storm, along with her home in New Orleans East. "You get no answers to your questions. They're evasive. You're constantly 'pending.' What are you going to be doing, 'pending' for the rest of your life? I've lost everything."

Others wondered fearfully what was on the other side of their current privation. "We're almost begging them, 'Please, bring this trailer before Christmas,' " said DeLois Kramer, 43, who said she is "sort of living out of the car" with her 7-year-old daughter, Katlyn.

Three months after the storm, political figures here talk often of the progress that has been made - trash cleared, homes lighted, money spent. Louisiana, they say, is proving its self-reliance. But hidden behind these sometimes rosy declarations are tens of thousands of their constituents, living at the edge of their dwindling resources.

Adding to their anxiety is what these citizens describe as a frustrating paper chase through the bureaucracy of FEMA: repeat visits for help that always seems to be just one or two documents away, but the documents FEMA demands are often ruined, stored in flooded houses.

Many spoke of once-comfortable existences, turned suddenly into an anxious struggle simply to get by.

On Friday morning, in fact, Ms. Kramer realized that there was a way to describe her situation. She was standing in front of the Jewish Community Center on St. Charles Avenue here, where FEMA has set up one of three New Orleans assistance centers, along with several mobile units.

"We're homeless, that's what we are," said Ms. Kramer, a disabled former substance abuse counselor and nursing aide. Her apartment, near one of the levee breaks, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

She and her daughter have a floor to sleep on, with "extended relatives," 70 miles away in St. Gabriel. But they must leave early each day; the relatives are increasingly "agitated," Ms, Kramer said. Every day mother and daughter are on the road, in a car packed with their clothing, going from help center to help center. "I'm very frustrated. And it's starting to take a toll on her," Ms. Kramer said, gesturing toward Katlyn.

"Are we being punished?" the little girl asks her.

Rosemary Varnado, 59, and her husband, Charles, 63, a truck driver, slept in one of his rigs for 25 days. It was a "miserable" experience, Ms. Varnado said, "just horrible." She has high blood pressure and an intestinal problem. Their home in the Lower Ninth Ward was destroyed in the flood, and now they are seeking a trailer. "We've been waiting, and waiting," Ms. Varnado said.

"Why is it taking so long? They don't know the suffering we've had to go through," she added. "We're suffering, but they are moving slow. We have no clothes, no nothing."

Ms. Varnado, who worked as a nurse's assistant, said emphatically: "We are people that have worked and paid taxes, all our lives. That's the important thing."

A FEMA spokesman said Friday that the agency was working as fast as it could to aid the thousands still destitute from the storm.

"I don't know if you understand the magnitude of this disaster," said the spokesman, James McIntyre. "Almost 1.5 million people have registered for assistance, and we're working to help them all."

Mr. McIntyre continued: "We're working as fast as we possibly can to meet their needs, and help them receive assistance for damages from these disasters."

Another FEMA official, the manager of an assistance center in the Lower Garden District here, suggested the mental anguish of many of his clients was now palpable.

"As people come in, they become desperate," said the official, Manuel Walker, who manages the Jackson Avenue center. "They're coming back, thinking they can live in their dwelling. And then all of a sudden, there's nothing."

With no place to live in New Orleans, several people entering the Uptown center spoke of frequent long drives to obtain help from FEMA here. Agency officials, backed by armed guards, refused to allow a reporter into the center's giant interviewing room, where long tables lined with seated aid seekers had been set up.

"I lost my business. I lost my home. We need everything," said Steven Reed, 37, a graphics designer who was commuting seven hours from Tyler, in East Texas, where he was living with his family at the Baptist Church of Gresham.

"I keep having to bring them more paperwork," Mr. Reed said. "They ask for paperwork. But the paper is at the house. And the house was under eight feet of water."

A father of four, Mr. Reed said he lost thousands of dollars' worth of equipment - computers and lenses.

"The whole society is not understanding what a disaster it was," he said. "You're waking up in the morning with no tissues, no toothpaste, no nothing. Right now, if I took any person in America, and say, 'This is not your house any more.' " He paused, adding, "How do you expect me to function?"

Luis Colmenares, a prominent local metal sculptor, unshaven and discouraged, walked away from the center here Friday afternoon. He lost $400,000 worth of equipment, and an art-metal business that employed 17. Hours on the phone with FEMA workers had been "horrible," he said.

"I kept saying, 'I have nothing,' " Mr. Colmenares said. "We've got food stamps, and that's pretty much it."

Wearying Wait for Federal Aid in New Orleans, NYT, 3.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/03/national/nationalspecial/03fema.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Josephine Butler, 83,

got her first look at the lot where her home once stood.

 

Hurricane Katrina carried the house across the street.

 

Photograph:

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

 

Months After Katrina, Bittersweet Homecoming in the 9th Ward

NYT

2.12.2005

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/02/
us/nationalspecial/months-after-katrina-bittersweet-homecoming-in-the-9th.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandy Pritchett, 45,

had lived entire life in her house in the Lower Ninth Ward.

 

A levee break, three houses away,

wrecked the neighborhood.

 

Photograph: Vincent Laforet for The New York Times

 

Months After Katrina, Bittersweet Homecoming in the 9th Ward

NYT

2.12.2005

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/02/
us/nationalspecial/months-after-katrina-bittersweet-homecoming-in-the-9th.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A children's chair

is suspended on the power lines

in the 2500 block of Garden Street.

 

Photograph:

Vincent Laforet for The New York Times

 

Months After Katrina, Bittersweet Homecoming in the 9th Ward

NYT

2.12.2005

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/02/
us/nationalspecial/months-after-katrina-bittersweet-homecoming-in-the-9th.html




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans,

including Louis Simmons, were allowed to return Thursday.

 

Mr. Simmons had not been back

since he was plucked from his roof days after Hurricane Katrina.

 

Photograph:

Vincent Laforet for The New York Times        December 1, 2005

 

Months After Katrina, Bittersweet Homecoming in the 9th Ward

NYT

2.12.2005

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/02/
us/nationalspecial/months-after-katrina-bittersweet-homecoming-in-the-9th.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Simmons, 51, found a wallet he had left in his flooded home.

 

Photograph:

Vincent Laforet for The New York Times

 

Months After Katrina, Bittersweet Homecoming in the 9th Ward

NYT

2.12.2005

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/02/
us/nationalspecial/months-after-katrina-bittersweet-homecoming-in-the-9th.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ishmela and Mary Helen Molizone lived at 1632 Delery Street for 49 years,

before Hurricane Katrina.

 

They bought their own protective suits to begin clean-up.

 

Photograph:

Nicole Bengiveno/ New York Times

 

Months After Katrina,

Bittersweet Homecoming in the 9th Ward

NYT

2.12.2005

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/02/
us/nationalspecial/months-after-katrina-bittersweet-homecoming-in-the-9th.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Months After Katrina,

Bittersweet Homecoming

in the 9th Ward

 

December 2, 2005
The New York Times
By DEBORAH SONTAG

 

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 1 - Josephine Butler, 83, returned to her property for the first time since Hurricane Katrina on Thursday, when the city finally reopened the last sealed neighborhood for residents to "look and leave."

She knew that her house in the Lower Ninth Ward was gone, and she was prepared to face the empty lot where two chipped lions now guarded nothing but scrub grass. But something else was missing, something unexpected.

Mrs. Butler, wearing a white cardigan with beaded flowers and stylish sunglasses, walked anxiously across the street to the spot where her house had floated, landed and collapsed. Clutching her black purse, she slowly hunched over and peered under the roof that sat atop the crushed remains of her 51 years on Delery Street.

On Aug. 28, when Mrs. Butler fled the oncoming storm with nothing but an overnight bag, she left the house built by her late husband, Cherry Field Butler, in the care of a guardian angel made of stone. One hundred and one days later, on Thursday, she found a way to focus her grief. "My angel," she said, her voice breaking. "My angel is gone."

While the center of New Orleans is slowly reviving, the African-American community known as the Lower Ninth Ward is still ghostly, like a few other neighborhoods that were devastated by flooding. Until Thursday, the northern half of the Lower Ninth Ward, in particular, was an utter wasteland where virtually no cleanup effort had begun. City officials, citing safety concerns, had barred residents from visiting their homes.

Thursday, when the closing of the area was lifted, almost 2,000 people streamed into the eerily hushed neighborhood that locals call "the back of town." They signed in with Red Cross officials, received numbered day passes and warnings about "extremely dangerous conditions," and fanned out over the debris-littered area.

Donning rubber boots, masks and, in some cases, coveralls that looked like hazmat suits, they excavated soggy belongings from their ruined homes or searched for houses that the floodwaters had relocated.

For most, despite the hugs and jokes when neighbors reunited, it was a somber day.

"It's just like going to a funeral," said George Hill, 66, who surveyed his wrecked house on Delery Street with a pinched face. "We're coming to view the body. "

Many Lower Ninth Ward residents fear that their neighborhood will never be rebuilt, despite Mayor C. Ray Nagin's repeated promises. They fear that the city, in delaying their re-entry into the area for three months, was trying to loosen their ties to a neighborhood that, despite pockets of poverty and crime, had a small-town warmth that they valued.

"If that's the plan, then it's backfiring," said Tanya Harris, 30, Mrs. Butler's granddaughter. "I'm not seeing that laid-back New Orleans character right now. I'm seeing a fighting spirit. I mean, my grandmother would chain herself to that property before she allowed the city to take it. These are homeowners who take their home-owning very seriously."

Mr. Hill works for the Orleans Levee District, a job, he said, that allowed him to buy his first house - "our little rest-of-life place" - just 18 months ago. Asked what he did for the district, Mr. Hill paused and then said softly, "Flood protection."

Mr. Hill had flood insurance on his home, unlike many of his neighbors, who carried only storm insurance. Many are fighting with insurers who say it was water and not wind that damaged their properties. Mr. Hill is not engaged in that battle, but he said that flood insurance will not cover his losses and that he cannot afford to rebuild.

In Houston, where his family has relocated, real estate is more reasonably priced, he said. A co-worker, Lois Gutelius, who accompanied him to his property told him he would never survive outside New Orleans.

"What are you going to do, drive down from Houston every few weeks to stock up on red beans and butter beans and pickle meat?" Ms. Gutelius asked him. "You ain't going nowhere. You're homegrown. You were raised up here, and this is your neighborhood."

Mr. Hill rejoined: "Ain't no more neighborhood. It's gone and it will never be the same." But then he noticed something that gave him pause. "Look it," he said, nudging some leaves poking out of the mud-caked ground, "my watermelon plant survived!"

At that moment, Mary Jones, 49, just arriving from Fort Worth, pulled up in her car and bounded out cheerfully. "How you doing, neighbor?" she called to Mr. Hill. The little green house that belonged to her mother, Mabel, 82, had sailed off its foundations, landing a couple of blocks away, but Ms. Jones was taking it in stride.

"We don't got no house," she said, "but we're all alive and well."

Ms. Jones was determined to make her way into the house to retrieve her teenage son's sports trophies. The house, like many, bore an orange sticker, evidence of a recent inspection that pronounced it unsafe. The entryway was obstructed, so Ms. Jones and her older brother struggled to remove an air conditioner from a window and break in.

"We're like damn burglars," Ms. Jones said, laughing.

Troops and federal environmental officials roamed the neighborhood on Thursday, too, searching for hazardous materials and raising concern among residents that they could be wading into toxic houses.

Mary and Ishmael Molizone were suited up in safety gear that made them look like blue aliens. Mrs. Molizone, 78, said that she had lived 40 years in the house that she was emptying of sodden furniture, but that she had decided it was not worth her while to cry.

"It's all just material things," she said, examining a pile of muddy porcelain figurines. "Look," she said, holding up what she said was a Lladro representation of Martin Luther King Jr. "Dr. King survived."

Census data indicated that the population of the northern part of the Lower Ninth Ward was somewhere between 6,000 and 11,000. About 60 percent of the residents are homeowners; many are elderly and do not like the idea of starting over.

Mrs. Butler said she could not bear to be away from New Orleans when her family relocated to Myrtle Beach, S.C. after the hurricane. She lasted there about two weeks, then took a bus home and stayed at the Marriott Hotel with her niece, who is a housekeeper there.

Thursday, she fought back tears repeatedly. "It hurts so bad," she said, "to look at everything we built gone. I just don't know what I'm going to do now."

Josephine Mitchum, 78, who is staying with her granddaughter just outside New Orleans, said she is having difficulty with her loss of independence. "I'm a free spirit, and I never had to live under someone else's roof before," she said.

With a wink, Ms. Mitchum joked that she would contemplate a fresh start if there was no chance of returning to her home. "I'm a retired domestic worker, but I'm thinking about being in Playboy," she said. "I'm going to be one of them bunnies. I told my reverend, and he said, 'You go, girl!' "

    Months After Katrina, Bittersweet Homecoming in the 9th Ward, NYT, 2.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/02/national/nationalspecial/02delery.html

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana's Levee Inquiry

Faults Army Corps

 

December 1, 2005
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
and CHRISTOPHER DREW

 

The devastation of New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen because of a significant flaw in levee design by the Army Corps of Engineers, according to preliminary findings from the official Louisiana team investigating the Hurricane Katrina flooding.

The findings are included in a draft report prepared by engineers on the team. They mirror the conclusion of many outside experts: that the levee that toppled at the 17th Street Canal was built with too little regard for the inherent weakness of the soil under the canal banks. Similar conditions, the experts say, existed at the sites of the two other major levee breaches in metropolitan New Orleans.

"It should have been obvious," said the deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, Ivor van Heerden, the leader of the investigative group, known as Team Louisiana.

Billy R. Prochaska, an engineering consultant to the team, said, "That's our question: how could this be?"

The puzzlement is especially acute, Mr. Prochaska said, because the levee design "was gone over by everyone" up and down the Corps of Engineers organization, from the local level to Washington, before the levees were upgraded with flood walls in the 1980's and 90's.

The Louisiana team's investigation of the levee breaches shows that the sheet piles, the interlocking sheets of steel that are driven into soil to anchor the levees and prevent a flow of water underneath them, were too shallow to prevent that flow. Tests by the Louisiana group found that sheet piles reached only 10 feet below sea level in some spots, far less than would protect the city. Corps documents dating from the time of construction show that the design was for a depth of 17½ feet, but even that, the investigators say, would have been too shallow. By comparison, in spots where the levees are now being repaired, the Corps of Engineers is calling for sheet piles to be driven to a depth of 51 to 65 feet.

The state manager for the Team Louisiana project, Edmond J. Preau Jr., assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said the levees had failed at water levels that would have been predicted had the soil problem been recognized. The walls should never have been toppled by water levels of 11 or 12 feet, Mr. Preau said.

"You had a wall that was supposed to protect to water levels up to 14, 14½ feet," he said. "Water didn't get that high. The wall fell down. We want to know why."

A spokesman for the corps acknowledged yesterday that its own sonar tests had confirmed the state's findings of 10-foot sheet pile depths, and said piles would be pulled from the ground at the 17th Street Canal within the next 10 days to measure them directly. But the spokesman, James Taylor, noted that pile depth was only one factor contributing to the strength of a levee, along with others like the levee's height and width.

Another corps spokesman, Wayne Stroupe, said it was still too early to know exactly why the levees of New Orleans failed. The corps, Mr. Stroupe said, is conducting its own investigation, with a report expected at the beginning of June. He said the report would include detailed analyses of the forces that the storm actually brought to bear on the city's flood control systems.

Engineers typically build structures with somewhat greater strength than is necessary for expected challenges. A design standard set by the Corps of Engineers calls for levees to be built at 130 percent of the strength needed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, and design documents from the corps stated that the New Orleans levees would meet the standard.

But the preliminary calculations by Team Louisiana suggest that the 17th Street Canal levee was actually built at 93 percent to 98 percent of that strength near the breached area - substantially weaker than the forces of a Category 3 storm.

Mr. Preau, the state manager of the team, declined to comment in detail about its draft, which was described yesterday in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the Baton Rouge daily, The Advocate. The draft itself was not officially released because data are still being collected and analyzed, he said.

"We don't want to release any of this until we have all of our background data completely documented," he said. But he also said that the final determinations, which will be released early next year, were likely to be similar to those in the draft.

Another member of Team Louisiana, G. Paul Kemp, an associate professor at L.S.U. and director of the Natural Systems Modeling Group at the university's Center for Coastal, Energy and Environmental Resources, said outsiders might interpret the findings as an effort to foist blame for Louisiana's problems onto the federal government and avoid responsibility for local lapses in levee maintenance.

But, Dr. Kemp argued, "the design and construction is a process that is overseen by federal people at every step." He added that the ultimate goal was to find out precisely what went wrong, for the sake of future guidance.

    Louisiana's Levee Inquiry Faults Army Corps, NYT, 1.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/01/national/nationalspecial/01levees.html

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding the Beast for Light in New Orleans

 

November 30, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 29 - The generator people are internal colonists, staking out islands of light in the sea of dark still covering much of the city.

In lives where the monstrous, belching backyard power generator is king - where a streetlight flickers tantalizingly, say, in the near distance, but their own block is black - the machine's subjects must follow its rules.

Every night at 1 a.m. it calls Willie Solomon, 62, or her husband, Raymond, 68, into the cold and dark, out of the warm bed. Armed with a flashlight, they feed it: two five-gallon cans of gasoline a day, and sometimes more depending on what is plugged in. But they do not plug in too much. The fuel bill already runs $135 a week.

It naps at noon and is ready for ear-splitting action again at 5:30 p.m.

Barely more than a quarter of this city's prestorm households are illuminated by the power company. Some neighborhoods have limped on since Hurricane Katrina; others have barely budged. When night comes, these electricityless pioneers - nobody knows how many there are - live in a shrunken world, reduced to a few lighted rooms, inside their house, on a darkened block. Scavengers roam, they say, and it is best not to be out.

The roaring beast gives back power in exchange for the gas, through long, snaking cords running all through Ms. Solomon's frayed camelback house in the St. Roch neighborhood, in the Eighth Ward of the city. At night, with a few rooms illuminated by a naked bulb, she must walk on tiptoe to avoid tripping on these tentacles, taped fast to the linoleum.

Water for washing is heated on a hot plate and dumped into a big plastic bucket; baths are military-style rubdowns in a darkened, chilly bathroom; red beans are cooked on a low-power crockpot; and laundry is done by hand.

"Other than that, I just say, I just got to go back to the old days, pretend I'm in the country," said Ms. Solomon, a good-humored former Los Angeles school district guard who says her 30-year absence from the city she calls "Noo Erlens" pained her.

"I'm living the old-time way; I never thought I'd go back to the country," Ms. Solomon said. "Yes indeed, it's pitch-black."

She sleeps in a sweatsuit, wears a big fur-lined hat in bed and walks around the cold house during the day in what she calls Eskimo boots, lined with plush fur. Doorways are hung with blankets, to cut down on the penetrating, chilly draft of a late New Orleans autumn, and windows are sealed up with plastic sheeting. Cold is as much of an enemy in these uninsulated old wooden houses as the intense heat of summer.

"Yeah, the country," Ms. Solomon said. "Being in the country."

She and a neighbor, Brenda Batiste, are the only ones on this semi-abandoned block off Elysian Fields Avenue. Ms. Batiste, 62, has domesticated her generator, covered it with a leopard-skin cloth and a turtle yard ornament, and keeps it dormant much of the time.

She cannot afford to run a refrigerator on it, uses candles at night and must unplug the televisions to turn on the hot plate. Her little shotgun home is darker than Ms. Solomon's house. "This is three months," she said. "It starts to wear on you, your outer being as well."

At night, the glow from the illuminated French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, a mile or more distant, casts a pale light on the block.

This area flooded, though not as extensively as the nearby Lower Ninth Ward. Every so often the innards of an emptied house are spilled onto the sidewalk: Sheetrock, toys, beer cans, CD's, bits of clothing, a stool.

A neighbor one street over said he chased two looters out of a house on a recent evening, and faced down another pair with a .22-caliber revolver. Many front doors swing wide open day and night, and some may never be locked again.

"At about 5:30 everybody's inside," Ms. Solomon said. "You've got to worry about the thieves." All the neighboring houses have been broken into, she said, adding, "I don't even know what they're looking to steal."

The police say they are aware of the looting problem and have formed squads to deal with it. Arrests have been made, police officials say.

But this is not a welcoming environment. Ms. Solomon, with her rooms stuffed full of toys and teddy bears for the grandchildren, her portrait of John F. Kennedy by the door and a refrigerator - turned off - covered with outlandish magnets, is not giving up.

"I've been fussing with the utility companies for the longest time," she said placidly. "I've been fussing and fussing. Sometimes, I think they're punishing me for being here. There's one little old lady here, and they can't even get my lights on."

    Feeding the Beast for Light in New Orleans, NYT, 30.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/30/national/nationalspecial/30generator.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sand still covered an area last week

where the London Avenue levee was breached by Hurricane Katrina.

 

Photograph:

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

 

Full Flood Safety in New Orleans Could Take Billions and Decades

NYT

29.11.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/national/nationalspecial/29flood.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Flood Safety in New Orleans

Could Take Billions and Decades

 

November 29, 2005
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 22 - Amid all the arguments over how to rebuild this pummeled city, there is one universally held article of faith here: New Orleans must have a flood protection system strong enough to withstand Category 5 storms, the worst that nature can spawn.

It is a rallying cry heard on radio broadcasts and in a front-page editorial in The Times-Picayune, in ruined neighborhoods and in corporate boardrooms.

Strong protection is the linchpin that everything else depends on, said Joe Veninata, the owner of a shopping center and rental homes in the Gentilly neighborhood, "for people to come to the city and invest, for the people to feel secure."

"Without that," Mr. Veninata said, "we can't build New Orleans anymore."

Building Category 5 protection, however, is proving to be an astronomically expensive and technically complex proposition. It would involve far more than just higher levees: there would have to be extensive changes to the city's system of drainage canals and pumps, environmental restoration on a vast scale to replenish buffering wetlands and barrier islands, and even sea gates far out of town near the Gulf of Mexico.

The cost estimates are still fuzzy, but the work would easily cost more than $32 billion, state officials say, and could take decades to complete.

The current levee system around the city was designed to withstand the equivalent of a Category 3 storm, and the Army Corps of Engineers is spending $1 billion to bring the damaged sections to their original design strength. They plan to complete that effort before next year's hurricane season, which begins on June 1.

But a sense of how much more extensive Category 5 protection would be can be found 23 miles east of downtown New Orleans at a strait called the Rigolets, which connects the gulf and Lake Pontchartrain. For nearly 200 years, the brick bastion of Fort Pike has looked down on the two-thirds-mile gap, which the fort was built to protect against military threats from land or sea.

These days, however, the threat is from the sea itself. A surge from storms like Hurricane Katrina can push water through the gap and send floods deep into the city. So engineers and other experts say that the Corps of Engineers should build a gate across the Rigolets (pronounced RIG-uh-lees) that could be shut in the face of a storm.

From a viewpoint by the remains of Fort Pike looking across the sparkling water, the project seems enormously daunting, on a scale of the flood systems that protect cities like London and Amsterdam. And it is only one step toward the goal of fortifying New Orleans to the highest level. Congress only recently agreed to give $8 million to the corps for a study about providing increased protection for South Louisiana, with a preliminary report due in six months. The final plan is two years away.

While every expert has a list of things that would upgrade the city's flood controls, Category 5 protection is not easy to define, experts say. Dan Hitchings, director of Task Force Hope, the corps's Hurricane Katrina relief effort, noted that Category 3 hurricanes were specifically defined while Category 5 includes any hurricanes with winds greater than 155 miles an hour and a storm surge greater than 18 feet.

"What's the top end for a Cat 5 hurricane?" Mr. Hitchings said. "There isn't one."

Herbert Saffir, a co-creator of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, said he would not recommend designing a Category 5 protection system because such a storm would be unlikely to hit any particular spot more than once in 500 years. Only three Category 5 storms in recorded history have made landfall in the United States, Mr. Saffir said; Hurricane Katrina had been a Category 5 in the gulf but was at Category 4 at most when it landed east of New Orleans near Buras, La.

Others disagree. Maarten van der Vlist, an engineer with Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch equivalent of the Corps of Engineers, said that after a disastrous flood in 1953, the Netherlands chose to protect against flooding that occurs once every 10,000 years.

Most Category 5 proposals for New Orleans include devices to close seaward passageways like the Rigolets and gates at the mouths of today's drainage and navigation canals. Jurjen Battjes, a professor of civil engineering at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and an expert on levee systems, said that approach had worked well in his country. "You don't want to let your enemy invade deeply into your territory," Professor Battjes said. "Close your fence at the outside."

Current levees can be made higher and stronger, and any new system might also include internal levees that would prevent a breach in one spot from swamping large stretches of the city, said Thomas F. Wolff, an associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan State University. Levees, Professor Wolff said, are known as "series systems," which he compared to "Christmas tree lights from the 1950's - when one goes out, they all go out."

That levee work must be coupled with the restoration of coastal marshes and barrier islands that can blunt the progress of a storm, said Ivor van Heerden, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Louisiana State University and deputy director of the university's hurricane center.

"Where you had wetland, the levees were not eroded," Professor van Heerden said of Hurricane Katrina's damage, "and where you did not have wetlands, the levees were annihilated."

But local efforts are only part of the challenge. Many experts say it is no less important to reorganize the nation's method of designing and building flood systems.

The current patchwork of local, state and federal agencies responsible for flood protection must be unified and streamlined, said Robert G. Bea, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The Corps of Engineers should manage the project, as it has done historically, Professor Bea said, but it has to avoid the piecemeal approach that has made the system more vulnerable over time. (The Louisiana Legislature recently voted down a proposal, however, that would have merged the levee boards that maintain the region's flood systems.)

Experts say that New Orleans also needs restrictions on where people can build, and a new, independent organization that has the power to set standards for levee strength around the nation and to inspect them. Greater emphasis on evacuation and safety plans, too, would be necessary.

But corps officials say that it is impossible to predict the next storm. Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, the chief of engineers for the corps, said in an interview in Washington that focusing too tightly on what went wrong about Hurricane Katrina could lead to less effective plans for the future.

"We don't need to be fighting the last war all the time," General Strock said. The next storm could come up through the center of the city, or along the west side, swamping the western river basins and overflowing the levees along the Mississippi River that held during Hurricane Katrina.

Even if many of the current proposals can be accomplished, Mr. van der Vlist said, it remains hard to know whether they would really be able to withstand a Category 5 storm. "In the Netherlands, we don't have hurricanes like you have," he said. The low-lying nation is protected against the forces of water, but does not experience the crushing power of hurricane winds.

New Orleans may be able to get by with a protection level less than that required to resist a Category 5 storm, if it is robustly designed and built, said Robert A. Dalrymple, a professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers team that investigated the levee breaches.

"If you have a Category 3 protection system and a Category 4 storm hits it, there will be overtopping of the walls," Professor Dalrymple said. But if the walls can be built so that they can resist the scouring action of the overflowing water, and "if the walls stay there, there will only be flooding for several hours," he added. The street drains and pumping stations could then remove the water.

The cost of any significant upgrade, however, will be enormous - more than the $21 billion spent on New York City after 9/11, but less than the $57 billion to be spent on highway construction and maintenance in the recent federal transportation bill. Washington and state governments spend about $160 billion a year on infrastructure, including roads, transit and utilities, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Given a large federal deficit and other demands for money, however, there is still no indication that Washington will pay the $32 billion or more for full protection.

Scott A. Angelle, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources for Louisiana, said that fortifying New Orleans to the highest level could be accomplished by giving Louisiana half of revenues from federal leasing for offshore oil and gas drilling beyond the three-mile territorial limit in the gulf. The plan, which has been proposed in legislation by Louisiana's United States senators, Mary L. Landrieu and David Vitter, would produce as much as $2.5 billion a year. The state currently receives no money for drilling beyond the limit.

The work ahead, Mr. Angelle said, is daunting but certainly possible. "We can fix anything that we focus on," he said. "We, as a people, and we, as Americans."

    Full Flood Safety in New Orleans Could Take Billions and Decades, NYT, 29.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/national/nationalspecial/29flood.html

 

 

 

 

 

Category 5:

Levees Are Piece of a $32 Billion Pie

 

November 29, 2005
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 22 - Amid all the arguments over how to rebuild this pummeled city, there is one universally held article of faith here: New Orleans must have a flood protection system strong enough to withstand Category 5 storms, the worst that nature can spawn.

It is a rallying cry heard on radio broadcasts and in a front-page editorial in The Times-Picayune, in ruined neighborhoods and in corporate boardrooms.

Strong protection is the linchpin that everything else depends on, said Joe Veninata, the owner of a shopping center and rental homes in the Gentilly neighborhood, "for people to come to the city and invest, for the people to feel secure."

"Without that," Mr. Veninata said, "we can't build New Orleans anymore."

Building Category 5 protection, however, is proving to be an astronomically expensive and technically complex proposition. It would involve far more than just higher levees: there would have to be extensive changes to the city's system of drainage canals and pumps, environmental restoration on a vast scale to replenish buffering wetlands and barrier islands, and even sea gates far out of town near the Gulf of Mexico.

The cost estimates are still fuzzy, but the work would easily cost more than $32 billion, state officials say, and could take decades to complete.

The current levee system around the city was designed to withstand the equivalent of a Category 3 storm, and the Army Corps of Engineers is spending $1 billion to bring the damaged sections to their original design strength. They plan to complete that effort before next year's hurricane season, which begins on June 1.

But a sense of how much more extensive Category 5 protection would be can be found 23 miles east of downtown New Orleans at a strait called the Rigolets, which connects the gulf and Lake Pontchartrain. For nearly 200 years, the brick bastion of Fort Pike has looked down on the two-thirds-mile gap, which the fort was built to protect against military threats from land or sea.

These days, however, the threat is from the sea itself. A surge from storms like Hurricane Katrina can push water through the gap and send floods deep into the city. So engineers and other experts say that the Corps of Engineers should build a gate across the Rigolets (pronounced RIG-uh-lees) that could be shut in the face of a storm.

From a viewpoint by the remains of Fort Pike looking across the sparkling water, the project seems enormously daunting, on a scale of the flood systems that protect cities like London and Amsterdam. And it is only one step toward the goal of fortifying New Orleans to the highest level. Congress only recently agreed to give $8 million to the corps for a study about providing increased protection for South Louisiana, with a preliminary report due in six months. The final plan is two years away.

While every expert has a list of things that would upgrade the city's flood controls, Category 5 protection is not easy to define, experts say. Dan Hitchings, director of Task Force Hope, the corps's Hurricane Katrina relief effort, noted that Category 3 hurricanes were specifically defined while Category 5 includes any hurricanes with winds greater than 155 miles an hour and a storm surge greater than 18 feet.

"What's the top end for a Cat 5 hurricane?" Mr. Hitchings said. "There isn't one."

Herbert Saffir, a co-creator of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, said he would not recommend designing a Category 5 protection system because such a storm would be unlikely to hit any particular spot more than once in 500 years. Only three Category 5 storms in recorded history have made landfall in the United States, Mr. Saffir said; Hurricane Katrina had been a Category 5 in the gulf but was at Category 4 at most when it landed east of New Orleans near Buras, La.

Others disagree. Maarten van der Vlist, an engineer with Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch equivalent of the Corps of Engineers, said that after a disastrous flood in 1953, the Netherlands chose to protect against flooding that occurs once every 10,000 years.

Most Category 5 proposals for New Orleans include devices to close seaward passageways like the Rigolets and gates at the mouths of today's drainage and navigation canals. Jurjen Battjes, a professor of civil engineering at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and an expert on levee systems, said that approach had worked well in his country. "You don't want to let your enemy invade deeply into your territory," Professor Battjes said. "Close your fence at the outside."

Current levees can be made higher and stronger, and any new system might also include internal levees that would prevent a breach in one spot from swamping large stretches of the city, said Thomas F. Wolff, an associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan State University. Levees, Professor Wolff said, are known as "series systems," which he compared to "Christmas tree lights from the 1950's - when one goes out, they all go out."

That levee work must be coupled with the restoration of coastal marshes and barrier islands that can blunt the progress of a storm, said Ivor van Heerden, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Louisiana State University and deputy director of the university's hurricane center.

"Where you had wetland, the levees were not eroded," Professor van Heerden said of Hurricane Katrina's damage, "and where you did not have wetlands, the levees were annihilated."

But local efforts are only part of the challenge. Many experts say it is no less important to reorganize the nation's method of designing and building flood systems.

The current patchwork of local, state and federal agencies responsible for flood protection must be unified and streamlined, said Robert G. Bea, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The Corps of Engineers should manage the project, as it has done historically, Professor Bea said, but it has to avoid the piecemeal approach that has made the system more vulnerable over time. (The Louisiana Legislature recently voted down a proposal, however, that would have merged the levee boards that maintain the region's flood systems.)

Experts say that New Orleans also needs restrictions on where people can build, and a new, independent organization that has the power to set standards for levee strength around the nation and to inspect them. Greater emphasis on evacuation and safety plans, too, would be necessary.

But corps officials say that it is impossible to predict the next storm. Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, the chief of engineers for the corps, said in an interview in Washington that focusing too tightly on what went wrong about Hurricane Katrina could lead to less effective plans for the future.

"We don't need to be fighting the last war all the time," General Strock said. The next storm could come up through the center of the city, or along the west side, swamping the western river basins and overflowing the levees along the Mississippi River that held during Hurricane Katrina.

Even if many of the current proposals can be accomplished, Mr. van der Vlist said, it remains hard to know whether they would really be able to withstand a Category 5 storm. "In the Netherlands, we don't have hurricanes like you have," he said. The low-lying nation is protected against the forces of water, but does not experience the crushing power of hurricane winds.

New Orleans may be able to get by with a protection level less than that required to resist a Category 5 storm, if it is robustly designed and built, said Robert A. Dalrymple, a professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers team that investigated the levee breaches.

"If you have a Category 3 protection system and a Category 4 storm hits it, there will be overtopping of the walls," Professor Dalrymple said. But if the walls can be built so that they can resist the scouring action of the overflowing water, and "if the walls stay there, there will only be flooding for several hours," he added. The street drains and pumping stations could then remove the water.

The cost of any significant upgrade, however, will be enormous - more than the $21 billion spent on New York City after 9/11, but less than the $57 billion to be spent on highway construction and maintenance in the recent federal transportation bill. Washington and state governments spend about $160 billion a year on infrastructure, including roads, transit and utilities, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Given a large federal deficit and other demands for money, however, there is still no indication that Washington will pay the $32 billion or more for full protection.

