Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Katrina is just the beginning.

One of the deadliest and costliest hurricane seasons ends Wednesday. But instead of breathing easy, experts are warning about the future. Next year could be just as bad – or worse, they say. And the hits could keep coming for several more years.

The prospect of future record-setting hurricane seasons has raised questions about the country's level of preparedness and about who should foot the bill for continually rebuilding vulnerable coastal areas.

"The real question is not if, but who pays," said Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado. "Do we want to subsidize living on the coasts? Do we want the federal government to be responsible for disaster costs? Private insurance? Individuals? These are the hard questions."

Hurricane Katrina brought many of these issues to the fore, laying bare weaknesses in emergency management and preparedness systems.

And the season isn't over yet. Here's TS Epsilon. Not much of a threat, but it's the first December tropical storm that I can remember.

Here are some surprising and frightening facts from Skeetobite Weather.

There were 26 named storms in 2005.
A total of 7 Major (category 3 or higher) storms occurred in 2005. See list at right.
Vince 2005 was the first tropical cyclone in recorded history to make landfall in Spain.
Wilma 2005 marks the first time since record keeping began that 3 Category 5 hurricanes formed in the Atlantic basin in a single season.

Someone else, on some other coast will eventually fall victim to what happened in New Orleans. Will FEMA and the rest of the government respond any better?

Add SBA to FEMA in the alphabet soup of incompetance.

As of Tuesday, the SBA had approved 4 percent of the loan applications filed in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Isaacson noted that the 90-day mortgage grace period extended by banks ends this week.

"Starting Dec. 1, businesses start to die," Isaacson said. "This is an emergency and they have to start operating like an emergency agency."

No need to hurry. The bankruptcy laws are pretty lenient. Oh, I forgot they changed them in October, didn't they?

17th Street Canal levee was doomed

The floodwall on the 17th Street Canal levee was destined to fail long before it reached its maximum design load of 14 feet of water because the Army Corps of Engineers underestimated the weak soil layers 10 to 25 feet below the levee, the state's forensic levee investigation team concluded in a report to be released this week.

That miscalculation was so obvious and fundamental, investigators said, they "could not fathom" how the design team of engineers from the corps, local firm Eustis Engineering and the national firm Modjeski and Masters could have missed what is being termed the costliest engineering mistake in American history.

So, ultimately, who is responsible for the New Orleans disaster? Who should pay? I guess I'm crazy, but if the feds created the disaster, then they should pay for it.

No commitment from recovery czar

President Bush's hand-picked federal coordinator for Hurricane Katrina recovery hinted a stronger levee system is in order for the New Orleans area, but he offered no specific commitments or timetable for meeting that goal during Tuesday meetings with state officials.

Yeah. The feds have no obligation to remedy the situation that the Corps of Engineers created by underdesigning, undersupervising, undermaintaining the levees. Right. They can walk away with clean hands.

Living with generators: One light, refrigerator.

A slice of life in the new New Orleans.
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.

Good news for N.O. geeks, hackers, and nerds.

New Orleans will be the first city in the nation to provide free wireless computing throughout the city.
To help boost its stalled economy, hurricane-ravaged New Orleans is offering the nation's first free wireless Internet network owned and run by a major city.

Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday the system would benefit residents and small businesses who still can't get their Internet service restored over the city's washed out telephone network, while showing the nation "that we are building New Orleans back."

The system started operation Tuesday in the central business district and French Quarter. It's to be available throughout the city in about a year.

But I have a question that has to do with this paragraph:
The system will provide download speeds of 512 kilobits per second as long as the city remains under a state of emergency. But the bandwidth will be slowed to 128 kbps in accordance with a limit set by Louisiana's law once the city's state of emergency is lifted at an unknown future date.

What crazy legislator proposed this bit of crap? Why should the speed be limited by law? It isn't as though some kilobits are going to drive drunk, leave their lane and plough into other kilobits with disastrous consequences. (OK, I'll cop to knowing why -- to keep the dialup ISPs in business. So whoever proposed this little turd of bureaucratic free-market-and-competition-killing legislation had his hand in some ISP's pocket. AOL? Bellsouth? who?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Saving New Orleans' pets.

Here in the Ninth Ward, where old paper bags and empty cans blew down the middle of the street like tumbleweeds in the desert, it looked as though nuclear winter had set in. The streets were bleak and eerie, devoid of any sign of human habitation. In the distance: the sound of barking dogs.

Susan Kay -- a good friend of this reporter for more than two years -- had come from a comfortable home in Ross, shared with her son, Jeffrey, and their two dogs, in response to an emergency e-mail she had received from Jane Garrison, founder of (ARNO). There was a crisis going on still, the e-mail said, but this one possessed none of the drama of a levee crashing down or looters in the streets, and those most affected weren't giving interviews. They were animals. . . . . . . .
"There was this dog on the roof of a car," said Pia Salk, one of the founders of ARNO. "As long as I live I will never forget the sound of him, howling all night."

And Lafayette, Louisiana, contributed too. According to the Plainview Herald, Cheri Trowbridge, Blaguerette's friend, spent a long Sunday saving a group of pets.
Working on tips of evacuated people who left pets behind, the group had permission to break into homes when necessary.“People had called in where to go and what kind of dog to look for,” she said. “If we saw any strays we would pick them up, too.”

She said some of the animals were frightened at first, but most were happy to be rescued.“I wasn´t in fear of being bitten or attacked,” although “there are pit bulls in parts of New Orleans that are trained to fight.”

Rescuers have a limited amount of time to search at each site.“One cat on the third floor of a house we couldn´t catch.” After more than an hour, they had to move on. “We left food and water.”

They also had to leave behind a couple of surprises they found in one house. “We found a rabbit in a house with two pythons,” she said, guessing the snakes were 6-8 feet long. They rescued the rabbit “but we left the pythons. We figured they´d survive. We weren´t equipped to handle them. I felt kind of bad about that.”

Developers versus the people. A new form of red-lining.

Redlining is the practice of lending institutions which give preferential treatment to loan applicants from areas marked off on a map, "red-lined." Other applicants, from less desirable neighborhoods, get higher interest rates on mortgages, or are turned down. In New Orleans, the developers have color-coded a map with the blessings of the "Bring New Orleans Back Commission"
Those maps, she said, are "causing people to lose hope," and others to stay away.

Willard Lewis, who is black, said many of her African-American constituents believe their neighborhoods have been unfairly "stratified to the last category" slated for redevelopment. Those who once fought for equal access to education and public facilities may be forced to fight for equal access to "relief and restoration," she said.

Noting that she was wearing a pink blouse, Morrell, a Gentilly resident, said sarcastically that she should have worn purple, the map color used by ULI for sections of the city that suffered the worst flood damage.

Cost of flood protection $32 billion.

New York Times publishes a more or less neutral article about the cost of flood protection for New Orleans. IMO, the cost would be worth it.
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 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.

It is perhaps too early to evaluate the new Authority created by the legislature to ride herd over the levee boards, but the legislation has real teeth, and budgetary authority. It may not prevent petty corruption, but there will be central, overall planning, and full authority to implement the plan.

Democrats, Librarians schedule conventions in N.O.

Democratic National Committee plans to hold a meeting of about 400 people in New Orleans early next year as a way to express confidence in the city's future after Hurricane Katrina, officials said.
. . . . . .
The American Library Association, which must book years in advance because it brings about 20,000 people to its midyear conference, confirmed early this month that it will keep its June 24-27 date in New Orleans.

Good friends.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Boston Globe: Katrina aid falls short of promises

After passing $70 billion in aid to the Gulf Coast in the emotion-pitched weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, Congress closed for Thanksgiving vacation with little appetite to spend more.

While the aid package stands as a record for a natural disaster, it amounts to a fraction of the more than $200 billion that Louisiana senators had requested, or the $150 billion that outside specialists had predicted that Hurricane Katrina would cost the federal government.

Meanwhile, President Bush's call to ''rise above the legacy of inequality" with programs to substantially increase home ownership and train workers for better jobs has gone virtually unheeded by Congress.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

This video must be seen. Murder on the highway.

Crooks and Liars posts a video purportedly from contract soldiers (mercenaries) in Iraq. It dishonors the US and all of its honorable and decent soldiers. Someone is killing people for no reason on the highways of Iraq.

Don't forget New Orleans.

Today, the editor of the paper, Jim Amoss, took the argument right to the prime target, with an op-ed piece in The Washington Post. Also, today, the Times-Picayune reported that three more bodies had been recovered in the post-Katrina cleanup.

