Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina Encours et Toujours II

1) Another posting in response to the one I just sent out:

I want to let you know that all members of my family evacuated and are safe. Don't know what will happen next. Several members of my extended family lost homes, as did many of my friends. Dad's best friend Augusta evacuated to Indiana with her husband, but one daughter stayed behind in the lower 9th ward. No one has heard from her yet. All we can do is hope, pray, and help those who may have lost even more than we have. Please post my name with my letter in case anyone else on your list knows me. I want my friends to know that I am still alive.

By the way, the best line I heard during the storm coverage was a commentator talking about the breach in the Superdome roof who said, "They had to move the refugees to an area of the Superdome that the Saints have never been in -- the Endzone!" Even in the saddest of times, New Orleanians can still find the strength to laugh at themselves.

I will send more news when I have more.Hugs to you and yours,

--Charlotte Newfield Laihonen

2) You want the lowdown on Bush funding for New Orleans relevant issues? Give this guy a look:

3) Local humor:

Broussard the optimist

Tuesday, 10:34 p.m.
No situation is so dire that a little levity isn't appreciated.

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard might not have been striving for a laugh during an interview on WWL-TV Tuesday night, but he sure got some giggles from a group of Times-Picayune reporters gathered at the Houma Courier putting together Wednesday's edition of The Times-Picayune.

Broussard, responding to questions about how long it would take to get the metro area back in shape, said he would try to do better than any estimate given. For instance, if the estimate for electricity is one month, he said he and other officials would strive to complete the task in less time than that.

I'm an optimist, he told the reporter, adding he otherwise wouldn't be wearing the shirt he had on.

The shirt?

A New Orleans Saints shirt, of course

4) Nola.com -- read this and ask yourself: Where is our National Guard?!?!:

City a woeful scene
Tuesday, 10:14 p.m.
By Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Keith Spera and Doug MacCash
Staff writers

Sitting on a black barrel amid the muck and stench near the St. Claude Avenue bridge, 52-year-old Daniel Weber broke into a sob, his voice cracking as he recounted how he had watched his wife drown and spent the next 14 hours floating in the polluted flood waters, his only life line a piece of driftwood.

"My hands were all cut up from breaking through the window, and I was standing on the fence. I said, ‘I’ll get on the roof and pull you up," he said. "And then we just went under."

Weber sat among hundreds of refugees rescued Tuesday from rooftops, attics and floating debris in the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish by an armada of more than 100 boats. Officials from the Coast Guard estimated they pulled thousands of people off of rooftops and attics, many with stories as grim as Weber’s. Officials believed hundreds and maybe thousands more remained in peril. They declined to estimate the number of dead. That will come later.

"We’ve got cadaver dogs, but we’re only looking for the live people at this point," said Rachel Zechnelli of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which deployed all available boats to the Industrial Canal Monday night. "We’re dealing only with live voices and heartbeats."

While the 9th remained the focus of the search and rescue effort, refugees from other neighborhoods flooded by the massive breach of Lake Pontchartrain streamed to the Superdome and CBD, trudging through deep waters to get there.

Then, in an evening press conference, Mayor Ray Nagin announced that the already crippled city would take yet another blow: Another surge of water from the failed 17th Street Canal levee that could push an additional 10 feet of water into already waterlogged neighborhoods – and possibly flood the remaining dry sections of Uptown.

The expected surge stems from a failure to execute a plan to dump sandbags via helicopter into the 200 yard wide breach. Nagin offered up no culprit but promised to investigate the matter.

"I thought everyone understood this morning that that was the highest priority," the mayor said. "It didn’t get done. Now there’s nothing to slow down the pace of the water."

That was enough to prompt some of the city’s few remaining residents to start packing.

Uptown resident Margeaux Gonzalez rode out Katrina at the Queen and Crescent Hotel, then returned to find her Laurel Street home dry. As she and her neighbors watched Nagin Tuesday night on a TV rigged to a car battery, they reluctantly made plans to evacuate to Baton Rouge.

"We were feeling really positive three hours ago," Gonzales said. "The storm is long gone, we suffered through the wind and the rain and survived the flood. It’s ridiculous that we can’t get the help we need from the government to keep the city intact. That’s sad."

Earlier in the day, as flood waters rose to knee-deep levels along Poydras Street, the city’s top brass evacuated to Baton Rouge via the Crescent City Connection, the only clear route out of town. They recommended others follow.

"Get out," said City Attorney Sherry Landry from the window of the SUV she would use to evacuate. "I’m serious."

For many, that wasn’t an option. In the impoverished 9th Ward, many didn’t flee the storm in the first place because of lack of money and transportation, as well as a belief the storm wouldn’t be nearly as bad as threatened. On Tuesday, they remained the focus of efforts to evacuate the newly homeless to the already crowded Superdome.