Scott A. Angelle, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources for Louisiana, said that fortifying New Orleans to the highest level could be accomplished by giving Louisiana half of revenues from federal leasing for offshore oil and gas drilling beyond the three-mile territorial limit in the gulf. The plan, which has been proposed in legislation by Louisiana's United States senators, Mary L. Landrieu and David Vitter, would produce as much as $2.5 billion a year. The state currently receives no money for drilling beyond the limit.

The work ahead, Mr. Angelle said, is daunting but certainly possible. "We can fix anything that we focus on," he said. "We, as a people, and we, as Americans."

    Category 5: Levees Are Piece of a $32 Billion Pie, NYT, 29.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/national/nationalspecial/29flood.html

 

 

 

 

 

An Ordinary Day,

and a Welcome One,

at Ben Franklin Elementary

 

November 29, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 28 - A sound unusual in this still-emptied city echoed through an old brick school building here Monday: the noise made by chattering, scampering children.

They were there for the first day of class in the first parish-run public school to reopen in a city where education, like everything else, was stamped out three months ago by Hurricane Katrina.

A handful of other schools have struggled back to life in New Orleans: parochial schools, private schools, even two charter schools. But the opening Monday of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School on a tree-shaded Uptown avenue was a milestone for a city still barely hospitable to families - and evidence, to some, that things may be changing.

After the storm, the school board president predicted that no public schools would reopen this year on the city's east bank, where most of the population lived. Nearly half of the 117 schools received a good deal of damage in the storm.

But two months later, the signs of life - including footballs and whirling hula hoops - were unmistakable at the noon recess at Ben Franklin, on Jefferson Avenue.

"Now, parents will start to return to the city," said the principal, Christine Mitchell, a study in motion on Monday in the school's World War I-era wooden stairwells. "I think this symbolizes to a lot of people that, yes, New Orleans is back and will accommodate families." Beaming, Ms. Mitchell directed the flow of waist-level traffic all day long.

Lourdes Moran, a school board member, was also among those who took the reopening as a healthy sign.

"It shows that we do have families moving back," Ms. Moran said. "I think this is the first of the good things to happen in the repopulation of our city."

Returned from temporary exile in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and elsewhere, several of the 140-odd children in attendance - the school normally has 420 - said they were glad to be home.

"I like New Orleans," said 8-year-old Nathaniel Collins, tossing a football in the playground and explaining why he was happy his banishment to New Iberia, in Louisiana's rice-and-sugar belt, was over.

Teachers and parents said the children were mostly taking the various upheavals in stride.

"They're getting into the swing really quickly," said Treniece Collins, a fourth-grade teacher.

But the storm made its mark.

"They are kind of a little bit stunned by all the changes," said Dana Gonzalez, a science specialist sent in to help at the school's opening.

The children in Sabina Puri's third-grade class spent part of the morning drawing houses and cars underwater. "They knew it was dangerous, scary," Ms. Puri said. "Stability needs to come to them."

The reopening came at a time of upheaval in an already troubled school district. The State Legislature has voted to take over all but 13 of the city's schools, after years of academic failure and financial mismanagement. Ben Franklin, recognized as one of the few successful schools, will not be taken over.

Board meetings have been marred for years by racial tensions among officials and parents. And the traditional intraboard feuding has continued after the hurricane. But with the state set to assume much of the responsibility, the old governing structure has lost much of its sway.

Ms. Moran, the school board member, sounded hopeful.

"Things have improved," she said. "We are very fortunate, in that we have people and a culture of determined individuals that will not let New Orleans fade into the murky waters of Lake Pontchartrain."

    An Ordinary Day, and a Welcome One, at Ben Franklin Elementary, NYT, 29.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/national/nationalspecial/29public.html

 

 

 

 

 

Mardi Gras to the Rescue?

Doubts Grow.

 

November 26, 2005
The New York Times
By JERE LONGMAN

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 24 - After Hurricane Katrina floored this city, there was widespread hope that Mardi Gras would yank New Orleans back to its feet, helping to reclaim its spirit, its tourists and its economy.

The two weeks of Mardi Gras parades and parties have for decades been the city's binding cord, bringing together all segments of society and thousands of outsiders for a mix of the sacred and the profane. But with planning for the February Carnival season now under way, Mardi Gras has been plagued by harsh financial realities, indecision, lowered expectations and the possibility that this year's parade lineup could be absent some of its most popular krewes, or social clubs.

After the city announced plans for smaller and fewer Mardi Gras parades, dissatisfied krewes protested. Responding to the pressure, an advisory panel to Mayor C. Ray Nagin recommended Wednesday that an additional weekend be included in an abbreviated Mardi Gras parade season. The mayor is expected to agree to a pre-Lenten Carnival season of eight days, instead of the customary 12, culminating Feb. 28 on Mardi Gras Day (known in English as Fat Tuesday).

Yet while city officials and merchants are desperate for symbols of recovery and renewal, some residents are concerned about the message that will be projected when New Orleans holds a giant party in a hurricane's catastrophic wake.

The coming Mardi Gras will celebrate 150 years of New Orleans's parade tradition and, officials hope, provide a fiscal bloody mary for a hung-over economy that has suffered a shutdown of vital tourism and a layoff of half of the municipal work force.

Mardi Gras pumps $1 billion directly and indirectly into the local economy each year, the equivalent of several Super Bowls, city officials say.

While Carnival is intended to signal that New Orleans is open for business again, residents say they also need the celebration for themselves, to affirm the city's essence - a piquant improvisation evident in the food, music, irreverence and self-indulgence.

"If not one tourist comes to town, Mardi Gras will still serve its initial purpose - entertaining local people," said Ed Muniz, founder and captain of the Krewe of Endymion, which holds one of the largest and most lavish Mardi Gras parades. "I think the locals need a celebration of life. The funeral has got to end, and the recovery has got to begin."

City and Mardi Gras officials say they are confident that the 2006 Carnival season can be of high quality. But several issues, mostly financial, remain unresolved.

At a tense planning meeting on Monday, Warren J. Riley, the acting police superintendent, said his department welcomed Mardi Gras, understood its social and financial importance and could provide adequate protection for paradegoers. But Superintendent Riley also said there was no money budgeted to pay overtime to New Orleans's 1,442 police officers. All parades will have to follow one route, down St. Charles Avenue, and each day's parading can last no longer than eight hours, he said.

"We do not have $5 for overtime," Superintendent Riley said, explaining that such costs ran as high as $300,000 to $400,000 on weekends during Mardi Gras.

The city reconsidered that position on Wednesday, saying it was seeking to raise an additional $1.5 million to extend Mardi Gras over two weekends and to pay for overtime on several days. Krewes have agreed to relax a prohibition on corporate sponsorship of Mardi Gras, but say they will not allow corporate logos on floats.

Wednesday's recommendation came after warnings by krewes that 10 parades might be canceled or moved. Mr. Muniz, the Endymion captain, said Monday that plans to trim Mardi Gras were sending a message to tourists "not to come." He threatened to move his parade to adjacent Jefferson Parish.

"I want to be in New Orleans, but if I've got to cut my parade in half, I'm not going to parade in New Orleans," said Mr. Muniz, whose krewe has 2,300 members.

On Wednesday, Mr. Muniz said he felt assured that overtime money would be raised to accommodate his parade in full.

The Krewe of Zulu, established in 1909 and representing a cross section of African-American society, will decide on Dec. 4 whether to participate in the coming Mardi Gras. Many of the krewe's 500-plus members lived in the heavily damaged New Orleans East section and remain out of town and out of contact, said Andrew Pete Sanchez, the club's chairman of Carnival activities.

"The feeling is mixed," Mr. Sanchez said. "Those who have returned home support participation. Those in opposition want to be able to come home first."

The decorated coconuts thrown by Zulu's members are among the most distinctive and sought-after Mardi Gras trinkets. "There's no Mardi Gras without Zulu," said Arthur Hardy, a Carnival historian and publisher of a definitive Mardi Gras guide. "They're just too much part of the celebration."

Among other possible casualties are the Mardi Gras Indians, African-Americans who dress in elaborately feathered costumes in honor of Indians who helped runaway slaves. The Mardi Gras Indians celebrate with theatrical confrontations among "tribes," but some find themselves short of the material and thousands of dollars needed to make their costumes, said Alfred Doucette, big chief of the Flaming Arrows tribe.

"I don't have no more supplies," Mr. Doucette said. "I need feathers and stuff."

His costumes require 10 pounds of ostrich feathers that cost about $5 apiece, Mr. Doucette, a singer, said, explaining that it had been difficult to find work as a musician since Hurricane Katrina struck in August.

Speaking of other chieftains, he said, "They would like to come, but they're short on money this year."

If African-American participation is severely curtailed, Mardi Gras may run the risk of further delineating the class and racial divide exposed after the hurricane.

No one seriously considered canceling Mardi Gras in 2006. That would have been "a big blow to the psychology of New Orleanians," said Wayne Phillips, curator of costumes and textiles at the Louisiana State Museum here. "It is not just a frivolous celebration of costumes and beads, but an ingrained part of our psyche."

Still, locals acknowledge, the approaching Mardi Gras will require a delicate balance that validates a city's spirit without minimizing the devastation and dislocation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Some said they worried that outsiders might receive conflicting signals from scenes of partying and drinking in a disaster area at a time when New Orleans has its hand out for billions in federal money.

"I have mixed feelings," said Barry Barth, a float builder. "I want my business to go on, but I don't think the rest of the country understands Mardi Gras. I'm concerned they're going to see it as a waste of money instead of New Orleans coming back. Or they may say, 'These guys don't look like they're that bad off.' "

City and Mardi Gras officials point to a study indicating that the 2000 Carnival season generated $55 million in tax revenue for local, parish and state governments, including $21 million for New Orleans itself, a nearly fivefold return on the $4.5 million spent on police, sanitation and emergency services.

New Orleans expects to have 22,000 hotel rooms available for tourists in February. Even with a scaled-down Mardi Gras, "we can't afford not to do it," said Blaine Kern, the city's largest float builder, who is known as Mr. Mardi Gras.

If only half of the usual tax revenue is generated, Mr. Kern said, "that's still something."

The more satirical krewes are certain to skewer politicians who have been widely criticized for the government response to Hurricane Katrina. According to sketches of the Krewe of Muses parade, its television theme will lampoon Mayor Nagin, who faces re-election in February, as a star in "The Ex Files" and "Sixty Feet Under."

The canine Krewe of Barkus will celebrate animals rescued after the hurricane and is exploring the theme of "A Street Dog Named Desire." About 700 dogs are expected in the parade, along with a tabby cat, several ferrets and a goat. As usual, the queen will arrive by riverboat to be greeted by a king awaiting with Champagne and a gift, perhaps a rhinestone-encrusted paw-print brooch.

"All this will be forgotten when the first float rolls," Mr. Hardy, the Mardi Gras historian, said of the current crisis. "The story is not that New Orleans will have a smaller Mardi Gras, but that it can do Mardi Gras at all."

    Mardi Gras to the Rescue? Doubts Grow, NYT, 26.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/26/national/nationalspecial/26mardigras.html

 

 

 

 

 

Reopened zoo

brings New Orleans a hint of normality

 

Fri Nov 25, 2005 5:48 PM ET
Reuters
By Janet Guttsman

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Visitors streamed into New Orleans' Audubon Zoo as it opened on Friday for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, bringing a hint of normality to a city still shattered, shuttered and largely depopulated by the storm.

By the zoo's scheduled 10 a.m. opening time, some 1,000 parents and children were lined up outside the gates of the 120-year-old facility, peering in at gaudy pink flamingos on view just inside. By noon, the lawns and paths were packed.

"This is part of bringing this city back to normal again," said Alaina Vizcarrondo, who had been a twice-a-week visitor before Katrina and brought her 3-year-old son, Kevin, on Friday to see his favorite animals. "We've been waiting for the zoo to open again."

The zoo, one of the oldest and best known in North America, emerged as one of the happy stories of Katrina, the powerful storm that killed more than 1,000 people in Louisiana alone when it hit August 29.

Just three of the zoo's 1,500 animals were killed -- two young otters that died of stress and a female raccoon that drowned.

The hurricane snapped off branches and uprooted trees across the park. But while branches and bamboo still hang haphazardly over some enclosures, the bulk of the debris from Katrina somehow fell without causing major damage to zoo buildings or the animals' enclosures.

Eighty percent of New Orleans was inundated after the storm breached protective levees but the zoo was spared from the floodwaters because it is located on high ground.

"Our CEO, Ron Forman, must be the luckiest man out there and he was lucky this time. The trees fell the right way," curator Dan Maloney told Reuters in an interview interrupted repeatedly by greetings to visiting families and diversions to pick up cups or papers and deposit them in trash cans.

 

PREPARATION PAYS OFF

Maloney and a handful of other zoo staff waited out the storm in the windowless Reptile House, a sturdy brick building at the edge of the zoo.

"We had always known we had to be ready to look after ourselves after a hurricane because the authorities would be looking after the people and all that preparation paid off," Maloney said.

But he admitted things were uncertain in the first days after the storm, when both power and water failed and staff could hear shooting from the chaotic city.

At one time the staff prepared a quarantine facility to be used as a holding cell for anyone caught trespassing on the property "until the police arrived" but Maloney said they never had to use it.

The zoo, the downtown Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the nearby IMAX theater, were among the busiest tourist attractions in Louisiana before the hurricane hit.

The zoo is the only one of the three operating right now, and the shrunken customer base in an eerily empty city means it will be open only on weekends until the spring.

The aquarium lost 10,000 out of 12,000 creatures when power failed and filthy water could not be replaced. It will be closed at least until the summer.

Tourists have yet to return to New Orleans, once a city of almost half a million, and large parts of the city are still uninhabited and uninhabitable.

"You may have 30,000 or 40,000 people sleeping in New Orleans right now and I wouldn't be surprised if 40,000 show up at the zoo this weekend," Forman said.

"The city of New Orleans was a thriving, beautiful, unique city and overnight the city was destroyed," he said. "It became a city without children. But people are coming back now for Thanksgiving and we had to do everything we can to open the zoo and to bring the families back."

    Reopened zoo brings New Orleans a hint of normality, NYT, 25.11.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-11-25T224752Z_01_KRA582028_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-ZOO.xml

 

 

 

 

 

A Bank Rebuilds

A New Orleans Bank Faces Mold,

Ruins and Tough Choices

 

November 25, 2005
The New York Times
By GARY RIVLIN

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 21 - At one bank branch, vandals whacked futilely at a vault with what must have been a crowbar. At another, looters worked over an outdoor cash machine, stripping its plastic molding and exposing the metal and wire innards but never reaching the stack of bills locked inside. After smashing through a glass door, the intruders took a sledgehammer to the cinderblock wall housing the bank vault. They bashed a hole large enough to crawl through-if not for the thick steel plate on the other side.

These are some of the depressing scenes that met Alden J. McDonald Jr., the chief executive of Liberty Bank and Trust, the largest black-owned bank in New Orleans, as he toured the eastern half of the city in early November. This vast stretch-encompassing the 9th Ward, the 7th Ward and New Orleans East-is home to most of Liberty's customers as well as the bank's headquarters prior to Hurricane Katrina.

The visit was in part a field trip to inspect the moldy, stinking remains of bank branches hit hardest by flooding and looting. But mainly Mr. McDonald was on a scouting expedition. Here, in the predominantly black, eastern half of New Orleans, he was searching for signs of activity that might justify the reopening of some of Liberty's six closed New Orleans branches. The bank is operating only two of its eight New Orleans branches, both located in the western half of the city.

Mr. McDonald found little cause for optimism.

Nearly three months after the storm, reconstruction of the New Orleans economy is turning out to be slower and more complex than many people first thought. Basic services like electricity, water and sewer are still lacking in large swaths of the city, including the New Orleans East neighborhood, home to four of Liberty's eight New Orleans branches.

The New Orleans school district optimistically said it would open a small number of its schools by the start of November, but that deadline has passed without any action. Residents from low-lying areas await word on the city's plans for their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, toxic mold clings to everything it touches and permeates the air, sickening even occasional visitors.

Looted buildings have yet to be cleaned up and wrecked structures yet to be leveled because there are not enough workers to haul away the debris. And some businesses, including Liberty, are trapped in limbo as they try to negotiate settlements with insurance companies.

"Depending on the settlement, I'll clean up or I'll tear it down," Mr. McDonald said.

Liberty's slow progress returning to New Orleans, despite Mr. McDonald's best efforts, is the wider tale of the Crescent City. And just as Liberty is dependent on the local economy's rebirth, the city needs Liberty to write commercial loans and home mortgages to start the painstaking rebuilding progress. Mr. McDonald, who is chairman of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and serves on the commission the mayor appointed to devise a rebuilding plan for the city, is never quite sure if he is helping his bank or his city, in large part because they are often one and the same.

"Anything we do to get people back in town helps my bank," he said. "Anything we can do to help New Orleans get back on its feet helps me." As Mr. McDonald drove the streets of the 7th Ward, a working-class community of bungalows where he grew up, he found only scant traces of life. There were almost no people on the streets for blocks on end, and virtually no cars traversed thoroughfares that would normally be crowded at midday. So instead he pointed at skeletons - businesses Liberty had helped to underwrite and that, since Katrina, have been boarded up, and homes the bank financed that are now sitting unoccupied.

"This here was my customer base, and it's just gone," he said. He shook his head, and his normally sleepy eyes bulged in disbelief. It is a phrase and look he would repeat a half-dozen times during a three-hour excursion, as if still trying to bend his brain around the immensity of it all.

More than half the journey was spent crisscrossing the streets of New Orleans East in the city's northeast quadrant. If anything, this corner of New Orleans, where the city's black middle class and professional class was concentrated, offers a picture even more disheartening than the low-income 7th Ward. In select pockets of the city, such as Uptown and the West Bank, where two Liberty branches have reopened, lights blaze in windows at night and restaurants and bars along major thoroughfares are sometimes so packed that one must hunt for a nearby parking space.

Yet if life in communities such as Uptown once again spool by in Technicolor, life in New Orleans East still plays out in black and white.

There's something ghostly about the area that, pre-Katrina, was home to about 90,000 people. Trees still lean on collapsed rooftops. Yellow insulation bleeds out of homes; gutters sit at odd angles, like fractured limbs. Everywhere, cars sit at whatever angle the floodwaters left them.

Virtually all of New Orleans East is still without electricity. Homes and businesses still have no drinkable water or working toilets -and will not for a minimum of six months, according to the city's Sewerage and Water Board. The only people in evidence are crews of men in hard hats, dressed in jeans and hooded sweatshirts and wearing bandanas across their faces, bandit-style.

"When people talk about the city repopulating, it's all in Uptown New Orleans, it's on the West Bank, it's in the Quarter," Mr. McDonald said. "None of this is repopulated."

The bad news for Liberty is also good news: The bank will not have to spend the cash it does not have to fix boarded-up branches in the eastern half of the city, nor will it need to dispatch the personnel it does not have in a tight labor market to staff outposts in deserted parts of town.

Liberty's branches in the eastern half of the city lay in ruins. The floors are still strewn with broken glass. Desks and chairs and dead plants, all of them coated with a thin film of muck, lie toppled over.

The bank's operations center, a bunker-style building in New Orleans East that had formerly housed Liberty's main computer and paper files, is another disaster. The building took water almost to the roof, and now it is "unsalvageable," Mr. McDonald said.

In far better shape is the bank's main headquarters, a six-story glass box located a few blocks from the operations center. That building, which Liberty had occupied for less than six months prior to Katrina, suffered both wind damage and flooding, but little damage above the first floor.

"We were all set to move our computer center on to the third floor but" - Mr. McDonald never finished the thought. Instead he shook his head and chuckled. Last month the bank spent $500,000 on a new mainframe computer. He sees loss everywhere in the eastern part of the city, so what's another half-million dollars?

To stop the mold from spreading inside the bank's main offices, Liberty is spending $1,500 a week on fuel to operate an emergency generator that blows dry air into the building.

Mr. McDonald has not taken similar steps to save his own home in Lake Forest Estates, a pricey section of New Orleans East. His was a handsome brick house complete with a swimming pool, an exercise room and two-car garage - before it was flooded by at least four feet of water. Instead of trying to gut the home, as a small percentage of his neighbors are doing, he has given it up as "destroyed."

It is no wonder. A dark, evil-looking mold has taken over the walls, and the home still smells as if bathed in fetid swamp water.

"We'll retrieve whatever we can and start over," said Mr. McDonald, 62, who is married with three grown children.

Mr. McDonald had one additional stop to make after leaving New Orleans East. Liberty runs a small branch inside a supermarket in the Gentilly neighborhood. He had heard that the grocery store was planning on reopening by mid-November. That branch suffered little damage, so he figured on assigning a team of four people to run it - the same number that had worked there prior to Katrina.

But that was before stopping by the store and driving around the neighborhood, a middle-class enclave just south of Lake Pontchartrain. He saw an occasional car in a driveway. He spotted a gardener working on someone's front lawn.

But mainly he saw a community still in stasis. Large sections were flooded, and parts were still without electricity.

"Who's going to bank here?" he asked. "There are small signs of life, but it's spotty. It's spotty at best." By trip's end, he decided he would dispatch one person to that branch - if he dispatched anyone at all.

A New Orleans Bank Faces Mold, Ruins and Tough Choices, NYT, 25.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/25/business/25liberty.html


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ms. LaBue, a former burlesque dancer,

prepared for Thanksgiving dinner

with her band of adopted friends.

 

Photograph:

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

 

A Bayou Thanksgiving, With the Queen of Sheba

NYT

25.11.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/25/national/nationalspecial/25dinner.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Katrina picked up Liz LaBue's house

and pushed it across U.S. 11 as if it were a stalled car.

 

Photograph:

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

 

A Bayou Thanksgiving, With the Queen of Sheba

NYT

25.11.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/25/national/nationalspecial/25dinner.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I've been on the road for a year,

and she is the nicest person I've met,"

said Michael McNeal, left, a roofer from Goose Neck, Ga.

 

Photograph:

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

 

A Bayou Thanksgiving, With the Queen of Sheba

NYT

25.11.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/25/national/nationalspecial/25dinner.html


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bayou Thanksgiving,

With the Queen of Sheba

 

November 25, 2005
The New York Times
By JERE LONGMAN

 

SLIDELL, La., Nov. 24 - There was never going to be a traditional Thanksgiving on Salt Bayou, not after Hurricane Katrina picked up Liz LaBue's house and pushed it across U.S. 11 as if it were a stalled car.

But she has lived a scrapbook life, belly-dancing for Arnold Palmer and riding the concert rails with Janis Joplin, enjoying a career where clothing and permanence were optional. Even her name changes with her mood. LaBue. LoBue. The vowels come and go like the peekaboo veils she once wore as the Queen of Sheba.

Twenty-five miles north of the French Quarter, Ms. LaBue, 60, improvised Thursday as she always does, helping feed the strays - both animal and human - that gathered around her on the highway's edge. Always up for a party, Ms. LaBue orchestrated one on Thanksgiving - a make-do dinner for about 10 of the construction workers who camp out on her property.

Ducks pecked at puddles. A cat and a dog scratched about. And the workers finally got the bird cooked on a barbecue pit after Ms. LaBue worried that she would have to paint the turkey to turn it brown.

"I've been on the road for a year, and she is the nicest person I've met," said Michael McNeal, a roofer from Goose Neck, Ga. "A real Cajun queen. She's always got a smile on her face. As long as it's breathing, she don't turn nothing away."

She does not want to be living like this, sleeping in a van, waiting for a government trailer that has yet to arrive three months after the hurricane, left to fashion a living room out of blue tarp and rattan chairs scavenged from the side of the road. Still, Ms. LaBue said, she found something to be thankful for this year.

"I'm thankful my 87-year-old mother is still alive," she said. "I'm thankful for the people who have helped us. Everybody has embraced our pain."

Mike Vaughan, 37, of Milwaukee, is one of the handful of construction workers who came after the storm and ended up living next door to Ms. LaBue. He sleeps in a van; others have tents nestled between palm trees. A generator provides electricity for a television and a microwave oven. Most of the cooking is done on a pit or a propane stove.

"I'm here to stay," said Mr. Vaughan, owner of Monster Roofing, named after a Frankenstein doll that sits out front in Ms. LaBue's living room, just below the life preserver that says "Home Sweet Home." "I don't see the debris, I see the people. I see the sunset over that bayou."

He pulled out his cellphone and flipped it open.

"I take a picture of every sunset in Louisiana," Mr. Vaughan said. "How do you not enjoy that?"

Little seems to have changed on Salt Bayou since Hurricane Katrina's storm surge punched water from Lake Pontchartrain through the fishing camps and left nothing but pilings. Cars are flipped on top of cars. Plastic from empty sand bags blows in the trees like Tibetan prayer flags. A speedboat named Tsunami sits stranded on dry land. At house after house, a life's possessions wait in piles for the trashman.

Yet there is a strange beauty, Mr. McNeal said, in how the hurricane blew things apart but blew people together. Until Aug. 26, he had never spoken to his half-brother, Mark Milner, whom he tracked down in Ohio through the Internet. They agreed to meet in New Orleans. Then, three days later, the hurricane struck.

The brothers came anyway, Mr. McNeal, 33, to take a roofing job in Slidell, Mr. Milner, 42, to rescue pets in New Orleans. Then a cellphone broke and the brothers lost contact. On a Friday night in September, Mr. Milner spent $70 on a taxi ride to Slidell, looking for his brother but not knowing exactly where he was. He slept on an air mattress outside of a Days Inn, then said he peeked into a maintenance room the next morning and saw another man staring at him.

"I jumped 10 feet in the air," Mr. Milner said.

He turned to leave, but the man called out, "Mark."

Mr. McNeal still does not know why he yelled the name, but somehow he knew it was his brother. They shook hands and talked and went to a bar later in the morning and watched football and drank beer.

"I did all the talking," Mr. McNeal said.

They have been together since.

"God works in mysterious ways," Mr. Milner said.

Robert Loy, 39, came from Chicago, knowing people would need help. He has been struck by their resilience and generosity. The woman whose house he is rebuilding, 87-year-old Virginia Braddy, dropped off a liver for his giblet gravy on Wednesday.

"Drove five miles for a little piece of liver," Mr. Loy said.

Ms. LaBue has only a few rules. No fighting. No arguing. Keep the place clean. Otherwise, her attitude is to go with the flow. To the roofers and welders and Sheetrock men living on her property, she seems to have been everywhere during her belly-dancing career, and met everybody.

Her scrapbook is full of autographs. Ballplayers like Whitey Ford and Enos Slaughter. Golfers like Mr. Palmer and Lee Trevino. Entertainers like Barbra Streisand, whom she met at the Hilton in Las Vegas. Her diary entry from Dec. 15, 1970, says: "Saw Barbra Streisand in lobby. Sent her flowers for her show."

In her scrapbook are programs from 1970, when she and her former husband traveled the rails to state fairs and Canadian rodeos and livestock shows, performing as Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Janis Joplin was traveling on another train across Canada, with the Band and the Grateful Dead. On July 2, 1970, Ms. LaBue's diary says she and her husband planned to make Ms. Joplin a beaded vest for her next album cover.

"Sonny and Cher came up for a weekend," Ms. LaBue said. "We were all hippies. We sat around and chatted and talked about hippie stuff."

A native of Selma, Ala., Ms. LaBue said she learned to belly dance in Washington and New York, and later worked as a go-go dancer and a stripper, loving the art of moving her body, whether clothed or not. It was a different time, with "more costumes and glamour and respect and less money," she said. "Now it's crude and rude and take the cash."

Today, her dark hair has gone white and brown like a root-beer float, and she will not be photographed without makeup. "I must respect my profession," she said. "I'm an artiste."

But six years ago, she gave up the French Quarter life for bayou living, and in late August, was preparing to turn her home into a bed-and-breakfast.

"Where else can you dine with gators?" she said. "The nutria rats come up and let you pet them like cats."

Then Hurricane Katrina hit. Her new friends in the construction business said they owed it to Ms. LaBue's kindness to stay around until they had rebuilt her home and a bar she wants now instead of a bed-and-breakfast.

"Katrina's Gator Pit," Mr. McNeal said. "That's her dream."

    A Bayou Thanksgiving, With the Queen of Sheba, NYT, 25.11.2005,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/25/national/nationalspecial/25dinner.html

 

 

 

 

 

Insurance hinders New Orleans recovery

 

Thu Nov 24, 2005 12:34 PM ET
Reuters
By Janet Guttsman

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Nervous insurers are steering clear of hurricane-hit New Orleans, posing new problems as people here try to rebuild or relocate.

Almost three months after Hurricane Katrina damaged tens of thousands of homes, insurance companies worry about safety, regulations and future risk. Existing homeowners argue about payouts, and would-be buyers struggle to find any insurance at all.

"We were ready to sign a contract on a house, but we can't get insurance," said Steve, whose company is moving him to New Orleans and who asked Reuters not to use his second name. "I'm baffled why the real estate companies still show houses."

It is generally impossible to get a mortgage on a house without insurance.

"There are only a few companies that are writing policies right now, and everything is running slowly," realtor Muffin Labourisse, whose company is still showing and selling houses, said of the city's post-hurricane real estate reality.

The storm tore roofs off buildings, blew out windows and ripped the frontage off homes and offices.

But it also punctured flood protection levees and left vast areas under up to 10 feet of water. Hundreds of thousands of people left town and many have not returned, either because their jobs disappeared, or because they have nowhere to live.

For insurers that means huge uncertainty. Allstate Corp., for example, said last month it would cut its exposure to property in hurricane-prone states because it couldn't "price insurance properly."

"Some (insurance) companies are only writing for current customers if they are moving, others are not writing at all. There are so many areas that are so badly damaged that nobody wants to insure there, because there is no guarantee what is going to happen next hurricane season, or next time there is a big storm," Labourisse said.

 

$40 BILLION OF CLAIMS

The Insurance Information Institute, a leading U.S. insurance industry group, expects some 1.6 million claims worth a total of $40 billion from Katrina.

That's almost twice the $21 billion (in today's dollars) caused by Hurricane Andrew more than a decade ago and does not include several billion dollars for damaged offshore energy facilities or $25 billion in federally funded flood insurance, said Robert Hartwig, the institute's chief economist.

It meant insurance costs would rise, he added.

"The city of New Orleans is not prepared to withstand another event like this in the future," he said.

"We know that the levees can be breached, and we know that the level of fire and police protection in these communities is not what it once used to be. All of that factors into the riskiness associated with insuring a home."

John Marlow, of the American Insurance Association in Austin, Texas, said he was worried legislators would react to the storm by introducing rules that could make Louisiana a more difficult place to operate in.

"It's been a slowly improving scenario, providing home owners with greater competition and better rates," he said. "But they need to stay on that track rather than revert back to an overregulated and burdensome system that drove insurers away from the state 10 years ago."

But Marlow said he was encouraged by new building codes introduced this week in a special session of the state legislature.

"That's going to go a long way toward spurring redevelopment and building properties that will withstand similar events in the future to a greater degree," he said of the codes, which aim to ensure that homes in hurricane-prone areas in the south of the state are built to withstand winds of 130 to 150 miles an hour.

"That's a good move and sends a good message to the insurance community that when things are rebuilt and redeveloped they will be safer and will be able to withstand storms in the future."

    Insurance hinders New Orleans recovery, R, 24.11.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-11-24T173340Z_01_KRA460649_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-INSURANCE.xml

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans' Mardi Gras parades to roll on

 

Wed Nov 23, 2005 7:46 PM ET
Reuters
By Russell McCulley

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans' colorful Mardi Gras parades will roll again next year, despite the hole that Hurricane Katrina punched in the city budget.

But there will be fewer floats and a shorter marching season because the city can't afford police overtime, officials said on Wednesday.

After days of talks, officials compromised and promised eight days of parades in the run-up to Fat Tuesday, which is the last day before Lent and which falls on February 28 next year.

"We owe it to our ancestors and our children to keep this celebration going. We just can't stop. This is so important for us," said a delighted Arthur Hardy, publisher of the Mardi Gras Guide and a Carnival historian.

"All indicators were that the city just wouldn't be able to pull this off, even as recently as 24 hours ago. Somehow, they managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat."

Shorter than the usual 12 days, next year's Mardi Gras will reflect the decimation of New Orleans' tax base by the exodus that followed the hurricane and the city could not afford overtime for police along the parade routes.

"It is a critical factor for us that we have no additional money," police chief Warren Riley told a news conference.

Some of the krewes, as the Carnival organizations are known, had threatened to move their parades to suburban Jefferson Parish if the city curtailed the parades.

Some "superkrewes," with names like Bacchus and Endymion, traditionally parade with dozens of huge floats and marching bands on the weekend before Fat Tuesday, and it takes them several hours to complete their routes.

Fans stake out prime territory before the popular parades with ladders and coolers. Many spend the night along the route to guarantee a prime spot to catch beads and other favors tossed out by the masked and costumed riders.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Parade seasons have been canceled 13 times, most recently during a 1979 police strike.

A controversial part of today's agreement would allow corporate sponsorship of the Carnival, something that Mardi Gras purists have kept at bay for years.

The city's arts and entertainment director, Ernest Collins, said corporate sponsorship was necessary to raise the $1.5 million in additional funds the city needs to host next year's parades next year, but it would be done in good taste.

"We don't want to see overt commercialization of Mardi Gras," he said.

    New Orleans' Mardi Gras parades to roll on, R, 23.11.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-11-24T004640Z_01_MCC402275_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-MARDIGRAS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

On diverse Banks Street

sit the pieces of many lives

 

Posted 11/22/2005 11:37 PM
USA TODAY
By Rick Hampson

 

NEW ORLEANS — Memories sit at the curb on the 3500 block of Banks Street, waiting for the trash man.
There's the china closet Donna Gibson's mother bought the year her daughter was born.

There's the Leica that Robert Reid got in Japan in the early '50s, and the thousands of slides he shot with it.

There's Carol Bradford's grandfather clock, alongside her motorcycle.

Before Hurricane Katrina, this block of Banks was typical New Orleans — it had no typical resident.

Its 24 housing units were home to whites, blacks and Hispanics; yuppies and welfare families; gays and straights; renters and owners; refugees from the Vietnam War and from Hurricane Andrew; a nonagenarian who grew up on Banks Street and a young woman seven months pregnant.

In the deluge after Katrina, the block suffered neither the worst flooding in town nor the least. As such, it's a bellwether block in a bellwether neighborhood; as goes Banks Street, so probably will go the Mid City district, and New Orleans itself.

Twelve weeks after the flood, no one has moved back. No one knows when electricity or gas service will return. The houses reek of sewage, mildew and rotten food. Inside, mold has painted the walls with abstractmurals. Outside, a bathtub ring 6 feet high stretches across house after house after house, all the way to the city line. Grass killed by saltwater crunches underfoot.