The Times-Picayune editorial last week concluded with this call: "Whether you are back at home or still in exile waiting to return, let Congress know that this metro area must be made safe from future storms. Call and write the leaders who are deciding our fate. Get your family and friends in other states to do the same. Start with members of the Environment and Public Works and Appropriations committees in the Senate, and Transportation and Appropriations in the House. Flood them with mail the way we were flooded by Katrina.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving evening

Today was filled with new faces for me. I was not busied with preparing a holiday meal to be shared with my family in my home. I was with my daughter's soon-to-be in-laws. As we exchanged greetings and chatted, I realized that for which I was thankful. I have a home which I left voluntarily to come to Louisville. I will return to my job on Monday morning. My family is well, and though they we were not all together today, I know they will be with me for Christmas. I am thankful for all that I have.

In the new faces of today, I realized that there are so many folks with whom my life has shared a path and yet, I know so little about you. I continue to pray for the families who lost so much as a result of Katrina and Rita. I pray that you are thankful for your lives. I hope that you know just how much we need each other . . . and how thankful we are to have the opportunity to help you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Blageurette

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Halliburton Subsidiary KBR recreates slavery in New Orleans.

In an article titled "Gulf Coast slaves," Lovato writes of his travels throughout the storm-ravaged region where KBR's cleanup contracts currently amount to $124.9 million. He observed "squalid trailer parks where up to 19 unpaid, unfed and undocumented KBR site workers inhabited a single trailer for $70 per person, per week." Many suffer from work-related health problems, including diarrhea, sprained ankles, cuts and bruises acquired while working for KBR.

At one point, many undocumented workers were thrown off the job and forced to live in the streets of New Orleans after Halliburton refused for two months to pay a subcontractor. Seventy-four workers filed a complaint with the Department of Labor seeking $56,000 in back pay.
The article mentioned is in, which requires you to subscribe or you can watch an ad for a day's admission.

More on the 60 Minutes story.

In Update On The "60 Minutes" Kusky Flap CBS quotes a few paragraphs of rebuttal from the Times Picayune.

Wizbang gives CBS expert Kusky a going over.
On the surface, Professor Tim Kusky might appear to be a legitimate person to interview for the controversial story that New Orleans will sink into the sea on 90 years. The problem is that even after the slightest research, he appears to have studied it very little.

Steve Subladowsky points out how this gives pundits an excuse to exalt Mississippi's Haley Barbour over Louisiana's Blanco. (He also points out that Barbour would never want to trade his problems for hers.)
For New Orleans and Louisiana, the obstacles already appear overwhelming. Whether it was 60 Minutes intent or not, in my view, the impact of its segment has made it much more difficult for the area to recover.

Finally, poor Kusky finds out that he isn't liked in South Louisiana, according to Eric Hand of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Headline: Geologist receives threatening messages after `60 Minutes' segment

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Nova" and "Frontline" superb

These were exteremely well done programs, with very revealing interviews. Both programs will be viewable on the web "Frontline" tomorrow, Wednesday Nov. 23, and "Nova" on December 5, and they deserve the widest possible audience. PBS provides voluminous supplementary materials, including teachers' guides, transcripts, maps and analysis. This is don't-miss tv for Louisiana and the rest of the nation, who may also fall victim to disaster and FEMA neglect one day.

Today's Katrina Headlines

6,644 are still missing after Katrina; toll may rise

Agency: BR officers 'stunned' innocent people, struck handcuffed suspects

First mandatory statewide building code likely to pass

Failure of levee merger sparks outrage

Hurricanes sap New Orleans' holiday season

Storm Forces a Hard Look at Troubled Public Housing

Wetlands restoration efforts gain ground

St. Bernard Parish President: FEMA relief efforts moving too slowly

Senate says no to dip in state's rainy-day fund

NY Times: Is D.C. losing interest in recovery?

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.

Short answer: yes. If they ever meant to help in the first place. Especially take note of Landrieu's comments on Louisiana's alleged "corruption" being used as an excuse not to fund New Orleans' recovery.

Extraordinarly stupid college official thinks SHE's the victim

A former Greenville Technical College official has sued to get her job back after she was fired for referring to some hurricane evacuees "yard apes."

And they say racism is dead. Perhaps, but stupidity and mendacity are not.

PBS features Katrina on "Frontline" and "Nova" tonight

The L.A. Times gives a preview.

It's a battle, it would seem, between imagination and bureaucratic ineptitude.

What hopes were lost then.

____________________ JFK 11/22/63 ______________

Monday, November 21, 2005

Push-back against 60 Minutes hit piece on New Orleans.

This is good responsible journalism from the Times Picayune.
In a letter to 60 Minutes, Boesch said the op-ed piece written by Kusky for the Boston Globe in September “reads like an undergraduate paper — a little bit of truth but with a lot of important information missing and not much deep thinking. And, I wouldn’t grade it highly.

“The disaster of Katrina is sad in so many respects,” Boesch wrote. “One of those for me as a scientist is the proliferation of self-proclaimed experts who, either to seek attention or push their own agendas, have rushed to write op-eds or otherwise opine to the media on topics far from their expertise. They are affecting people’s fears and lives and confusing rational decision making on governmental policies and investments.” 
. . . . . .
But University of Texas at Austin geology Professor Charles G. Groat, who was then director of the U.S. Geological Survey, flatly disagreed with Kusky’s conclusions.

Groat said Kusky relied on “an off-hand comment that has often been repeated” that was included in a University of New Orleans magazine piece that compared New Orleans to Atlantis.

The basic fallacy that Kusky engages in is the leap from a scientific fact, that subsidence is occurring (at an unpredictable rate), and the social policy recommendation that New Orleans be essentially abandonned. He says he's "surprised" at his critics' reaction. He shouldn't be: scientists who stray from evidential fact into social engineering are richly deserving of whatever criticism they get.

CBS replies, somewhat lamely, to critics here.

Corps of Engineers virtually guarantees another catastrophe by their incompetance

The commitment to rebuild New Orleans-area levees to pre-Katrina strength before the start of the next hurricane season in June doesn't include spots that weakened but didn't break during the storm.
. . . . . .
That rebuilding will focus on about 40 miles of levees and floodwalls that failed or were breached during Hurricane Katrina, Taylor said. However, that doesn't include repairing the areas that may have been weakened but didn't fail during the storms, he said. That job will probably fall to another group in the corps -- and that work probably won't be completed by June 1, he said.

Robert Bea, professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California at Berkeley, said he hasn't seen anything to indicate that repairing weakened spots before next hurricane season has been included in the corps', or anyone else's, plan.

"It's all focused on the breaches," he said.

O, great. Now when the levees fail again, it won't do as much damage, because the (shouting) damage has already been done!

Plans for a superboard for levees.

Blageur is hopeful but confused. Is this bill, discussed in the link below, what the scientist in the link at the bottom asking for ? Next to abolishing the levee boards and creating a new super board, I guess all we can hope for is a coordinating body with budget authority. The idea worked very well for higher education, and the Board of Regents, given the authority to direct the different systems is very effective.

A plan giving a state-level board oversight of both coastal restoration and levee rebuilding won approval Sunday night despite concerns that adding another level of government may not be a drastic enough change.

The governor-backed legislation is an attempt to coordinate across parish lines projects that protect communities from hurricanes.

Past efforts to rebuild the coast and maintain levees have been fragmented as various state and local agencies worked on their own, supporters of Senate Bill 71 say.

Some lawmakers have argued that a better solution would be eliminating the state's 20-something levee boards and creating one entity to manage projects for the entire state.
Neither a lack of science nor a lack of technology will prevent Louisiana from having effective hurricane protection. The problem stems from a lack of leadership and a patchwork approach to building and maintaining that protection system, a California researcher said.

"This is not an engineering problem; we know how to do it," said Robert Bea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.

Is the house bill an answer to this problem?

UPDATE: I have read over the bill, and it does have teeth. Budgetary authority over all federal and state funding is part of the charge of this commission, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and it will have the ability to seek injunctions against any project which it does not approve. The governor is given large appointive powers. The bill specifies funding through a guaranteed percentage of all oil revenues. The CPRA will submit a yearly plan subject to the approval of the legislature. To my politically naive eyes, it seems like a very good development. And it seems likely to pass and be signed into law.