That left thousands of people in other neighborhoods close to the lake, whose homes had not flooded until late Monday when the canal gave way, with no option other than to walk to the few dry areas of the city. Interstate 10 remained largely devoid of cars, but a steady stream of pedestrians seeking food, water and shelter walked along the highway.

More than 100 New Orleans police officers who rode out the storm in the LSU Medical Center were still trapped by high water on Tuesday. Assumption Parish deputies in boats rescued them.

Some who left their flooded homes faced heart-rending dilemmas. Bethaney Waith of Mid-City, who walked in chest high water with a neighbor to the Superdome, had to leave her disabled housemate behind. The woman suffered from epidemia and can’t walk.

Those trapped in the city faced an increasingly lawless environment, as law enforcement agencies found themselves overwhelmed with widespread looting. Looters swarmed the Wal-mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, often bypassing the food and drink section to steal wide-screen TVs, jewelry, bicycles and computers. Watching the sordid display and shaking his head in disgust, one firefighter said of the scene: "It’s a f---- hurricane, what are you do with a basketball goal?"

Police regained control at about 3 p.m., after clearing the store with armed patrol. One shotgun-toting Third District detective described the looting as "ferocious."

"And it’s going to get worse as the days progress," he said.

In Uptown, one the few areas that remained dry, a bearded man patrolled Oak Street near the boarded-up Maple Leaf Bar, a sawed-off shotgun slung over his shoulder. The owners of a hardware store sat in folding chairs, pistols at the ready.

Uptown resident Keith Williams started his own security patrol, driving around in his Ford pickup with his newly purchased handgun. Earlier in the day, Williams said he had seen the body of a gunshot victim near the corner of Leonidas and Hickory streets.

"What I want to know is why we don’t have paratroopers with machine guns on every street," Williams said.
Like-minded Art Depodesta sat on the edge of a picnic table outside Cooter Brown’s Bar, a chrome shotgun at his side loaded with red shells.

"They broke into the Shell station across the street," he said. "I walked over with my 12-gauge and shot a couple into the air."

The looters scattered, but soon after, another man appeared outside the bar in a pickup truck armed with a pistol and threatened Depodesta.

"I told him, ‘Listen, I was in the Army and I will blow your ass off,’" Depodesta said. "We’ve got enough trouble with the flood."

The man sped away.

"You know what sucks," Depodesta said. "The whole U.S. is looking at this city right now, and this is what they see."

In the Bywater, a supply store sported spray-painted signs reading "You Loot, I Shoot" and "You Bein Watched." A man seated nearby with a rifle in his lap suggested it was no idle threat. At the Bywater studio of Dr. Bob, the artist known for handpainted "Be Nice or Leave" signs, a less fanciful sentiment was painted on the wall: "Looters Will Be Shot. Dr. Bob."

As the afternoon faded, aggression filled the air on the neutral ground of Poland Avenue as well, as people grew increasingly frustrated with the rescue effort. Having already survived one nightmare, a woman with five children feared going to go to the Dome, saying that some of the men preparing to board transport vehicles had smuggled razor blades with them.

On the other side of the bridge, rescue boats continued to offload as many as 15 people at a time late into the afternoon, with no end in sight. Some said they had seen dead bodies floating by their boats.

Many stumbled from dehydration as they made their way onto dry land. Several rescue workers said some of the people trapped were so shell-shocked or stubborn they refused to leave their houses. "If you can figure that one out, let me know," said Oscar Dupree, a volunteer who had been trapped on a roof himself and returned to help save others.
The scene called to mind a refugee camp in a Third World nation. Liquor flowed freely and tempers flared amid complaints about the pace of the relief effort, which seemed to overwhelm the agencies involved and the city’s inability to contain flood waters.
As they emerged from rescue boats, at times wobbling and speaking incoherently, many of the rescued seem stunned they had not died. Johnell Johnson of Marais street said she had been trapped on her roof " with a handicapped man with one damn leg." Gerald Wimberly wept as he recounted his unsuccessful effort to help a young girl, who rescuers ultimately saved. Dupree said he had seen a young man he knew drown. "I just couldn’t get to him," he said. "I had to tell his people."
Weber, the man who lost his wife, seemed at the breaking point as he waited, surrounded by anger and filth, for a National Guard truck to ferry him to the Dome. After 14 hours of floating on a piece of wood, volunteers who knew him had fished him out.
"Another hour, I would have just let myself drown," he said.
A moment later, staring ahead to a bleak future without his wife, he said he almost wished he had.
"I’m not going to make it. I know I’m not."
5) More from the peanut gallery -- New Orleans at its absolute best:
Katrina Koverage: Being Neighborly in New Orleans Don't you love how tragedy brings out the best in not just people, but in reporters, too?
SHEPARD SMITH: Youâ€'re live on FOX News Channel, what are you doing?
MAN: Walking my dogs.
SMITH: Why are you still here? I'm just curious.
MAN: None of your fucking business.
SMITH: Oh that was a good answer, wasn't it? That was live on international television. Thanks so much for that. You know we apologize.
SMITH: "I'm watching two dogs drink out of a glass of ice water, and it's none of my business why they are still here."
That's right, Shep. Unless they're two boy dogs, in which case you should call Rick Santorum's office immediately.
Live on FOX: Man Says “None of Your Fucking Business” (VIDEO) [Political Teen]Shepard Smith Cursed Out in Hurricane Katrina [C&L]