Although residents are scattered from Minneapolis to Memphis to Metairie, some living near the city visit their homes by day to gut, clean, collect. In a season when they usually work on Mardi Gras floats and costumes, they talk about FEMA and fungicides.

The flood divided the street into a few winners, such as Ginger Kirkpatrick, whose apartment was entirely above water, and more losers, like Tuyen Le, whose home was entirely submerged and who had no flood insurance.

All know that their block will never be the same. Most of the renters aren't coming back, and even the homeowners are doubtful. No one knows whether to speak of Banks in the present or past tense.

But all hope the street is like the resurrection vine clinging to the oak trees; with each rainfall, it turns from brown to green.

It's often said that to understand the tragedy of New Orleans, you need to see it. You also need to hear the voices of those living the tragedy, even as they struggle to make sense of it.

 

Prelude

Most of the homes along Banks are "shotgun doubles" — attached, two-family two-story wood frame houses — shaded by stout live oaks whose branches stretch out to the median known as "the neutral ground."

Cyndi Garrett: All the houses were built at least 70 years ago. They have fireplaces, hardwood floors, 12-foot ceilings, stained glass, front porches. I took one look and thought, "neighborhood."

Donna Gibson: We knew the kids, the cats, the whole bit. We celebrated each other's birthdays. Usually after a hurricane we'd have a party, and barbecue up all the stuff that was thawing out.

Bill Trinchard: The neighborhood was not so great, but this block was an island of stability. We had a lot of people who owned their homes. ... I was born in the house next door.

Lezly Petrovich: My grandma and mom lived around this neighborhood in the '50s and '60s, and it was awesome. Then it declined, and was finally seeing a rebuilding before Katrina.

 

Storm

Most residents left at least a day before the hurricane, even though many had stayed put during previous storms.

Gibson: I never evacuated before, but I never saw a storm move so fast and grow so fast. I got my dogs and cats and drove to Mississippi.

Two residents stayed. Although they lived across from each other, neither knew the other was there.

Gar Williams: It's terrible to say, but I didn't pay much attention to what was happening with the storm. So many times in the past they've been wrong about where they're going. My brother said, "I'll drive in and pick you up." But I said, "I'll be fine." By the time I realized the gravity of the situation, it was too late.

Ralph Bailey: I always stay for storms because of looting. So do my neighbors, but this time they bailed out on me. He laughs. I was prepared to lose power and water. I had everything I needed to survive. Katrina passed through, and it wasn't too bad. There wasn't much rain. Didn't lose any shingles. I called people and said, "The old girl (the house) took another one, like I knew she would." I was in my yard cleaning up when I noticed water in the street. I wondered where it came from. I called 911, and they said they were pulling water from other areas of town and the water was spilling out of the sewer drains. It didn't make any sense to me. But they said not to worry.

 

Flood

The water kept rising.

Bailey: I tried to seal off the front door from inside with duct tape. He laughs. But the water came up through the floorboards. ... I went into survival mode, carrying things up to the second floor. ...I had water, canned food, candles, my machete and an ax. I moved a ladder up to the opening to the attic, in case I needed to go up.

Williams: The water just kept rising. I wondered where it would stop. I'm a good swimmer, but not that good.

Bailey: I called 911 again, and this time the dispatcher said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Bailey. The levee broke. It's time to get out now." I said, "It's too late to get out now." The water was up past my car's wheels.

Williams: I had four bottles of water. When that ran out I went downstairs and got some champagne. Then I drank mouthwash.

Rescue

After four days, Bailey heard a shout outside his house.

Bailey: This guy, his name was Tim, if you saw him coming, you'd cross the street. He'd commandeered a boat and was going around rescuing people. He tied up to my porch post. He told me, "Get in the boat." I said no, I was OK. He said, "If you don't come out, I'm gonna come in and get you. ..." So I got in the boat. I was wearing a T-shirt, shorts, tennis shoes, and I had my briefcase.

Across the street, Williams was sleeping when he heard voices.

Williams: I ran out on the balcony, but I was too late. The boat had gone. A few days later some men from the Coast Guard and the Army came by in one of those boats with the fan on the back. They picked me up. One of them said, "We'd not better go to the right. That's where the guy was shooting in the air."

 

Refuge

Baileyand another single resident of the street wound up at the Superdome.

Theresa Crushshon : On Monday morning, when the storm hit, you could hear the rippling on the roof. It sounded like a freight train. ... After a few days I felt like I was in South Africa, or on a slave plantation.

Bailey: I saw the worst in man — people hoarding water while people next to them were dehydrated. But the media exaggerated the situation. My group stuck together and took care of each other. It was OK. Some teenagers had taken water and MREs (meals ready to eat) and were trying to sell them, but I called their bluff. I grabbed the stuff. I didn't pay for it.

 

Aftermath

On Banks Street, the flood crested at 6-7 feet. The houses, most of which are raised off the ground, got 4-5 feet of water on their first floors. It sat there for about two weeks.

Gibson: Everyone on this block has family pieces that were handed down and handed down. My Baldwin baby grand was 50 or 60 years old — mahogany, ivory keys, wood hammers instead of Teflon.... It's worth $8,000 to $10,000, but what's the emotional value of a good instrument?

Latasha Johnson: We lost all our children's birth pictures. I told my husband, "Paul, we lost the pictures." He dropped to the floor and sat for a while.

Carol Bradford: We'd just finished redoing the kitchen ourselves. It took 18 months. New appliances, cabinets, granite countertops. I can't bear to tear it all out just yet.

Williams: Our Thanksgiving turkey was in the freezer. My brother likes to say, "Can we do something with that turkey?"

Rose Trinchard: They found my father's wedding ring in the muck in a hallway.

Robert Reid: I thought my dog Killie was dead. She's 14, a Rhodesian ridgeback. Since my partner died in January, she's been my sole emotional support. I left her with a little food and some water. When I went back she was still alive. It was 100 degrees in there. How did she survive?

 

Exile

The floodscatteredthe people of Banks Street across the region and nation.

Crushshonis in aMinneapolishotel that does not take pets. Her cocker spaniel, Sammy, is with a family in the Minneapolis suburbs: I miss the jazz, not just the music but the whole rhythm and color of the city. The brass bands coming down the street. I miss Donna's on Rampart in the back of the (French) Quarter, where the locals hang out.

Bill Trinchardand his family are in a rented house in Kenner, La., with half the space they had in New Orleans. The flood also destroyed the dry cleaners his parents founded in neighboring Lakeview in 1956: If we reopen the business, who'd we reopen for? Lakeview is gone. ... For the first time in 40 years, I'm unemployed. I never applied for food stamps before.

Johnsonand her three children are in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Her husband, Paul, a private security officer,is staying in New Orleans. Latasha has returned to Banks once with her sons, including Paul Jr.,4. His report: My old house stinks. The wall's gone black. The street's messed up. The playground's messed up. The whole town is messed up.

Williamsis with his niece in La Place, west of the city.

Baileyand Gibson are in apartments a few miles from Banks in the Uptown section, which was spared severe flooding.

Ginger Kirkpatrick is with a friend in Memphis. Her husband, Shane, is living and working temporarily in Fort Lauderdale.

Petrovichis with an aunt in suburban Metairie. Her fiancé, Chris Wilson, an attorney, is living and working in Baton Rouge. Last month, Petrovich, also a lawyer, was laid off by her New Orleans firm. A few nights later, her house on Banks was burglarized: They broke the lock. They went through my closet and my drawers. They took my wedding jar. It's a glass pickle jar I decorated with stickers. I kept change in it, for when Chris and I get married. There was about 20 bucks.

Bradfordis staying with her sister's family in Mandeville, north of the city. It's a mixed blessing,she says with a smile: They have all these rules. "Don't slam the door. Don't talk so loud in the morning. Don't sit on that couch."

 

Decision

As they decide what to do next, residents are emboldened by their love of the city, and deterred by their mistrust of its governance.

Bradford: We were quoted $8,000 just to tear out wallboard and clean out the place. ... We don't have flood insurance. We'll do it ourselves. I'm trying to take baby steps — each day, one small task.

Williams: I plan to spend $100,000 on repairs. It might take six or eight months. I like living here and wouldn't live anywhere else.

Bailey: I want to come back, but I'm worried about the levees. They have to create a system to protect the city if people are going to reinvest.

Bill Trinchard: If you come back, you're gonna have to be up in the air (in a raised house). That way you have a chance. You can't depend on the levees.

Petrovich: If we raise our house, it'll fall apart.

Trinchard: I don't know if we'll come back. I might just put up a For Sale sign — "AS IS."

Gibson: I'm way ambivalent about staying in the city. I lost 30 years of accumulated stuff. I don't know if I'm willing to do that again. ... It could be a very exciting time here, or it could be throwing good money after bad. The city's got a clean slate now. If they blow it, we're outta here.

Garrett: You're looking at five years before we can tell which way the neighborhood will go.

Bradford: We're staying. This is it. This is New Orleans. There's no place like it.

 

Moral

Even as they move back or move on, they think about what the flood meant.

Crushshon: The city needed a cleaning. God moves people for certain reasons.

Rose Trinchard: Maybe it's all for the best. But I don't think so. I moved here when I was 9 years old (in 1924). I'll always have a feeling for this street.

Bailey: I still think about Tim, the guy who rescued me. He had holes in his clothes. I saw his house and it was a shack. But he was a natural leader. He led us to the Superdome like he was Moses. I gave him my card, but he never told me his last name. When it was over he disappeared.

Bill Trinchard: See that lily sprouting next to the house? My grandmother planted that. I thought the water'd killed it. But there it is.

On diverse Banks Street sit the pieces of many lives, UT, 22.11.2005,
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-11-22-banks-street_x.htm

 

 

 

 

 

6,644 are still missing after Katrina;

toll may rise

 

Posted 11/21/2005
11:38 PM Updated 11/22/2005 12:22 AM
USA TODAY
By Kevin Johnson

 

The whereabouts of 6,644 people reported missing after Hurricane Katrina have not been determined, raising the prospect that the death toll could be higher than the 1,306 recorded so far in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to two groups working with the federal government to account for victims.

Most of those who remain listed as unaccounted-for 12 weeks after the storm probably are alive and well, says Kym Pasqualini, chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing Adults. She says they are listed as missing because government record-keeping efforts haven't caught up with them in their new locations.

However, Pasqualini says those counting the victims are particularly concerned about an estimated 1,300 unaccounted-for people who lived in areas that were heavily damaged by Katrina, or who were disabled at the time the storm hit. The fact that authorities haven't been able to determine what happened to them suggests that the death toll from Katrina could climb significantly. (Related story: Toll rises as returning find dead in homes)

Some of those on the list of people still missing are likely to be among the 301 unidentified victims whose bodies are at a Louisiana state morgue in St. Gabriel. Those victims already are included in the death total. (Related story: Morgues find identifying bodies difficult)

Pasqualini, whose group is working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to help the government count victims, says it will take months to get an account of what happened to victims during the chaos that followed Katrina.

Nearly 1,000 of the 6,644 unaccounted-for people are children. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, says volunteers continue to go door to door to try to close missing-person cases.

He believes that "a small number" of the missing children eventually will be listed as dead. Most of the unaccounted-for children, he says, probably were reunited with relatives after the children were reported missing during evacuations in New Orleans and Mississippi.

6,644 are still missing after Katrina; toll may rise, UT, 22.11.2005,
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-11-21-katrina-missing_x.htm

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana Sees

Faded Urgency in Relief Effort

 

November 22, 2005
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO

 

BATON ROUGE, La., Nov. 18 - Less than three months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, relief legislation remains dormant in Washington and despair is growing among officials here who fear that Congress and the Bush administration are losing interest in their plight.

As evidence, the state and local officials cite an array of stalled bills and policy changes they say are crucial to rebuilding the city and persuading some of its hundreds of thousands of evacuated residents to return, including measures to finance long-term hurricane protection, revive small businesses and compensate the uninsured.

"There is a real concern that we will lose the nation's attention the longer this takes," said Representative Bobby Jindal, a Republican from Metairie, just west of New Orleans. "People are making decisions now about whether to come back. And every day that passes, it will be a little harder to get things done."

Officials from both parties say the bottlenecks have occurred in large part because of a leadership vacuum in Washington, where President Bush and Congress have been preoccupied for weeks with Iraq, deficit reduction, the C.I.A. leak investigation and the Supreme Court.

Congressional leaders have been scrambling to rein in spending, and many in Washington have grumbled that Louisiana's leaders have asked for too much, while failing to guarantee that the money will be spent efficiently and honestly.

By contrast, many say, Washington's response to the Sept. 11 attacks seemed more focused and sustained.

Now, with the holiday season days away and the 2006 midterm elections just around the bend, many Louisiana officials say they fear the sense of urgency that spurred action in September is swiftly draining away.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, said recently on CNN, "We feel like we are citizens of the United States who are nearly forgotten."

Walter Isaacson, vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, drew a parallel between the governmental dithering in the immediate aftermath of the flood and the current situation, saying a lack of action now would be devastating to New Orleans's economy.

"It's like when FEMA wasn't really that creative, and the water was rising and people were stranded," Mr. Isaacson said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Once again, people are being stranded and businesses are starting to die."

But Donald Powell, who began work this week as President Bush's liaison for the reconstruction effort, said that while the sense of urgency might have faded somewhat, "The president is committed to rebuilding the Gulf Coast."

Few people in Congress are openly threatening to block money for reconstruction. More typical are sotto voce mumblings about whether federal money will be squandered through incompetence or graft by Louisiana officials. And some lawmakers have openly wondered whether each neighborhood in New Orleans needs to be rebuilt and protected with expensive floodwalls.

Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, raised concerns about Congressional commitment to New Orleans when he said during a tour of the city that Alaskan towns damaged by storms were often relocated. Mr. Stevens also warned that the spate of recent natural disasters meant that Louisiana might not receive money as swiftly as it would like.

He said later that his words had been misunderstood, and colleagues said he had spoken movingly to Republican Senators about the devastation he had witnessed. Still, such comments prompted The Times-Picayune of New Orleans to publish an editorial on Nov. 13 titled "Forgotten Already."

"There was an emergency window of opportunity in September that is basically closed," said Ron Faucheux, a vice president of the American Institute of Architects, who is lobbying for reconstruction measures in Washington. "What's needed is to pry open that window again."

Louisiana officials credit Mr. Bush with pushing bills through Congress after the hurricane that provided $62 billion for storm recovery, much of which has not been spent. And they applauded his appointment of Mr. Powell, a former banker and chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

[On Saturday, Governor Blanco also announced that the Bush administration had agreed to continue paying 100 percent for certain storm relief services, including debris removal, until Jan. 15.]

But in recent weeks, Louisiana officials say, the administration has been less forceful on recovery measures. "We're still relying on the president's promise to help New Orleans rebuild," said Mr. Isaacson, referring to Mr. Bush's Sept. 15 pledge that the federal government "will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."

Mr. Isaacson added, "I think we need a push from the president himself" to get federal financing for major projects.

In some cases the administration is even blocking action sought by Louisiana officials, those officials assert. The most significant of those measures, lawmakers from both parties say, is a bipartisan Senate bill that would authorize $450 million in bridge loans and grants to hurricane-damaged businesses.

The bill, whose sponsors include Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, would also allow businesses to defer payments on federal loans and would increase the size of disaster loans.

Though a similar package of benefits was approved after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Small Business Administration has opposed the new Senate bill as too costly. Mr. Isaacson said the bill would not pass without White House intervention. "The winds have shifted against us," he said.

Ms. Snowe, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, has also chastised the S.B.A. for the slow processing of 250,000 disaster loan applications, which has created a four-month backlog. The agency said it was trying to hire 1,000 new processors, but Ms. Snowe called its response "sluggish" and "confused."

"They'll tell you it is an unprecedented disaster, but they won't muster an unprecedented response," she said. "We should have moved heaven and earth to get this done."

Louisiana officials have also complained about opposition from the Bush administration to proposals to dedicate a stream of money for restoring coastal wetlands and constructing levees capable of withstanding Category 5 hurricanes.

Though that work will take years to complete, a federal commitment to provide money - more than $20 billion - is needed soon to encourage insurance companies, businesses and homeowners to invest in the region, state officials say.

But the Bush administration has objected to a bipartisan proposal that would give the state up to 40 percent of the more than $5 billion in annual federal revenues generated by Louisiana's offshore oil and gas industries. The state now receives only a small portion of those royalties.

"The political will is there in Congress to do this," said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana and a strong advocate of the oil revenue plan. "We have to get leadership from the White House. Their tight-fisted policies are cutting off their nose to spite their face."

Mr. Powell said that the administration was committed to flood protection and that a compromise on the royalties issue was possible. "It's very important that people feel like the region is safe when they move back," he said.

Many Louisiana officials acknowledge that some problems in Washington stem from the widespread perception that state and local governments here are rife with inefficiency and corruption.

Governor Blanco has tried to counter that image by pushing measures in the Legislature that would allow the state to take over failing schools in New Orleans, oversee levee construction now handled by patronage-filled levee boards, and cut state spending by nearly $600 million.

The state has hired the large accounting firm Deloitte & Touche to oversee the spending of federal relief money, and has promised to crack down on any cases of corruption. Another accounting group, UHY, was hired to monitor Deloitte.

Louisiana officials also acknowledge that some problems have been self-inflicted, starting with a $250 billion relief package introduced by Senator Landrieu and Senator David Vitter, a Republican, in September. The package was ridiculed by many in Congress as unrealistically expensive.

Representative Jindal said House Republicans had taken a more "rifle-shot" approach of trying to pass bills addressing specific issues.

For example, Representative Richard H. Baker, a Republican from Baton Rouge, has introduced legislation to create a corporation authorized to issue bonds to buy destroyed properties. The corporation would sell the properties to developers. Former owners would then have the first right to buy refurbished properties. Governor Blanco and Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans have endorsed the bill.

But many people in Louisiana remain concerned that there are too many voices in Washington pushing different proposals, while fundamental issues remain unresolved.

"People want government to speak with one voice," said Keith Villere, a town planner from St. Tammany Parish, just north of New Orleans. "If they don't unite, the federal government will forget about St. Tammany. They'll forget about New Orleans. And they'll forget about Katrina, just like they forgot about the tsunami."

    Louisiana Sees Faded Urgency in Relief Effort, NYT, 22.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/22/national/nationalspecial/22louisiana.html

 

 

 

Po' boys and gumbo

help revive New Orleans

 

Sun Nov 20, 2005 3:12 PM ET
Reuters
By Kevin Krolicki

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - In New Orleans, a city still lacking power, water and most of its former inhabitants, many are tracking a more hopeful gauge of recovery measured in sales of po' boy sandwiches and gumbo.

About 320 restaurants have reopened for business in New Orleans, down from the 2,200 or so establishments of all stripes that gave New Orleans its reputation as a city serious about eating before Hurricane Katrina.

The most famous restaurants -- haute-creole destinations like Commander's Palace, Brennan's and Arnaud's -- remain shuttered as they work to rehire large staffs.

But smaller family-run shops featuring indigenous comfort food like po' boy and muffuletta sandwiches, gumbo, and red beans and rice have come back to standing-room only traffic.

"People were so happy to get gumbo. I talked to people who said thank you, because we just had to be back to some normality," said Vicky Patania, who has been washing dishes and operating with a skeleton crew at The Galley, a restaurant she owns with her husband, Dennis.

Sandy Whann, the owner of Leidenheimer Baking Company, which supplies crisp-crusted loaves for po' boys, said New Orleans restaurant owners like Patania "have a duty."

"They understand that the gift that they can give to this city is to reopen as a gathering place," he said.

The return of New Orleans' tourist economy also hinges on the success of its restaurants. Said Howard Moses, a local engineer who was at a po' boy shop for lunch recently, "Food is as important to this city as music and architecture."

The po' boy and the muffuletta, another New Orleans creation, are among the fare to dominate post-Katrina menus for those in a hurry.

The muffuletta, an Italian-style sandwich introduced by Sicilian immigrants, features sesame-coated bread stuffed with ham, salami, cheeses and marinated olive salad.

"Good ingredients and big portions, baby," said Norma Webb, who was back making sandwiches to go at Nor-Joe's Import.

The po' boy, called a submarine or a hoagie elsewhere, dates back to Great Depression, giving it a historical tie to earlier hard times.

"What's important about the po' boy is that it's the great equalizer -- rich or poor, regardless of culture, it's the essence of New Orleans," said Whann, who admits he and other locals can grow "mystical" when discussing the perfect po' boy.

"Soft hoagie or submarine rolls are wrong, and hard-crusted baguettes are too tough," said local food expert Celeste Uzee. "Po' boys require the right bread in the same way that a proper New York slice (of pizza) requires the right crust."

For the 100,000 or so now back in New Orleans, food and football remain dominant topics of conversation -- reminders of life before the storm.

"They are crazy about football in the fall, but they are crazy about food all year round," said Tom Fitzmorris, a New Orleans restaurant maven who hosts a three-hour food show five days a week on local radio.

Fitzmorris, who is tracking restaurant reopenings at www.nomenu.com, said food would ultimately bring New Orleans back. "If you go somewhere else, you might make a lot more money, but you won't have gumbo," he said.

Others see the region's strong bond to its favored foods strengthening as thousands of evacuees remain scattered.

"New Orleanians and people from all over Louisiana base their identities, in large part, on foodways," said Uzee.

"Rather than seeing those foodways diluted or eroded, I think instead the traditional things will experience a renaissance," she said. "When people have nothing left, they can always re-create their lost places through food."

Po' boys and gumbo help revive New Orleans, NYT, 20.11.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-11-20T201246Z_01_WRI072648_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-FOOD.xml&archived=False

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Hit Little, but Aid Flowed to Inland City        NYT        20.11.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/national/nationalspecial/20money.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Hit Little,

but Aid Flowed to Inland City

 

November 20, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

JACKSON, Miss., Nov. 19 - When the federal government and the nation's largest disaster relief group reached out a helping hand after Hurricane Katrina blew through here, tens of thousands of people grabbed it.

But in giving out $62 million in aid, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross overlooked a critical fact: the storm was hardly catastrophic here, 160 miles from the coast. The only damage sustained by most of the nearly 30,000 households receiving aid was spoiled food in the freezer.

The fact that at least some relief money has gone to those perceived as greedy, not needy, has set off recriminations in this poor, historic capital where the payments of up to $2,358 set off spending sprees on jewelry, guns and electronics.

Though a majority of the money appears to have been given out legally, the United States attorney's office is investigating at least 1,000 reports of fraud, including accusations that people lied about claims of damage or where they lived. State and local officials are criticizing FEMA and the Red Cross as doling out money without safeguards, but they also blame their fellow citizens.

"The donors all across this nation thought they were giving money to put food in the mouths of people who had nothing and clothes on the backs of people who had lost everything," said State Representative John R. Reeves, who represents Jackson. "But that is not what happened here. There was a feeding frenzy. Free money was being handed out."

And friends have turned against friends. When word of the Red Cross and federal money got out in Jackson's neighborhoods, many rushed to apply. Huge lines formed at Western Union outlets, discount stores and other places that issued or cashed the relief checks. Erica Thompson, 32, tried unsuccessfully to persuade her friends not to join in.

"People can take a good thing and abuse it," Ms. Thompson said while doing her wash at a coin laundry in Jackson this week. "It's not right."

Some of those who accepted the aid, though, feel no embarrassment. "I needed that money," said Lynn Alexander, 30, whose apartment lost power in the storm, but was not damaged. She collected $900, she said, from the Red Cross. "It helped me put gas in my car, wash my clothes and buy food."

What happened in Jackson and its suburbs - in Hinds, Madison and Rankin Counties - might not be unique. Emergency officials elsewhere in Mississippi and in parts of Louisiana have also questioned how so much federal aid could have been authorized, given the limited damage they documented.

"Someone is going to have to look at that," said Bo Boudreaux, deputy director of homeland security in Iberia Parish, west of New Orleans, where perhaps three mobile homes were damaged, he said, but 404 families, according to FEMA, received $2,000 checks in emergency aid.

FEMA, which is leading the $62 billion Hurricane Katrina relief effort, has been criticized as responding slowly to the disaster and then wasting recovery money. In defending the payments in the Jackson area, the agency and the Red Cross cited the tensions between moving quickly to help the desperate, and moving carefully to avoid aiding the undeserving.

"This is the challenge we perpetually face," said Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman. "Do you get assistance into the hands of those who desperately need it as quickly as possible? Or do you slow it down to dot every single I and cross every single T? We chose to err on the side of the victim."

Charles D. Connor, a senior vice president at the Red Cross in Washington, said his group had a similar imperative. People who brought in a form of identification were eligible for aid. Mr. Connor acknowledges that apparently resulted in aid being offered to some who did not need it.

"We did the best we could to help people as quickly as we could knowing that mistakes would be made along the way," he said Friday.

Donald Paxton, executive director of the Central Mississippi Chapter of the Red Cross added: "Unless you drove down every street in Hinds County, there was no way of immediately determining actually what the damage was."

FEMA and the Red Cross have made disaster assistance payments in the past that have drawn criticism. After Hurricane Frances in Florida last year, FEMA distributed $31 million to residents in the Miami-Dade area despite minimal damage.

Senator Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican whose committee oversees FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, said in an interview Thursday that the agency had apparently failed to correct problems auditors found in Florida.

"It is frustrating to me that FEMA seems incapable of paying legitimate claims quickly and effectively and yet reimburses fraudulent claims without asking any questions," Ms. Collins said. "It is the worst of all worlds."

 

Open for Aid

After Hurricane Katrina devastated coastal communities on Aug. 29, it moved steadily inland toward Jackson. Smack in the middle of Mississippi, the capital city has been in slow decline for more than a decade, struggling with high crime, long-simmering racial tensions and poverty.

By the time the hurricane reached this far, its power had diminished. The sustained winds, recorded at 47 m.p.h. at the airport, were far below hurricane speed. But gusts of up to 74 m.p.h. took down trees, knocking out power lines and damaging roofs. Almost all of Jackson lost power. Electricity returned for most customers in a few days. But in some cases, it took up to two weeks.

Still, the region was largely spared. In Jackson and two nearby counties, only 50 to 60 homes were declared uninhabitable, local emergency departments said. About 4,000 sustained damage, they said.

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the Bush administration declared a disaster area along 15 Mississippi coastal counties, as well as 31 parishes in Louisiana. Residents there were eligible for federal emergency grants, housing assistance and money for repairs, medical bills and other costs.

But by Sept. 7, at Mississippi's request, the disaster zone was expanded as far as 220 miles inland, reaching 32 counties, including several that never experienced sustained hurricane-force winds. The zone eventually reached 47 counties. The disaster area in Mississippi - which is led by Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican ally of President Bush's - extends 200 miles farther north than that in Louisiana, which is led by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat who at times criticized the federal storm response.

Lea Stokes, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said it was the course of the storm, not politics, that dictated the map. The state urged the Bush administration to include so many counties in the disaster zone after documenting widespread damage. The state encouraged all residents to apply for aid, even if the only cost they incurred was the purchase of a chainsaw or generator.

"Let them tell you whether or not you qualify before you rule yourself out," Ms. Stokes said, echoing the advice offered by Mississippi officials.

Ms. Andrews, the FEMA spokeswoman, said the federal government typically deferred to states on disaster declarations. But when that happens, she acknowledged, the door is opened for federal aid.

"Once we effectively turn on a county, anyone in that county can apply," Ms. Andrews said.

And the Red Cross, Mr. Connor said, followed the federal lead, authorizing aid for Jackson just as it did for residents of New Orleans.

 

A Rush for Checks

Even before Hurricane Katrina landed, the Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross began preparing. The charity opened a shelter at the Coliseum and Trade Mart in Jackson for evacuees from the coast. Soon after, the Red Cross also began offering cash grants ranging from $360 for a single adult to $1,565 for a family of five.

Ms. Alexander, who is unemployed, remembers phone calls from her cousin, then from her therapist. The Red Cross, she was told, was giving out money to Jackson residents.

Ms. Alexander drove to the Trade Mart, but chose not to wait for her turn because the crowd was so large. Back home, she called the charity's toll-free telephone number dozens of times before finally getting approval for $900 in aid. She had to give her name and address, she said. The only storm damage at her apartment was spoiled food in the fridge. "I was blessed," she said.

Michael Hendrick had also gone to the Trade Mart, broke, homeless and hungry after fleeing the Louisiana coast. He listened as Jackson-area residents plotted the best way to get the biggest grants. "It was really kind of turning my stomach," Mr. Hendrick said.

Before the rush subsided, the Red Cross gave $32 million to area residents, including about 25,400 of the 92,000 households in Hinds County, home to Jackson, according to statistics first published in The Clarion Ledger and confirmed by Mr. Paxton of the local Red Cross chapter.

FEMA received 42,313 applications from Hinds County and 17,352 claims from Madison or Rankin Counties. To date, 16,407 of those applications have been approved, resulting in a payout of $20.3 million in disaster grants, as well as $9 million in rental assistance and other aid, agency records show. Most of the federal money was intended for people whose homes were uninhabitable, but it was distributed before any home inspections were conducted.

The relief checks soon created a crush of customers at local businesses. A clerk at Quik Cash, a check-cashing store, said a line of more than 100 customers stretched down the hallway, out the door and around the corner. So many people showed up that the business ran out of cash.

Lee Montgomery, the manager of Terry Road Pawn Shop in Jackson, said many of those cashing relief checks at his business immediately bought jewelry, firearms, DVD movies and electronics.

Bob Parks, owner of a Hinds County pharmacy and Western Union agency, said he watched in disbelief as hundreds of Jackson-area residents arrived at his store to get relief checks. "Surely the Red Cross has to have a better use of funds," Mr. Parks said. "Unless they just have money that they are trying to get rid of for some reason."

 

Unexpected Numbers

Local government officials were baffled by the payouts. Weeks after the storm, Larry J. Fisher, director of the Hinds County emergency department, got a call from a regional FEMA representative saying that staff members wanted to know why county officials had reported that so few homes were uninhabitable.

FEMA has sent aid to thousands of county residents who claimed their homes were ruined, including 7,622 checks for $2,000 in emergency financial assistance. But Mr. Fisher counted only about 50 uninhabitable homes and perhaps 4,000 with any damage at all.

To resolve the discrepancy, Mr. Fisher recalled, he was told: "You are going to increase your number." A Baptist deacon and a former city police detective, Mr. Fisher, 67, was going to have none of that. Backed up by digital photographs he had taken of damaged properties, he refused to revise his reports. "I am not going to change my figures up to yours," Mr. Fisher said he told the FEMA official. "You want to start investigating, by all means, do so." When asked about the conversation, FEMA officials said they were not aware of it.

Officials in Mississippi fault both the Red Cross and FEMA for not having clearer - and tougher - standards about what kind of damage merited a claim. In the end, it appeared that simply being a resident when the storm passed through was enough to collect a check.

Mr. Paxton said he realized that there was some abuse, but he could not say for sure just how much took place. If the charity failed to act responsibly, he said, it will move to correct the problems. Already, Mr. Connor said, the charity has stopped monetary aid in Jackson unless losses are documented.

Marshand K. Crisler, president of the Jackson City Council, said many aid applicants perhaps honestly believed they deserved help, even if it was simply to replace spoiled food. But clearly there was abuse as well.

"People are taking advantage of a crisis," Mr. Crisler said. "We are saddened that people would stoop to such a level."

    Storm Hit Little, but Aid Flowed to Inland City, NYT, 20.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/national/nationalspecial/20money.html

 

 

 

 

 

Utility Struggles to Relight New Orleans

 

November 19, 2005
The New York Times
By GARY RIVLIN

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 18 - From his temporary headquarters on the top floor of the Hyatt Regency here, Daniel F. Packer, the chief executive of Entergy New Orleans, has a perfect vantage point for viewing the problem confronting his beleaguered utility company: lights twinkling in dozens of neighborhoods, but darkness spread across 40 percent of the city.

Those vast stretches of New Orleans without access to electrical power represent the magnitude of work the utility must perform before the city can recover. Nearly three months after Hurricane Katrina, the afflicted areas include not only devastated sections of town like the Lower Ninth Ward but also neighborhoods that suffered relatively little water and wind damage.

To be sure, it is not just a lack of electrical power that is hindering the city's revival. Almost half of New Orleans lacks natural gas for cooking or heating, according to Entergy, even as temperatures here have fallen sharply in recent days, dipping below 40 degrees at night. Toilets in roughly half the homes are still not connected to the city's sewer system, municipal officials say. About a quarter of the city is still without drinkable water, they say, and some isolated patches have no running water at all, a circumstance that could prove disastrous in the event of a fire.

Still, no other ingredient is quite so critical to the recovery as power. And even in areas where the electricity or gas is back on, some customers have to wait for a city inspector's approval before getting it. The city requires such approval of any home or workplace that suffered wind or water damage from the storm, and several members of the City Council acknowledged that an inspector's arrival could take weeks.

"We're trying to get the city up and running so we have a viable tax base," Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell told Entergy officials this week at a meeting of the Council's Utilities Committee.

Under pressure from the Council and residents, Entergy has developed a plan to be providing electricity to at least 80 percent of customers by year's end, and gas services to 80 percent by mid-January.

But the company declines to attach a target date to the restoration of power in areas "too devastated to even make a reliable prediction," Mr. Packer said. That includes parts of the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East, two predominantly black areas of the city, and Lakeview, a largely white middle-class community.

In the period immediately after the hurricane, Entergy encountered the ordinary post-storm headaches, like downed power lines and fallen utility poles, and also the extraordinary, including the severe damage that was done to substations when floodwaters covered much of the city. More than half of the utility's 42 substations in the metropolitan area were flooded, Mr. Packer said, along with two of its power plants.

So in the first weeks after the storm, Entergy brought in scores of extra workers to help repair its crippled system and, Mr. Packer said, was soon "ahead of the game." Then, on Sept. 23, the company filed for bankruptcy protection, and at that point terminated all its contracts for outside workers.

Entergy had had "all this power available to people living in certain areas," but, with much of the city deserted, "there wasn't anyone here to take it," Mr. Packer said. And because of all the work, "we were burning cash at a time we couldn't afford to."

The utility's repair crew of roughly 200 workers, about evenly divided between electric and gas repairs, also had to contend with the damage the storm had inflicted on the maze of gas pipes that crisscross the city. The water that rushed into those pipes has been one large obstacle confronting Entergy workers as they labor to return gas service; pipes that cracked when buffeted by the floodwaters have been another.

The estimated cost of repairs to the utility's infrastructure is $260 million to $325 million, Mr. Packer said. Insurance will cover a part of that loss, but it remains unclear how much - or how the company will pay for the rest as it struggles to replace lost revenue.