Update 2: It passed the Senate today and goes to Blanco's desk where it will be signed into law. (link)

Mark your calendars. (And give thanks for these wonderful people)

Amazing stories of courage and survival are revealed as Thirteen/WNET New York's NATURE series presents Katrina's Animal Rescue, premiering Sunday, November 20 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

Capturing the intensity of efforts to save not only dogs and cats but penguins, dolphins, and other zoo and aquarium animals, the film imparts an intimate sense of the triumphs and disappointments of the massive operation. The rescues were undertaken by marine biologists and other volunteers from government and animal welfare groups, including Best Friends Animal Society, Noah's Wish, the Humane Society and the ASPCA.

These wonderful people helped to preserve our humanity. Even in the worst of conditions they showed us that we need to give aid to our pets, companions and all the other animals that we have taken responsibility for.

Sixty Minutes? Ill-informed.

It is sheer vandalism to do what Sixty Minutes did last night. They talked to only one scientist, whose specialty has nothng to do with erosion, subsidence, or city planning, and came to the conclusion that New Orleans is no longer viable. The damage done by this report is almost as great as the storm itself. Louisiana is having a very hard time explaining to the rest of the nation just how desperate our situation is. (If you want to know exactly how desperate, see the Time article below.) Now, this report gives the sceptics and detractors of Louisiana in D.C. just the ammunition they need to starve New Orleans to death. This great tragedy, instead of galvanizing a nation into action, will be belittled and derided as a necessary means of cutting our inevitable losses, little will be done, and New Orleans will sink, not under the effect of the forces of nature, but under the neglect of deluded and misled politicians and unfeeling ideologues.

UPDATE: Here's a great post from another blogger, bayoustjohndavid, on the 60 Minutes mess.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

"It's either the beginning of New Orleans, or the end of New Orleans."

"Nature doesn't follow convenient curves," Mr. Davis says. "It moves to tipping points, and we're at one now."

The cost of rebuilding levees and bayous and wetlands is sufficiently astronomical to make nonsense of the pledges to bring New Orleans back with true grit and private capital.

"This is a national tragedy and requires a national response," says Dr. Marty Rowland, an environmental engineer at Tulane University. "Private capital is not going to make the city whole. We're going to need something large and long-term, like TVA. The memory of FDR is long gone, but this may be the time to revive it."
Lengthy, thoughtful piece from the Dallas Morning News(sub. req.-- Here's another link)

Time -- New Orleans. It's worse than you think.

Neighborhoods are still dark, garbage piles up on the street, and bodies are still being found. The city's pain is a nation's shame

Update: Found a link (click on the headline above) that provides the whole article, not just the teaser.

"I believe there's a lesson and a blessing in everything. We just haven't found it yet," says Sharon Welch, another daughter who is visiting from Chicago, and the women laugh.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

We should have stopped FEMA at the border.

State senators say they have no idea how to pay a $3.75 billion bill the Federal Emergency Management Agency is mailing Louisiana for its share of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita relief.

What's worse, Legislative Fiscal Officer Steve Theriot said, is that $2.8 billion is due in six months. If that's not paid in 90 days, a 60 percent late penalty will be imposed, and interest will start piling up.
Less than useless.

WWL: More evidence that someone doomed the levvees.

The engineers said their studies have shown that there is a deep layer of beach sand that begins ten feet below the ground and extends for another 50 feet below sea level on the London Avenue Canal.

According to the engineers, the sand served as a pipeline for the surging waters to compromise the levees from underneath.

Friday, November 18, 2005

James Lee Witt -- D.C. doesn't understand Katrina damage.

Nearly four months after Hurricane Katrina struck, congressional leaders still don’t understand the economic and environmental damage wreaked on the Gulf Coast, James Lee Witt told 20 county leaders from around the nation who gathered Thursday in Little Rock.

The former Federal Emergency Management Agency director, who is advising Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco on the Aug. 29 hurricane’s cleanup, said an independent panel is needed to examine the federal government’s response to the storm.
. . . . . .
Many complaints about the government response to the hurricane can be traced to the decision to put FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security, Witt said. Under Clinton’s administration, Witt’s job was a Cabinet-level position.

“They created a bureaucracy that will never function,” Witt said. “When you have the director of FEMA reporting through a chain of command and not directly to the president, that lapse in the timeline can cause major problems.”

Moreover, they have good reason NOT to want to understand, with huge deficits, tax cuts and Bush's war sapping the budget.

Help for small business snarled between White House, SBA, and Congress

"We understand that SBA personnel are discouraging Congress from passing that bill because it would pre-empt their own program," Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Mike Olivier said.

The bill, which has bipartisan support from Louisiana's two senators as well as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., would provide $750 million in bridge loans and grants for all of the states affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In a hearing last week, Snowe and Kerry said the SBA was blocking their bill.

In a statement, Kerry said Thursday: "We have continued meeting with White House officials, but these negotiations are very one-sided. We keep offering solutions, and they keep saying no. They have an opportunity to provide some real help, and just won't do it."
Apparently the Small Business Administration is more powerful that the President and Congress. Or something else is holding this up. Want to bet that the President's tax cuts for the rich have priority?

Katrina hits Louisiana universities hard.

The first rough sketch of higher education's plan to deal with $138 million in lost tuition and funding cuts includes funneling more students into community colleges but lacks details on looming layoffs.

About 2,100 university faculty and staff positions may be eliminated, according to each system's preliminary estimates. But where the jobs will be cut and what types of workers will be let go is still undetermined.
The effects of these cuts will last for years, maybe for decades. Louisiana will lose some of its most experienced teachers, as well as its promising young teachers. What young faculty member will want to commit his or her career to a state that barely funds higher education even in good times? Now that the bad times have come, and look to stay around for five or ten years, young faculty will be searching for positions elsewhere and older faculty will retire. It's simply in their best interest to do so. Those losses will set back Louiana's higher education system for decades. Any hope that it will become competitive with others in the south will be gone for good, as other systems increase salaries for teachers, and we struggle to barely stay even. Louisiana universities will be gutted, like the houses in the Ninth Ward, victims of nature and of long-standing neglect. The state will suffer as its life blood, its young people, trickles away to other states with more opportunity for education.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

There was warning of a levee breach a year ago.

A year ago Beth LeBlanc and her neighbors on Bellaire Drive had a problem no one could seem to fix. Their yards, which swept to the base of the 17th Street Canal levee, kept filling with water. Then on Aug. 29, as Hurricane Katrina moved out of the area, that levee collapsed and tumbled into their homes, allowing Lake Pontchartrain and a world of misery to pour into the city.
. . . . . .

They became concerned around Thanksgiving of last year, when LeBlanc’s yard at 6780 Bellaire began to look like a wading pool. Her house is about 100 yards south of what would become the breach that flooded much of New Orleans.

"It was at least 6 inches deep the entire length of the yard -- 80 feet from the front to the levee in the back," said LeBlanc, who was left with half a house after the levee break. "At first we thought it was a broken pipe, so we called Sewerage & Water.
. . . . . .
"The catastrophic nature of the floodwall failures indicate this was a systemic problem, something that had been building for some time," Rogers said of the 17th Street Canal. "It tells us that, in all probability, these levees and the soil under the floodwall were already saturated before Katrina came along. This report of saturated yards only adds weight to that."
. . . . . .
"I can only assume the Sewerage & Water Board dropped the ball."
. . . . . .

"Some of them said they contacted the Sewerage & Water Board, most contacted the Levee Board, but in all cases, no one even came out to investigate," Bea said. "These are all signs that something is wrong. In the case of the sand boils, that something is seriously wrong. It means your system is stressed.

Lots of juggling going on here. And SOMEBODY dropped the ball. Blageur's question: You're a S&WB employee. If you see six inches of water next to a levee, and it isn't drinking water and it isn't sewage, and you think it's canal water, do you
a. warn someone in charge
b. get out floaties and open a free swimming pool
c. go back to Liuzza's for another beer
d. fagedabadit! it's quittin' time

The idea of a "Dutch-style" protection plan is catching on.

Christian Science Monitor editorial
Louisiana's political leadership will need to speak with a single voice and convey a clear message as to the value of a Dutch-scale plan. Congress will want assurances that federal money will be well spent. Recent investigations showed that some of the city's existing levees may not have been properly constructed. That gives ammunition to those who fear the possibility of a massive boondoggle.

MR-GO plan moves forward.

The five-point plan agreed to by Rodriguez and LaGrange calls for reduction of the depth of the MR-GO from 36 feet to 28 feet, expedited design and construction of floodgates and storm surge protections on the MR-GO and Lake Borgne area, and completion of the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal Lock. The plan also calls for the relocation of certain existing maritime operations affected by the closure.
Not the best solution for St. Bernard, but better than today's conditions.

I'll be home for Christmas. NOT!

The cutoff of the federal hotel subsidy program for Hurricane Katrina evacuees has some families in Gwinnett wondering how long they'll have roofs over their heads.