6) Here's a polite way to address Feds' priorities:
Feds' Disaster Planning Shifts Away From Preparedness
Tuesday, 8 p.m.
By Bill Walsh, Bruce Alpert and John McQuaidc.2005 Newhouse News Service
WASHINGTON - No one can say they didn't see it coming.
For years before Hurricane Katrina roared ashore Monday morning, devastating the Gulf Coast, officials from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have been warning about their vulnerability to the storms that swirl menacingly in the Gulf of Mexico every hurricane season.
Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation.
On Tuesday, looters could be seen carrying away whole shelves of merchandise from stores in New Orleans with no police in sight. A shortage of boats left people stranded on their roofs a day after the storm passed. State, local and federal rescue workers, all supplied with different radio equipment, were having trouble communicating with one another.
Meanwhile, local officials said that had Washington heeded their warnings about the dire need for hurricane protection - including fortifying homes, building up levees and repairing barrier islands - the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be.
"If we had been investing resources in restoring our coast, it wouldn't have prevented the storm but the barrier islands would have absorbed some of the tidal surge," said Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La. "People's lives are at stake. We need to take this more seriously."
Jindal and other elected officials credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for positioning stockpiles of food, water and medical supplies throughout Louisiana and Mississippi more than a day before Katrina made landfall. The quick response was triggered by an unusually early emergency declaration from President Bush.
Still, the level of devastation from a storm that everyone agreed was not a "worst-case scenario" has focused attention on whether policymakers took the much-heralded threat seriously and whether adequate plans are in place for future natural disasters.
Warning signs have been everywhere. More people than ever are living near hurricane-prone coastlines, earthquake fault lines, forest fire-prone areas and in flood plains, a trend that has created a landscape of expanding risk, with more people, homes and communities in the path of danger.
Not surprisingly, disaster costs are rising to levels unheard of a generation ago, posing a growing problem for insurers, governments and the people in harm's way. The number of federal emergency disaster declarations doubled from an average of 23 a year during 1980-84 to 53 a year during 2000-2004.
Hurricane Andrew set a record of more than $30 billion in losses in 1992, followed quickly by California's Northridge earthquake the next year, which cost more than $40 billion. Early estimates have put the cost of Hurricane Katrina at upwards of $19 billion.
"We've been on this trajectory for about 15 years. We're seeing increasingly bigger disasters and increasingly higher losses," said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center at the University of Colorado. "Now just about any place a hurricane is going to come in, it's going to hit a developed area. This is the way it's going to be from now on."
Disaster and emergency experts have warned for years that governments, especially the federal government, have put so much stress on disaster response that they have neglected policies to minimize a disaster's impact in advance.
"In the same way that Hurricane Andrew was a wakeup call to Florida, this storm will be a wakeup call to Louisiana and Mississippi," said Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute. "It's going to be very evident that there were an enormous number of vulnerabilities that weren't addressed. There's going to be a lot of finger-pointing."
Louisiana's elected officials were quick to seize on the disaster to press for long-requested federal financial assistance in shoring up Louisiana's coastline. The coastal wetlands erode at a rate of 24 square miles a year and expose south Louisiana to increasing danger.
Until recently, efforts to squeeze coastal protection money out of Washington have met with resistance. The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House. Ultimately a deal was struck to steer $540 million to the state over four years. The total coast of repair work is estimated to be $14 billion.
In its budget, the Bush administration had also proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need.
Some critics said that in a post-Sept. 11 world, when the Department of Homeland Security is focused on preventing another terrorist attack, not enough emphasis is being placed on preparing for natural disasters.
A case in point, they say, is the decision to take away from FEMA its historic responsibility for disaster preparedness. Now the agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, will focus on post-disaster search and rescue.

The Homeland Security agency plans to create a new Directorate of Preparedness, covering planning for both terrorism and natural disasters. But it is still on the drawing board.

Russ Knocke, a Homeland Security spokesman, said the reorganization will lead to better disaster preparation.

"It will let the experts on planning and preparation focus on that and the experts on search and rescue focus on that," Knocke said.

But experts in disaster planning say that it has already sown confusion among those on the front lines of preparing for disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

"It's very confusing to the state and local governments," said James Lee Witt, the FEMA director in the Clinton administration. "Who do they go to and how is it going to be coordinated now? It's really going to be fragmented. I've talked to a lot of the states, and I don't think they're very happy about this."

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