"They're suffering from this double whammy," said Clinton A. Vince, a lawyer with Sullivan & Worcester in Washington who works as a consultant to the City Council's Utilities Committee. "They have these enormous recovery costs, but they don't have the customer base to cover it."

That base has been made all the smaller because many of the customers who would now be receiving power simply have not returned to New Orleans. Only about 30 percent of Entergy's electricity customers are now drawing power. For gas customers, the figure is less than 20 percent.

"To be without 70 percent of your electricity and gas customers more than 80 days after a storm is an unprecedented occurrence in the utility industry," said Curt Hébert, an executive vice president with Entergy New Orleans's parent, the Entergy Corporation, the country's fifth-largest power company.

The Entergy Corporation posted $350 million in profits in the three months ended Sept. 30, a 24 percent increase over the corresponding period last year. But company officials say regulators prohibit them from using money from any of its four other utilities to bail out the fifth. Entergy has granted its New Orleans subsidiary a $200 million line of credit, but the loan must be repaid.

Mr. Packer, the Entergy New Orleans chief executive, has made at least three trips to Washington, one this week, to meet with White House officials and members of Congress. He is in search of a $450 million bailout, for infrastructure repair and the expected amount of revenue loss, that is similar to the relief package requested by the New York power provider Consolidated Edison after the Sept. 11 attacks. (Con Ed asked Washington for $350 million and has so far received $93 million.) Mr. Packer's pleas, and those of the City Council members who have joined him, have elicited sympathy but as yet no dollars.

Without federal relief, Mr. Packer and others say, the utility may have to raise its rates 140 percent.

"We're not asking for anything different from what the folks in Manhattan got after the tragedy of 9/11," Mr. Hébert said.

Mr. Packer also warned that if relief did not come soon, the city might have no choice but to take over the company. That might seem good news for consumers, he said, but the utility would no longer have the buying power it enjoys in the energy market as part of a large conglomerate .

Several weeks ago, Entergy announced that large parts of the city would not have electrical service until mid-2006. The resulting roar of complaints spurred the company to shift strategy. On Thursday, the City Council approved an Entergy plan to use $11.2 million that had been earmarked for other purposes, including $6.8 million in a fund devoted to improving customers' energy efficiency. The extra money will allow the company to more than double the size of its repair crews.

    Utility Struggles to Relight New Orleans, NYT, 19.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/19/national/nationalspecial/19power.html

 

 

 

 

 

Parish Official Charged

in Louisiana Storm Case

 

November 18, 2005
The New York Times
By LESLIE EATON

 

In the first corruption arrest stemming from the federal money flooding into Louisiana for hurricane cleanup, federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged a parish official with taking kickbacks to arrange a debris-removal contract.

The official, Joseph Impastato of Lacombe, La., serves on the council of St. Tammany Parish, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. He was accused of taking $85,000 from a local businessman who had a site available for dumping hurricane debris, according to a criminal complaint filed by Jim Letten, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Mr. Impastato, who did not have to enter a plea, was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond, said Jan Maselli Mann, the first assistant United States attorney.

His lawyer, Karl J. Koch, of Baton Rouge, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Every year, St. Tammany Parish awards contracts for removal of debris from storms so it will be prepared for emergencies and will avoid unnecessary expenses, said Suzanne Parsons, a spokeswoman for the parish. In March, it awarded the contract to a local company, Omni Pinnacle, which, Ms. Parsons said, was the lowest bidder.

After the hurricanes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to reimburse the parish for most of the costs of removing the debris.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, Mr. Impastato told the unnamed local businessman that he could arrange a $200,000 subcontract with Omni Pinnacle if the businessman would split the proceeds with him.

Federal agents videotaped Mr. Impastato receiving two cashier's checks, the affidavit said.

A spokeswoman for Omni Pinnacle, Betsie Gambel, said the company had been advised not to discuss the matter because of the investigation but she added that the company itself was not a target.

Congress has repeatedly expressed concern that the billions of dollars of federal aid to the Gulf Coast could be subject to waste, fraud and abuse.

Federal, state and local officials have all pledged to monitor the use of the money.

    Parish Official Charged in Louisiana Storm Case, NYT, 18.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/18/national/nationalspecial/18contract.html

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S.S. FEMA

 

November 17, 2005
The New York Times
By LESLIE WAYNE

 

PASCAGOULA, Miss. - The destruction is everywhere at the Northrop Grumman shipyards here. Buildings look forlorn, with walls missing and soggy insulation dangling from rafters. Even the destroyer Kidd has a hole in its side.

But as the cleanup begins, Northrop will have a much easier time than most other Hurricane Katrina victims, at least financially. Unlike many small businesses and families that may never fully recover from the storm, Northrop - through a combination of insurance and, most important, support from the Pentagon - is likely to end up having to pay little, if anything at all, from its own coffers to repair the damage.

The Navy is asking for $2 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, saying in a memo that it wants to restore Northrop's three Gulf Coast yards, where most of the Navy's surface ships are built, to their pre-Katrina "capacity and profit opportunities."

Most of this $2 billion would be used to rewrite Northrop's usual contracts with the Navy to shift the full burden of hurricane-related cost overruns and shipbuilding delays from Northrop to the government.

On top of that, Northrop said it expected to get $1 billion from its insurers to repair damaged buildings, despite a nasty battle with one company that has ended up in court.

Shipyard delays, the Navy argues, only increase the cost of the ships, which already carry billion-dollar price tags. And because Northrop is the region's largest employer, with about 18,000 workers, the sooner it returns to full speed, the stronger the local economy will be, both the Navy and Northrop say.

But several Pentagon budget watchers questioned the government's priorities, pointing out that the amount of FEMA money that would go to Northrop would be nearly equal to the amount the administration is seeking to repair housing.

"A lot of people need a lot of money now that Katrina has devastated so many communities," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a group that analyzes government spending. "Should it be the taxpayers' first priority to make a contractor at the shipyard whole? Money to Northrop means that it is not going to someone else who might need it."

Further, the critics question whether the Navy and Northrop are using Katrina as an excuse to gain additional funds, outside the Pentagon budget, for shipbuilding programs that are notorious for cost overruns.

And $2 billion, these critics say, is suspiciously high for shipbuilding delays expected to take months, not years, and for a work force that is mostly busy again.

"These numbers sound astoundingly high," said Winslow T. Wheeler, a former Republican staff member who analyzed the Pentagon budget for the Senate Budget Committee and is now at the Center for Defense Information, a nonprofit group often critical of military spending priorities.

"What the Navy is asking for desperately needs to be audited," he added. "Maybe some other cost overruns are getting laundered here."

The Navy says it is closely monitoring the expenses. And Philip A. Teel, president of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, which has its headquarters here, vigorously defended the proposed federal aid, arguing that Northrop should not shoulder the extraordinary costs of the hurricane without government help.

"The hurricane comes and it has significant impacts, outside of our control, in terms of our ability to complete contracts and our ability to earn a modicum of profit," he said. "Our belief is that the cost of Katrina on the ships should be a cost the Navy pays for."

Under "fixed price incentive" contracts between the Navy and Northrop, cost overruns on many of the 11 destroyers and amphibious ships under construction in Northrop yards would normally be split 50-50. Under the Navy proposal, FEMA would pick up Northrop's half.

"It's our opinion that if we act now, we can mitigate future costs that would be caused by a slippage in the schedule," said Capt. Thomas Van Leunen, a Navy spokesman.

"The numbers being put together are from the Navy and not Northrop Grumman," he added. "We want to make sure there is a clear-cut separation between Katrina effects and damage and possible cost overruns at the shipyard unrelated to Katrina. The money will only be used for legitimate costs to the government to assist in restoring the shipyards and re-employing the work force."

The $2 billion is contained in President Bush's Oct. 28 request to Congress that $17.1 billion of FEMA funds be reallocated to other agencies for Katrina relief.

The Northrop portion is part of a $6.6 billion request for the Pentagon; the rest will pay for National Guard reservists pressed into duty after Katrina and for repairs to military bases in the area. By comparison, the president asked for $2.2 billion for housing recovery and $2.4 billion for rebuilding roads and repairing airport damage.

If the $2 billion request for Northrop is approved, the Navy has said it will later ask for an additional $800 million. Without FEMA money, either Northrop would have to cover more of the cost or the Navy would have to dip into its own budget.

Northrop has gone a long way toward restoring the shipyard in Pascagoula, commonly called the Ingalls yard, as well as a nearby yard in Gulfport that makes composite pieces for the Navy's next-generation destroyer. The company has a third yard, Avondale, in New Orleans, that was protected by strong levees and suffered little damage.

The 800-acre Ingalls yard dates to the 1930's, and has long benefited from the political protection of Senator Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican whose father once worked there; Mr. Lott's waterfront house - now flattened by Katrina - was just outside the yard.

Nearly the entire work force is back, some restoring the yard and others building ships. But scars of the storm remain everywhere. Old warehouses on the Ingalls East Bank operation are standing skeletons. Lathes, drills, presses and other equipment are stacked in piles, awaiting removal.

At the bigger West Bank side, work has resumed, but at a slower pace than normal. An underground electrical grid is being retooled. Generators continue to work as power is restored. A pipe fabrication shop that was under four feet of water at one time now has a work force of 50 rather than the normal 220.

Most damage was done not to the ships, but to costly material on the ground. The ships themselves were held in place during the storm with superstrong ropes that secured them to massive posts in the docks known as hurricane bollards.

Right after the storm, Northrop's biggest concern was getting its employees back on their feet. It provided gasoline when there was none at the pump. It helped find housing and wired money when cash machines failed. A dockside berthing ship provides bunk beds for workers, and Northrop is providing 140 trailers for employees, their families and local residents.

Tales of hurricane heroics also abound, like the 72-year-old guard at the Gulfport yard who stayed at his post, along with his 92-year-old mother, and who finally had to float his mother on a sheet of composite board to a second-story refuge.

Almost immediately after the storm hit, Northrop began talking to the two entities that could help it: its insurers, for the damage to Northrop-owned property at the yards, and the government, for everything else.

On the insurance front, Northrop has had mixed success. Of $1 billion in estimated physical damage to Northrop property, insurers quickly agreed to pay $500 million in claims. The company carried policies for wind and flood damage to physical property, as well as business-interruption insurance to protect its earnings.

But one insurance company, FM Global, based in Johnston, R.I., is balking because it contends its policy covers only wind, not flood, damage. That action is holding up payment on the remaining $500 million. Northrop sued FM Global on Nov. 4, calling the insurer's actions despicable and accusing it of fraud.

In a statement, FM Global said it was "surprised and disappointed by the suit, but we're confident in our position because we believe our policy language is clear."

While Northrop predicts that it will prevail with its insurers, it has had an easier time with the Navy.

In a conference call on Oct. 10 with Wall Street analysts, Northrop said it had been negotiating with the Pentagon for "contractual relief" over delays that stood to cost the company 40 cents a share in full-year results.

The chief financial officer, Wesley G. Bush, told the analysts that the company had met with the Pentagon and that the "leadership in the Department of Defense has been understanding" of "the need to mitigate the effect of extraordinary hurricane costs."

But critics have questioned some of the Navy's assumptions in its request.

For instance, the Navy estimates that it will take six months for the yard to return to pre-Katrina output - three months of downtime followed by a three-month ramp-up period. Yet the shipyards restarted some production within weeks.

"We shouldn't be holding Northrop entirely harmless and have the government make good for anything it did not have insurance for," said Steve Ellis, a military analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that opposes what it considers wasteful federal spending.

"There is risk in any contractual endeavor, and this is ensuring that Northrop never loses," he added. "Since the government is opening up the wallet after Katrina, they thought, 'Let's go after it.' "

Congress has not yet acted on the White House request, but Northrop cannot fathom a defeat.

"That would be a bad outcome," said Mr. Teel of Northrop. "I can't self-fund an impact this size. The Navy would have to find money from other programs, or the programs would not get done. My belief is that Congress does understand the scope and magnitude of this and will act."

    The U.S.S. FEMA, NYT, 17.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/17/business/17ship.html

 

 

 

 

 

FEMA Is Set to Stop

Paying Hotel Cost for Storm Victims

 

November 16, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

JACKSON, Miss., Nov. 15 - The Federal Emergency Management Agency moved Tuesday to nudge victims of Hurricane Katrina toward self-sufficiency, announcing that it would cut off financing for most of the 60,000 families in government-paid hotel and motel rooms by the end of this month.

The deadline, three months after the hurricane struck, will bring the agency's assistance packages more into line with the customary array of federal disaster aid.

"There are still too many people living in hotel rooms, and we want to help them get into longer-term homes before the holidays," the agency's acting director, R. David Paulison, said in a statement. "Across the country, there are readily available, longer-term housing solutions for these victims that can give greater privacy and stability than hotel and motel rooms."

The cutoff will come in two phases. In the first, payments for hotel rooms occupied by about 50,000 of the families will end on Dec. 1. In the second, an apartment shortage in Louisiana and Mississippi has led the agency to give the 12,000 families living in hotels in those two states until Jan. 7 to move out, or assume the cost on their own.

Assuming that their permanent homes still cannot be occupied, FEMA will offer people in both of those groups temporary-housing rental assistance worth an average of $786 a month. That is less than half what hotels have been costing the government in a typical month.

Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the agency's caseworkers, as well as charities that it is helping to finance, would assist these families in the search for housing.

"We are just trying to help people move on," Ms. Andrews said.

But Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on a House panel that oversees housing issues related to the hurricane, said FEMA was not giving the families enough warning.

"Two weeks' notice is outrageous," Mr. Frank said. "These are not people who can easily find alternative accommodations."

The agency has also notified state and local governments that it plans to end financing on March 1 for a program, set up in about two dozen cities, through which apartments have been rented on behalf of storm victims. Houston alone has issued 39,500 vouchers for evacuee families, costing the federal government more than $100 million.

The goal of this program was to speed the move from shelters or motels into more stable housing. But FEMA wants to get out of the business of directly financing the rental of apartments. The agency has told state and local governments that as of this week, they can no longer sign leases of more than three months. As of Dec. 1, they will no longer be able to sign any new leases. And finally, as of March 1 the government is to stop paying for all outstanding leases, although FEMA officials said Tuesday that state and municipal authorities would be permitted to apply for extensions.

It remains unclear what will happen in cities like Houston, where officials have signed many yearlong leases for evacuees from the storm.

None of this prevents victims from using direct aid from FEMA - the $786 a month on average - to rent apartments or assume control of leases that the state or local government has initially rented on their behalf. Housing aid for these families will last up to 18 months; a total of $1.2 billion in such aid has been given to more than 500,000 families so far.

FEMA Is Set to Stop Paying Hotel Cost for Storm Victims, NYT, 16.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/16/national/nationalspecial/16contracts.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funeral directors brought flowers from the service for Helen J. White

to the gravesite at the Resthaven Memorial Park.

 

Photograph:

Ms. White worked for the Small Business Administration.

 

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times        November 14, 2005

 

At Storm Victim's Funeral, a Celebration of a Life and a City

NYT

14.11.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/14/national/nationalspecial/14delery.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delery Street

At Storm Victim's Funeral,

a Celebration of a Life and a City

 

November 14, 2005
The New York Times
By DEBORAH SONTAG

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 12 - Almost 11 weeks after she drowned in her attic during Hurricane Katrina, Helen J. White, 54, lay inside a polished coffin beneath a resplendent carpet of flowers, no longer an "unidentified black female" languishing in a morgue.

Some 200 relatives, colleagues, church friends and neighbors crowded into a funeral home here on Saturday to mourn and celebrate both Ms. White, a disaster loan specialist, and New Orleans, a city that could ill afford to lose its disaster specialists. It was a requiem for an individual and a community, but it was not entirely sad. Rather, the grieving seemed cathartic, an outlet for a preacher without a pulpit, a church without a building and a neighborhood without habitable homes.

As the horror of the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina fades from national consciousness, the grim, belated task of burying the victims forces the scattered citizenry of New Orleans to relive the cruelty of the storm.

Ms. White's case illustrates the protracted difficulties of finding, identifying and honoring the dead, and indeed the funerals have barely gotten under way. Only 40 percent of the 883 bodies at the central morgue in St. Gabriel, La., have been released to families, and many victims - out of an estimated total of 1,050 in Louisiana and 230 in Mississippi - remain nameless or unclaimed.

Perched on an easel, Ms. White's photograph seemed to challenge her mourners to smile broadly along with her, to dress boldly in orange and leopard, to stare death in the face and to use her funeral as a kind of reunion: for Delery Street in the Lower Ninth Ward, where she lived; for the Greater New Home Baptist Church on Delery Street, where she prayed; and for the New Orleans office of the Small Business Administration, where she worked.

And indeed, the mourners, who had traveled from Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and elsewhere, raised their hands in prayer and their voices in song as they defiantly embraced her death as her destiny. The Rev. Walsford Jenneford spoke of Aug. 29 as her "appointed time" to leave earth and join God, and Gwendolyn Harris, a friend, stared heavenward and smiled.

"I can see Helen now," Mrs. Harris said. "She's saying: 'Oh, thank you, Jesus. I don't have to be bothered with all that mold and mildew that Katrina left behind.' "

In the parking lot of the funeral home, colleagues and neighbors embraced tearfully before the service. "Oh, God, look at our city," said Eugene Cornelius, Louisiana district director of the Small Business Administration, as he gathered his employees in a group hug. Later, Mr. Cornelius would leave early to attend a second funeral, for a neighbor who, facing a home and business in ruins after the storm, killed himself.

Ms. White's daughter, Kisa, 29, who lost her husband in a car accident last year and her brother to illness several years earlier, appeared stunned. Her three small children clung to her side; she had told them, she said, that their grandmother "didn't make it from the hurricane but, like their father, she was all right and she loved us."

What happened to Ms. White is horrifying, but her friends did not focus on the horror. Instead, they emphasized that she had made a conscious decision to ride out the storm on Delery Street, even joking with her colleagues that their faith in God must not be strong enough if they were evacuating.

"I guess when she saw the water rising - I can't imagine - but she was at peace," said Virginia Brumfield, a business administration colleague.

On the last Sunday in August, Ms. White, chairlady of the vespers choir, went to church as the winds began stirring, finding the service fairly empty because, as Mr. Jenneford said, "It was time to get out of Dodge." Kisa showed up to plead with her mother to leave town with her, but her mother told her that city buses would "fetch the folks" if an emergency arose.

Ms. White's former husband, Arnold, said that the floodwaters rose swiftly in the Lower Ninth Ward from about 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Monday. He imagines that Ms. White and her older sister, Willie Mae Minor, clambered up the ladder to the attic and "being womens alone they couldn't cut a hole in the roof."

By a week and then two weeks after the storm, Ms. White's friends and relatives knew that she would have called them if she had survived. The business administration asked the Coast Guard to check her house and they discovered a body on the first floor, which turned out to be a friend's.

It was not until six weeks after Hurricane Katrina that Claude Johnson, a neighbor who worked for the power company, found Ms. White and her sister in the attic.

After that, Mr. Cornelius, her boss, said that it took "painfully long" for the morgue to identify and release her body. "The bodies were nightmarishly lumped in categories - black female, white female and so on," he said. "We are having this funeral as soon as we could."

Arnold White met Helen when she was a teenager selling hot tamales from a cart in the French Quarter, and they remained friends after they divorced. Ms. White, always meticulously coiffed and stylishly attired, was big-hearted but spoke her mind, letting the reverend know when his sermons dragged on too long. "Her name was Helen, but it could have been Frank," Mrs. Harris said.

At the business administration, Ms. White's job focused on victims of the two big 1960's hurricanes who defaulted on their disaster home loans decades later.

"Her creed on this was that we need to help the people," said Alan Wells, the agency's district counsel. "It was hard to say no to her. She was very upbeat, and her demeanor was always, 'Glory to the day!' "

At the service, which took place near the city center, Mr. Jenneford released what he later described as pent-up preaching energy because the storm has temporarily closed his church. He provoked "Amens!" and "Hallelujahs!" with reference to the benefits that the mourners await from insurance companies while spiritual benefits are theirs for the taking, stressing that the hurricane offered a lesson: "We all need a dwelling place that will house us for eternity."

Outside the chapel, Norma Jean Bowie was less metaphysical, pledging to return to New Orleans, partly as a tribute to Ms. White, a childhood friend. "See, they don't want us back," Ms. Bowie said, echoing a sentiment often heard among black evacuees. "They want us to be like Utah - 1 percent."

The funeral procession took a tour of devastation on the way to the Resthaven Memorial Park, a scrubby cemetery with flat headstones. Ms. White's burial plot lay in the shadow of tall bulrushes, across from a junkyard heaped with rusting cars. Standing by her coffin, Mr. Jenneford said, "Father, thank you for this one Helen."

And then the mourners crossed the Mississippi River for a "repast" at the Petite Occasions Hall in Gretna, where black and silver bunting matched the black and silver tablecloths and gospel music wafted softly from a boombox.

    At Storm Victim's Funeral, a Celebration of a Life and a City, NYT, 14.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/14/national/nationalspecial/14delery.html

 

 

 

 

 

Bungled Records of Storm Deaths

Renew Anguish

 

November 13, 2005
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN

 

BATON ROUGE, La., Nov. 11 - The Parrs and the Arceneauxs, friends for more than three decades, died together during Hurricane Katrina in the Arceneaux home on Fable Drive in the town of Meraux, east of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. All four of them were huddled together, wearing life vests.

That much, their children thought, was straightforward. Until the bodies were returned to them from the central morgue at St. Gabriel, La., and the death certificates arrived.

The death certificate for Norman Parr, 69, said he died in New Orleans, while Carol Parr, 59, was said to have perished on Fable Drive, but at the wrong address. Mr. Parr's certificate lists his death as "Hurricane Katrina Related" but also adds that it was due to "cardiovascular disease" and "decomposition." Likewise, Ms. Parr's certificate cited decomposition as a cause of death, though it also noted she had drowned.

And when Douglas Arceneaux Jr. went to collect the wallet and other personal effects that had been used to identify his parents, Douglas, 69, and Betty, 65, the workers at St. Gabriel said they had been lost.

As families finally begin to receive the bodies of their relatives from St. Gabriel, many have found them accompanied by documents that, instead of shedding light on their deaths, point to enormous sloppiness in recordkeeping and procedures at the morgue.

Some have complained of bodies far more decomposed when they came out than when they went in; others that evacuees who died in the company of their families were taken to St. Gabriel without notice and kept there for weeks.

Moreover, as of Friday not a single DNA sample from victims had been matched against samples submitted by families over the past two months, said Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state emergency medical director. Dr. Cataldie said that was because federal officials had not yet approved a DNA testing contract with a laboratory. And the director of the federal mortuary team at the Find Family Call Center, responsible for communicating with the families of victims, was arrested last week on charges that he had solicited sex in a public park in Baton Rouge.

The disarray has tormented families who had been seeking reliable official information on how their relatives died. Many were already upset by news reports about victims that have received prominent attention here, including unproved allegations of mercy killings in New Orleans hospitals during the flood and the cremation of some bodies in the northwestern parish of Caddo before their families could locate them.

"I realize that we're dealing with a catastrophe, and grief is part of life," said Cindy Jensen, whose father, LeRoy LaRive, is listed as having been found in an apartment miles from his home - an apartment where another older man also died. "But not this kind of stuff. Unanswered stuff. Not knowing the details."

Mr. LaRive's wife, Lurniece, was found at still a third location, at least according to morgue records, though the family said the couple were inseparable. "I'll never know if the person we buried was really my mother," Ms. Jensen's brother, Ken LaRive, said.

Dr. Cataldie is nominally responsible for the operations of the morgue and call center, although both are staffed by the federal Disaster Mortuary Operations Response Team, or Dmort. He acknowledged there had been considerable error entry, and said some bodies had been delivered without accurate paperwork noting where they had been found.

In the past week, Dr. Cataldie has begun to review all the paperwork filled out by Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management, a company hired by the federal government to collect many of the bodies, in an effort to ferret out errors. It is possible, he said, that some mistakes can be explained by missing street signs or unfamiliar place names.

He has less control over the stalled DNA tests, for which the state police crime laboratory initially assumed responsibility. Officials at the state Department of Health and Hospitals said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to approve contracts negotiated by the state police with two laboratories, saying the contracts were too expensive. The agency has since shifted responsibility for the contract to the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Nicol Andrews, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said the agency had been struggling to find a way legally to use federal money to pay for the tests because the state was unable to front the costs, and had only recently concluded that the health and hospitals department could do so.

While the government decided how to pay for the tests, bone samples taken from each victim and cheek swabs taken from dozens of family members since mid-September piled up, untouched. "It's criminal," Dr. Cataldie said. "I could be reuniting these people now."

From the first days after Hurricane Katrina, the process of identifying and burying the dead has been troubled by problems. It took more than a week for officials to begin collecting bodies, and the state fell far behind neighboring Mississippi in getting bodies back to families. Even now, only 358 of the 883 victims processed at St. Gabriel (there are 1,050 victims in Louisiana) have been released to families, and in 150 cases, workers have no leads on the identities of the bodies.

Despite the problems in identifying the dead, many families thought they would eventually receive accurate information about when, where, and how their relatives had perished. Among dozens of people interviewed, few had been satisfied.

Tessa Johnson believes her 51-year-old mother, Betty Stipelcovich, who used a feeding tube, may have starved to death after being evacuated from a nursing home in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner where she was recuperating from cancer treatment. Despite countless phone calls, Ms. Johnson was unable to find out where her mother had been taken.

The death certificate provided few answers. The place of death is listed as "City of New Orleans," though she was not in a nursing home there, and under cause and manner of death, it says that the deceased had emphysema and had undergone an appendectomy and hysterectomy. "I thought there was going to be a cause of death, not a medical history," Ms. Johnson said.

Bodies at the morgue are cataloged, examined, fingerprinted and X-rayed by Dmort employees, who also maintain morgue databases and track personal effects. Presented with a litany of complaints from families, a Dmort spokesman provided a "fact sheet" detailing the unit's responsibilities and said he was not authorized to comment further. Death certificates are the responsibility of the Orleans Parish coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard.

Dr. Minyard and his counterpart in St. Bernard Parish, Bryan J. Bertucci, said it was not unusual to note the condition of the body on the death certificate, particularly if decomposition made it difficult to determine the cause. But state officials acknowledged that families could be confused by the notation.

"I question decomposition being on a death certificate," Dr. Cataldie said. "It is not a cause of death."

    Bungled Records of Storm Deaths Renew Anguish, NYT, 13.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/13/national/nationalspecial/13certificate.html

 

 

 

 

 

With the Future in Flux,

Anxiety About Keeping Life on Hold

 

November 12, 2005
The New York Times
By DEBORAH SONTAG

 

HOUSTON, Nov. 5 - As a child, when Shantel Reddick dribbled her basketball up and down Delery Street in New Orleans, she drew comfort from the idea that the neighbors knew the very rhythm of her bounce. By college age, though, she longed to liberate herself from the vigilance of a community where everybody knew everybody else's business. She escaped to Atlanta on an athletic scholarship and started an independent life there.

Last January, however, Ms. Reddick, 28, feeling adrift and unfulfilled in her job as a letter carrier in rural Georgia, moved back into her childhood home in the Lower Ninth Ward and joined the Orleans Parish sheriff's department. Her mission, as she saw it, was to take care of the grandmother who had raised her and the town that had shaped her. It was "like the call of destiny," Ms. Reddick said, "and I felt whole again."

Then, in late August, destiny was foiled. Four days after Ms. Reddick graduated as the valedictorian of her class at the sheriff's academy, she fled Hurricane Katrina and entered that strange state of limbo in which many displaced residents of New Orleans now live.

The Reddicks made a family decision to rebuild their devastated home in the Lower Ninth Ward, but, more than two months after the storm, their ravaged neighborhood remained sealed by troops, its future, and theirs, uncertain.

So on Friday, with considerable ambivalence, Ms. Reddick took the first step toward planting fledgling roots in Houston. She spent the day taking physical fitness, intelligence and psychometric tests at the Harris County sheriff's academy. And, although a third of the day's applicants, including a 20-year veteran of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, were eliminated, Ms. Reddick made the cut.

But Ms. Reddick, who is fresh-faced and has buzzed short hair and zirconium studs on the top and bottom of each ear, did not evince any joy. The difficulty of starting over was sinking in - she could not become a Harris County peace officer before the summer of 2007, she learned - and it was sobering.

"It's confusing," she said. "I have no history here. When I left Atlanta, I really thought the Lord had sent me to New Orleans with a purpose. Now I don't know what he has in mind. All I can say is that I'm tired of twiddling my thumbs. I might as well use this time to get some professional experience."

For older refugees from New Orleans, like Ms. Reddick's grandmother, there may be no moving beyond their little pocket of the Crescent City. For Lvinia Reddick, 68, the need to go home to Delery Street is almost physical, gnawing at her every day.

Those who are Ms. Reddick's age, however, feel a different anxiety, that of putting life on hold. They do not want to be evacuees forever, living on handouts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sleeping on air mattresses and pining for gumbo. Because the future of New Orleans is so unclear, many are impatient to establish something that feels like a forward-moving life.

Nobody wants to betray New Orleans, Ms. Reddick said, but nobody wants to be betrayed, either, by a city that may not include everybody in its plans for redevelopment. Residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, in particular, fear that their low-lying neighborhood, a close-knit black community woven together by family and faith yet undermined by poverty and crime, may never be rebuilt.

Ms. Reddick's attachment to the Lower Ninth Ward, while strong, is less sentimental than that of her family members. A few years ago, she said, she told her grandfather Charles Reddick Sr. that she was contemplating a return from Atlanta but that she wanted to live in a safer part of New Orleans. Mr. Reddick, a Baptist deacon and retired factory worker, responded that she should not bother coming home if she was going to abandon her family and her community.

"That was heavy," Ms. Reddick said. "I would never abandon my family. But do I have a responsibility to a place? I try not to talk too much because I get really spiritual or deep. But I don't want my life to be in vain. The wisdom and talents that God blessed me with - I think I have a duty to use them for good. But, where? Does where matter?"

Culturally, the Lower Ninth Ward was like a small town. Families rarely atomized into nuclear pods but stayed extended through generations, their lives interwoven with those of neighbors and church friends. Even now, when they are scattered, Lower Nine residents have managed to regroup in units large enough to allay some of the hardships of displacement.

Ms. Reddick remains ensconced in the warm and sometimes claustrophobic embrace of her family. Last week, she felt their familiar push and pull keenly as she tended to her hospitalized grandmother while preparing for her sheriff's department qualifying tests.

When her grandmother underwent colon surgery, Ms. Reddick spent 14 hours by her side at a Houston hospital. She did go home to sleep, however, which meant that her grandmother woke up alone, a fact that displeased her enormously.

"I'm disappointed in y'all," Lvinia Reddick said on Thursday when her granddaughter arrived about 9:30 a.m. with other relatives. "Where were you? My teeth haven't been cleaned. My hair hasn't been combed. They were beginning to think that I didn't have any people. I know my son would have been here first thing this morning if he was in town."

Ms. Reddick, who was wearing a pink Polo-style shirt with an upturned collar that said "Preppy Scum," rolled her eyes, laughed and took out a comb. She gently lifted her grandmother from her pillow and started working through the knots in her gray hair. Her grandmother softened. "That's my little love," she said. Then she started warbling a ditty, "Good morning, sugar bridges."

Lvinia Reddick, a retired seamstress, used to wake her grandchildren with that song, tickling their toes and putting on their socks.

When Shantel Reddick was a bald-headed toddler, her mother, Yolanda, dropped her off at 2144 Delery Street to be raised by her grandparents. Yolanda Reddick, 48, who describes herself as the "black sheep of the family," said she was young and immature, with three children under the age of 5 and a mother who disapproved of her. She wanted to "run the streets," she said, so she ceded to her parents the upbringing of her children, who had different fathers.

"I don't know who my father is," Shantel Reddick said matter-of-factly at a recent family gathering.

This sent Charles Reddick, her barrel-chested uncle, dashing across the room to sling his arm around her and put his chubby cheek beside hers. "Who's your daddy?" he asked.

Shantel Reddick calls her mother Yolanda and sends Mother's Day cards to her grandmother. "My grandparents were such good people that I was probably better off with them," she said. "But, man, were they strict."

As a child, Ms. Reddick spent much time by her grandfather's side. He would mow the lawn and she would sweep the grass into a bag; she would shoot free throws and he would catch the rebounds; they would munch on crawfish while watching football on Monday nights.

Her grandparents sent her to parochial school and Sunday school, where she excelled at Bible-flipping, in which children raced through a Bible looking for a particular passage of Scripture, and engaged all of Delery Street in a mission to watch over her.

"Delery Street was my whole life except for church and sports," she said.

With the family's expectation that she would be their first college graduate, Ms. Reddick left New Orleans to attend Morris Brown College in Atlanta. On a full scholarship, she played three sports and intended to finish in five years.

At the end of the fourth year, however, Ms. Reddick and her teammates accused a male coach of sexual harassment. He was dismissed, she said, but with him went the quiet deal that she would get a fifth year of free tuition.

She dropped out just short of a degree in communications, entering a period of floundering, which ended when her grandfather's death started her on a path back to New Orleans.

Ms. Reddick worked as a civilian jailer before she started at the sheriff's academy in Orleans Parish, where she impressed her teachers. "I expected nothing but the best from her," Cpl. Walt Givens said. "When the class was required to give 110 percent, I told her she needed to give 20 percent more."

Corporal Givens recommended Ms. Reddick for the mounted division, and she was supposed to start interviewing for placement on the day the floodwaters overtook New Orleans.

Ms. Reddick fled in her Chevrolet Cavalier with her grandfather's Bible, two plaques from the sheriff's academy - valedictorian and most physically fit - and a stuffed basketball pillow. She left behind 40 pairs of tennis shoes that she color-coordinated with her shirts - and a future that was beginning to come into focus.

At first, Ms. Reddick crowded into a cousin's apartment with dozens of relatives. Then she and her brother's family shared a place, and, a few weeks ago, Ms. Reddick finally moved into her "bachelorette pad," a flavorless space that she furnished with a bench press, black futon, red carpet, television, Playstation and electric waterfall. FEMA covers her monthly rent of about $400.

Ms. Reddick's grandmother, who lives nearby, recently received the offer of a trailer from FEMA. She politely informed the government that she had nowhere - yet - to put the trailer because her property was in a neighborhood sealed by the government. When she hung up, she tsk-ed.

The thought of living in a trailer in a ruined Lower Ninth Ward depressed Ms. Reddick, and Orleans Parish was making no promises to its recent graduates. Stir crazy, she finally forced herself to show up at the sheriff's academy last Friday.