"I'm too far away from home with nowhere to go," said Philomenia Johnson, a New Orleans woman who said she learned she will not qualify for continuing housing subsidies.

Governor Blanco on CNN last night

Scroll down for the interview with Anderson Cooper.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

FEMA Pushing Dec. 1 Motel Check-Out for 53,000 Hurricane Families

The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is moving to end its subsidies for hotel and motel rooms for 53,000 families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

On Dec. 1, 2005 -- the previously announced conclusion for FEMA's direct payment hotel/motel program -- direct federal emergency assistance reimbursements for hotel and motel rooms occupied by Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees will end.

According to FEMA, less than one percent of the more than 321,000 evacuees once in congregate shelters remain in such shelters today, and virtually all of the congregate shelters are now located in just three states.

The number of evacuees in hotel and motel rooms across the country has also dropped dramatically. However, evacuated families still occupy more than 53,000 hotel rooms, largely in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi. In cooperation with state and local partners, FEMA said it assisting these 53,000 families with long-term housing. Finding longer-term housing for all evacuees is the agency's highest housing priority, and FEMA is actively reaching out to all 53,000 families.

Yeah, right! Is this supposed to be Season's Greetings?

N.F.L. Committee Meets to Discuss Saints' Future

The last time Tom Benson, the New Orleans Saints' owner, was seen in public, he was shoving a television cameraman after fans heaped verbal abuse on him at a Saints game at Louisiana State.

Benson's image, already battered by intimations that he wanted to move his team to San Antonio in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, took another hit when The Times-Picayune reported that Benson had sent Commissioner Paul Tagliabue an e-mail message saying he would not return to Baton Rouge.
Benson was in a better mood as he left a meeting Tuesday. He declared that his team was not for sale, even though two groups of potential investors have already said they would be interested in buying the team and keeping it in Louisiana. And, although Benson was thought to want to leave New Orleans well before the hurricane hit, he said that "hopefully the day will come when we'll have a lot of football in New Orleans." {a lot of football in New Orleans?? What is he saying?]

Benson said of his fellow owners: "They understand how hard we are working to try to come back to New Orleans. We've got the whole league behind us." [This is a frightening comment!]

The New Orleans Advisory Committee, a group of eight owners hand-picked by Tagliabue to deal with the future of the Saints, met for the first time Tuesday. The league seems a long way from making a final decision about where the team will ultimately land, be it in a rebuilt New Orleans, San Antonio or Los Angeles, where the league is working on lease agreements for two sites to pave the way for a team to be placed there.

"We need to see what's going to happen in New Orleans and give them a chance to recover," said the Houston Texans' owner, Robert McNair. "You don't kick people when they're down."

Tagliabue and Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers' chairman, said Benson had been unfairly portrayed as the bad guy in characterizations of the strife of the Saints.

"Tom Benson is one of the finest, caring people I know in the National Football League," Rooney said. "He's been painted into an evil-looking person, which is definitely not the case."

Have we been sacked? How in the world can anyone with any conscience say such sweet things about Benson? Well folks, its just not looking that good for the Saints to be sold to another Louisiana group or even remain in New Orleans!

Lawsuits Filed Over New Orleans Levee Breaks

Lawsuits seeking liability for the failure of the levees in New Orleans have already been filed. Lawyers are seeking class-action status. The potential payout may involve tens of thousands of households.

House approves Blanco's cuts

More than $600 million in budget cuts - including all the reductions made by Gov. Kathleen Blanco before a special legislative session - were approved overwhelmingly Tuesday by the state House of Representatives.

The spending cuts would combine with the use of money from the state's "rainy day" fund and other measures to rework spending and rebalance the more than $18 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The budget has a nearly $1 billion shortfall in state tax income after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Louisiana is required to maintain a balanced budget.


To cope with the spending slashing, Louisiana's public colleges said they expect to have to lay off faculty and staff. The state health department will pay nursing homes, hospitals and doctors less money for providing care to the poor in the state's Medicaid program.


To fill the rest of the gap in the budget, the entire Legislature has agreed to tap $154 million from the state's "rainy day" fund. Lawmakers also are being asked by the Blanco administration to approve a series of complex accounting moves that would free up $188 million to plug into the shortfall.


According to the Times Picayune, "Blanco's blueprint overcomes opposition."

A mention of the aforementioned "series of complex accounting moves" is "through an accounting maneuver that would steer $188 million in 2004-05 surplus dollars into the general fund."

Blageurette would like to understand the complexity of using money that is left over (surplus) from a previous fiscal period. The amount of surplus funds is 1/5 of our deficit . . . why would it take two hurricanes to go after using this money? Okay, I'm confused again . . . I thought I understood basic bookkeeping!

Settlement rejected in questioned trailer deal

A state commission has rejected a settlement offer from a politically connected motorcycle shop that did not have a license to sell travel trailers when it started selling post-hurricane housing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Louisiana Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission on Tuesday found that Bourget's of the South, located in River Ridge, violated state law with the FEMA deal. The shop is owned by the father and uncle of state Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco.

The commission rejected an offer by the uncle, Glen Smith, to plead no contest and pay a $10,000 fine for selling the trailers without the proper license. The commission then voted to hold a full hearing as early as next month.

Biz Council wants levee district overhaul

A local business group has sent a strongly worded letter to Gov. Kathleen Blanco demanding radical change in management of the New Orleans area levee systems and calling for “an all-out war against corruption.”

The letter from the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region carried an impassioned plea for Blanco “to clean house at the Orleans Levee Board and replace its current membership with highly qualified, apolitical experts in engineering and project management.”

The council also asked that the governor urge Attorney General Charles Foti to “aggressively investigate the prior activities of the Levee Board.”

Famed alum cremated as a pauper

This, dear readers, exemplifies some of the incompetence Louisianians have experienced with their "dearly departed" following Katrina:

NEW ORLEANS - John Karlem "Ducky" Riess graduated from Tulane University in 1933, and for the next 70 years, he touched the lives of an untold number of students as a physics professor, adviser to fraternities and honor societies and as grand marshal at graduation ceremonies.

When the university's alumni association celebrated its centennial, Riess was declared "Alumni of the Century."

And so it is particularly shocking and appalling to his family and friends that after levee breaks forced the evacuation of the bedridden 92-year-old professor emeritus from his home [on Audubon Blvd] to New Orleans International Airport, he ultimately would die on a military plane en route to Shreveport and later be unceremoniously cremated as a pauper with no family.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Where were the busses? In Brownie's pocket

This may be old news to some, but it's the most complete and detailed account of what happened to the busses that were supposed to take people from the Superdome to safety.
Peter Pantuso of the American Bus Association said he spent much of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 31, trying to find someone at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who could tell him how many buses were needed for an evacuation, where they should be sent and who was overseeing the effort.

"We never talked directly to FEMA or got a call back from them," Pantuso said.

And in this article, also old news, Gov. Blanco says that Brown refused to let them use school busses for the evacuation because they were not air-conditioned.
On the day of the storm, or perhaps the day after, FEMA turned down the state's suggestion to use school buses because they are not air conditioned, Blanco said Friday in an interview.

Even after levees broke and residents were crowding the Louisiana Superdome, then-FEMA Director Mike Brown was bent on using his own buses to evacuate New Orleans, Blanco said.

Check out Louisiana Weekly

They feature a great round-up of election speculation. Some samples:

In the same week, Peggy Wilson formally hires the hottest campaign consultant in Louisiana, while Mitch Landrieu chastises both Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin before a high profile event on how to rebuild after Katrina. By their actions, could these two well-known politicians established themselves as frontrunners to be the next Mayor of New Orleans?
. . . . .
Blanco already faces a Democratic challenger. PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell has announced his intentions to run for Governor on a populist platform highlighting Blanco's close connections with the oil industry. Campbell recommends a four percent oil processing tax on refineries that would produce enough revenue to end Louisiana's corporate and personal income taxes.
With Campbell's challenge of Blanco's governorship, Landrieu could present himself as the savior of Democrats, and seek the office with a clear conscience.
Bob Moffet, President of the Orleans Chapter of the Alliance for Good Government and a long time friend of the lieutenant governor, says if given to choose, "I think he (Landrieu) is going to run for governor...Blanco is toast."
. . . . . .
Governor Kathleen Blanco's decision to cut 10 percent of the state budget unilaterally unsurprisingly has brought some angry responses, but few expected them to come from the party of fiscal conservatism, the GOP.

Good stuff.

While Louisiana begs for help, Mississippi casinos get BIG tax breaks.