Harris County is not Orleans Parish; the sheriff's office pays better, but it is also less diverse. Only 5 percent of the deputies are black women, and Ms. Reddick was the sole black woman to qualify last week.

There was a moment, when she was running around the barbed-wire perimeter of a jail with geese honking, crickets chirping and guns firing at a range in the background, that Ms. Reddick looked almost radiant. But by the time officials explained that applicants would work in the jail for a year before starting the academy and related stories of inmates masturbating to provoke "lady jailers," her radiance had given way to anxious determination.

"I don't know where the Lord wants me to be," she said. "But I really need a job."

    With the Future in Flux, Anxiety About Keeping Life on Hold, NYT, 12.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/12/national/nationalspecial/12delery.html

 

 

 

 

 

Homecoming

Isn't a Game This Season

 

November 12, 2005
The New York Times
By JERE LONGMAN

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 10 - Mold left the footballs as white and fluffy as sheep. Players' sodden shoes became as fuzzy as bedroom slippers. An equipment shed floated into the next neighborhood. In the weight room, 100-pound iron plates had been flicked about like poker chips.

Hurricane Katrina left Holy Cross High School in six feet of water when it submerged the Lower Ninth Ward in late August. Still, school officials were determined to play football this season. Before the hurricane, Holy Cross had expected to make a deep playoff run among Louisiana's largest schools. After the storm, even with star players displaced and enrolled elsewhere, football could serve as an act of resilience and resolve.

"We weren't going to let our school die," said Principal Joe Murry, who explained to his faculty that despite the school's academic credentials, "the community doesn't easily see the A's and B's and C's you give, but football says we're back and we're not going away."

A satellite campus was established 75 miles away in Baton Rouge, where the players practiced each morning at a middle-school field, showered at a YMCA and attended classes from 4 to 9 p.m. Two dozen or more players made the trip each night back to the New Orleans area, then awakened for another long commute in the morning.

In late September, Holy Cross became the first New Orleans school to resume football. The Tigers won four of six games in a truncated season, finished second in the downsized Catholic League, preserved the state's longest continuous rivalry with the 87th meeting against archrival Jesuit High School and made the playoffs, which open Saturday with a long trip north to Shreveport.

The five-hour drive will be a welcome inconvenience in a season both terrible and wonderful and marked by grand improvisation. Holy Cross's student body president, who had never put on a football uniform, became a valuable contributor by snapping the ball for field goals and extra points. A moving van served as a mobile locker room and coaches' office. Discarded cleats from Louisiana State were salvaged with a strong dose of disinfectant.

"I'm amazed at what the kids put up with to play football," Coach Barry Wilson said. "Half of my kids have lost everything. This has united them, given them a chance to smile and laugh and not hear the bad news on TV constantly."

High school football schedules all over southern Louisiana became storm-tossed debris in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Thirty-one teams canceled their seasons. Of the 160 teams that reached the state playoffs among 5 classes, only 44 played a full schedule of 10 regular-season games.

Life remains far from normal for teachers, students and administrators at Holy Cross, which has no habitable campus, no home field and no certainty about the future of the Lower Ninth Ward, where the school is tucked between the Mississippi River and the breached Industrial Canal.

A largely white school for boys in a predominantly black section where one-third of the residents live below the poverty level, Holy Cross, founded in 1879, anchors a national historic district featuring the architecture of shotgun and steamboat houses. Some scientists have suggested that the low-lying area become a flood plain, while Mayor C. Ray Nagin has vowed that the ward's devastated neighborhoods will be rebuilt.

On Tuesday, Holy Cross students returned to New Orleans to a shared campus with the girls at Cabrini High in Mid-City. Football practices have been held from 9 to 11 a.m. at a playground in suburban Metairie, followed by classes from 2 to 7 p.m. Lives remain shoved off their foundations like houses in the Lower Ninth Ward. Greg Battistella, the Holy Cross athletic director, and four players are living above a business office owned by the father of another player.

Football, too, still requires considerable ad-libbing, like plays drawn in the dirt. Paul Schuler, a junior, returned to school this week after evacuating to Memphis for Katrina, but he had to practice Wednesday without a helmet while officials scrounged for one.

"It feels good," Schuler said. "I'm home."

Familiar rituals seemed as if they might never resume after Katrina's arrival on Aug. 29. Ronnie Adams, an assistant coach, said the force of water overflowing the Industrial Canal sailed a car onto Holy Cross's practice field, while a storm surge up the Mississippi River spit trees over the levees as if they were toothpicks.

Adams rode out the hurricane in neighboring St. Bernard Parish and estimated that he helped rescue 150 to 200 people by boat. Then, fearing that forced evacuation would leave him stranded and perhaps unsafe at the Astrodome in Houston, Adams said he stole four boats and 275 gallons of gasoline and led his parents and others on a six-and-a-half-hour trip up the Mississippi to Baton Rouge.

"I did what I had to do to survive," Adams said.

Within days of the hurricane, the upwelling for football began as a signal of Holy Cross's buoyant spirit. Helmets and shoulder pads had been stored atop newly constructed lockers on a stage in the school gym, above flood level. The team's blue jerseys and gold pants had also been stored in a loft that remained dry even though skylights and a portion of the gym roof peeled away.

On Sept. 21, the Dunham School in Baton Rouge began sharing its campus for classes. Holy Cross's season opener was scheduled two days later, but was scuttled by the approach of Hurricane Rita. It was just as well. The Tigers needed all the practice they could get.

Moncell Allen, one of the state's top running backs, had moved to North Carolina. Lance Lacoste, the starting quarterback, had relocated to central Louisiana. Among those now playing for Holy Cross were boys so inexperienced that some didn't know what a huddle was, Wilson, the coach, said.

"We had to tell them, 'Get in a circle,' " he said, laughing.

At least one newcomer did possess a reliable skill. Gregory Orkus, the student body president, always considered himself too small to play football. Even now, his listed height and weight, 5 feet 10 inches and 160 pounds, must surely include his full uniform. In previous seasons, he served as a manager and led cheers in the student section. But he also had a knack for snapping the ball on punts and extra points.

"It's much different being on the field," Orkus, a 17-year-old senior, said. "In my uniform I feel huge, untouchable."

One of the regulars who returned was the resourceful Cass Hargis, who has played receiver, running back and quarterback and has remained determined even though his family lost its home and possessions in St. Bernard Parish. All he recovered, he said, were a few shirts that had to be power-sprayed at a car wash.

After Katrina, Hargis moved to Natchitoches, La., where he scored three touchdowns on Sept. 16 for St. Mary's School. The next morning, he turned in his uniform and headed toward New Orleans, excited that Holy Cross was resuming football for his senior season. Relaxed transfer rules made him eligible immediately.

"We've lost everything, but we feed off each other," Hargis, 17, said. "Football is the only time you can get away from everything. On the field, nothing we face is tougher than what we've been through in our personal lives."

On Sept. 29, Holy Cross finally played a game, traveling with 35 or 40 players to Monroe, where the Tigers lost, 27-7, to highly ranked Ouachita High. Battistella, the athletic director, called the defeat "the greatest victory in the history of Holy Cross." When a sportswriter told him, "You didn't win," Battistella said he replied, "Oh, yes we did."

A week later, Holy Cross traveled southwest of New Orleans to play Vandebilt Catholic of Houma. Two thousand fans made the trip and were rewarded with a late 27-20 victory, when Holy Cross's Phillip LeBlanc retrieved a botched snap on a Vandebilt field-goal attempt and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.

"Divine intervention," Battistella said. "But it was two Catholic schools, so it was O.K."

Afterward, Holy Cross players engaged in an enduring custom, the ringing of a 200-pound victory bell that was cast in 1860, the year the Civil War began. In previous seasons, the team returned after each victory to campus, where, still wearing their uniforms, senior players hoisted each other in an archway to ring the bell. After the victory over Vandebilt Catholic, the bell was mounted between two pickup trucks and rung in the parking lot of a Target store. If the celebration was less elegant, it was no less cherished.

"More healing took place that night than if a team of psychiatrists from Harvard and Yale came down to counsel people," Battistella said.

Eventually the team grew to 61 players, including 35 regulars. One of the returnees was defensive end Marc Hoerner, who left a 9-0 team in northern California to complete his senior season at Holy Cross, saying, "This is where I'm from, where I belong."

Holy Cross's most satisfying victory came with a 20-10 triumph over nemesis Jesuit High, a yearly rival since 1922; several times they played more than once a season. It was Jesuit that Holy Cross defeated to win its second and most recent state championship, in 1963. And it was Jesuit against whom Orkus, the student body president, finally got to play in his first game.

"I never thought I'd get the chance," Orkus said. "My father was crying. He's never been prouder of me."

Last Saturday, Holy Cross played Archbishop Rummel for the championship of the Catholic League, losing by 20-7, but advancing to the playoffs as a wild-card selection. On Saturday, the Tigers will wear their familiar blue and gold, a nod to a long affiliation with the University of Notre Dame, with which Holy Cross shares an alma mater and fight song. According to local folklore, Notre Dame's fight song was written by one of the brothers at Holy Cross.

"There's no definite proof," Charles DiGange, headmaster at Holy Cross, said.

En route to the 1925 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., where Notre Dame claimed its first national championship, Knute Rockne and a team that included the Four Horsemen took a train through New Orleans and practiced at Holy Cross, DiGange said. Photographs of that visit survived Katrina.

On Saturday, the laconic Coach Wilson will most likely not summon the bombast of Rockne, finding no need for a "win one for the Gipper" speech. The success of this hurricane-interrupted season resonates far beyond victory and defeat.

"I'm proud of the kids who stayed and fought through this," Wilson said.

    Homecoming Isn't a Game This Season, NYT, 12.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/12/sports/othersports/12holycross.html

 

 

 

 

 

A search for scattered dead in Louisiana

 

Sat Nov 12, 2005 10:50 AM ET
Reuters
By Kevin Krolicki

 

BELLE CHASSE, Louisiana (Reuters) - In Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, the living mostly escaped Hurricane Katrina. Those already dead and buried were not so lucky.

Only three deaths were recorded here when the eye of the storm tore up the slip of land that follows the last bend of the Mississippi River as it spills into the Gulf of Mexico.

But more than two months later, local officials are still trying to identify dozens of concrete crypts, coffins, and bodies displaced by Katrina's high winds and water.

In some cases, now-anonymous remains lie out near grave sites where they have been bagged in black plastic, tagged with electrical tape and marked with exact geographic coordinates to await families to help with identifications.

Other coffins have been sealed up with the same blue tarps used to patch rooftops all over the storm-damaged Gulf Coast.

"I've had coffins in the tops of trees that I've had to take out with backhoes. I've had coffins in living rooms," said parish Councilman Mike Mudge, a plain-spoken former police detective who has made restoring the dead to their rightful resting places a personal quest.

"For the first month after the storm, I would come in here and our phones were ringing nonstop with coffin sightings."

The 15 cemeteries of the parish were ripped up by Katrina, which floated coffins from the above-ground crypts favored because of the high water table and lack of real soil.

In some cases, 3,000-pound (1,360-kg) crypts were flung from one bank to the Mississippi to the other by the high winds.

In others, Mudge said, "disenfranchised coffins" were found floating in backwaters where work crews marked their locations with long poles and whatever colorful debris they could find at hand: a plastic pumpkin or a statue of one of the saints.

The first priority was to get the dead away from roadways and the homes that some of the 24,000 residents -- many of them in shipping, fishing and oil -- are now returning to repair.

Said Mudge, "Looking at a coffin in a cemetery is not as horrifying as looking at a coffin where your coffee table used to be."

Parish President Benny Rousselle said he decided early that "no bodies would leave the parish" and that all the recovery work would be done locally, without federal involvement.

Rousselle put Mudge in charge of recovery efforts, reinforcing his crew with national guard troops and outfitting them with GPS tracking devices and airboats.

 

'DE-COFFIN AND RE-COFFIN' THE DEAD

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mudge said, had proposed a costly scheme to "de-coffin and re-coffin" the bodies and then ship them in refrigerated trucks to a joint morgue to await DNA testing by relatives.

"I said: 'Bud, this ain't baloney. You don't keep it on ice because you're going to need it tomorrow. These people have been dead for years,'" Mudge said of his talk with FEMA.

About 25 of the coffins displaced from the storm had been identified, Mudge said, and the thought of scattered dead bothers him.

"There's a saying, 'Rest in peace,' but ain't nothing restful," he said. "Now when they say dust to dust, that's an accurate statement."

At Tropical Bend Cemetery in Empire, Janice Andry, 52, has brought her 73-year-old mother, Vivian Taylor, to check on the grave sites of their extended family.

The plot for Andry's father, brother and sister is mostly undisturbed, although obscured by the kitchen and debris of a shredded house blown into the cemetery.

Her cousin, Poochie, is missing. Another female relative has also "taken a walk," she said, smiling.

Taylor, a regular at Mt. Olive Baptist Church, sees the destruction as evidence "that we are living in the end times."

Her daughter tries to cheer her, reminding her what she had said about the missing relative. "She said she couldn't wait to get up to the bright glory. She heard all that rumbling and thought it was time."

    A search for scattered dead in Louisiana, R, Sat Nov 12, 2005 10:50 AM ET, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-11-12T155009Z_01_MOL256101_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-DEAD.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Wooing Workers for New Orleans

 

November 11, 2005
The New York Times
By GARY RIVLIN

 

BATON ROUGE, Nov. 4 - Burger King is offering a $6,000 signing bonus to anyone who agrees to work for a year at one of its New Orleans outlets. Rally's, a local restaurant chain, has nearly doubled its pay for new employees to $10 an hour.

On any given day, contractors and business owners pass out fliers in downtown New Orleans promising $17 to $20 an hour, plus benefits, for people willing to swing a sledgehammer or cart away stinking debris from homes and businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Canal Street, once a crowded boulevard of commerce, now resembles a sparsely populated open-air job fair.

Ten weeks after Katrina, government officials and business leaders worry that a scarcity of able-bodied workers is hampering the area's recovery. In their desperation, they are using a variety of tactics to attract workers.

"I'd say I'm paying two to three times as much as I would in normal circumstances," said Iggie Perrin, the president of Southern Electronics, a supplier in New Orleans, who has offered as much as $30 an hour when seeking salvage workers on Canal Street.

Is it any wonder, then, that Donald T. Bollinger Jr. is jittery about the local economy as he peers into the future? Mr. Bollinger is the chief executive of Bollinger Shipyards, the country's third-largest shipbuilder, with 13 sites along the Gulf Coast.

Mr. Bollinger recently turned away $700 million in contracts, though he had devoted a good share of the previous two years trying to secure them. He says he just will not have the workers he needs to meet the deadlines. As it is, he says he is 600 employees short of the 2,500 he needs to meet contractual obligations on deals made before Katrina.

"This region is going to be going through a huge boom for the next three to five years rebuilding the coast," Mr. Bollinger said. "That's very good news for those who want work and really worrisome news for employers who have to compete with everyone else for labor."

Joseph C. Canizaro, a bank president and retired real estate developer, said: "I think we all believed there would be more happening than is happening right now. One of the key problems is jobs. You look at the housing situation, and the schools situation, and you wonder where businesses are going to find the people they desperately need to get things going."

For Mr. Bollinger, welders are just one of his labor headaches. His company pays welders $16 to $17 an hour. "When Sheetrock layers start paying $25 an hour," he said, "I'm either going to match it or I'm out of luck."

Virtually every New Orleans business confronts the same conundrum: In a city without a functioning school system and with vast stretches that are still uninhabitable, where will they find the employees they need to begin the long recovery? Everyone from bank presidents to restaurant owners to the Port of New Orleans are approaching the task like a nurse in an emergency room performing triage on patients based on the most immediate need.

"Employees are these precious commodities right now," said John Kallenborn, president of the New Orleans region for J. P. Morgan Chase. The state senator representing St. Bernard Parish, a working class suburb west of New Orleans demolished by Katrina, has lobbied Mr. Kallenborn to free up a few employees and set up a Chase branch in a trailer as a sign the county is back in business.

"I'd love to help out, but right now I can't afford to waste a single employee," Mr. Kallenborn said.

The Bollinger Shipyards were more or less at full staff before Katrina hit on Aug. 29. The shipyards sell a wide variety of vessels, including Coast Guard patrol boats, barges of all shapes and sizes and supply vessels that serve offshore oil rigs.

The company had more than $300 million in revenue last year. Roughly half was from orders on new vessels and the other half from repairs.

Only 2 of Mr. Bollinger's 13 shipyards suffered severe damage during Katrina or Hurricane Rita. One of them was a 400-employee repair yard in the Ninth Ward, an impoverished and heavily damaged area of New Orleans. Almost every building was destroyed. Much of one dry dock sat half collapsed in the water recently, while two others (with a barge being repaired at the site) sat in a cow pasture a quarter-mile away.

"I don't just need people to work in my facilities," Mr. Bollinger said. "I need people to rebuild some of them."

When the storm hit, Mr. Bollinger chose to keep every employee on the payroll, whether or not they were working. After a few weeks, though, he grew frustrated as many of them had not contacted the company.

"We threatened to terminate them as an incentive to get them back," he said.

He has decided to keep paying workers who have told him they are waiting for the local schools to re-open before they return.

Mr. Bollinger, 56, whom everyone calls Boysie, is a large, heavily jowled man with a ruddy complexion and wavy steel gray hair on the longish side. He describes himself as from "the swamp," is partial to black alligator skin boots and lists shrimp étouffée and grilled alligator among his culinary specialties. He is a man used to getting things done.

And he counts President Bush among his friends. The two have gone rabbit hunting. Mr. Bollinger served as the Louisiana chairman of the president's 2000 campaign. In 2004, he earned "Super Ranger" status when he rounded up more than $300,000 in individual contributions.

He inherited the family business from his father, who founded the Bollinger Shipyards in 1946. But through a series of acquisitions, the junior Mr. Bollinger, who took over as chief executive in 1985, has increased its size so substantially that only Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics are bigger.

"Boysie took a business worth in the millions," said J. Stephen Perry, Mr. Bollinger's former brother-in-law, "and turned it into a business worth in the hundreds of millions." Mr. Perry is chief executive of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Like other businesses, Bollinger Shipyards has dispatched emissaries to shelters around the South, looking for displaced residents willing to return. For the moment, though, evacuees who are living free in a hotel or in a subsidized apartment while collecting a stipend from the Federal Emergency Management Agency may not have the same pressing need to return to the stricken city as they might otherwise. Bollinger employees made 20 or so trips, but they did not sign up a single evacuee. Mr. Bollinger has yet to bump up his pay scale but he said that raises were inevitable.

"My worry is that I've got an annual 3 percent inflation factor built into my costs," he said. "And if I have to go up 20 percent on one day, I've just blown the contract. I've gone over."

Still, Mr. Bollinger has certain advantages that most others do not, starting with his friendship with the president.

In early October, Mr. Bollinger found himself in a social setting with Mr. Bush. The shipyard chief was concerned about a FEMA policy to pay for only one housing unit per family. Mr. Bollinger explained that he had invited the relief agency to set up trailers on his grounds - but no evacuee could stay there if the rest of the family was living in FEMA-subsidized quarters.

Within 30 hours after his discussion with Mr. Bush, Mr. Bollinger said, the policy changed.

"I hate to waste the president's time talking about house trailers, but that's what we were discussing," Mr. Bollinger said.

Officials like C. Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, and Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, who is the Gulf Coast director of FEMA, have identified housing as the area's pre-eminent concern.

"Our No. 1 priority is housing, our No. 2 priority is housing, and after that, at No. 3, we'd put housing," Mr. Allen recently said.

FEMA has set up 70 trailers at four Bollinger locations, with the shipyards paying for setting up the utility lines and other structural costs. The company is only now starting to sketch out plans to convert warehouses and office buildings into housing for other employees.

And the lifting of a state moratorium on evictions means that landlords, for the first time since the storm, can start court proceedings against tenants who have not paid rent since Sept. 1. That will prove a hardship for evacuees who are stranded elsewhere, but it will also mean more apartments back on the rental market.

For Mr. Bollinger, this would come none too soon.

"If a guy doesn't have a place to sleep at night, you're not going to get him to work here, period, end of story," he said. "Forget what you're willing to pay. They're not coming back until we deal with the housing issue."

    Wooing Workers for New Orleans, NYT, November 11, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/11/business/11jobs.html

 

 

 

 

 

Deal to Replace Schools

After Katrina Is Faulted

 

November 11, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss., Nov. 10 - From their new metal-encased classroom, the third graders who returned to school this week can look straight into the carcass of the old North Bay Elementary.

To the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the modular classrooms lined up next to the soon-to-be demolished former school show, as the billboard out front boasts, "Katrina Recovery in Progress."

But to critics, the 450 portable classrooms being installed across Mississippi are prime examples in their case against FEMA and its federal partner, the Army Corps of Engineers, for wasteful spending and favoritism in the $62 billion hurricane relief effort.

Provided by a politically connected Alaskan-owned business under a $40 million no-bid contract, the classrooms cost FEMA nearly $90,000 each, including transportation, according to contracting documents. That is double the wholesale price and nearly 60 percent higher than the price offered by two small Mississippi businesses dropped from the deal.

In addition, the portable buildings were not secured in a concrete foundation, as usually required by state regulations because of safety concerns in a region prone to hurricanes and tornados.

The classroom contract has already prompted a lawsuit from one of the Mississippi companies and a government investigation.

"The fact that natural disasters are not precisely predictable must not be an excuse for careless contracting practices," David E. Cooper from the Government Accountability Office, told Congress recently. In testimony submitted this week, Mr. Cooper said, "We found information in the corps' contract files and from other sources that suggest the negotiated prices were inflated."

Officials at Akima Management Services, the contractor that got the job, say they that while the cost was high, this was not a case of price gouging. The speed demanded in installing the classrooms required charging a premium, said John D. Wood, the company's president.

"What we provided to the government was a fair and reasonable cost given the emergency conditions and the risks," Mr. Wood said. "If it had been done the other way, the kids would not have been in school yet."

Akima's majority owner is the NANA Regional Corporation. It is represented in Washington by Blank Rome Government Relations, a lobbying firm with close ties to the Bush administration and particularly Tom Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA's parent agency. NANA's federal contracts have grown rapidly in recent years, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, argues that the Akima deal made no sense. Instead of paying a middleman like Akima or the Mississippi companies, he told the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government should have purchased the classrooms directly. And he complained that FEMA had ignored a requirement to give preference to local businesses.

The transaction, Mr. Thompson wrote to the department's inspector general, could "result not only in the American taxpayer being exorbitantly overcharged, but will hamper real rebuilding and economic recovery efforts in Mississippi."

The school construction job is just one of several Hurricane Katrina deals under scrutiny by auditors and Congressional investigators. In awarding those contracts - for roof tarps, debris removal and mobile homes - the federal government said it had to move quickly and often turned to proven contractors accustomed to large-scale work.

The classrooms would have been by far the largest project ever undertaken by the Mississippi company seeking the contract, its owners acknowledge. The business, Adams Hardware and Home Center, has been selling modular classrooms statewide for decades and operates a local mobile home park.

Adams is based in Yazoo City, Miss., about 200 miles north of Bay St. Louis, in a hardware store with a hornets' nest hanging, an eight-point buck with a cigarette stuffed in its mouth and a life-size doll whose head is buried in a toilet outside.

After Hurricane Katrina passed, the father and two sons who run the business recognized that the calamity could turn into a windfall for them and a frequent partner, Magnolia State School Products of Columbus, Miss. Hundreds of schools across the state were damaged or destroyed.

"We set out to do this project not only, of course, to make a profit but to create jobs within our own community," said Kent Adams, the son of the owner, Paul Adams Jr., and manager of the business.

Calling their usual suppliers, they identified a Florida dealer and a Georgia manufacturer that could soon deliver more than 400 classrooms, Mr. Adams said. They proposed a deal for about $24 million, including transportation. That included a profit of about $4 million above the $19.7 million it would cost to acquire and transport the units, the contract documents show.

But when Adams and Magnolia approached the state education department with the offer, they were referred to the Corps of Engineers, which then referred them to Akima.

Akima (pronounced AH-kahmah) is a 10-year-old enterprise jointly owned by 14,000 Inupiat and Unangan Native Alaskans. Thanks to a law passed in 1971, it is one of several native-owned businesses eligible for no-bid federal contracts. Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, has long pushed for changes in contracting rules that have helped enrich Alaskan companies.

Akima, now based in Charlotte, N.C., has 1,300 full- or part-time employees who work on 22 federal contracts, mostly with the military. It also has an agreement with the Army to supply modular buildings.

Mr. Wood said that neither Akima nor NANA used any ties to elected officials to pursue contracts, despite assertions in a Mississippi newspaper that the classroom deal may have been the result of political connections.

"We have never used or attempted to use political influence for any contract involving Akima," he said. "That is fact."

After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA asked the corps to help Mississippi reopen schools. The corps passed the assignment on to Akima.

The Adams company, as requested, faxed letters to Akima on Sept. 16, outlining its arrangements to acquire the portable classrooms.

But there were a few details the Adamses did not note in their faxes. Paul Adams Jr. had agreed to plead guilty in 1990 to a charge that he conspired with Magnolia to fix prices by divvying up the Mississippi modular classroom business.

Kent Adams said they did not disclose the matter because he and his father did not consider it relevant. The corps asks applicants to disclose such information for only the last three years. The charges were dismissed after his father paid a $1,000 fine and was put on probation.

Akima was not aware of the case until after it dropped Adams Home Center from the deal. But its executives were worried about other issues, Mr. Wood said. Akima concluded that the Mississippi business could not deliver as many classrooms as promised. That meant Akima could not meet deadlines set by the Corps, which wanted 200 classrooms in 14 days and the rest within 45 days, or by the end of October.

"He could not satisfy the schedule," Mr. Wood said.

Contract documents show that the Adamses had miscalculated how many classrooms the Georgia manufacturer had said it could provide. But Kent Adams said that after he and his father learned of the mistake, they identified alternate suppliers to make up the difference.

A day after the shortfall was identified, Akima completed a $39.6 million no-bid deal with the corps that did not include Adams Home Center.

Under the agreement, the corps would pay $87,892 per classroom, far more than the $55,545 Adams intended to charge, contract documents show.

Mr. Wood said the higher price was justified because Akima had to buy more expensive units and hire 187 truck drivers to meet the Corps deadlines. They had to pay twice the normal rate for drivers, he said.

"We did not gouge the government," he said, declining to disclose the company's profit. "If you had until next summer to deliver these trailers, you could get it cheaper."

But so far, government auditors are not convinced.

"We have concerns that the government may be paying more than necessary," Mr. Cooper, of the G.A.O., said in written testimony presented to Congress this week, adding that there was evidence of inflated prices. The auditors are also inquiring about how the classrooms were installed. After Akima delivered them, the structures were placed atop concrete blocks, with a series of straps tied to anchors drilled into the ground. Plywood walkways were then built, linking the classrooms.

A Mississippi State Board of Education code does not permit concrete blocks and piers to anchor modular units. Instead, it requires that they be built on foundations consisting of steel posts secured by poured-in-place concrete.

Regina Ginn, a director in the state office that imposes the standards, said she knew the new classrooms did not fully comply with the state code. But Ms. Ginn added that she considered the corps approach sufficient, an assessment endorsed by Jerry Brosius, a Pennsylvania engineer who has installed modular classrooms for more than 20 years.

"These are temporary buildings," Mr. Brosius said. "They are not going to be there for 20 years."

Michael H. Logue, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers regional office in Vicksburg, Miss., defended the classroom deal. "We executed the fastest, most reasonable procurement action we genuinely felt was available to us," Mr. Logue said.

Akima met its corps deadlines for the classrooms. The total cost for the corps project to date has been $72 million, because of additional work, installing modular offices for government agencies and building walkways.

The project was not a total loss for Adams Home Center and its partner: They were paid a $200,000 finder's fee by the classroom supplier because Akima bought the units they had identified. But the Adamses have filed a lawsuit seeking some of the profits they had hoped to collect, to which Akima already has said they have no right to claim.

In Bay St. Louis, where homes and stores are still largely ruins, the debate over the classroom costs or contractor seem irrelevant.

"School being back for these children is a break from the reality of destroyed homes," said Johnette Bilbo, a teacher at North Bay. "It is just a start. But this is the first large step back to normalcy and routine in their lives."

Deal to Replace Schools After Katrina Is Faulted, NYT, 11.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/11/national/nationalspecial/11schools.html

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Choices Seen

in Efforts to Help Louisiana Wetlands

 

November 10, 2005
The New York Times
By CORNELIA DEAN

 

Restoring Louisiana's vanished wetlands, or even maintaining those that remain, will be impossible, according to an expert panel convened in 2004 by the National Academy of Sciences to consider a major proposal for wetlands restoration in the state.

The panel says the time has come for state and local governments, businesses and citizens to start talking about which wetland areas can be preserved and which must be abandoned, a process it called "managed retreat."

The experts, in a report issued yesterday, said the proposal they studied, put forward by the state and the Army Corps of Engineers, had worthwhile elements but would not come close to halting wetland loss.

Dan Walker, a geologist who directed the study for the academy, said the panel hoped to encourage "an explicit discussion of what coastal Louisiana should look like."

"If we don't draw this map," Mr. Walker added, "nature will."

The panel considered an area of about 12,000 square miles from Texas to Mississippi. Wetlands there support fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, much of the nation's oil and gas production, a growing eco-tourism industry and Louisiana's rich Cajun culture. But since the 1930's, a total of 1,900 square miles of marsh - an area about the size of Delaware - has been lost beneath the spreading waters of the gulf, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Many in Louisiana also consider the wetlands a major defense against coastal storms like Hurricane Katrina, an idea panel members discounted. Though robust marshes may dampen the effects of minor storms, for a storm like Katrina "our unanimous feeling was no, it would not have made any difference," said one member, Joseph Kelley, a coastal scientist at the University of Maine.

The panel, convened by the National Research Council, the academy's research arm, was charged with evaluating a proposal developed after the White House Office of Management and Budget complained that a predecessor plan, the 30-year, $13 billion Louisiana Coastal Area study, was too large, cost too much and looked too far into the future.

The revised proposal, which the panel calls the short-term L.C.A. plan, comprises five main projects, with an estimated cost of $1.9 billion, that could get under way in 5 to 10 years. Tim Axtman, a project manager for the Corps of Engineers, said the plan's relatively narrow time frame was a response "to the guidance of the Bush administration," and added that there was wide agreement in the corps that "you need to think about where you go long term."

The projects are: an embankment along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a canal that runs from the river at New Orleans southeast to the gulf; construction of levee culverts to carry river water into the Maurepas Swamp, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge; and three projects south of New Orleans - a river diversion to support wetlands in the Barataria Basin; improvements to channel banks, weirs and pumps along Bayou Lafourche; and a project to rebuild beaches, dunes and marshes near Port Fourchon.

The canal, known from its acronym as Mr. Go, is widely reviled as having accelerated marsh loss along its length, and some in Louisiana maintain that it was a conduit for the floodwaters that inundated New Orleans. Panel members said that this assertion could not yet be demonstrated but that it would be a mistake to reinforce the canal before the corps decides whether to decommission it, a step that is under consideration. Including Mr. Go in the first place, the panel said, "casts doubt on the rigor of the ranking and selection process" in the overall plan.

The panel said the other projects are scientifically sound as far as they go, but it estimated that in aggregate they would slow marsh loss in the state by only 20 percent. Wetland loss peaked in the early 1980's, when Louisiana lost about 40 square miles a year. By some estimates, its annual loss now is 12 to 20 square miles.

The panel's report can be ordered at www.nationalacademies.org

    Hard Choices Seen in Efforts to Help Louisiana Wetlands, NYT, 10.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/10/national/nationalspecial/10marsh.html

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans prosecutor

to review police shooting

 

Thu Nov 10, 2005 8:51 PM ET
Reuters
By Kevin Krolicki

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - An incident in which New Orleans police killed two suspected snipers accused of firing at officers in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina will be reviewed by prosecutors, the district attorney said on Thursday.

New Orleans homicide detectives are compiling a report on the September 4 shooting on Danziger Bridge, the single biggest police action in the weeks that followed the August 29 killer storm, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said.

Police confronted a group of seven people, including a 17-year-old girl, on the bridge that Sunday morning. Six were shot by police, two fatally.

The police said officers fired after being shot at by members of the group and after rescue workers in boats reported having taken fire from the bridge.

But police accounts of important details of the incident have changed over time, including references to the size of the group and how many were killed, whether they were all men and if they were looting.

The incident was widely reported at the time as evidence of the crime-ridden chaos that descended on the city after Katrina struck.

New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan said on Thursday he had requested the findings of homicide investigators to review. "We expect to get a report from the police department about the killings that took place," Jordan told Reuters.

Prosecutors would "examine the report and determine whether it was a justifiable homicide or whether further investigation is required," Jordan said.

A police spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

The investigation comes when the conduct of the embattled New Orleans Police Department is under scrutiny. About 15 percent of the force failed to report for duty after Katrina, and 56 staff members have been fired for desertion.

An incident in which police officers were accused of taking Cadillacs from an auto dealer after the storm will also be reviewed by prosecutors, Jordan said.

 

'LOOTERS'

The Danziger Bridge incident came almost a week after Katrina struck and when almost 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater and tens of thousands of people were stranded inside the Superdome and convention center.

New Orleans police initially described those on the bridge as male "looters" and said they had shot as many as eight and killed four.

In fact, police said last month the group included two women: Susan Bartholomew, 39, and 17-year-old Leisha Bartholomew, both of whom were wounded in the encounter but have not been charged.

An apparent relative, Leonard Bartholomew, 44, was also treated for gunshot wounds and released from a hospital without being charged.

A month after the incident, police said one of the suspected gunmen who has not been identified by authorities had been shot and killed on a bridge walkway. A second ran to a nearby motel where police said he "reached into his waist" and turned toward an officer who then shot and killed him.

A third, 19-year-old Jose Holmes, was wounded and faces possible attempted murder charges for firing on police, authorities said.

Police said they had no motive to explain why the men opened fire on officers.

The incident came after U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors working on a levee breach reported having taken fire. It was not clear the two incidents were related.

In a September 18 story in the Los Angeles Times, one officer said he had been summoned to back up police confronting "snipers" in a motel near the Danziger Bridge.

The officer, Patrick Hartman, described the suspects as a "bunch of crackheads" and said police brought their own arms to the encounter since ammunition was in short supply.

"Everybody brought along their own toys -- AK-47s, SKSs (carbines), hunting rifles," he told the newspaper.

    New Orleans prosecutor to review police shooting, R, Thu Nov 10, 2005 8:51 PM ET, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-11-11T015129Z_01_SCH103595_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-KILLINGS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana mulls

legal action on failed levees

 

Tue Nov 8, 2005
3:14 PM ET
Reuters
By Kevin Krolicki

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana prosecutors are investigating the failure of the levees around New Orleans to determine if bungled engineering and construction of the flood protection system warrants legal action.

Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti has not ruled out a criminal prosecution but is focused first on determining whether a successful civil judgment could help evacuees recover damages from private insurers, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

"I think his goal is to see if there's any way to help people who lost everything," said Foti spokeswoman Kris Wartelle.

Homeowners would be more likely to recover financial damages if a local court judgment declares that flaws in the levee system caused the devastating flooding after the levees around the city were breached, Wartelle said.

Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center this week took on a state contract for a forensic investigation to determine why the levees failed. The findings would be key to any legal action.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has responsibility for maintaining the levee system that rings New Orleans, a city built largely below sea level.

Although officials initially said the storm surge caused by Katrina pushed water over the top of the levees, some investigators have said the floodwalls collapsed when water rushed through loose soil near their base.

 

DA INVESTIGATING

New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan also is assessing the levee failures, spokeswoman Leatrice Dupre said.

"We're looking into the matter to decide whether a grand jury investigation is warranted," Dupre said. "We're going to look at some reports and look at some testimony."

About 80 percent of New Orleans flooded after Katrina, with some areas inundated with as much as 12 feet of water. The city had a population of about 500,000 before Katrina.

Many homeowners did not have separate flood insurance and have had difficulty collecting on other insurance policies that explicitly exclude water damage.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said on Monday that the levees, which were supposed to have been built 15 feet tall, had sunk to a height of about 12 to 13 feet before the storm through a natural process of subsidence that affects construction throughout the city.

"We can debate about whether the workmanship was good or not -- and probably it wasn't very good," Nagin told a town hall meeting in Baton Rouge.

Even if a state lawsuit were successful in getting a judgment recognizing levee flaws, it is unclear whether that would result in larger settlements for property owners. The insurance industry already has challenged the legal logic of that case.

"It is not surprising that public officials in Louisiana are trying everything they can to recover dollars for those whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina," said Julie Rochman, a spokeswoman for the American Insurance Association. "But insurance contracts are contracts."

More than 250,000 homes were substantially damaged or destroyed by Katrina, and the rebuilding effort is projected to cost more than $200 billion.

The American Insurance Association estimates insured losses at between $40 billion and $60 billion.

Louisiana mulls legal action on failed levees, R, Tue Nov 8, 2005 3:14 PM ET, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=uri:2005-11-08T201351Z_01_MCC862017_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-INVESTIGATION.xml&pageNumber=1&summit=

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thousands of New Orleans residents want to come home.

But for many of them, there remains nothing to return to.

 

Photograph: Robert Caplin/The New York Times

 

New Orleans Is Still Grappling With the Basics of Rebuilding

NYT

8.11.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/08/national/nationalspecial/08rebuild.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans

Is Still Grappling

With the Basics of Rebuilding

 

November 8, 2005
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 7 - Something once unimaginable has begun to happen here: the United Parcel Service is delivering again downtown. At Langenstein's grocery, celery and pork chops are moving out the door, and revelers spill out of the Magazine Street bars on Friday nights.

But just a mile away, workers are struggling to restore some flood protection to the city, which would barely stay dry in even a modest tropical storm. Tens of thousands of homeowners, facing six-figure repair bills for their rotting houses, are unlikely to get more than a fraction of that from the government. As phones ring in empty offices, even the shrimp business can barely find customers, and the economy remains comatose.

More than two months after Hurricane Katrina incapacitated this peerless, sultry American city, New Orleans has shaken off the shock of its collapse and has slowly begun to draw breath again. But as it moves from recovery into the more crucial rebuilding phase, it is only beginning to grapple with the elemental questions that will shape its future, many of which have arisen at the special session of the Louisiana State Legislature that began Sunday night.

Will New Orleans be granted a vastly strengthened flood protection system - at a cost of up to $20 billion - or will it be told to allow low-lying residential neighborhoods to return to marshland? Will the city have to take control of thousands of houses to restore them - at a cost that no one has calculated - or will it have to tell thousands of evacuated residents not to return?

Every major decision seems to rely on another decision that has to be made first, and no one has stepped in to announce what the city will do and break the cycle of uncertainty. Many residents and business owners will not return and invest without an assurance of flood protection, for example. But workers who could rebuild the levees and much of the rest of the city are hampered by the lack of housing.

"We can't ask somebody to work for us if they have nowhere to live," said Robert Boh, president of Boh Brothers, a New Orleans construction company.

And construction of new houses, or the rebuilding of the old damaged ones, has been stymied by the high cost, the empty treasury of local government, and the debate over how to maintain the city's political and demographic base.

While some experts have warned that it makes little economic or environmental sense to rebuild low-lying areas like the Lower Ninth Ward, Mayor C. Ray Nagin and many other city officials have stated emphatically that the neighborhood will be rebuilt and protected, whatever the cost.

Developers have not yet received the kind of tax incentives that Washington provided to New York after Sept. 11, and local officials are preparing for the loss of up to half the city's 115,000 small businesses.

In rebuilding, timing and proportion are everything. Unlike New York officials, who seized their moment of national sympathy to nail down $20 billion in specific appropriations from Congress after Sept. 11, Louisiana delegates asked for a hefty $200 billion. After that amount was shot down, there was little clarity in the state's request, and two-thirds of the $60 billion approved by Congress for the Gulf Coast has not been spent.

"Louisiana lost its credibility by asking for everything," said Walter Isaacson, the former chairman of CNN, who serves as vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, a new state entity appointed by the governor to coordinate the reconstruction effort. "Now it is our job to say, we have some reasonable priorities for spending and we are going to be sensible and frugal about it."

 

Keeping the City Dry

Amid the city's divisions, there is one area of consensus: its levees and floodwalls must once again be able to protect New Orleans from swirling gulf waters before the city can fully recover. To date, however, the Army Corps of Engineers has performed only the most rudimentary of repairs, plugging holes and driving steel pilings to create a quick-and-dirty version of protection against Category 3 hurricanes.

That will not be enough to restore confidence in the city's future among traumatized residents. Virtually all city and state officials agree that flood protection must be increased to withstand a Category 5 storm.

"The comprehensive coastal restoration and Category 5 hurricane protection system is our top federal priority," said Andy Kopplin, the executive director of the recovery authority. "And having Category 5 hurricane protection in New Orleans is essential for its long-term recovery."

But that commitment, according to the state, would cost $10 billion to $20 billion and take up to 10 years to meet. Restoring the coastline would cost $14 billion. There is no sign yet that the administration is willing to write checks of this size.

Last week, President Bush submitted a spending request to Congress that included $1.6 billion for repair of levees and wetlands, and an additional $4.6 million to study the possibility of a levee upgrade. The proposal was immediately criticized as wholly inadequate by members of the state's Congressional delegation.

Even the immediate reconstruction work is moving slowly. The corps has advertised 49 contracts for engineering and construction work in the area, but so far only a dozen have been awarded, said Lewis F. Setliff III, who leads the corps' restoration task force.

Then there is the dirt. Even the most basic repairs will require about three million cubic yards of soil, the equivalent of a football field on which dirt is stacked 1,575 feet high, Mr. Setliff said. The corps has yet to find enough sites for the so-called "borrow pits" for the soil, which ideally need to be close to the construction sites.

Given these concerns, it is not clear that the corps will meet its self-imposed deadline of June 1 to return the city's flood control system to its pre-Hurricane Katrina strength, though that remains its intent.

"It may very well be in some areas it won't be what you call final protection," said Donald L. Basham, the chief of engineering and construction for the corps. "We may still be affording interim protection measures that if you want to walk away and leave that system for the next 20 years that's not the way you want to leave it. It won't be pretty."

 

A Roof Overhead

Thousands of New Orleans residents want to come home. But for many of them, there remains nothing to return to.

In Lakeview and Mid-City, middle-class enclaves in the western half of town, street after street of empty houses sit browned with mud six feet up. Throughout the impoverished Ninth Ward and in neighboring St. Bernard Parish to the east, hundreds of homes have been virtually leveled, and blue tarps stretch over roof after roof throughout the city. All told, roughly 40 percent of the city's homes were flooded, and up to 50,000 homes are likely to be demolished.

"Housing is probably our most pressing issue right now," Mayor Nagin said in an interview. "Temporary housing for workers, housing that was damaged or flooded, the quick repair of that. There's just not enough footprint to accommodate the people who want to move back into the city right now."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun to give tens of thousands of city homeowners financial assistance for rebuilding, but the grants are capped at $26,200 per household, not enough in most cases for major reconstruction. Tax incentives for developers and other forms of bailout money - all doled out in Lower Manhattan in 2001 - have been discussed in Congress but not passed. As a result, several ideas that might once have been considered outlandish are being considered to resuscitate the city's housing stock.

Under one notion that is being discussed by a leading member of Mr. Nagin's rebuilding commission, the city could take control of a house, fix it up and then lease it out. The original owner would have the right to come back eventually and re-establish ownership claims. The idea, based on an old Louisiana legal concept known as usufruct, has already encountered some political opposition, but proponents say that local government may have no choice but to step in.

Joseph C. Canizaro, a wealthy developer who sits on the mayor's commission, has proposed building new housing in City Park, the beloved New Orleans equivalent of Central Park, and letting some low-lying neighborhoods revert to marshland. Though the idea is politically hard to imagine, it is remarkable for being discussed at all.

Fear of political consequences, though, have begun to undermine the process of actually getting anything done. Many of the destroyed homes sat in areas that were blighted before a drop of rain from the hurricane fell, and plenty were located in areas that will be vulnerable in the next storm.

While the politics become untangled, the futures of thousands of people hang in a terrible balance. "We need to know what the city is going to do," said Oliver Thomas, the president of the New Orleans City Council, "so we can start planning our lives."

 

Looking for Work

As the city struggles to regain its physical shape, the spine of its economy is cracking.

Last week, Chase Bank reopened its main branch in a high-rise one block off Canal Street. Four tellers stood at their stations, and three other bank employees sat behind desks, in a branch devoid of a single customer at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.

New Orleans has lost $1.5 million in tourist revenues every day since the levees broke, according to the Louisiana Office of Tourism, and only 25 percent of its 3,400 restaurants have reopened. In September, the unemployment rate hit 14.8 percent.

The loss of tourism to New Orleans reverberates throughout the region. For example, the fish and shrimp industries, hurting from damage to boats and infrastructure, need mouths to feed in the city.

"We moved 8.2 million pounds of shrimp last year, and 5 million of it went to the New Orleans area," said Dean Blanchard, vice president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. The volume of ships using the city's port - the nation's fifth largest - is still 70 percent off its normal capacity, said John Kallenborn, the Port of New Orleans's board chairman.

Small businesses are struggling to survive because of the paucity of residents and the lack of tourists, and many large companies have yet to return. Before the hurricane, New Orleans was home to roughly 115,000 small businesses. "Losing half those businesses is not out of the question," said W. Anthony Patton, a member of the reconstruction commission.

The Recovery Authority is considering asking for $10 billion in grants to help small businesses, and Congress is now considering a proposal that would immediately set aside $450 million in small business loans.

The city has already lost 29 of the 70 conventions that had been scheduled in 2006. Its convention center, has yet to reopen, and will probably not do so until early next year.

Seen from the perspective of the French Quarter and select neighborhoods such as the Garden District and Algiers, the city can seem in surprisingly robust shape. Grocery stores are open on the West Bank, as are bank branches, many restaurants and movie theaters.

"It seems as if the city is breathing again," Mayor Nagin said, although he conceded he had no clue as to how many of those exhaling were people who actually live in the City of New Orleans.

But some of the city's largest high-rises, including One Shell Plaza and Dominion Towers, are still shuttered. Rubenstein Brothers, a clothing store on Canal Street for 81 years, opened to great fanfare last month, yet by midafternoon that day its clerks, well dressed and standing smartly at attention, had nothing to do.

When will the rest of the world sip the city's coffee, take in free concerts by Rebirth Brass Band, nibble on po' boys and roam the French Quarter talking about something other than storm surge and FEMA? It could be many years.

"We've bottomed out and now we're beginning to claw our way out," said Scott Cowen, the president of Tulane University. "It may take three to five years to really build the model city we all aspire for New Orleans to be."

Adam Nossiter and Gary Rivlin reported from New Orleans for this article, Eric Lipton from Washington, and John Schwartz and Jennifer Steinhauer from New York.

    New Orleans Is Still Grappling With the Basics of Rebuilding, NYT, 8.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/08/national/nationalspecial/08rebuild.html

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana Lawmakers

Begin Special Session on Rebuilding

 

November 7, 2005
The New York Times
By JEREMY ALFORD

 

BATON ROUGE, La., Nov. 6 - Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco opened a special session of the State Legislature on Sunday, telling lawmakers that their actions in the coming days would serve as a catalyst for healing and as a guiding light for the rebuilding of New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"I am confident that we will each do our part to see that a new morning springs from Louisiana's darkest night," Ms. Blanco said. "We all know that this recovery is not a sprint. It requires endurance and commitment from all of us."

The 17-day session will be a major test of Ms. Blanco's leadership. She is pushing an ambitious agenda with 77 subject areas, including tax incentives for redevelopment, stricter building codes and better management of levees.

But with a budget deficit expected to exceed $1 billion, lawmakers appear limited in what they can accomplish in the special session.

"The challenges presented by our budget crisis are some of the most difficult we have ever faced," Ms. Blanco said. "We are, very simply put, adjusting to reality. These times and our citizens demand change."

The governor's initial agenda addressed only a few legal technicalities, but it was broadened to include budget issues and priorities put forth by Republicans in the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.

On Saturday, Ms. Blanco, a Democrat, issued an executive order that cut $431 million in spending from the budget, including some that had been singled out by Republicans. Earlier, the governor ordered a hiring freeze and a partial spending halt, saving the state an estimated $70 million.

"I jokingly said we should bring her a switch card," said State Senator John T. Schedler of Mandeville, chairman of the Senate Republican delegation. "As much as an adversary as we have been over the last two years, we find ourselves not wholly disagreeing with her agenda. We could actually find ourselves with the old paradigm of strange bedfellows."

Meanwhile, a disagreement seems to be developing between the governor and leading lawmakers in her party over Saturday's executive order, which was originally destined to be considered by the Legislature.

"It doesn't matter what she thinks she has," said State Senator Francis C. Heitmeier, a Democrat from New Orleans and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "It all starts with us today. We're going to look at every single item and see if we agree or disagree."

In her speech, Ms. Blanco told lawmakers that she would present another package of "more drastic cuts" for them to consider. She also said she would not ask for new taxes.

Robert Kirby Goidel, director of the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University, said Ms. Blanco might have to look to the Republicans for support to implement significant changes.

"Blanco has been criticized in terms of her leadership and for not taking action, so we're seeing her build a coalition of people and not parties," Dr. Goidel said.

Critics have argued that the session is long on needs but short on time. Several of the administration's crucial proposals lack details, and Ms. Blanco announced the guidelines for the special session only a week ago. Many lawmakers, though, are sympathetic to the governor, who faces a challenge unparalleled by those of her predecessors.

To help business and industry, Ms. Blanco has proposed eliminating sales tax on machinery and equipment, exempting new debt from the corporate franchise tax and reducing sales tax on electricity and natural gas. The measures could significantly reduce revenue as budget cuts continue.

To make matters worse, the federal government announced last week that Louisiana, with an annual general appropriation budget of $18.7 billion, would have to contribute at least $3.7 billion to help rebuild.

Lawmakers say the situation will send a strong message to Congress that hefty demands for federal aid are warranted.

"This session is going to be a wild ride," said State Representative Jim Tucker, a Republican from Terrytown and chairman of the House Republican delegation. "Louisiana has a very strong governorship. The political system here is not set up for us to go around the governor, so it's critical that she lead us out of this."

    Louisiana Lawmakers Begin Special Session on Rebuilding, NYT, 7.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/07/national/nationalspecial/07agenda.html

 

 

 

 

 

FEMA Calls 60,000 Houses in Storm Area

Beyond Repair

 

November 5, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 - Using a sophisticated satellite inspection system, FEMA has declared 60,000 houses in New Orleans and other communities hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina damaged beyond repair, clearing the way for homeowners there to receive the maximum federal aid.

The declaration, completed this week, will mean an immediate distribution of up to $1.6 billion. Each household is entitled to as much as $26,200, officials said.

The grants are being issued as the Federal Emergency Management Agency moves to distribute $181 million to local governments in Louisiana to help them stay in business when they have lost much of their tax revenue. That is in loans.

New Orleans will receive $120 million, which should be enough to keep basic government functions operating through early next year.

"FEMA is doing everything we can to get federal assistance into the hands of those who need it most," said a spokeswoman for the agency, Nicol Andrews.

The aid being distributed to homeowners and local governments is a small piece of the $62.3 billion that Congress has appropriated for the federal response to the hurricane. In the weeks after its landfall, the agency distributed $1.5 billion to more than 750,000 households in the form of $2,000 checks intended for emergency assistance.

Separately, more than 496,000 households have received rental assistance worth $1 billion to help them with temporary housing.

Finally, in addition to the 60,000 homes FEMA has declared total losses, inspectors have visited 600,000 houses in Louisiana and Mississippi, approving payments to homeowners who may in some cases have reached the federal maximum of $26,200.

The latest grants, being sent to homeowners in New Orleans, as well as Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Tammany and St. Bernard Parishes in Louisiana and Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties in Mississippi, are based on satellite imagery that showed that the houses were completely destroyed, had severe flooding or were inaccessible, Ms. Andrews said.

"Based on what we have learned from satellite imagery, we are now able to offer the maximum federal assistance to those households in this area," she said.

In many cases, the aid will be less than the $26,200 maximum, because any previous assistance that a family has received will count against that cap. Homeowners with private insurance may not be entitled to a large part of the federal aid.

Replacing a house as well as its furniture and other items will almost always cost far more than the government provides. Decisions remain to be made in many neighborhoods whether entire sections will be bulldozed or houses will be rebuilt or repaired one at a time. The distribution of aid, even in relatively modest amounts, should speed rebuilding.

"This helps our residents to get back on their feet and puts them in the position where they can begin rebuilding," said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which was set up to guide the rebuilding.

Officials estimated this week that FEMA could spend up to $41 billion for relief after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Current rules would mean that Louisiana, whose annual general fund budget is $7 billion, would have to cover $3.7 billion of that cost.

    FEMA Calls 60,000 Houses in Storm Area Beyond Repair, NYT, 5.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/05/national/nationalspecial/05fema.html

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans Landlords Are Pitted

Against Tenants in Court

 

November 4, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 3 - All over New Orleans, from brick apartment complexes in the east to crumbling stucco low-rises in the center, constables have been busy tacking eviction notices to often-empty apartments.

Landlords, many of them starved for rent and fearing foreclosure, have been trying to evict tenants that escaped New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And that has pitted landlords against jobless and cash-poor tenants in a fierce race for survival that began playing out Thursday in the city's only functional civil courthouse.

Many tenants either cannot pay rent or cannot get home - no small matter in a city where low-income renters are in the majority. And with as much as a fifth of the rental stock destroyed, demand is high and surviving apartment complexes have waiting lists. That creates a dangling temptation for landlords who think they might now make more money.

After a moratorium on evictions imposed by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco expired 10 days ago, the landlords in the city filed nearly 700 eviction notices. In some cases, they logged as many notices in a single day as court clerks usually see in a whole month.

The resulting struggles were on full view Thursday in the old Algiers courthouse across the Mississippi River from downtown as the first formal eviction hearings began.

Tenants complained that the broken-down post office - which is just getting around to delivering mail from late August - had failed to deliver their paychecks, or they accused landlords of being money-hungry. Property owners, for their part, said they needed rental income to make their mortgage payments; some claimed their buildings were so damaged that all leases were void.

At most of the hearings, the tenants did not show up, a testimony to the city's emptiness. And some of those who did trek to the turreted little 19th-century courthouse did not get good news from the judge.

Robert Wells, a construction worker and part-time French Quarter waiter, was given 48 hours to clear out of his basement apartment in the Algiers Point neighborhood after failing to pay his October or November rent of $525. He insisted his family was sending him money, and muttered afterward that his landlord was "price gouging."

During Mr. Wells's hearing, Judge Mary Norman of City Court pointedly noted that the landlord, Tony Carter, would have a long waiting list of tenants if the eviction were successful. But she also asked for commentary about Mr. Wells from the assembled landlords sitting in the courtroom, and one of them called out, "Your Honor, he would not be considered a good tenant."

Afterward, Mr. Carter acknowledged that someone else was waiting for the apartment, but he insisted: "I'm not looking to gouge anybody. I've lost 90 percent of my tenants."

Housing experts say many landlords here are not trying to gouge. "It's a real conundrum," said James Perry of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. "The landlords make their money off renters, and renters, not unreasonably, object to paying rent when they are not even there."

The laggard mail and New Orleans' chronically dysfunctional public housing authority - a big source of rent for private landlords here through subsidized Section 8 vouchers - were often cited Thursday as culprits, but that was of little help to tenants.

Catina Holmes, a mother of two with a third on the way, said her paycheck from the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office, where she worked in the parish jail, had never arrived. "They had our checks tied up since God knows when," Ms. Holmes said. "These landlords are just being ridiculous. They're not being sensible."

But Ms. Holmes was ordered out of her apartment as of Monday morning unless she comes up with her share of the rent by Sunday.

In the courtroom, Judge Norman gave evicted tenants the telephone numbers for the Salvation Army, Covenant House and other shelters.

"No one left here today being put out on the street," she said afterward in an interview in her office overlooking the river. "That is my goal as a judge."

She added, "Some people even tease me, and call me the social service judge."

    New Orleans Landlords Are Pitted Against Tenants in Court, NYT, 4.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/04/national/nationalspecial/04evict.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Workers

In Louisiana,

Worker Influx Causes Ill Will

 

November 4, 2005
The New York Times
By LESLIE EATON

 

GOOD HOPE, La. - Near this speck on the map southwest of New Orleans, where an oil refinery spouts flames into the sky and alligators are said to lurk in the green canals, sits something that is causing consternation across Louisiana: a camp for out-of-state workers cleaning up after the flood.

The camp, operated by a New York company called LVI Services, is not much to look at: a row of tractor-trailers crammed with bunks, a long line of portable toilets, a couple of R.V.'s and three tents with striped roofs. Gun-packing guards wear black T-shirts reading, "Police."

It is a temporary home for hundreds of LVI's workers, some of whom said they were in the United States illegally. They are commuting into New Orleans, swabbing the mold off walls, ripping the guts out of buildings, removing mountains of soggy debris.

And they are stirring up resentment. Louisianians, from high-level public officials to low-wage workers, have begun to complain about the influx of outsiders they perceive as having come to profit off their pain.

"People from other states, we appreciate their help," said Aubrey D. Cheatham, a union electrician from New Orleans who believes he lost a job to lower-paid workers from outside Louisiana. "But everybody else is getting work, not us."

Workers from all over have been pouring into Louisiana, some bused in by contracting companies, others simply turning up on their own in search of jobs. While nobody seems to know how many are here, there is plenty of work; the federal government estimates it will spend more than $450 million just to clean up hurricane debris.

And as that work continues, Louisianians are casting unhappy eyes on everyone from the giant construction companies that won federal contracts to the small-town builders driving big pickup trucks with out-of-state license plates.

Much of the overt hostility is focused on the army of Latino workers who appear to be doing much of the dirtiest cleanup work, often in the employ of those big companies, and often for less money that local workers might insist on.

State officials have expressed concerns, with Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, calling on Oct. 24 for an investigation of federal contractors, whom she said were hiring "low-wage undocumented workers." And in Kenner, just west of New Orleans, the City Council has passed an emergency ordinance to try to regulate workers' trailers and tents that have mushroomed all over the city.

"We're trying to be as considerate and compassionate as we can be to our out-of-town guests, but we need to preserve the quality of life for our residents as well," said Philip J. Ramon, chief of staff for Kenner's mayor.

Employers point out that they are not required to investigate the authenticity of employees' documents. And as for bringing in workers, some say they have no choice.

"People in the area of impact are disjointed, disoriented," said Burton T. Fried, president of LVI Services.

But in places where LVI will be working for a while, it tries to make a transition to local workers, Mr. Fried said. "The purpose is, forgetting morality, that we don't have to pay per diems, food service, transportation," he said.

The focus on Hispanic immigrants worries people like Representative Nydia M. Velázquez of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Small Business Committee.

"I am afraid the anger and frustration of hurricane victims is going to be turned against undocumented workers, who are being taken advantage of," Ms. Velázquez said.

Louisiana has only a small Spanish-speaking population, which is concentrated in and around Kenner. New Orleans itself is 3.1 percent Hispanic, according to the latest census, and the state as a whole is just 2.4 percent, far less than the national average of 12.5 percent. Therefore many of the newcomers stand out.

The worker encampments are also not hard to spot: next to a cemetery on Airline Highway in Metairie, around the side of a Winn-Dixie supermarket on Williams Boulevard in Kenner, on the campus of Delgado Community College in New Orleans.

There are less formal living arrangements, too. On the west side of City Park, in the north part of New Orleans, campers are parked next to forklifts, tents have sprouted next to dump trucks and hammocks are slung next to front-end loaders. Judging by the license plates on the trucks, many of the inhabitants appear to be from nearby states.

But not all, at least not originally. José L. Garcia and five of his friends were camping recently under a live oak tree, sharing three tents, eating food from a church kitchen and bathing in a plastic garbage can. The men live in Charlotte, N.C., but said most of them knew one other from the Mexican state of Michoacán.

Behind their pickup trucks were two large trailers, which the men use to transport debris to a dump. They get $10 for every reeking refrigerator they throw out, Mr. Garcia said, but they do not want to do that work anymore - it makes them smell too bad.

Hard and unpleasant as cleanup work is, there are Louisianians willing to do it, said Barry Kaufman, the business manager of Construction and General Laborers' Local 689 in New Orleans. Mr. Kaufman has said he has at least 2,000 people willing to take cleanup jobs, although many of them - and the local's hiring hall - are now displaced in Baton Rouge, more than an hour's drive from New Orleans.

"The local guys are trying, but there's nowhere for them to stay," Mr. Kaufman said, adding that one of the camps "looks like Little Mexico."

The situation is new to Louisiana, which has little tradition of attracting large numbers of transient workers, unlike Florida and other booming areas, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Economy.com. The stagnant economy here has not provided many job opportunities since 2001.

The complaints also reflect the widespread frustration over the continuing lack of housing in the area. Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, leaving their former residents adrift. Businesses of all sorts are frantically advertising for workers, even as the jobless rate for Louisianians jumped to 11.5 percent in September, from 5.8 percent in August.

It was the promise of housing, as much as anything, that prompted Mr. Cheatham, the union electrician, to take a job wiring a tent city for a subcontractor at the Naval Air Station at Belle Chasse, south of New Orleans, he said. He had lost his house near Lake Pontchartrain to flooding, along with his car; his family was scattered.

Life on the base was tough, he said, but he was particularly troubled by the presence of a large number of people he believed to be illegal immigrants, some of whom were working at the base, others of whom arrived each night on buses for meals. (The Navy said it allowed its contractors to house workers on the base.) "I called immigration several times to complain," Mr. Cheatham said.

Then, abruptly in their view, the subcontractor, BE&K, fired Mr. Cheatham and his fellow union electricians. The electricians, who make about $22 an hour plus benefits, said they believed that their jobs were taken by lower-paid, illegal workers.

Their boss, Albert Knight of Knight Enterprises in Lacombe, La., complained to Senate Democrats, who demanded an investigation. And, in fact, federal officials have since found more than two dozen illegal workers at the base, although only two worked for BE&K, which says it did not replace the electricians with lower-paid workers.

According to an August report by the Government Accountability Office, enforcement of workplace laws has become a low priority for federal immigration authorities, which fined only three companies for improper hiring in the 2004 fiscal year, down from 417 in the 1999 fiscal year. Arrests have also plummeted.

For workers, company-provided housing can be as much a curse as a blessing, said Frank J. Curiel, an organizer for the Laborers International Union. Some workers have been cast into the street with nowhere to go, he said, while others cannot quit their jobs because they would become homeless.

It is not hard to find such people, as Mr. Curiel demonstrated by striking up a conversation with three men outside an LVI building down the road from the housing camp. The men said they were making $10 an hour cleaning up debris and were bunking at the camp, which they said had an atmosphere like a jail.

One man, a Honduran who said he was afraid to give his real name, said he wanted nothing more than to return to Houston, where he had lived for six months. But he did not have enough money after sending most of his last paycheck back to his family.

The man said he did not like working with strong chemicals and had been having health problems. When he did not want to work one day, he said, his supervisor told him that he was fired and that he had to leave the camp. He was not sure what he would do next.

One of his friends, a teenager who gave his name as Valentine Morales (which was not the name on the plastic ID tag he was wearing), said he was from the Mexican state of Chiapas and had been living in Springfield, Mass. He had heard there was a lot of work after the hurricane, he said, so he took a bus to Mississippi and made his way to Louisiana.

Soon, he will move on to Florida, the young man said. "I used to be a farm worker," he explained, "but now I do cleanup work."

    In Louisiana, Worker Influx Causes Ill Will, NYT, 4.11.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/04/national/nationalspecial/04migrants.html

 

 

 

 

 

Governor faults White House

over rebuilding

 

Sat Oct 29, 2005 4:12 PM ET
Reuters
By Michael Depp

 

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, flanked by veteran Democratic activists and a union leader, criticized the Bush administration on Saturday for allowing hurricane rebuilding contracts to go to out-of-state firms and low-wage workers.

Speaking to a rally of about 1,000 union members and activists from the steps of the state Capitol, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton also charged the White House with using the crisis to remake the state's political map by discouraging the return of displaced blacks.

Jackson urged residents of the overwhelmingly black Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans to return.

"Somebody is accountable," he said. "Don't give up. You have the right to return, the right to reclaim and the right to reconstruct."

Blanco, a Democrat who has faced criticism for her own response to the August 29 hurricane, attempted to deflect widespread anger from local workers who complain they have been shut out of federal contracts in favor of larger, better-connected companies.

Noting some $300 million in unemployment insurance had been paid out in the state since the storm, Blanco said the initial White House decision to suspend wage protections had compounded the Louisiana problems.

"We had already been devastated by a hurricane," she said. "We did not need to be hurt to out-of-state companies giving incredibly low wages to workers outside of Louisiana. I must have said that long enough and hard enough because this week President Bush changed his mind."

Earlier this week, President George W. Bush lifted an emergency order that had allowed federal contractors rebuilding after Katrina to pay less than the area's prevailing wage.

In September, Bush waived provisions of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act that requires federal contractors to pay, at a minimum, an area's prevailing wage.

The suspension of the prevailing wage protection prompted protests from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

 

POLITICAL VICTORY

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney hailed the reversal as a political victory, but said the Bush administration had "broken faith with the God-fearing hard-working families of our country."

"While New Orleans workers and their families were trapped in filthy shelters, they doled out billion of dollars for no-bid contracts so out-of-state companies could import low-wage workers to jack up their profits," Sweeney said.

Some black New Orleans residents, including those from the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, have charged their concerns have been overlooked in a rebuilding effort dominated by business interests, a theme taken up by both Jackson and Sharpton, who also accused the White House of seeking to change the state's political make-up.

"The crisis is not an opportunity to change the character of Louisiana's political order. We must not use the crisis to turn Louisiana into a red state -- this is a rainbow state," Jackson said.

Speaking of Bush's senior adviser Karl Rove, Jackson said, "His agenda is political restructuring."

Sharpton said, "It is hypocritical to mourn the death of Rosa Parks and then try to relocate Rosa Parks' children." Parks, a black seamstress who helped spark the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man 50 years ago, died on Monday.

"Just like Rosa Parks wouldn't move, you can't move. Keep your seat. Bechtel's trying to take your seat. Sit in your seat," Sharpton said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a unit of San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. a no-bid contract with a $100 million ceiling for rebuilding after Katrina. FEMA said last month the contract would be opened to competition.

    Governor faults White House over rebuilding, R, 29.10.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-10-29T211215Z_01_SCH975202_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-POLITICS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Damage

New Orleans Loses Its Shade

 

October 29, 2005
The New York Times
By BRUCE WEBER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 28 - Esplanade Avenue is a signature address in this city, a boulevard of lazy opulence that forms the northeastern boundary of the French Quarter and runs for about three miles from the Mississippi River to the steps of the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park.

It may be best known for the live oak trees that line its median strip, their leafy branches spread horizontally overhead to form an elaborately webbed green canopy.

Or so it was. When Hurricane Katrina tore through the city, its high winds ravaged the oaks of Esplanade, killing some, tearing off thick branches of others and defoliating the rest. Like a knife slashing through the canvas of a masterpiece, the storm that devastated New Orleans, destroying neighborhoods and infrastructure, ending hundreds of lives and upending thousands of others, also dealt a blow to the city's lush natural facade.

"It's like a Weed Whacker went through here," said Joshua Mann Pailet, a photographer and gallery owner in the French Quarter.

Once shady, Esplanade Avenue is now sun-dappled. And it suddenly has a night sky.

"I don't think I've ever seen the stars in front of my house before," said Robert Tannen, an artist and urban planner whose yard on Esplanade was buried in tree branches.

New Orleans, more than most other cities, has a palpable aesthetic. The faded elegance, the sense that everything is in a kind of slow-motion, gorgeous dilapidation - "an atmosphere of decay," as Tennessee Williams affectionately described it - is a source of the city's pride and reputation, and it is only enhanced by the hothouse climate that in better days made the overall setting of the place feel like an undertended garden. But it all seems oddly unfamiliar now.

"Elegant decay, that's the cliché, isn't it, but it's true, or at least it used to be," said Simon Gunning, an artist from Australia who has been living in New Orleans and painting it for 25 years. He was sitting in his backyard, once overhung with trees and now bleached in bright sunlight.

Mr. Gunning, a realist who paints street scenes and large-scale waterscapes, had scheduled a gallery show in November that has now been pushed back until March, in part so he can include the new look of the city and its surrounding waterways.

"It would have been relevant," he said of his previously planned show, "but you can't pretend this didn't happen."

In the aftermath of the hurricane, Mr. Gunning said, the violence of nature that he often tried to suggest beneath the surface of his paintings was now on the surface.

"The colors and shapes are so bloody unusual," he said. "You don't have to imagine a boat up in a tree. You don't have to be a kook to imagine things like that, turned upside down, changed. It's what's there."