The tax breaks are part of Bush's proposed Gulf Opportunity Zone, which would create tax incentives, grants, and regulatory relief for working-class homeowners and small businesses. But the decision to include Mississippi's damaged casinos in the "GO Zone" boils the blood of anti-gambling activists. Traditionally, federal tax incentive plans have excluded casinos, along with tanning salons, massage parlors, and country clubs. Besides, say House conservatives, there is no need to offer enticements to an industry that is already rebuilding under its own steam and that didn't originally ask for help, although it's having second thoughts.
Hey, it's a disaster. If gambling can't cash in, you're helping the terrorists!

About the levees

There are several meaty articles about levees and flood protection in New Orleans today.

The Times Picayune continues their excellent series on the Dutch flod prevention measures, this time discussing the unforeseen bad effects of their levee and dam system.
The Dutch experience is a cautionary tale for south Louisiana, where engineers may have to intrude upon the delicate marshlands surrounding New Orleans as never before, building new floodgates and levees to protect the region against a Category 5 hurricane.

Hurricane protection and marsh restoration projects will have to be knitted together into a single system with divergent goals. Storm surge protection requires walls of one kind or another. But estuaries and marshes are living systems. Wall them off and they may die. Putting holes in the walls can help by letting water flow in and out. But no one really knows yet how – or if – these ambitious aims can be balanced.

In another article The Times Picayune also indicates that Dutch thinking is beginning to have its influence in Washington. Senators are beginning to acknowledge that just building higher levees is not the answer.
"You can't build levees high enough around (New Orleans). You have to go out," Vitter said.

He said the corps engineers described a "very conceptual" vision of an outer flood protection system without specifying whether it would comprise levees, dams, gates or a combination of those structures. "The basic idea is to have an outer level of protection further out from the city, particularly to the south and east," he said.

The Louisiana senators are pushing for Congress to approve by the end of the year financing for the corps to study and design such a system, Vitter said.

The New York Times recapitulates what Louisiana residents have long known: the marsh, vital for fisheries and for storm protection, is disappearing.
He said some marshy areas east of the Mississippi River lost 25 percent of their land areas in Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore more than 100 miles east of New Orleans. A strong hurricane that approached New Orleans from the south, along the path of the river, would do even more damage, he said.
(Hey, it's easy. Give us back our Mississippi mud.)

But in the same paper, we can find this bit of wisdom:
But would healthy marshes have saved New Orleans from the devastation of Katrina?

"Not a chance,"
said Joseph Kelley, a coastal scientist at the University of Maine who was a member of an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences to study Louisiana's plans for marsh restoration.

In the first place, the floodwater that caused the most damage in New Orleans entered the city not from the marshes but from Lake Pontchartrain and, possibly, the Mississippi Gulf Outlet, a much-reviled canal that runs from the river at New Orleans southeast to the gulf.
Well, true enough, but still, we need to restore the marshes.

Finally, this cold bucket of water comes from the coordinator for Gulf Coast recovery.

Donald Powell said he may not be able to quantify how long-term recovery efforts are progressing for at least eight months in the devastated region that he compared to a war zone. But he said he and local authorities need to focus first on security – making sure that levees can withstand another huge storm.

"I think New Orleans and Louisiana need to be safe," Powell said in an interview with The Associated Press.

However, "I'm not sure what the science dictates," Powell said when asked if the levees would be rebuilt to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, as Gulf Coast officials have requested. "Clearly, I think they're going to be rebuilt up to a Level 3 but ... they were not a Level 3 when the storm came. And then study and understand what the science is to get to a Level 5."

"But the levees clearly are important," he said

What did this guy run before he got this position? Oh, yeah, head of FDIC and friend of the president. "But the levees are clearly important" -- I'm glad he has his priorities straight, if a bit understated. How about "clearly vital" or "goddamned clearly absolutely important to New Orleans' survival"?


Large swath of Lower Ninth Ward opens on Dec. 1

Louisiana has 51.8 pct oil, 55 pct gas flow back

Commissioner recommends postponing New Orleans elections

New Orleans Evictions Surging as Contractors, FEMA Bid Up Rents

La. toll rises as evacuees find dead in return to homes

Citizens pack rebirth forum Experts urged to use N.O. history as guide

State takes over N.O. schools.

The strongest opposition to the measures has come from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. In committee hearings, the union's leaders have complained that the existing collective bargaining agreement in New Orleans would no longer apply at the affected schools.

But no one spoke against the bill in the Senate and, with Blanco looking on from the side, the bill by Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, was approved 34-4.

"The protection of our teachers is very important, but this bill is 100 percent about the children," said Duplessis, who split with other members of her city's delegation and the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus in supporting Blanco's measure.

In the House, there was more debate, but the support for the concept was just as strong.

"You're just creating another problem," said Rep. Arthur Morrell, D-New Orleans, echoing critics who said the proposal is being rushed through the Legislature.
As usual, teachers will be the ones to pay the price for education reform.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Not just bigger, but smarter levees.

At last we're ready to take some advice from people who KNOW how to protect land below sea level.
New Orleans is clamoring for a bigger, stronger levee system that will prevent a repeat of the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. But Dutch engineers say that's not enough: It will also have to be a smarter levee system.

The Netherlands employs the latest in safety principles and digital technology to design for the long haul. New Orleans levees were outdated long before their target date for completion. The Maeslant barrier is designed to last at least a century. Another structure, the Eastern Scheldt barrier, is meant to last twice as long.

The Dutch say thinking ahead is the only option in designing flood defenses: Plan obsessively. Look at the big picture. If things change, adjust. Those are clich├ęs, perhaps, but they're based on hard-won experience from 1,000 years of fighting floods.

With New Orleans' short- and long-term security and rebuilding efforts hanging in the balance, the political pressure is intense to build Category 5 hurricane protection, and build it quickly. But Dutch engineers also caution it would be a mistake to rush forward and build without a clear strategy.

"The first question is, what do you want to protect, people or the marshes? Define your problem -- analyze the system that way. Which is the system? The sea, the river, the lake, the weather? Which problem do you want to solve?" said Tlaje de Haan, an engineer with the Netherlands' water and public works department who helped design the Eastern Scheldt barrier. "Don't go in a hurry to build something. This is an engineer's wish -- to go somewhere and just start building."

You had to be expecting this, right?

Rising material and labor costs in New Orleans could push the cost of restoring the Louisiana Superdome to its pre-Katrina status as high as $175 million or even $200 million, well above earlier estimates of $125 million, the chairman of the state commission overseeing the dome said Monday.
For that price, you might think about tearing the place down and starting all over again.

Takin' out da trash.

The amount of trash is estimated at 22 million tons in the city alone and officials say the unprecedented accumulation will take months, if not years to clear. The amount is a tenth of the waste produced annually by U.S. municipalities but this rancid rubble needs to be picked up and deposited all at once.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the project for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been working at the problem for more than a month. Crews are picking up 70,000 cubic yards of debris per day, and more workers are showing up every day.
Big job. See the photos. Those are two of about ten or eleven piles near the West End.

It's not "Where y'at?" anymore.

In this city of so many linguistic influences, Hurricane Katrina is the latest to reshape the colorful local tongue.

You hear it all over town. For instance: At a supermarket, where two friends were reunited like thousands of others after exile in whatever city Katrina blew them to.

"How's ya' house?" Walter Thompson inquired cautiously of buddy Mark Smith.

Californians starting to look at their own levees with distrust.

Sobered by New Orleans' experience, California policymakers are newly focused on the delta's deteriorating levees and increasingly aware that even if the money needed is spent to buttress the system, a collapse either by flood or earthquake is inevitable.

Katrina prompts huge charity giving.

The public response to the hurricane devastation on the Gulf Coast is about to become the biggest charitable outpouring in U.S. history, surpassing the relief effort that followed the Sept. 11 attacks.

Private donations total nearly $2.7 billion just 11 weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, according to the Red Cross and Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, which tracks charitable giving. The total amount given to 9/11 charities was $2.8 billion. (Related: Charity scams also on the rise)

The amount of charity can help put a disaster in historical perspective. Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which hit about a month later, prompted a rush of donations that exceeded U.S. money given to the tsunami relief effort in Asia. "It's just shocking how far off the charts 9/11, the tsunami and the hurricanes are," said Patrick Rooney, the philanthropy center's research director.