Indeed, so much of the city's outward face is currently altered, either temporarily or permanently, that its overall look is disorienting. Planners debating the best way to bring back lost neighborhoods and protect them are discussing how to sustain the city's visual integrity. Rebuilt levees, for example, will affect the sightlines and shadows on the waterfronts. For the time being, though, it is almost impossible to see past the aesthetic of cataclysm.

In flooded areas, all of civilization has been seemingly reduced to detritus. Lawns have been left lifelessly brown and unpleasantly cushiony to walk on. Marked by a grim, telltale waterline and the orange graffiti of health inspectors, houses sit uninhabitable. Cars that will not start line the streets. But most jarring and distressing is the absence of people. Of the dozens of people interviewed for this article, virtually everyone lamented the emptiness, the vast tracts of land without a heartbeat in them.

"The whole landscape of a shotgun houses has been affected citywide, the colors have been affected, everything's brownish and grayish," said Douglas Redd, a collagist and associate director of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in the Center City neighborhood. "It was tropical, and now it's a wasteland. But the thing that's really different is there's no people around, there's no music, there's no children playing. There's no one to say 'Hi' to."

Mr. Redd has been touring the flooded neighborhoods, taking pictures, collecting images for a new collage. "But you think, How do you get beyond the visual to the sorrow you're really feeling?"

That said, even in the older sections of the city, in higher-ground neighborhoods like Uptown and Carrollton that did not flood, the rich physical atmosphere is diminished. Tourists used to come to them to get a taste of old-money New Orleans, but now vegetation is thin, a look that more than one person described, looking up into the trees, as "vacuumed."

The situation has been made worse by utility crews that have cut away branches to free electrical wires.

"They went a little overboard," said William Raymond Manning, a landscape architect who is co-chairman of the Bring Back New Orleans Committee on City Planning. "They left things in more disrepair than they needed to be."

All told, enough overhead cover from the trees has been stripped away that some residents worry that street life will not be the same, once the city revives. There is too much sun now, they say - people are going to stay indoors.

Ann E. Macdonald, director of the Department of Parks and Parkways, said 8,000 of the city's estimated half-million trees were uprooted by the hurricane or died in the ground. That number will grow considerably over the winter as other damaged trees fail to survive, she said.

That loss will be in addition to 2,000 trees that were killed over the summer by Tropical Storm Cindy. Magnolias, whose roots are unused to soaking, were especially hard hit, and they stand dead around the city, their leaves dried to crispness.

Bradford pears, drake elms and water oaks also had a hard time, Ms. Macdonald said.

"Pine trees did terribly," she said. "Tallow trees did terribly. The crape myrtles did pretty well, though, and we're hopeful of their coming back and being able to spread out by next summer."

Some specialists think Ms. Macdonald's figures may be low.

"We may have lost 40 percent to 50 percent of our tree canopy, maybe 20 percent of our trees," said Lake Douglas, a professor of landscape architecture at Louisiana State University and the co-author, with Jeannette Hardy, of "Gardens of New Orleans: Exquisite Excess."

Mr. Douglas spoke as he was touring City Park, one of the nation's largest urban parks at 1,300 acres, where wind and flood damage were extensive. The park lost more than 1,000 trees, and according to its Web site, 1,000 more are endangered. All told, its grounds - including a golf course, botanical gardens, a football stadium and a children's amusement park - sustained more than $40 million in damage.

Standing near the park's entrance, at the foot of the art museum steps, Mr. Douglas surveyed a view that included a stand of pines, where many have toppled over or snapped, and an entryway lined with red oaks that now look as though a team of antic lumberjacks had attacked them.

"Even if I'm overestimating the total damage," Mr. Douglas said, "each one of these oaks that's gone, it's just terrible. It feels like a tooth missing from a smile."

    New Orleans Loses Its Shade, NYT, 29.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/29/national/nationalspecial/29trees.html

 

 

 

 

 

The New Orleans Mayor

Residents Vent Anger at Washington

and Share Bad News

 

October 27, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 26 - Mayor C. Ray Nagin on Wednesday held his first large-scale town meeting since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region, and he got a strong sense of the anger and frustration that still pervade the city two months after the storm.

Virtually everyone who spoke complained about blighted houses and damaged neighborhoods, and many loudly booed the federal role in the city's recovery.

Garbage lies uncollected in vast mounds. Utilities are still spotty.

The schools remain closed, and large numbers of people are having problems with their insurance companies.

Very little of the anger in the crowded room was directed at the mayor, however, suggesting that his political standing on his own turf may be relatively untouched despite questions over his handling of the crisis.

The 500 people who packed a downtown hotel conference room were a motley New Orleans assemblage reminiscent of prestorm days, full of all sorts of advice (build a bigger airport; schedule a January presidential primary in Louisiana).

Some of them came from neighborhoods that barely exist anymore.

"My world has crashed for a long time," one woman said. "I want to know what New Orleans can do for me."

There was also the cynical humor of a diminished citizenry living in a shellshocked, empty city that has stared near-extinction in the face.

"Nobody is going to be walking up my sidewalk for the next three months," a man announced, to laughter, as he asked for a zoning variance for a trailer on his property.

Mr. Nagin, wearing a New Orleans Saints sweatshirt and looking relaxed, fielded the various complaints with the cool detachment that has been his hallmark throughout Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

To a woman who pointedly offered to take the mayor on a tour of the devastated, largely white and middle-class Lakeview neighborhood - suggesting that it had been neglected in municipal assistance - he simply said: "You got it."

But it was a young man who loudly denounced the federal government, and President Bush, rather than Mr. Nagin himself, who drew the loudest applause and cheers of the afternoon.

"I just can't get over the fact that we are the largest port city in the biggest economy in the world and we're still not getting the help we need from the federal government," said the man, Vincenzo Pasquantonio, the 24-year-old owner of a cleaning service who lives in the French Quarter.

Mr. Pasquantonio complained that talk show hosts were "referring to my friends in the Ninth Ward as human trash," and he drew applause when he said: "Rebuild those levees, Mr. President. We wouldn't have had this catastrophe if the federal government had been doing its job."

The crowd listened soberly as Mr. Nagin delivered unpleasant news at the beginning: no conventions are scheduled, there will be problems for homeowners with no flood insurance, and there is no cash in the city's coffers.

But he caught the antigovernment mood of the crowd when he said, "What I'm starting to realize, ladies and gentlemen, is that Washington is very skeptical about helping us."

    Residents Vent Anger at Washington and Share Bad News, NYT, 27.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/27/national/nationalspecial/27nagin.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Neighborhood

Longing for Home

in a Sealed New Orleans Ward

 

October 24, 2005
The New York Times
By DEBORAH SONTAG

 

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 22 - Hurricane Katrina turned Willie L. Calhoun Jr. into a hugger. Much to his surprise, the storm stirred up his emotions in a way that made him want to grab people by the hand and pull them in for a quick embrace. Each time he crossed the bridge into the Lower Ninth Ward, he started hugging - pastors, Red Cross volunteers and the few neighbors he encountered in the now ghostly African-American neighborhood where he has spent his life.

Mr. Calhoun, 55, did not hug Max Green, however. Mr. Green, a cowboy-boot-wearing insurance adjuster from Dallas, is handling the claim on 2229 Delery Street, the house where Mr. Calhoun grew up. Mr. Calhoun said jokingly that Mr. Green would get his hug if he wrote out a big check to Mr. Calhoun's 77-year-old mother, Gloria. But the two men could not take even the first step toward that kind of resolution this week.

On Wednesday, the men tried and failed to gain access to Mr. Calhoun's neighborhood. Mr. Calhoun, an inspector of nonfederal airports and a Baptist minister, was stunned. He had repeatedly toured the area since the storm, both when it was unguarded and after troops began blockading the northern half of the Lower Ninth Ward. At a time when the rest of New Orleans was reopened, he never expected to find that the National Guard had sealed his beloved neighborhood so tightly that even Mr. Willie, as he calls himself, could not sweet-talk his way in.

"They're treating us like we're already dead," Mr. Calhoun said after he was turned away at three checkpoints and took his leave of a local police officer - "All right, then, brother" - who informed him that he needed an escort from a City Council member. There were no council members present.

Since the storm surge flooded the Lower Ninth Ward at the end of August, Mr. Calhoun, like so many New Orleans residents, has been "riding a roller coaster of emotions," he said. A pastor and community leader, he said he had tried to inspire his family, his church members and his neighbors to "turn a negative into a positive." This week, though, the closing of his neighborhood provoked in Mr. Calhoun a few flashes of an emotion that he does not usually indulge: anger.

"Where are our elected representatives?" Mr. Calhoun said. "Why are we not being addressed? They don't even have so much as a leaflet out here to tell the people of the Lower Ninth Ward what is going on. People fear the worst."

 

Fearing Permanent Loss

What people fear is that the blockades are more than temporary obstacles. They fear the demise of their neighborhood. To many of them, the Lower Ninth Ward was like a small town in the midst of a big city, incalculably rich in history, character and community. But they worry that outsiders, who may have viewed the Ninth Ward as a blighted, low-lying area whose residents had little to lose, would be willing to write off their neighborhood as a casualty of the disaster, a neighborhood not worth the expense of rebuilding and storm-proofing.

In statements this week, Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans, denied that this would happen. "Read my lips," he said. "We will rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward."

But the reality may be more complicated. Local and federal officials already say 30,000 to 50,000 houses citywide will have to be demolished. Mr. Nagin's director of communications, Sally Forman, said in a telephone interview that while the mayor "absolutely intends to embrace a push for any effort that will establish the future of Ninth Ward residents in the Ninth Ward," the only thing that he can absolutely promise now, while assessments are being done, is that they will have a future in the city.

While Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Green were driving around, Mr. Green, who is handling 137 claims in the Lower Ninth Ward, said that he was "frustrated to death that the people who need help the worst can't get it."

"The people can't get in, and nobody seems to care," Mr. Green said to Mr. Calhoun. "This area has just fallen off of everybody's radar screen."

 

'Vietnam Didn't Look This Bad'

Last week, New Orleans did allow residents of the southern part of the Lower Ninth Ward to visit for a "look and leave." But Mr. Nagin said that he was reluctant because of safety concerns to let residents into what locals call the "back of town," the northern part of the Lower Ninth Ward, which was especially ravaged by the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Keith Calhoun, Mr. Calhoun's brother and a photographer who has documented the Lower Ninth Ward for decades, pointed out that the residents of St. Bernard Parish, a predominantly white area adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward and equally hard hit, had been allowed to return to their homes. He said that the city, together with federal troops, should organize excursions into the back of town.

"Don't tell me that the powerful military of ours, which has occupied Iraq, can't get together a few little vans for the people right here," he said.

Keith Calhoun, 50, was born on Delery Street, which cuts through the Lower Ninth Ward from the Mississippi River to the railroad tracks beside the Bayou Bienvenue. Before the storm, Delery Street contained block after block of shotgun and double-shotgun houses; two-story structures referred to as "upstairs-downstairs houses"; pink houses; green houses; a sausage factory; and houses of worship like The Truth, the Light Third Manger Spiritual Church.

Now, the houses that still stand bear the neon markings of search and rescue missions, an X in orange with notations indicating whether bodies were found or messages like "Dead K-9" or "Cats seen!" The street is caked with cracked mud, uprooted trees lie across heaps of shingles, and the aluminum siding on some houses peels upward like lips sneering.

For weeks, until the area was cordoned off completely on Wednesday, Willie Calhoun had driven around his ruined neighborhood trying to get his bearings. "Oh, looky here!" he exclaimed during his drives. "Lord have mercy!"

"I was in Vietnam," Mr. Calhoun said, "and Vietnam didn't look this bad."

His mother's house, a four-bedroom brick structure with iron grillwork, suffered considerable damage. Mr. Calhoun remembers when his father, a longshoreman, and his father's "friends from the river" laid the first bricks. It was his "earliest remembrance" of the place, from Christmastime in 1953 or '54, he said; his father made a tent of tarpaper to keep his young son warm while he labored to build the family a future.

Last week, Mr. Calhoun brought his mother, a retired custodian and a widow of four years, down from New Roads, La., where they are staying with his in-laws, to see the nightmarish tableau with her own eyes. "She cried, just like my wife did," he said. "But now she knows that she will never live in that house again."

 

Gone Across the Street

As an adult, Mr. Calhoun moved a block away from his parents to raise his own family. "I've got 51 years of history on Delery Street," he said, shaking his head, "and I can hardly recognize it."

At that moment, Mr. Calhoun stared across the street and startled. "Where is Miss Feenie's house at?" he asked, referring to the home of his mother's lifelong friend, Josephine Butler.

Concrete lions still guarded the entrance, although one had tilted off its pedestal. The front steps still climbed upward between two shrubs. But at the top: nothing.

Mr. Calhoun turned in a circle. "That must be it," he said, pointing to a roof across the street. He clapped his hand to his forehead. "Mother Nature, she decided to relocate and redecorate."

There was another roof, the Bryants', in Mr. Calhoun's front yard. Mr. Calhoun's large brick house, the heartiest on the block, appeared relatively intact from the outside. But the interior, fetid and impassable, looked as if it had been churned in muck.

Across the street, Lvinia Reddick's house had skated off its foundation. Charles Reddick, her son and Mr. Calhoun's longtime friend, returned last week to salvage what he could and came away with only one thing: "our address," he said. Mr. Reddick had saved the metal numbers - 2125 - for the new house he would build there, he said.

Mr. Reddick, after resettling his family in Houston, has returned to the New Orleans area to work. His round face has lost the pinch it acquired after Hurricane Katrina and regained its dimples. "I am home," he said, even though he is living with seven relatives in an apartment across the river from New Orleans.

A contractor, Mr. Reddick has lined up more than 30 jobs, and he is already out on rooftops alongside the relatives who work for him. He has slapped a sign that says Reddick Roofers on his red truck, and planted Reddick Roofers signs around town. The money is starting to flow again, and the future will take care of itself, he said.

"By summertime, I'm going to be moving the queen bee into her new house on Delery Street," he said, referring to his 68-year-mother, who keeps calling from Houston to ask when she can come home.

Unlike Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Reddick is not concerning himself with the redevelopment of the Lower Ninth Ward as a whole. "I leave the politics to Junior," he said, using Mr. Calhoun's childhood nickname.

 

Pressing the City

For Mr. Calhoun, Mayor Nagin's pledge to rebuild provoked a lot of questions. "How?" Mr. Calhoun said. "What's the timetable? What are the environmental concerns? Will they rebuild the levee strong enough to protect us this time? Where is our seat at the table, or are they going to plan our future without us?"

These are questions, city officials said, that they cannot yet answer, except for one: "These people absolutely will be a voice in the rebuilding process," Ms. Forman said.

While trying to keep up with his job, his insurance claims and his family, Mr. Calhoun, who said he was exhausted, has been organizing. He is compiling a database of Lower Ninth Ward residents. He has been conferring with other ministers and trying to organize a meeting for neighborhood residents.

He has heard all the inferences that the Lower Ninth Ward is expendable, that it is so low-lying that it is bound to flood repeatedly if rebuilt. He takes exception to that, he said. He has owned a home in the neighborhood for over 30 years and never filed a flood claim until now, he said. The flooding happened because the levee did not withstand the storm. Scientists say that all of New Orleans, including the Lower Ninth Ward, can be protected against hurricanes. It is a just a matter of money, he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Calhoun placed a call to Oliver Thomas, the City Council president, who grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward and used to play football with his younger brother. Mr. Thomas told him that he was in a meeting and could not talk. Mr. Calhoun grumbled to himself about "my so-called bosom buddy" and, turning around, headed north to Bogalusa, La., to meet with an airport manager there. Mr. Thomas did not return his call.

    Longing for Home in a Sealed New Orleans Ward, NYT, 24.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/24/national/nationalspecial/24block.html

 

 

 

 

 

Damage

Thousands of Demolitions Near,

New Orleans Braces for New Pain

 

October 23, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 22 - As crews begin inspecting thousands of rotting houses and preservationists begin efforts to save them, city and federal officials say that 30,000 to 50,000 of the city's houses will probably have to be demolished.

That number, though smaller than some earlier predictions, nonetheless represents more than a quarter of the city's housing stock. A few weeks from now, when giant track excavators begin tearing into homes that once sheltered families and nest eggs, the city will experience one of the most painful moments of its ordeal.

"Really, the whole scope of this thing is hard to get your mind around," said Allen Morse, who will be in charge of the demolition effort for the Army Corps of Engineers. "It's going to be a huge task."

Already the dreaded bright red-orange stickers blaring "unsafe" have begun to proliferate on houses, signaling what is becoming a passionate debate over the extent of the demolition.

Of the city's 180,000 houses, 110,000 were flooded, city officials say, and half of those sat for days or weeks in more than six feet of water. If up to 50,000 homes are beyond salvaging, many of the others could be saved with expensive repair jobs, but large numbers of homeowners may not have the resources to rebuild. As a result, the number of demolitions could soar beyond 50,000.

The Corps of Engineers is being careful not to make predictions about the scope of the job. "The word 'demolition' is not even being discussed around here," said Kelley Aasen, the corps official in charge of the mammoth task of inspecting every house in New Orleans for obvious structural damage. "It's triage, right now."

Yet as building inspectors fan out around the city, taking the first steps in deciding the fate of flooded homes, a picture is beginning to emerge on the Corps of Engineers map: red dots are sprouting in the Lower Ninth Ward, and the area below Lake Pontchartrain is a field of yellow, meaning structural damage is suspected. Houses marked with either color face a tenuous future.

By midweek, about 30,000 inspections had been completed, with 7,000 houses tagged yellow and 700 red, corps officials said. Most of the hardest-hit areas have not yet been inspected.

The process has not been without hiccups. The Shaw Group, the construction company that is providing many of the inspectors to the corps, provoked complaints this week from the corps and city building officials that some people hired as inspectors, including a retired art dealer and a hairdresser, were unqualified to make structural appraisals.

By Friday, a corps official said Shaw had responded to the complaints, dismissing two dozen of the least qualified inspectors.

City officials say it will probably not be necessary to destroy entire neighborhoods, speaking instead of city blocks. There had been earlier discussion of ending the city's preservation-review process and allowing bulldozers to plow through some of the most historically significant neighborhoods in New Orleans. That idea aroused consternation. But those fears ended when city officials promised that historic houses would get special consideration and that deluged neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East would not be wiped out.

"There's a recognition that the New Orleans housing stock is really pretty sturdy, and there should not be the necessity for wholesale demolition once thought," said Camille Strachan, a trustee emeritus of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a New Orleans lawyer. "I think that as the hysteria subsides along with the water, there will be a lot more rational decisions made."

But questions remain about a process that is certain to change the face of this city for good. No one is certain when the demolitions will begin in earnest, what will happen to houses without flood insurance or whether New Orleans homeowners, facing the demolition squad, will resist en masse.

Already, flashpoints have emerged in the complex interplay of municipal vision, homeowner rights and federal mandates. Some of these conflicts hark back to age-old fights here between developers and preservationists; some are brand-new, reflecting the changed, browned-over landscape in large parts of this city.

City officials say that even when neighborhoods like the Ninth Ward are rebuilt, they will look very different, particularly given the staggering cost of trying to return them to something resembling their earlier state.

"People are going to be upside down when they look at the cost of rebuilding," said Greg Meffert, chief information officer for the City of New Orleans and a top aide to Mayor C. Ray Nagin.

But preservationists say that money must be found to rebuild some of the most historic residential structures and that the demolition process must proceed cautiously.

"When you have a city that has suffered an incredible disaster, you can't overlook any economic resource, and the historic buildings are an economic resource," said Patricia Gay, executive director of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, the leading local preservation group. "This type of thing is the flesh and blood of the city."

Officials at every level take pains to emphasize that the demolition will be kept to a minimum. "The current thinking is, you only go tear down the absolute minimum number of homes," said Mr. Morse, the corps official who will take charge of what he calls a "sensitive" operation. "We're trying to save as many homes as possible." And the officials emphasize that owners' rights will be paramount.

With the demolition some time away - "Nobody wants to really put a marker on the wall as to when this happens," Mr. Morse said - neither officials nor homeowners in New Orleans seem ready to envision the day of reckoning.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm just going to stand still. I'm not tearing anything down right now," said Janie Blackmon, a loan officer who "saved one picture of my beautiful daughter," but nothing else, from her home in New Orleans East.

For now, there is brave talk of hanging on to ravaged neighborhoods. "I don't care if I have to go door to door," said Annie Avery, director of African-American heritage preservation for the Preservation Resource Center. "I want to save our neighborhoods."

In practice, it will be very difficult for many homeowners to save their flooded houses. For a start, about half of them did not have flood insurance, meaning they might have to foot the entire cost of restoration themselves - a crushing burden in a city where nearly a quarter of the residents were below the poverty level.

Federal flood insurance guidelines will also require that thousands of damaged homes in floodplains be elevated by a foot or more, a fearsomely expensive proposition for which there is limited federal assistance. If the city allows those homes to be rebuilt without being elevated, it could be cut off from the National Flood Insurance Program.

Finally, with homeowners all over the city desperately scrambling for contractors, the price of renovations has quadrupled to nearly $120 a square foot. On top of an existing mortgage, the economics of reconstruction quickly become prohibitive, even for yellow-tagged houses.

"New construction is a lot cheaper than renovation," said Jay Williams, a local insurance agent.

Homeowners will be given the final say on whether their houses will be torn down, but they will have a limited time to decide whether to renovate or demolish. After that, the city can order an unsafe house to come down.

"At some point, we have to have a cutoff," said Michael Centineo, director of the Department of Safety and Permits in New Orleans. "When it becomes a public nuisance, when it becomes a blight."

For now, the piles of debris outside many homes here, put there by owners who are gutting them, testify to the hope that houses and neighborhoods can be saved. Yet uncertainty about the future prevails.

"We're not really getting feedback as to how much of the neighborhood is going to be rebuilt," said Bari Landry, past president of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association in the middle-class northwest corner of the city. "No one is really giving us the information we need."

    Thousands of Demolitions Near, New Orleans Braces for New Pain, NYT, 23.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/23/national/nationalspecial/23demolish.html

 

 

 

 

 

Finances

After Two Storms,

Cities Confront Economic Peril

 

October 22, 2005
The New York Times
By GARY RIVLIN

 

BATON ROUGE, La., Oct. 21 - In better times, before Hurricane Katrina washed away its tax base, the St. Bernard School District employed 1,200 people. Now, with no money to make its payroll, the district employs fewer than 12 employees, and this weekend, the parish government expects to lay off a large share of its firefighters and emergency personnel.

Next door in New Orleans, the school district has laid off virtually every employee, more than 7,000 people. The city has laid off half its workforce, and the state university system is preparing for thousands of layoffs and serious cutbacks in services.

After weeks of dealing with the initial shock of the storm and trying to help residents with immediate emergencies, local and state governments around the Gulf Coast are starting to grapple with the staggering size of their financial peril. The disaster that caused so much human misery has also produced what some are calling the worst municipal finance crisis in the nation's history.

"We've never seen anything like this, at least not in our lifetime," said Roy Bahl, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta and an expert in public finance. "You think about the hurricanes that hit Florida last year. They were bad. But they didn't devastate the tax base of an entire metropolitan area. They didn't devastate the tax base of an entire region like happened here."

Without money, governments cannot run buses so that residents without cars can search for jobs and go to work. They cannot educate the children of families that might try to return. They cannot provide health care, pick up garbage or begin the detailed planning and engineering necessary to bring a city back to life.

They are locked in a painful loop, unable to lure back exiled residents without services, but unable to provide the services without tax bases.

That has become apparent in St. Bernard Parish, the one county in the state that was entirely engulfed in the storm. Officials there have laid off more than half its workforce of 650, including road crews and other essential workers desperately needed for restoration, and by this weekend they might need to slash scores more emergency workers.

"I can't ask people to work another two weeks if I know there's a good chance I'm not going to be able to pay them," the emergency preparedness director in the parish, Larry J. Ingargiola, said. "If you call this weekend and get no answer, you'll know why."

St. Bernard and New Orleans are among dozens of cities and parishes around the coast peering into a financial abyss, along with small towns like Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Miss. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita cost southern Louisiana municipalities at least $3.3 billion in lost taxes and fees, according to the state legislative office that audits local government books. That does not include $1.5 billion in losses on the state level.

Local governments, desperately hoping for a bailout from the state and federal governments, have not been pleased by what they have received. The state has its own problems, and the federal assistance so far has strings and payback requirements that many localities consider onerous.

By statute, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse government entities 75 cents on the dollar for costs associated with rebuilding and repairs, forcing cities to come up with a 25 percent contribution many cannot afford.

Local officials are hoping to persuade federal officials to provide 100 percent reimbursement, as the agency did after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

"If we're going to need to pay a match of 25 percent on the cost of Katrina at the same time we have to absorb these lost revenues, frankly I don't know what we're going to do," said John Carpenter, director of the fiscal division of the Louisiana House of Representatives.

This month, Congress approved legislation to set aside $1 billion so governments could borrow cash to help meet operating expenses.

But many governments said they were frustrated to hear that they would have to repay the money.

"We asked for a grant, and what we got was a loan," State Treasurer John Neely Kennedy said.

Requiring municipalities with wrecked tax bases to pay back the loan, Mr. Kennedy and others said, means that the agencies that most need the money are precisely those that can least afford to take advantage of the program.

It is also not clear whether Wall Street and big lenders will come to the region's aid. This week, J. P. Morgan Chase extended New Orleans a $150 million line of credit to help it make its regular bond payments and pay essential personnel like police officers and firefighters.

But the city's credit was marginal before the storm, and bank officials said the credit line was not a normal business decision.

"If you look at the typical credit guidelines we use, this probably isn't something we would do, given that the city essentially has little or none of the revenues we usually look for," said Donald E. Wilbon, who runs public financing group in the Southeast for the bank.

The bank decided to extend the line of credit, Mr. Wilbon said, in part based on its longstanding relationship with the city, where the bank has a strong presence, and on a firm belief that the economy there will eventually rebound. New Orleans typically collected $39 million a month in taxes and fees to pay for functions like police, fire and emergency medical services.

Since the hurricane, the city has collected $2 million in revenues, according to Finance Director Reginald Zeno. The bulk of that has been paid by the Harrah's casino downtown, which although it remains closed still has to continue paying its taxes under an agreement with the city.

The primary revenue source in New Orleans is its sales tax, which pre-hurricane covered about one-third of the operating budget for the city. The tax was a rich and reliable source when the hotels were full and the streets were thick with tourists eager to dine at the myriad restaurants and drink themselves silly.

Now about the only people occupying the smattering of open hotels are federal workers, and federal employees are exempt from paying local sales taxes when working on government business.

"We've gone from about $13 million a month in sales tax to zero," Mr. Zeno said. He gave a long list of other lost revenues like fines from parking and speeding tickets and taxes imposed on utilities that the city cannot expect to see for some time.

"The level of revenue we might see next year is anyone's guess," Mr. Zeno said.

One saving grace is that the demand for services has dramatically fallen. A nearly deserted city means that it will be far less expensive to open schools in the short term.

The New Orleans district plans on opening eight of its 120 or so schools starting next month, said William V. Roberti, a partner at Alvarez & Marsal, a management firm hired in the spring to run the beleaguered school system.

Yet the district, which spent $450 million last year, will not save nearly as much money as it might seem at first glance. Even the scaled-down version is scheduled to cost $82 million, not including the $32 million the district has to pay on bonds and the $80 million it has set aside to cover unemployment compensation and employees' health benefits.

Around half the financing for the district is from the state, but the state has its own budget woes, and districts elsewhere in the state have a claim on some of that money because of the extra students that they absorbed after the huge evacuations in the New Orleans metropolitan region.

The city, St. Bernard Parish and school districts have applied for loans from the $1 billion federal fund.

St. Bernard, which relies on nonexistent property taxes, faces a grimmer situation than New Orleans. The parish government has eliminated its road crews, though the byways are in dire need of repair, said Mr. Ingargiola, the parish security director. The parish might also be forced to lay off firefighters and other emergency workers.

"Even FEMA people say they've never seen a situation like this where a county or parish is so completely obliterated that we don't even have a safe base of operation to start a recovery," said Gary Huettmann, the economic development director for the parish who is working at a borrowed desk in a building across the street from the State Capitol here.

The Louisiana State University system, operator of two public hospitals in New Orleans, is laying off 3,000 workers. That number might grow significantly, officials warn, when the system grapples with the possibility of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cuts, largely because of a precipitous drop in income-tax revenues. Nearly a quarter-million state residents have lost their jobs. Cities are also worried about defaulting on bond payments. New Orleans is directly responsible for repaying $40 million in debt. The only reason that it is not late is because there have been no payments due since the storm, Mr. Zeno said.

State officials have promised to prevent any city or parish from declaring bankruptcy.

    After Two Storms, Cities Confront Economic Peril, NYT, 22.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/22/national/nationalspecial/22finance.html

 

 

 

 

 

Rebuilding

New Orleans Mayor

Drops Casino-District Idea
 

October 20, 2005
The New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 19 - Mayor C. Ray Nagin says his much-criticized idea for a Las Vegas-style casino district in the heart of downtown is now dead.

Mr. Nagin offered the proposal earlier this month, seeking a quick way to revive the city's economy. But critics derided it, saying it would threaten New Orleans's fragile cultural mix and was not the answer to the city's grave economic problems. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who ran for office two years ago on an antigambling platform, also expressed strong reservations about it.

On Tuesday, testifying in Washington at a Congressional hearing on rebuilding New Orleans, Mr. Nagin told lawmakers that Ms. Blanco's opposition had killed the plan, which would have required state legislative approval.

"The governor didn't much like the idea, so it is pretty much dead," Mr. Nagin said at the hearing, before a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.

Ms. Blanco had so far declined to include the proposal on the agenda of a special legislative session called for next month, and legislative leaders were known to be cool to it.

The governor was hardly the only critic. Members of the City Council had been quick to question the plan, in echoes of the fierce controversy that arose during the mid-1990's with the advent of the city's only downtown casino. At the time, backers of that casino, operated by Harrah's, said it would become an economic engine for the city; it has so far failed to do so.

Several council members are welcoming the abandonment of a scheme apparently hatched after little consultation with other political figures, in keeping with Mr. Nagin's penchant.

"I think it was an intelligent move," Councilman Jay Batt said of the plan's withdrawal. "I think it would destroy the character and culture of our city. Gambling is not economic development."

Mr. Nagin had called for allowing a half-dozen of the city's largest hotels downtown to convert to casinos, along Canal and Poydras Streets. He had said that while he was not fond of gambling, he knew of no other way to get the city's economy going.

But public opposition was immediate, from newspaper editorials, talk radio and other officeholders. And Harrah's, which has exclusive rights to operate the city's only land-based casino, was unenthusiastic. Its contract would have had to be renegotiated, a prospect that Mr. Nagin acknowledged could be costly.

"The reality is, the political hurdles are too high at this point in time," said J. Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. He added, "Many people felt that an issue as complex as gaming is one that needed more time and discussion and business analysis, and that simply was not going to be afforded in as short a time as this."

    New Orleans Mayor Drops Casino-District Idea, NYT, 20.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/20/national/nationalspecial/20gamble.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Cleanup

In New Orleans,

the Trashman Will Have to Move Mountains

 

October 16, 2005
The New York Times
By JENNIFER MEDINA

 

NEW ORLEANS - On one front lawn, a two-foot-high pile of garbage takes the place of a hedge. A rusting mattress lies next to a bottle of cleaning fluid and a television set. The stench of paint combined with weeks-old food is choking. Flies hover over the whole thing, zeroing in on a handful of chocolate eggs.

This is just one pile. There are thousands upon thousands of others, totaling 22 million tons of waste. They have baked in the swampy heat for weeks now, making this city look and smell like a landfill.

It is more trash than any American city produces in a year. It is enough to fill the Empire State Building 40 times over. It will take at least 3.5 million truckloads to haul it away. "It is absolutely and completely revolting," Kathleen McGoey said on a recent day as she stood in front of a mound of Sheetrock, wicker chairs and moldy clothes outside an apartment building she owns.

This is not even counting the cars that have been abandoned on sidewalks, or the boats stranded on the streets. It is not counting the more than 1 million refrigerators, stoves and washing machines on curbs all over the area. This is not counting any of the hundreds of homes that will inevitably be demolished.

It is the largest, and most complicated, cleanup in American history.

More than a month after Hurricane Katrina, the state and the Army Corps of Engineers have just begun trying to figure out how to sort the blanket of debris. There are probably thousands of tons of household chemicals like bleach and pesticides. There are toxic substances like Freon and mercury.

"What we have looking at us in the face isn't like anything we've seen before," said Jim Pogue, a spokesman for the corps. "We've got to get this out of here as soon as possible." But officials acknowledge that could mean months, if not years.

The corps has already awarded $2 billion in contracts to get rid of the waste in the region - more than three times the annual operating budget of the city of New Orleans. State officials predict that the cost could grow substantially.

There are nearly 3,000 dump trucks that have started to make daily rounds in neighborhoods where residents have moved back in. The corps is still looking for more trucks to arrive every day.

It will take months to get rid of the muck already clogging streets, and only a fraction of former city residents have returned home so far and have yet to empty out their homes. The Army Corps of Engineers says it is likely to take seven months, while Chuck Carr Brown, the assistant secretary of the Louisiana Environmental Services Office, said the process could take as long as two years.

In some neighborhoods, the rancid piles permeate the air with a smell that seems a mix of sour milk, foul river water and rotting meat. Residents who have returned are complaining about the odor and the accompanying maggots. They wear rubber gloves and face masks to guard their senses and protect their health.

As Ms. McGoey spent one recent day cleaning out an apartment in the building she owns, the tenant who lived there spent the afternoon hunched over the balcony, vomiting at least half a dozen times because of the stench. The night before the storm, Ms. McGoey bought several pounds of peppers, now transformed into a pulpy mess at the top of one trash can. "Even if my house is fine, there's no way you could stand to be around this," she said.

There are still five other apartments in the building that must be emptied, but Ms. McGoey says she cannot do that until the garbage she has now is taken away.

"What in the world happens when my neighbors come back?," she asked, looking down the road at other heaps like hers. "I don't have any idea when somebody is going to move this."

Regular trash collection still has not resumed in several parts of the city. In the French Quarter, the odor assaults diners even as they walk out of recently reopened upscale restaurants.

Moving the debris from the streets is just one step. Although officials are urging residents to separate and label their trash, few people returning here have the time or desire to pile their aluminum cans away from their microwaves. Instead, most simply just drag the trash to the curb and leave it to the contractors to sort out.

Contractors must then sort the debris at a collection site before the mounds of rubbish will be taken to burn sites, recycling areas or landfills.

The corps is only beginning to make plans for the six categories of waste: green, household, construction, chemical, appliances and vehicles. They have no accurate estimate of how much of the debris fits into each category.