The money is certainlly welcome, and a credit to the generosity of Americans, but it will only help with a very small part of N. O.'s restoration. The Federal Government needs to move quickly with lots of money, or N. O. will stagnate. You can already hear the frustration building on the local radio call in shows (which you can listen to streaming at Some people last night were calling for a "march on Washington" if some aid isn't forthcoming soon. Several people mentioned that they were told that FEMA is out of money. Bobby Jindal called in and confirmed it. With no money, and no electric power, how is anyone expected to begin rebuilding their homes?

More price increases. This time it's sugar.

Since the end of August, the price of sugar has gone from 28 cents a pound to over 40 cents, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, citing industry publications. That's compounded the pricing difficulties the sugar industry faces – the government keeps prices for sugar considerably higher in the U.S. than on the world market by limiting imports and restricting how much sugar can be sold domestically.

The goal is to protect farmers and processors and ensure a steady supply of sugar. However, the price difference means that food manufacturers – and consumers – pay more than if there were no restrictions on imports. The world price for refined sugar averaged 14.18 cents a pound, according to the USDA.

Big FEMAcontract goes to fat cat legislator's family.

The uncle and father of a Louisiana lawmaker have won three no-bid contracts worth 108 (m) million dollars to provide temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina evacuees even though their motorcycle shop didn't have a license to sell new trailers until after the first deal was signed.
Recreational vehicle dealers in Louisiana are angry, saying they've been shut out of what they call a sweetheart deal. One is threatening to sue the motorcycle shop's owners for violating the dealer's franchise rights to sell R-Vs.
. . . . . .
The New Orleans-area motorcycle shop owned by Representative Gary Smith's family has received FEMA contracts to provide 64-hundred trailers to the agency to house those who lost their homes.

The continuing story of FEMA screwups.
Here's Smith's website
And his email:
Not necessarily saying you should write him or anything. Just saying.

Bad news for Blanco in Time magazine.

It will certainly take her a while to live this down.
Today's issue of Time Magazine names Gov. Kathleen Blanco as one of the nation's worst governors for her "dazed and confused" response to Hurricane Katrina.

Blanco's cautious and deliberative nature -- illustrated by the seven weeks it took her to name a recovery commission -- has become a liability, the magazine charges.

"Failures aren't born," the article says. "They're made."

No electricity=no recovery. Entergy falls behind.

Behind the hopeful language about rebuilding lies a dispiriting statistic: Forty percent of the homes in New Orleans, most of them lying east of the Industrial Canal, do not have electricity. Some are in neighborhoods that were damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Katrina. But in other areas, residents say, rebuilding could start immediately if basic services were turned on.
. . . . .

The company had to send away repair crews from outside New Orleans because it could no longer afford to pay them. It has 400 employees, of whom 100 are trained to do the repair work.

And because crews began work in some of the most heavily damaged areas of the city, it took longer to see results, said Rod West, regional manager for the company's electrical distribution operations.

Power should be available to customers in the eastern part of the city by January, West said.

The cost of restoring power to New Orleans could amount to as much as 68% of Entergy New Orleans' net assets, said Amy Stallings, a company spokeswoman. Only 24% of its customer base has returned to the city and is using electrical service.

The company would not be functioning at all without a $200-million loan from its parent company, Entergy Corp., West said.

So now Entergy wants a federal bailout. Even though its parent company has millions. Anyway, try rebuilding a house with hand tools. You need power to rebuild, and without it, N. O. is dead in the water. Theere are many, many homes in the blacked out areas that have been gutted, and are awaiting power to begin new construction. They'll have to wait.

Can the levees be reinforced in time?

The task of restoring levees goes far beyond patching up several dozen breaches of various sizes. The Corps has "sent out teams to investigate the entire system, not just areas where there were breaches," Baumy said. "We've identified areas we know were damaged."

Army engineers will not assume levees that withstood Hurricane Katrina remain strong enough to endure the next major storm, he said.

Independent engineers wonder whether the Army's deadlines are realistic.

"They made very optimistic estimates as to how fast they could get the work done," said Robert Bea, a civil engineering professor at the University of California-Berkeley who has studied the levees. The Army Corps "could be scrambling to finish before the first hurricane actually strikes. Nature isn't going to wait, and they're hoping they can do this rather rapidly."
This weekend Blageur noticed construction crews reinforcing bridge where Robert E. Lee crosses one of the canals. They were dumping large limestone blocks and lots of gravel. There didn't seem to have been a breach here, but they were dumping lots of gravel nonetheless.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Back from New Orleans

This nice old home near the Lakefront on the WWest End shows the characteristic signs of the flood. There's the waterline, halfway up the front door, the screen door leaning on the front steps, and the marks showing it's been checked by rescuers. And all the grass and small shrubs in the front lawn are dead.

And this is what it looks like in the neutral ground across the street. Giant piles of debris, this one mainly branches and tree trunks. It's about twenty-five or thirty feet high.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Off to N. O.

Blageur will be traveling to New Orleans today. Return scheduled for tomorrow, hopefully with pictures ans stories to tell.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday antique dog blogging

My great-grandfather's dog. Dogs knew how to pose for pictures back in the 1880s.

Remember Rita had victims too.

More than a hundred are still living in the main Lake Charles shelter.
The Lake Charles Civic Center looks much like it did before Rita swept through Southwest Louisiana, but inside things are much different. The Civic Center is now a shelter for people who lost their homes. Beki Derise with the American Red Cross says, "We have about 131 people in it. It's still open for anybody that needs it at anytime."

Burger flippers to get $6000 bonus. N.O. NEEDS workers.

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana 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 has nearly doubled the pay for its restaurant workers 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 flood-devastated homes and businesses. Canal Street, once a crowded boulevard of commerce, now resembles a sparsely populated open-air job fair.

The high wages are due to the severe housing shortage. No housing, no workers. Blageur learns something new every day.

A little history

This is one of the crevasses that opened up in the Mississippi levee system in 1927. We,as a nation, then created a vast levee system that has protected much to the country since that time. It's purpose, however, was not protection of people and property, but protection of navigation. Those levees worked fine in New Orleans during Katrina, it was the levees built to protect people and property, not navigation, that failed.

Promises, Promises

Are made to be broken.
Washington has apparently lost its appetite for helping N.O. to recover:

Michael ONeil of the Chicago Tribune writes:For New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, the dithering in Washington seems to spell trouble. A waning appetite for spending raises questions about the essential first step in the rebuilding process: reconstructing the region's troubled hurricane protection system so it can handle a Category 5 storm - by conservative estimates a $20 billion proposition.

Without official assurance that such a system can be built, state officials say, the region will remain caught in a vicious cycle. Residents and businesses will be afraid to come back, tax revenue will continue to dry up, governments and enterprises will starve and the area will become an even less attractive place to live or do business.

Each day that passes without a sense of confidence in the region's future, officials fear, is another day a resident or business chooses not to return, preferring to settle somewhere that seems more secure.

"That's why we've said Category 5 protection and coastal restoration are absolutely our top priority," said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, a commission formed recently by Gov. Kathleen Blanco to manage Louisiana's response to the crisis.

And now AP is reporting that FEMA is reneging on promises to rebid the "no-bid" sweetheart contracts to Bechtel (Halliburton) and others.
Despite a month-old pledge, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to reopen four of its biggest no-bid contracts for Hurricane Katrina work and won’t do so until the contracts are virtually complete. A promise to hire more minority-owned firms also is largely unfulfilled.

And of course it's all going to go in to the toxic political gumbo.
From WWLTV: The state's Democratic Washington delegation places blame on the President and the Republican majority Congress.

“I was in Jackson Square with the President when he said he would do everything he can to get things back to normal. And I called the President two weeks ago and asked when he would start. And I was told to bring solutions, not problems,” said Congressman Charlie Melancon.

Most Republicans blame a slow response from Washington on an unorganized and misdirected agenda from state and local leaders shortly after the hurricane, and say neighboring Mississippi's approach proved to be more effective.

“They came to it easy. Their Governor came up very quickly with a very specific plan…They offered very specific plans and had an early legislative session,” Jindal said.

Most political leaders say levee protection is number one on their priority list to prevent future flooding. But so far the response in Washington to bring those levees up to Category-5 protection has been slow.

If that slow speed continues, Landrieu thinks it could become a campaign issue in next year's Congressional elections.

“I think it could be a subject of the next national campaign because if this Congress doesn't get it the next one will, because the American people understand the value of New Orleans,” Landrieu said.

Conservative Nicole Gelinas
agrees with Landrieu that the slow pace of federal help could become an election issue.
What if the president doesn’t take the lead on rebuilding New Orleans? It’s simple: national Democrats will have the perfect opening to tell an extended version of their story of Katrina by next year’s first anniversary of the storm. Black Democratic leaders, too, will have another opportunity to repeat their disgraceful lie that the president ignored New Orleans because its pre-Katrina population was predominantly black. The White House instead must show Americans that it was gracious enough to rise above this rabid partisan criticism to show a still-flailing New Orleans a new way forward.

Yeah, Mr. Bush, show me that you can rise above rabid partisanship of the type the we liberals are so used to being on the receiving end of. Or not. Blageur would love to see Democrats use federal neglect of New Orleans as a campaign issue all across the nation, oust the Republican majority and finally get something done for this great cultural treasure that you stood in Jackson Square and promised would be rebuilt. Too bad that as your daddy used to say, "We have more will than wallet." Or to but it more baldly, "We have the wallet, but we prefer to use bullshit."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

At least three investigations of criminal culpability in levee failure

Federal investigators are looking into the possibility of corruption in the design, construction and maintenance of the flood barriers, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said.
. . . . .
Earlier this week, Attorney General Charles Foti said he wants to know whether poor construction or design flaws contributed to the failure.

The Orleans Parish district attorney's office also confirmed it started a preliminary investigation into the materials used in the flood walls. It is determining whether a grand jury should be impaneled.

Of the three, Blageur trusts Foti the most.

Bradshaw finds at least one investor who can buy the Saints.

Of course, the question is, will Benson sell?

National Football League legend and Louisiana native Terry Bradshaw said Thursday he’s serious about buying the New Orleans Saints and said he has interested in-state investors with enough money to make it happen.
Bradshaw, an analyst for Fox Sports who starred at Louisiana Tech before winning four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said his motivation in putting together a deal is purely to keep the team in Louisiana. While Bradshaw declined to name his primary investor, Steve Davison, the son of Ruston trucking mogul James Davison, said his father is interested in buying the team if that’s what it takes to keep it in the state.
James Davison, 67, controls Davison Transport, one of the largest trucking businesses in the nation, and an empire that includes a petroleum company, transport warehouses and Squire Creek Country Club and Golf Course.

Sell, Benson, sell.

Pets dying in the streets.

Two animal rescue groups are issuing a call for the state of Louisiana to stop blocking attempts to save the thousands of sick, injured, and traumatized dogs and cats who still wander the streets of New Orleans.

The state has announced that the Hurricane Katrina rescue phase is over. Out-of-state veterinarians are banned from volunteering their services on behalf of the animals of greater New Orleans. Rescuers have been threatened with arrest if they attempt to give food and water to animals in Orleans Parish. Outside rescue groups are told they should turn all operations over to local authorities and leave the state.

Meanwhile, the pets who survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are dying on the streets -- sometimes right next to food and water bowls that the handful of remaining rescuers couldn't fill in time.
Bureaucracy=more sadness for New Orleans.

USGS declares Ponchartrain safe.

Findings released today suggest that, despite expectations that hurricane-related flooding in New Orleans could cause uniformly high concentrations of fecal bacteria in Lake Pontchartrain, water samples from sites in and around the lake commonly were within limits acceptable for recreational waters.

These results represent a first round of testing following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Louisiana DEQ is continuing to monitor bayous along the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, areas found to be ‘hot spots’ in samples collected immediately following Hurricane Rita.
OK, but remember that the EPA said the area around ground-zero in NY was safe. It wasn't.

No direction in Washington, little support for Cat 5 protection.

This is bad, real bad. James Gill writes that we need to spring Edwards from jail to take care of this. Blageur says dig up Huey.
Numerous commissions and planning authorities have cropped up in the wake of the storm, but there has been little consensus on how to proceed. There are disagreements about what areas should be rebuilt and how, what new building and zoning standards will say, what kind of hurricane protection is most appropriate, what should be protected and what shouldn't.

Even an enthusiastic supporter of rebuilding, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said she was confused about who is calling the shots.

"Someone has to be in charge, and I don't know who that is," she said at a hearing on hurricane protection Wednesday. "At what point does the rubber hit the road and someone says, 'This is what we are going to do?' "

"On the Hill, I'm starting to see a little Katrina fatigue,"
Nagin said on the West Wing driveway as he prepared to leave the White House.

Your Corps of Engineers at work.

The design of the levees was flawed in the first place.

And the levee pilings were not as deep at the Corps claims.

Both from the Times Picayune -- good work guys.

What the new building codes might include.

Check out the link at the end ot the article for "The Louisiana house"
The Legislature is considering a bill that would establish statewide construction standards to strengthen homes against floods and hurricane-force winds.

House Bill 76 would require homebuilders to follow the International Residential Code, and builders would have to use more expensive materials and more elaborate construction techniques to make new buildings resistant to hurricane winds.

The IRC has specific requirements for nearly every stage of construction.

Reichel said the techniques used to build La House are not that elaborate or complicated, just different.

WH not cooperating with Katrina committee, subpoenas threatened.

The Republican chairman of a House panel investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina threatened Wednesday to issue subpoenas for documents if the White House and other agencies don't provide them by Nov. 18.

Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia made the commitment after a Louisiana Democrat, Charlie Melancon, pointed out the panel still hadn't seen some documents it requested more than a month ago. The original request pertains to the White House, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Proving that there are Republicans with good sense.

Inside the N.O. Restoration struggle: Moe vs. Kabakoff

In this article, the need for housing is stressed, along with praise for Pres Kabakoff, a leader in the revitalization of the Warehouse District and the CBD.
Everyone seems to agree on the need for mixed-use, affordable housing.
Experts: Renewal starts with the roofs
"We could make New Orleans like an Afro-Caribbean Paris," Kabacoff said. "The beauty of Paris is you can walk 50 or 100 blocks and you never run out of something interesting to see."

Kabakoff specializes in large complex deals and his projects have tended toward gentrification. Another approach is advocaqted by National Trust President Richard Moe, who advocated salvaging older houses, especially the ones that were solidly built in the first place. He was in NO this week to show off a home that had been flooded to the rafters and is now almost ready for occupancy.
Experts show off example of saving old New Orleans
"It's faster, less expensive, more environmentally sound, so everything argues for preserving these houses unless they absolutely can't be saved," Moe said. "We should make every effort to save them."
. . . . . . .
His first stop was [Bari] Landry's home in a mostly lifeless neighborhood, but one loaded with historic bungalow and shotgun style homes built largely of cypress more than a half-century ago.
. . . . . .
The National Trust has such technical advice posted on the Internet _ a resource Landry used while working on her home. She also received help form the local Preservation Resource Council.

"Since I've been back, I've found a lot of people getting misinformation," said Landry, a mother of two teenage boys who's temporarily moved in with her parents in suburban Metairie. "If the plaster is solid to the lathe and they tell you you have to take it out, they're wrong. It will not absorb mold like Sheetrock and it doesn't melt away in water like Sheetrock."

Landry had flood and homeowners insurance and said her adjusters have promised all of her restoration work will be covered. Her story could potentially be repeated thousands of times over to the benefit of not just the city but the whole country, Moe said.

The contrast between these two approaches was highlighted two years ago when Kabakoff decided to bring a Wal-Mart into the heart of New Orleans as part of a larger development project. Moe and other preservationists found themselves in opposition, though they had been supporters of Kabakoff's previous projects.
Thinking outside the big box

But even Moe is emphatically unhappy with the St. Thomas redevelopment plan.

"We have a strong disagreement with Pres on the Wal-Mart proposal," Moe says. "To put a 220,000-square-foot Wal-Mart in the middle of the Lower Garden District we think is just flat wrong. And I'm sorry he's doing it.

"It doesn't fit. It's vastly out of scale. It's the kind of thing you see in the suburbs. This is not to say there shouldn't be those kinds of retail outlets in the city, but they ought to be of a scale and size compatible with everything else that's there."

Kabacoff argues that Tchoupitoulas Street is not part of the Lower Garden District in any aesthetic or social sense.

Big development or preservation? How about the lower income people living in those neighborhoods?
Barbara Major, a frequent spokeswoman for the former residents of St. Thomas, is bemused by it all.

"To see this whole thing play itself out, it was like one big joke after another," she says. "All of a sudden you have the preservationists after the preservationists. And I'm like, what the hell is this all about?

"They tried to frame this battle as if it were about the people of St. Thomas. It was never about that. It was about who was going to control this strip of land. It's always about the land struggle."
In the end, it is, always was, about money.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

N.O site for Democratic convention in '08

A Maryland congressman is urging his fellow Democrats to hold the party's 2008 presidential nominating convention in New Orleans as a signal of national support for the city after its devastating losses from Hurricane Katrina.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., made the suggestion after party officials announced that their 2008 convention will be held Aug. 25-28. Declaring New Orleans as the host city for the party's national convention, Cummings said, would demonstrate to its residents that the city "has not been forgotten."
Way cool!