"We'll get rid of the most dangerous stuff first," said Darin Mann, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. "The most difficult part is going to be when people start to realize you have entire homes that are going to be classified as debris."

State officials anticipate having to remove some 4,000 pounds of mercury from demolished buildings and cars.

"This is not an easy process of just going in and knocking things down or getting it in one sweep," Mr. Mann said. "We'll have to go in and remove everything from each house - chemicals, furniture, whatever is there."

Much of the natural debris, such as tree trunks, branches and leaves knocked around by the storm, will be turned into wood chips and compost, but some will be burned to prevent termites from spreading. The metal scraps and tires from salvaged cars are expected to be recycled. Most of the remaining debris - including couches, insulation and roof shingles - will be placed in landfills in the area.

"There is a desire to recycle as much as possible, but there is also a strong drive to do this as soon as possible," Mr. Pogue said.

While preliminary tests have shown less soil contamination than many feared, the soppy, sticky mess has festered for weeks, and local officials worry that residents will be exposed to bacteria, chemical fumes or other toxic substances.

The plans to move forward quickly have drawn some concern from environmental advocates, who say that the pressure to simply get the stuff out could set a dangerous precedent with dumping in local processing sites and landfills.

"We're looking at a place that doesn't have the luxury of segregation that a normal, functioning infrastructure would have," said Allen Hershkowitz, the director of the solid waste research program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "There may be no alternative now, because there is such an urgent need to make sure that you get this waste away from people, but you've got all this stuff that is never mixed together normally."

If the debris remains mixed together in the long term, Dr. Hershkowitz said, there will be public health risks from combustible material, rodent infestation or chemical leaks into the ground. Because so much of the debris was soaked in floodwater for days, there is an even greater concern for the spread of bacteria and mold, he said.

Even in places that suffered little damage from the storm, homeowners have returned to five-week-old food in refrigerators that stopped working the day of the storm. Now, those refrigerators sit curbside, wrapped tightly with tape. In Jefferson Parish, local officials have set up what some call a refrigerator graveyard, where residents can drop off their discarded appliances.

The freezers contain what were once pounds of fresh meat, crab and shrimp - all of it now liquefied and putrid. Many have messages that warn "gross" or "don't touch - stinky food."

But somebody must touch them. The corps has hired contractors to remove the Freon from the appliances so that they can be recycled. Those same contractors are also expected to clean out whatever is inside.

"Right now, our job is just to get this stuff off the streets," said Marnie Winter, the director of the Jefferson Parish Department of Environmental Affairs. "People have so much to worry about, the last thing they want to do is empty their refrigerators."

If the magnitude of it all is too difficult to understand, consider Carneal Knapper's dump deposit slips from one day of hauling debris. There were 10 tons at 9 a.m., and a 9-ton delivery two hours later. By the early afternoon, there were 23 tons and, during his final drop-off at 5 p.m., another 10 tons.

At the end of the day, Mr. Knapper, 50, returned to his own destroyed home in the Lake Terrace neighborhood. He retrieved a wallet and a small box of coins, about the only things he thought were salvageable.

"They're going to have to tear down all this and put it in a dump truck," he said, pointing to his brick home, where floodwater had destroyed everything inside but a wooden dining room table.

He thought about the rolls of sodden carpet he had put in his truck earlier and said: "I'm driving the stuff like this every day, all day. All day, every day."

    In New Orleans, the Trashman Will Have to Move Mountains, NYT, 16.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/16/national/nationalspecial/16garbage.html

 

 

 

 

 

Fats Domino returns home to New Orleans

 

Sat Oct 15, 2005 6:58 PM ET
Reuters
By Kevin Krolicki and Nichola Groom

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Rock 'n' roll pioneer Fats Domino, who was missing for days after Hurricane Katrina, returned home on Saturday to load some of his muddied gold records into the trunk of a car.

Sporting a white captain's hat, gold chain and black galoshes, Domino had a laugh at tributes worried fans had spray-painted on his house after assuming he had died in the storm.

"There was a big 'Rest in Peace' on my balcony on the other house," the 77-year-old musician said with a laugh. "I'm still here, thank God. I'm alive and kicking."

Outside the bright yellow headquarters of Fats Domino Publishing, Domino's son-in-law, Charles Brimmer, helped the musician load mementos from his legendary career into the car.

Told only three of his 21 gold records -- "Rose Mary," "I'm Walkin'," and "Blue Monday" -- had been found, Domino said, "Well, somebody got the rest of them."

"Or they may be floating around here somewhere," Brimmer suggested.

Brimmer and Domino found some of his jewelry, including a gold ring, in one of his houses. A picture of Domino with Elvis Presley was inside, "but too messed up, we couldn't salvage it," Brimmer said.

Domino was one of a handful of residents sifting through their devastated homes and destroyed belongings in New Orleans' lower Ninth Ward on Saturday afternoon. Domino took a break from the sad task to talk to well-wishers and pose for pictures.

The poor, mostly black Ninth Ward was hit by a tidal surge that brought 12-foot (3.6-meter) floodwaters into many of the homes.

The musician, known for his boogie-woogie piano style, became the hurricane's most famous evacuee after he rebuffed pleas to flee as the August 29 storm bore down on the city. The rotund musician and his wife were rescued from the floodwaters by boat a few days after the storm hit.

"I sure do appreciate that people think so much about me," Domino told Reuters when asked about the concern over his whereabouts immediately following the storm.

He added it might be a good time to put out a record he recorded about two years ago called "Alive and Kicking."

"I'm alive and kicking, thank God," he said.

He was not certain who would release the new music, but said he was scheduled to play in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on November 5 "if I'm feeling better."

Domino's house "did pretty good," considering the devastation of the surrounding Ninth Ward, he said. Two of his pianos in a bigger, adjoining house were ruined, he said.

Domino and his family had been in Texas but are now staying at a hotel in New Orleans. He said he wanted to be close to the neighborhood he was born in while it rebuilds.

"I don't know what to do, move somewhere else or something," Domino said. "But I like it down here."

    Fats Domino returns home to New Orleans, R, 15.10.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=entertainmentNews&storyID=2005-10-15T225824Z_01_WRI582093_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-FATSDOMINO.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Storm-hit New Orleans

desires return of streetcars

 

Fri Oct 14, 2005 11:44 AM ET
Reuters
By Russell McCulley

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans' fabled streetcars may not be as high on the hurricane repair list as levees or sewers but officials say the city's recovery would not be complete without the quaint, clattering cars.

The bulky rail cars with slatted wooden seats immortalized in Tennessee Williams' 1947 play "A Streetcar Named Desire" are a favorite of tourists and locals alike, but it may be weeks or perhaps months before they will run again.

The 35 cars on the famous St. Charles Avenue line were safely stowed away when Katrina struck on August 29 but the overhead cables that power them were knocked down in the storm, said Rosalind Cook Blanco, spokeswoman for the Regional Transit Authority that manages the New Orleans bus and streetcar system.

The old oak trees that frame the route, which includes the historic Garden District, became battering rams in Katrina's winds and dealt the 14-mile-long route a powerful blow.

"Almost all of the cables were pulled down," Blanco said.

On the Riverfront and Canal Street lines, which make up the rest of the city's 22-mile system, all 32 streetcars were damaged by flooding but the overhead lines and the track remain largely intact.

The city has not set a timetable for putting the streetcars back in service.

Restoration of the streetcars is viewed as an important part of the city's recovery, said Sandy Shilstone, president of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corp., the agency that develops ad campaigns for the city's tourism industry.

"To New Orleanians, it means everything," she said. "The streetcar is more than a means of transportation. It means tradition and continuity -- life moving forward and the strength forged by fire and steel."

 

CITY ICONS

Streetcar service on St. Charles Avenue began in 1835 and its vintage cars have become New Orleans icons.

Playwright Williams, who spent much time in the city, named his famous play after a rail line that passed through the historic French Quarter en route to a street named Desire. That rail line no longer exists.

"The streetcar will be back," Shilstone said. "I know the first time I hear the clanging of the bells, I will have goose bumps."

For now, the St. Charles route is being serviced with buses. There are so few people in the city after Katrina forced a massive evacuation that the buses are mostly empty, said driver Charles Harris.

"It hasn't been much," he said as he turned from Canal Street onto St. Charles, heading from the central business district into the Garden District.

Before Katrina, Harris drove a streetcar and wants to get back to it.

He said he is eager to trade the bus' air conditioning and power steering for the streetcar's open windows and elaborate system of levers and knobs used to guide it along the bumpy St. Charles route.

"It's real exciting on the streetcar," he says, keeping his eyes trained on the debris-strewn avenue in front of him. "The tourists love 'em. Sometimes they'll just ride 'em back and forth."

Storm-hit New Orleans desires return of streetcars, R, 14.10.2005,
http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-14T154405Z_01_BAU455357_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-STREETCARS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At "Camp Amtrak,"

the bus and train station being used as jail and courthouse

in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans,

Deputy Natasha Villavicencio

watched over defendants waiting for their cases to be heard.

Bail hearings, which began there last week,

were the first step toward reviving one of the nation's

busiest criminal justice systems.

 

Photograph:

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times        October 13, 2005

 

Courts' Slow Recovery Begins at Train Station        NYT        14.10.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/14/national/nationalspecial/14courts.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Criminal Justice

Courts' Slow Recovery

Begins at Train Station

 

October 14, 2005
The New York Times
By CHRISTOPHER DREW

 

The inmates, bleary from trying to sleep on a fenced-in chunk of pavement outside the bus and train station in New Orleans, parade upstairs to the makeshift courtroom, their hands in white plastic cuffs. The prosecutor hustles up from his office - a k a the Taste of New Orleans gift shop - where his file folders now share the display window with bottles of hot sauce and plastic ladles that say "Cooking with Jazz."

The magistrate judge, Gerard J. Hansen, is making do behind an old desk, briskly setting bail for some of the 1,100 people arrested in the metropolitan area since Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29.

When one man steps up, accused of looting an odd mix of boat batteries, a drill, antifreeze, 23 bags of coffee and 53 bottles of alcohol, all found in his car, the judge greets him with a touch of sympathy and $25,000 in bail. "I can understand the alcohol," the judge says, but he adds, "I don't think you were taking all that out of your house, sir."

The bail hearings, which began at "Camp Amtrak" recently, are the first step toward reviving one of the nation's busiest criminal justice systems, a crucial component to bringing residents and tourists back to a city with a potent subculture of guns, drugs and crime.

But it could be weeks before the city's jails, police headquarters and courthouses are repaired, before witnesses can be found and jury trials begin again.

Even then, problems will remain. Floodwaters deluged evidence rooms, destroyed the police crime laboratory and wiped out courthouse computer systems. Officials have had to reconstruct from thick printouts the charges lodged against more than 6,000 inmates before they were evacuated in small boats and scattered among 39 state prisons. Judges say about 800 who were in jail on minor charges, including some who normally would have been held for just a night or two for public drunkenness, were held for two to three weeks amid the confusion.

Court officials have suspended speedy-trial rules and delayed all but the most urgent proceedings until at least Oct. 25. And the city has said it can no longer pay its share of the operating expenses for the courts and the local prosecutor, forcing both to lay off dozens of workers.

"People say 'come hell or high water,' but both came for us," Judge Calvin Johnson, the senior judge on the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, said in an interview.

Even when trials resume, the first will be simple cases in which defendants are willing to be tried by a judge and police officers are the main witnesses. One big problem, judges say, is picking a jury that is a cross-section of this city when no one knows who will move back and who will not.

"That is a big question mark," said another criminal court judge, Frank A. Marullo Jr., who took his turn on the temporary bench the other day wearing a bright red polo shirt and a dark windbreaker, a far cry from judicial robes. "The city we used to have is not the city we have anymore."

Human Rights Watch said Thursday that many inmates were being treated unfairly. But many awaiting trial are being patient, said Tilden H. Greenbaum III, the director of the Orleans Indigent Defender Program.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to start making noise about it," Mr. Greenbaum said. "But given the magnitude of what everybody's been through, now is not the time to push."

Law enforcement officials say they are moving as quickly as possible, because they recognize that keeping order in the streets is as critical to bringing residents and tourists back to New Orleans as restoring electricity and cleaning toxic residues.

The spasm of looting in the days after Hurricane Katrina focused the nation's attention on a harsh side of New Orleans. Away from the gaudy mirth on Bourbon Street and the graceful homes in the Garden District, many of the city's poor neighborhoods have a desperate quality, with more than one-quarter of the city's 450,000 people living in poverty.

"It's like two different worlds," said Charles E. Smith, a supervisory special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who grew up in a New Orleans housing project. "When we need a break, we make plans to go to an island or take the family to Disney World. But a majority of these people can't get away, so they get away with alcohol and drugs."

Police officers say the drugs and the multitude of guns often lead to brazen crimes. A few days after the storm, one looter shot another in the head in a fight over a flashlight in a dark clothing factory, officers say. And federal authorities have indicted a man for shooting at a rescue helicopter, one of several incidents in which emergency workers were fired on.

"We do have our hard-core criminal element that is not afraid of dying, that is not afraid of prison," Eddie Jordan, the Orleans Parish district attorney, said in an interview.

That is still true after the storm. Some of those arrested for violating the city's post-Katrina curfew have been found with marijuana and cocaine in their cars. The police SWAT team recently arrested two men driving around with an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle - and papers indicating they had just returned from a shelter in Houston.

Burl Cain, the warden at the Angola state prison who is in charge at the temporary jail, said that when officials arrived for their first look at the station in early September, they had to chase away looters trying to crack into the Greyhound and Amtrak safes. The 1,100 people from the metropolitan area who have passed through the jail include nearly 450 arrested in New Orleans for minor offenses and about 200 for serious crimes.

Inmates are held in chain-link pens behind the station, under a canopy where the buses once pulled up. Each cell has a portable toilet, like those at construction sites. Inmates eat packaged military meals - "Sometimes we make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for them," Mr. Cain said - and sleep on the pavement. Each day, buses haul most of them to a state prison near Baton Rouge, where they either make their bail or wait for a court date.

On Wednesday, Robert Davis, the man who was videotaped being beaten by police officers, was at the temporary courtroom, pleading not guilty to charges including public intoxication and resisting arrest.

Fears of further looting have swelled the jail population. Talking angrily through the jail fence one afternoon, Charles Johnson, 17, said he had been arrested outside his grandmother's house for driving without a license.

"The officer was going to let me go, but then he saw a brand-new printer in the car," Mr. Johnson said. "I'd gotten it out of the house. I have a lot of computer stuff, but he figured I'd stolen it."

In the temporary court the next morning, Municipal Judge Paul N. Sens assigned Mr. Johnson a hearing date in January and released him. About 15 others were sentenced to community service for curfew violations, trespassing or public intoxication. "You have an opportunity to help the city recover," Judge Sens told them.

Judge Sens said in an interview that when Hurricane Katrina hit, 800 of the city's 6,200 inmates were serving time for or awaiting trial on minor offenses. He said he was able to release 130 on Sept. 15 and most of the rest over the next week.

The senior municipal and criminal court judges have sought help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in salvaging some flooded evidence and in repairing the damaged courts. Marlin N. Gusman, the Orleans Parish criminal sheriff, said he hopes to have the first two of his 10 jails repaired by Oct. 17, though more than half of his 1,100 employees have not returned to work.

Mr. Jordan, the district attorney, and the judges said the city's failing finances pose another threat. The city normally supplied about one-third of the prosecutor's budget and split court expenses with the state. But city officials have said they cannot provide any money for the rest of the year.

Mr. Jordan said he has already laid off 37 people from his support staff and he might have to let some of his 90 prosecutors go.

"It's a Catch-22," Judge Marullo said. "We need people to come back. But in order to bring people back, and to have people visit New Orleans, we've got to have all the elements of the system, from the police to the courts, working to keep them safe."

Courts' Slow Recovery Begins at Train Station, NYT, 14.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/14/national/nationalspecial/14courts.html

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans mayor touts jobs,

housing to displaced

 

Thu Oct 13, 2005 10:56 PM ET
Reuters
By Michael Peltier

 

BAKER, Louisiana (Reuters) - New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin completed a two-day motorcade blitz of Louisiana on Thursday, trying to lure displaced residents home with offers of housing and jobs.

In stops in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Baker and St. Gabriel on Thursday, the mayor applauded evacuees for their strength of character and pledged to bring them back to their neighborhoods as quickly as possible. On Wednesday Nagin had been to the cities of Shreveport and Monroe to see people driven out of the New Orleans area by Hurricane Katrina's flood waters.

"There are lots of jobs and opportunities in the city of New Orleans," Nagin told reporters. "We want to come out and try to tell them what's happening while trying to encourage them to come back and work."

Nagin was touting jobs in New Orleans nine days after announcing that the city would have to lay off 3,000 workers -- about 40 percent of its payroll -- because of budget problems.

Nagin said he will seek to give those who agree to work in the city priority treatment for housing. He said the city has identified nearly 3,000 sites suitable for temporary homes and trailers.

"I'm coming back, mayor, I am coming back," Raymond Robinson shouted as Nagin passed him at a dusty, treeless temporary housing site in Baker that is home to about 400 families.

Robinson, a New Orleans native, and his wife have been at the trailer park for five days after more than a month in a Baton Rouge shelter.

But not everyone is convinced they will return to New Orleans. With their homes destroyed and families dispersed throughout the country, some say they just aren't sure.

"I don't know if I can go back," lamented an elderly woman from the Ninth Ward who asked that her name not be used. "I don't have a place to go to."

Earlier in the day, Nagin and his police-escorted entourage toured the temporary mortuary set up in the hamlet of St. Gabriel, about 70 miles outside New Orleans. The facility has taken in more than 800 bodies from the storm, including more than 350 that cannot yet be identified. Another 100 bodies have been positively identified but families have yet to claim the remains.

"It's such a sad day to come here," Nagin said. "My sympathy goes out to all the families whose loved ones have been identified and also for the families who are still seeking their relatives and loved ones who are still missing."

During the visit, Pastor Frank Davis of the Bible Way Missionary Baptist Church in New Orleans conducted a short funeral service for the dead at the facility and hundreds more who died in hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Davis said his funeral message was about closure and compassion for families and all who had died or suffered in the killer storms.

    New Orleans mayor touts jobs, housing to displaced, 13. 10.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-14T025547Z_01_DIT400485_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-MAYOR.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Ruin greets

residents of poor New Orleans area

 

Wed Oct 12, 2005 10:41 PM ET
Reuters
By Nichola Groom

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Residents of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, a poor, mainly black neighborhood submerged for weeks after Hurricane Katrina, returned home for the first time on Wednesday but found little to salvage.

Cars, ambulances and relief vans, some from as far away as Texas and Arkansas, streamed into the area under the watchful eye of National Guard troops operating roadblocks.

Residents donned masks and rubber boots to trudge down streets covered with mud and debris, the remnants of a tidal surge that brought 12-foot (3.7-meter) floodwaters to the working class district.

Each block bore the familiar markings of Katrina's fury: cars tossed like matchsticks and dwellings stripped of doors and windows.

In one house, the body of a woman was found unexpectedly by her horrified grandson, bringing Katrina's death toll in Louisiana to at least 1,022.

Others found only ruin in what remained of their homes.

"There ain't nothing in there you can take," said Ernest King, 28, pointing at his mother's bright blue house. King had hitched a trailer to his minivan in the hope of bringing some belongings back, but left empty-handed.

Deborah Hall met similar disappointment when she peered into the single-story white house where she was raised only to find that the living room furniture and decorations had become an unrecognizable heap of water- and mud-soaked debris.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Wednesday it had finished pumping out the floodwaters that filled New Orleans after Katrina, which struck on August 29, and Hurricane Rita, which followed less than a month later.

"I wouldn't want to go out on a limb and say there is absolutely no water in New Orleans, but essentially the city is unwatered," said spokesman Alan Dooley.

Vice Admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal recovery effort in New Orleans, told reporters in Baton Rouge that residents of the Ninth Ward might not be able to return home for two or three years.

 

'ONE MEMORY'

"I was expecting to get one memory," Hall, 41, said tearfully as she stood with her brother, Wesley Hall, 47, outside the home.

Those who returned had little time to survey their property. Under an arrangement with the city, they were required to leave by 6 p.m.

Some parts of the neighborhood deemed unsafe remained off-limits. At one roadblock Spc. Kurt Freudenberg of the Washington State National Guard said 20 people had tried to pass within the previous hour.

Although the waters have receded, the foundations of some houses have moved, making them structurally unsound and uninhabitable. Many are likely to be bulldozed.

"It is important for people to see their homes and move forward with the process of building a new future for their families," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said in a statement released hours before the Lower Ninth Ward was reopened.

Nagin and others concede that finding housing for the city's 450,000 people, many still scattered in shelters and settlement camps around the United States, is New Orleans' biggest challenge.

The city, which is out of money and has laid off thousands of municipal workers, is working with the federal government on a plan to temporarily house residents in hotels, makeshift trailer parks and on unused military bases.

The prospect that much of the neighborhood could be condemned did not sit well with some residents.

"I will live in this house again," said Andrew Sanchez, 47, who stood in six inches of mud outside the house he has lived in his whole life. "Everyone may not come back, but homeowners will."

(Additional reporting by Michael Peltier in Baton Rouge)

    Ruin greets residents of poor New Orleans area, R, 12.10.2005,
http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-13T024043Z_01_SCH268000_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-RESIDENTS-RETURN.xml

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans residents

frustrated by garbage pileup

 

Wed Oct 12, 2005 10:48 AM ET
Reuters
By Nichola Groom

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The slogan "New Orleans: Imagine it Clean" graces the sides of garbage cans in the French Quarter, a reminder that the city's government once implored residents to pick up after themselves.

Now, residents are becoming increasingly frustrated by the city's own failure to collect the growing mounds of fly-infested garbage that have lined the streets since Hurricane Katrina struck six weeks ago.

"It's getting to be ridiculous," said Michael Brown, 54, as he stood beside a pile of refrigerators, used clothes, ruined furniture, and trash cans buzzing with flies outside his home in New Orleans' Irish Channel neighborhood.

"I see them picking up the trees, but it's the garbage we need to get picked up now," said Brown, a maintenance worker at a home for the elderly who said he sprinkles bleach on the trash every night to help contain both the flies and the stench.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday told a meeting of his "Bring Back New Orleans" commission that the city was working toward putting a once-a-week garbage collection schedule in place, but did not say when that might happen.

At the same meeting, New Orleans city attorney Sherry Landry said trash collection in certain areas of the city was being taken care of as residents were allowed to come back.

"As we're bringing up new zip codes they're targeting those areas, so at this point in time we're not able to give you specific collection days," Landry said, adding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had agreed to take over garbage collection because the hard-hit city does not have "a ready source of operating funds."

A spokeswoman for the corps, Mary Beth Hudson, said it had removed 1,948 tons of household waste since the hurricane struck and that trash was being collected on Fridays.

But in neighborhoods such as Uptown, where residents have been allowed back for about two weeks, garbage has not been picked up since Katrina hit on August 29.

"I know the city's having trouble, but it looks like they forgot about us," said an 83-year-old woman who declined to be named because her son is a police officer for the city.

"I've been bitten by stuff from that," she added, sticking out a swollen left foot as she pointed toward a mountain of garbage buzzing with flies.

Residential neighborhoods are not the only place where garbage removal has been slow. Nagin said on Monday that 26,000 tons of decaying chicken carcasses were sitting at the city's port.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said adequate trash collection would be a key consideration in its inspections of restaurants and other businesses that wish to reopen in New Orleans.

"They have to have an appropriate way of getting their trash picked up and removed from the facility," department spokeswoman Kristen Meyer said.

    New Orleans residents frustrated by garbage pileup, R, 12.10.2005,
http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-12T144717Z_01_SCH245799_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-GARBAGE.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Jesse Jackson urges jobs

for New Orleans victims

 

Tue Oct 11, 2005 8:11 PM ET
Reuters
By Paul Simao

 

METAIRIE, Louisiana (Reuters) - The Bush administration is dragging its feet on the return of New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina, leaving tens of thousands cut off from jobs and other opportunities in the devastated city, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said on Tuesday.

The U.S. civil rights leader, a Democrat who has criticized the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its handling of the crisis, made the charge at the end of a two-day bus tour of shelters and camps in several U.S. states.

He was accompanied by a small group of mostly black New Orleans residents who were returning to the Mardi Gras capital for the first time since Katrina came ashore in late August, forcing the evacuation of the city's 450,000 people.

"The people who are able-bodied should have the right to return and should have priority in jobs, training and housing," Jackson said outside a restaurant in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb, that was accepting job applications.

"They're trapped in those rescue camps ... and I find no active recruitment by FEMA in those camps," Jackson said.

Although some companies on the Gulf Coast are offering bonuses to people who agree to stay a year, many potential job seekers are stuck in evacuation centers as far away as Utah and Illinois, he noted.

President George W. Bush, who was visiting Louisiana, has acknowledged shortcomings in the federal government's response to Katrina and has called on agencies to do a better job of arranging temporary housing for those displaced by the hurricane.

FEMA also announced last week it would reopen some no-bid contracts to competitive bidding. The no-bid contracts had prompted criticism from Jackson and others who saw them as an effort to cut out local companies.

Organizers of the Chicago-New Orleans bus caravan had planned to bring about 600 evacuated residents with them, but scaled back their ambitions after city officials warned that there was not enough housing for them.

Although floodwaters have receded in most of New Orleans, many residences and businesses remain uninhabitable. Tens of thousands of houses may eventually be bulldozed.

"Housing is the biggest challenge we have right now," said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who greeted Jackson's caravan. Nagin told the crowd there were plenty of well-paid jobs in the city and that they should expect to make some "serious money."

When asked by a reporter where returning job seekers would be housed, he said the city was counting on employers to provide workers with temporary accommodation.

The city, which is out of money and has laid off thousands of municipal workers, also is working with the federal government on a plan to temporarily house residents in hotels, makeshift trailer parks and on unused military bases.

    Jesse Jackson urges jobs for New Orleans victims, 11.10.2005,
http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-12T001104Z_01_DIT184341_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-RECONSTRUCTION.xml

 

 

 

 

 

In Latest Visit,

Bush Vows Locals

Will Lead Gulf Rebuilding

 

October 11, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 11:37 a.m. ET

 

COVINGTON, La. (AP) -- President Bush pledged Tuesday that the federal government will not seek to dictate terms for rebuilding the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast but will instead allow state and local officials to make the key decisions. He rejoiced in what he said is a spirit of revival there.

''I think we've seen the spirits change,'' Bush said in an interview with NBC's ''Today'' show. ''Local people are beginning to realize there's hope.'' In the interview, both he and his wife, Laura, defended his choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Bush reiterated that he was confident she would be confirmed by the Senate.

Bush and his wife were interviewed at a Habitat for Humanity work site, in a town just north of New Orleans where the nonprofit organization is building houses for displaced people.

In response to the government's initially slow response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush said, ''If I didn't respond well enough, I'm going to learn the lessons.'' The federal government's response to the second huge storm to slam the area, Rita, has gotten better reviews.

''The story will unfold. I mean, the facts of the story will come out over time, and the important thing is for federal, state and local governments to adjust and to respond,'' Bush said.

Bush's motorcade wended its way through the pitch dark down Covington's largely unscathed streets to the brightly lit Habitat site -- a small patch of land amid a still-sleeping, modest neighborhood turned into a makeshift TV set.

Dressed for the occasion in hard hat, work gloves and a large wraparound tool belt, the president joined other volunteers hammering nails into a sheet of plywood. The first lady, a cloth nail pouch around her waist, accompanied him. Bush spent most of his time chatting, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

At one point, a woman threw him some Mardis Gras beads that fell to the ground. ''I couldn't catch them during the real Mardi Gras and I can't catch them now,'' he quipped.

Later, he went to the hard-hit coast Mississippi town of Pass Christian, to celebrate Monday's reopening of DeLisle Elementary School -- which is now educating students from two schools for a combined population of 1,100, down from 2,000 before the storm. Mingling with dozens of children gathered in a grassy courtyard, Bush heard one boy say he had a dream he was president. ''Someday you may be,'' Bush replied with a laugh.

He then visited a classroom of kindergarten children wiggling in their seats and running to hug him and Mrs. Bush.

''Part of the health of a community is to have a school system that is vibrant and alive,'' the president told them. ''This school system is strong and it's coming back.''

In the interview, Bush rejected criticism from Democrats that his visits -- this was his eighth -- were largely for publicity and that he lacks a coherent reconstruction plan.

''I don't think Washington ought to dictate to New Orleans how to rebuild,'' he said. Bush said he had told New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that ''we will support the plan that you develop.''

Of his Supreme Court selection, Bush was asked about growing criticism from the political right that Miers lacks proven conservative credentials.

''My answer is Harriet Miers is going to be confirmed and people will get to see why I put her on the bench,'' he said. Mrs. Bush was asked if she shared her husband's conviction. ''Absolutely. Absolutely,'' she said.

''She's very deliberate and thoughtful and will bring dignity to wherever she goes, but certainly to the Supreme Court. She'll be really excellent,'' Mrs. Bush said.

Asked if she believed some of the criticism reflected possible sexism, she responded: ''I think that's possible.''

On other subjects, Bush:

-- Predicted the Oct. 15 Iraqi elections on a new constitution would be marked by violence from ''a group of terrorists and killers who want to stop the advance of democracy.'' And, Bush said, ''I also expect people to vote.''

-- Expressed confidence that the government would develop a plan ''to handle a major outbreak'' of bird flu if it spreads to this country.

-- Declined to discuss a federal grand jury investigation that includes an inquiry into the role, if any, that top adviser Karl Rove played in disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA agent. ''I'm not going to talk about the case. It's under review. Thank you for asking,'' Bush said tersely.

Bush was asked about criticism by some Democrats that while Iraqis were not required to repay money they have received from Washington, hurricane victims were required to just that recent relief legislation passed by Congress.

''What Congress has said is, you'll have five years to repay plus an additional five years to repay. And so I think it's the kind of package that Congress was comfortable with giving and I was happy to sign it,'' Bush said.

Mrs. Bush was asked how her husband was holding up personally under the strains of recent major crises and setbacks. But before she could answer, Bush interjected: ''He can barely stand. He's about to drop on the spot.''

Laughing, Mrs. Bush said: ''He's doing great. He's got big broad shoulders.''

    In Latest Visit, Bush Vows Locals Will Lead Gulf Rebuilding, NYT, 11.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Bush-Hurricanes.html

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans police

vow crackdown as crime picks up

 

Sun Oct 9, 2005 2:33 PM ET
Reuters

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - With many New Orleans residents returning to clean up after Hurricane Katrina, the police department said on Sunday burglaries of abandoned homes and businesses have picked up.

A newly formed "looting squad" of about 100 officers will start patrolling throughout the city on Monday, in addition to normal patrols, said New Orleans Police Department spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo.

"We've stepped it up a notch," Defillo said. "As we continue to repopulate the city we are making more arrests."

The department was widely criticized for failing to control lawlessness after Katrina struck on August 29. Twelve police officers are being investigated for their possible involvement in looting.

About 400 people have been arrested in New Orleans since the police department set up a makeshift jail at the city's Amtrak station in the days after Katrina flooded the city.

Roughly half of those arrests were for felony crimes like looting and burglary, and the rate has increased as more residents have been allowed to come back.

"There are more arrests now," Defillo said, adding that they were not at "epidemic levels."

New Orleans has about 1,450 officers, a few hundred less than it had before Katrina. Interim Police Superintendent William Riley has said that about 15 percent of the department did not show up for work following the storm. Some, but not all, were deserters.

New York State Police and Louisiana State Police are reinforcing the New Orleans department, Defillo said.

    New Orleans police vow crackdown as crime picks up, R, 9.10.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-10-09T183253Z_01_WRI966741_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-CRIME.xml

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans' buzz

returning to some neighborhoods

 

Sat Oct 8, 2005 5:27 PM ET
Reuters
By Matt Daily

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - "Help wanted" signs are slowly replacing spray-painted plywood boards warning looters to stay away on the windows of New Orleans' restaurants and businesses.

The buzz of activity gave some neighborhoods an appearance of normalcy on Saturday even though the city's population remains a fraction of what it was before Hurricane Katrina struck at the end of August.

New Orleans now draws more than 250,000 people during daylight hours, according to Mayor Ray Nagin, though the figure dips to 60,000 or 70,000 people at night.

George Lampand, a manager at a hardware store on Magazine Street in the Uptown neighborhood, said it would probably take one to two weeks to clean up his heavily looted store. But bringing the store's employees back could take considerably longer.

"Where are they going to live?" he asked.

Many of the workers' homes were heavily damaged by the floodwaters that covered 80 percent of New Orleans after the flood walls that hold back Lake Pontchartrain gave way.

Business was brisk at the nearby Magazine Street Animal Clinic.

"It's better than I had thought it would be. We're running at about 50 percent of normal," said veterinarian Scott Gernon.

On Bourbon Street in the historic French Quarter, nearly half the bars, restaurants and tourist shops hawking everything from T-shirts to Mardi Gras beads and feather boas were open.

Dan Simon, 50, the field operations manager for New York utility Consolidated Edison, said he had been in New Orleans for more than a month with crews from Manhattan working to restore electricity.

"I gotta bring back some souvenirs," he said, motioning to a plastic bag filled with "Hurricane Katrina 2005" shirts.

Late this week, state officials certified that water in much of the city was safe to drink, eliminating a key stumbling block in Nagin's aggressive repopulation efforts.

Only the city's Ninth Ward, the hardest hit, poor, mostly black neighborhood, remained off limits to residents. Nagin said he was reviewing environmental reports and may announce a "look and leave" order early next week for that area.

"The people of the Ninth Ward deserve a chance to go in, look and maybe try to salvage something," Nagin told a news conference on Friday.

He said no one would be allowed to stay in that area, where many houses are little more than piles of rubble.

"I think they are going to be shocked when they see it," he said.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana has now reached 1,003 and pushed the total known dead in the states hit by the storm to 1,243.

Federal officials say 2.2 million people have been registered as storm victims, of which 1.2 million had been approved for federal assistance that so far totaled $3.3 billion.

New Orleans' buzz returning to some neighborhoods, R, 8.10.2005,
http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-08T212726Z_01_FOR786117_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES.xml&archived=False

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related > Anglonautes > History > Early 21st century

 

Hurricane Katrina > 2-11 September 2005

 

 

Hurricane Katrina > 12 September - 30 November 2005

 

 

Hurricane Katrina > Maps

 

 

Hurricane Katrina > Picayune frontpages

 

 

Hurricane Katrina > Diaspora

 

 

Hurricane Katrina > Rebuilding

 

 

 

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