Why not use storm debris in the marsh? Among other reasons, termites.

Tons of hurricane debris along the coastal parishes and a need for material to stabilize a disappearing coastline seem like a perfect match.

Although there has been some talk about placing the trees, concrete blocks and other nonhazardous material along coastal shorelines and marsh, officials say it's just not that easy or practical.

"The problem is people equate the Christmas tree program with transporting huge amounts of material," said Gerry Duszynski, acting assistant secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources Office of Coastal Restoration and Management.

The Christmas tree program offers discarded trees to coastal parishes for shoreline protection. The trees -- unflocked and shorn of ornaments -- are placed in holding fences to help dampen wave energy that can cause erosion along shorelines.

Hurricane waste, however, is a different issue, Duszynski said.

Building codes will make housing more expensive

Officials are pushing a set of standardized statewide building codes for residential and commercial structures in an effort to lure more insurers to the state, secure federal dollars and offer uniformity for economic development.

The overriding concern, however, is safety, especially in light of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Other coastal states like Florida have adopted such standards, and residents told lawmakers Monday that the move could eventually save their lives.

Opponents argued during the House Commerce Committee meeting that stricter guidelines would drive up construction costs during a time when so many homes already need to be rebuilt -- up to 200,000 dwellings, according to the Louisiana Homebuilders Association.
This is precisely what has happened in Florida. It simply becomes too expensive to rebuild. Only the richest can live in beachfront communities in some parts of Florida, now.

Inquiry to Seek Cause of Levee Failure

The Louisiana Attorney General said Tuesday that he had begun examining why the New Orleans levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, partly to increase the chances that people who lost their homes will be compensated for their losses.

Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. said in an interview that his review could lead to a civil suit to prove that levee design or construction errors caused the flood damage.

A favorable ruling in such a lawsuit could make it easier for those with heavy losses to collect damages from engineering firms and construction companies found negligent in the construction of the levee.

Mr. Foti said he also would examine whether shoddy workmanship contributed to the levee failures, leading to a possible criminal investigation if any evidence of that surfaced.

Last week, an engineering expert told a Congressional panel that malfeasance might have led to the levee failures, based on statements - still vague and uncorroborated - from a few former levee workers and their families.

Foti's taking on the US Army Corps of Engineers!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Little towns suffer too -- perhaps worse than others.

This sounds like life on the frontier.
Pearlington doesn't have a mayor or a city council. The closest thing to a government is the volunteer fire department, and most of its members evacuated ahead of the storm. They needed three days to hack their way through the debris and get back into town, said Fire Chief Kim Jones.

His firefighters did their best without outside help, Jones said, fighting fires, transforming their station into a makeshift shelter and acting as a surrogate police force. More than two weeks went by before U.S. Department of Forestry firefighters arrived and converted the elementary school into a shelter, which the Red Cross eventually took over, Jones said.

To congress: Don't say you didn't see this coming.

Port Fourchon Executive Director Ted Falgout, a longtime levee protection and coastal restoration advocate, doesn't like to say "I told you so."

But Monday, he said just that to a U.S. Senate committee.

Thirteen months before Hurricane Katrina struck, Falgout testified before a U.S. House subcommittee about Louisiana's coastal land loss and warned that "a well-placed Category 4 hurricane would cause the price of gasoline to go up $1, double the price of natural gas and cause huge loss of life."

Can you say "hypocrite"? I knew you could.

When the House voted in early September for a $1.4 billion relief bill for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Rep. John Hostettler (Ind.) was one of 11 Republicans to oppose it.

Yesterday, the congressman, who is facing a tight race next year, and several other Indiana members asked President Bush for money to help victims of another natural disaster — the tornado that ripped through many areas in his 8th District.
Does it get more blatant than this?

Dead sister, left behind, discovered two months later.

"So I went upstairs and sure enough, there was Sis."

One helluva story from the Independent(UK)

Lege: Gil Pinac introduces statewide building code.

Commerce Committee Chairman Gil Pinac's bill would have the state immediately adopt the wind and flood provisions of the International Building Code and the International Residential Code for areas now under an emergency declaration because of the hurricanes. Within six months, the state - through a new council appointed by the governor - would adopt both the IBC and IRC as its own with some modification.
Probably a good idea, but conditions are not the same in New Orleans as they are in Shreveport.

Kerry says Gulf Coast small businesses need help

"The Gulf Coast can't recover and rebuild if Washington ignores the urgency of the challenge. Hurricane Katrina hit two months ago, but small businesses are still clamoring for assistance. The SBA is moving at a snail's pace. The lumbering bureaucracy has approved less than 3 percent of the loan applications they've received. It's painfully obvious that more needs to be done to help the small businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and the thousands of people they employ," said Kerry, top Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Bayoubuzz likes Blanco

You are witnessing a new governor in Louisiana´s Governor Kathleen Blanco.

From events over the past few weeks including her Sunday evening speech to the legislature and the nation, Governor Blanco has signified new realities in her governing approach. She is going to be a tougher, meaner leaner machine, yet, full of Southern grace.
She had better be tough, with a greedy legislature, and a huge budget shortfall.
Hell, she'll have to be tougher than Huey P. Long.

(The pictures below were taken in 1931 by a relative of Blageur. The sign, posted over a bridge, reads "Hello Huey" on one side, "Goodbye Huey" on the other.)

Worldwide fallout from Katrina

Big increase in Taiwan manufacturing orders.

Alea, British reinsurer, posts losses

Cost of plastic zooms 20-30%

Gas prices rise so quickly that even pet congresscritters are angry.
Oil industry executives summoned to Capitol Hill are expected to receive a grilling Wednesday — perhaps unlike any they have faced before — over their record profits at a time of high oil prices.

One company boosts rates on oil rig reinsurance by %400

During the hurricane 911 broke down

Washington Post:
By the early hours of Aug. 30 at police headquarters, water was rising in the elevator shafts, approaching the second-floor communications equipment. Police Capt. Stephen Gordon began the evacuation of 120 operators. "It was like getting on the ark," he said later.

They were evacuated by boat to the city convention center. Gordon determined it was impossible to set up a makeshift call center there and ended up spending the next two nights sleeping on a hotel ballroom floor.

All the while, Gordon said, he believed the telephone company was transferring emergency calls to the state police.

While Gordon was trying to keep his crew safe, 82 BellSouth employees worked in chaos downtown. Although they had generators, food and water, police reported a National Guard unit had come under attack and their safety could not be guaranteed, Smith said. The day after the hurricane, under state police escort, the BellSouth workers fled to Baton Rouge.

In the meantime, BellSouth began rerouting 911 calls to an administrative line inside the flooded police building on South Broad Street that Gordon had abandoned days earlier. "We couldn't find anybody to ask them where to send the calls to," said company spokesman Jeff Batcher.

New Orleans officials remember it differently. Police Maj. James Treadway recounted a conference call with BellSouth officials late on Aug. 29, in which the company said some central offices were failing. "We asked them why other jurisdictions were getting our 911 calls and they didn't really have an explanation," Treadway said.

Three articles from Advocate on travails of trailer housing

In brief, it's going to be a long, frustrating time before some get back home.

Landrieu & Vitter get $1.2 b. for coast

From Mary Landrieu's website:
U.S. Sens. David Vitter and Mary Landrieu announced passage of an amendment to the Budget Reconciliation Act today that would provide $1.2 billion for coastal restoration efforts in the Gulf States. The Vitter-Landrieu amendment passed by voice vote. This money is in addition to the $200 million for coastal restoration for states impacted by hurricanes and disasters that Vitter announced last week as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
That's good, but coastal restoration is estimated to cost $14 b. They'll have to keep fighting hard for the rest of that money.

La. Recovery Authority inaugurates website.

So far, it looks nice. But apparently everything is still in the discussion stages. No concrete actions proposed. It's worth bookmarking, though.

With huge budget shortfall looming, legislators fight for their slush funds.

Of particular concern to lawmakers was the administration's plan to eliminate $11 million in financing for urban and rural development funds, which critics deride as "slush funds" but which remain a popular way for legislators to bring projects home to their districts.

Rep. Willie Hunter, D-Monroe, asked why some budget programs were spared while the urban and rural funds were frozen.
Did you expect them to give them up without a fight. Those funds are votes, old bean, and jobs for the son-in-law.

NY Times savages Bush, Cheney in editorial

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.