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Old May 6th, 2006, 10:50 PM   #41
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Quote:
Originally Posted by miamicanes
So I suppose we also shouldn't use federal us dollars to rebuild Seattle when Mt. Rainier decides to finally blow up, Los Angeles, San Fracisco, and the other 90% of urban California in between following the next major earthquake, or any small town in the midwest that gets flattened by one or more tornadoes?

.
actually a town was wiped out by a tornado in Wisconsin last year and fedeal money and aid was denied.

As much as I like New Orleans, its almost crazy to rebuild the entire city. Why spend billions and billions to put up new houses and businesses when the chance they will just be knocked down next year is not out of the question? This is what I dont understand about the flock of people moving to the Flordia or Gulf Coasts. Sure, it gets cold up here during winter..but at least we dont have to worry about evacuating our house every time the ocean acts up....which happens all the time.
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Old May 7th, 2006, 06:36 AM   #42
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Why spend billions and billions to put up new houses and businesses when the chance they will just be knocked down next year is not out of the question?
Because sneering at disaster, and rebuilding bigger and better is simply The American Way™?

You could ask the exact same question about lower Manhattan. Let's face it... if anywhere in the world is going to get anihilated by a small nuclear bomb carried by some nutcase who thinks he's got a hundred virgins eagerly waiting for him, it's there. And still, new buildings are going up in Lower Manhattan, and people still live and work there. And if it ever does happen, lower Manhattan will be dammed in (to keep the water out), excavated down to the bedrock to remove all the fallout, replaced with dirt from somewhere a thousand miles away, and rebuilt. Amidst lots of people from "fly-over America" grumbling and complaining about having to spend hundreds of trillions of dollars to rebuild Manhattan at taxpayer expense, when it might just get nuked again next year...


Anyway, you can't entirely blame the local populace for inadequate construction methods. For the past few months, I've discovered just how hard it is for even the most determined individual, hellbent on having a house built that's capable of weathering a direct hit by the worst category 5 hurricane conceivable with nothing worse than broken windows and water damage from rain that came in through them, to actually find a contractor willing to build one.

The sad truth is, residential builders are an incredibly stubborn group that's perfectly content to keep building homes the way they always have unless the government literally forces them to do otherwise. I spent 5 months hunting down Miami builders who do one-off homes for people, and was politely blown off by all of them. A few grudgingly agreed to my non-negotiable demand for 6" solid-core ICF exterior walls, but all of 'em drew the line and stood their ground at the post-tensioned free-spanning cast in place reinforced concrete hip roof, insisting that I settle for a matchstick roof like everyone else or find another builder.

OK, I had a few builders willing to slightly compromise... one would do a light steel-framed roof, two would do a suspended concrete attic floor below a wood roof (so I'd at least have a solid roof if the wood roof went bye-bye), and one would do a gabled (not hip) roof IF I had it redesigned to include a loadbearing wall below the ridge. But absolutely none of them would budge an inch on post-tensioning, regardless of how non-exotic and "no big deal" the structural engineer insisted it was(*). Just say the phrase "post-tensioned" to a residential builder and watch them tune you out

But anyway, the truth is, even with a structural engineer standing behind you (and a slightly perverse fantasy of making the front page of the Miami Herald's "Home & Garden" section, looking smug and happy about having the only house left standing amidst a 25 mile radius of Hiroshima-like destruction), it's damn hard to get a hurricane-proof house built, because builders will fight you every step of the way to avoid deviating even slightly from what they see as "the norm".

And if you're not lucky enough to own a vacant lot and have to take whatever production builders like Lennar are willing to sell, you're out of luck. At best, you'll end up with a house that can withstand a direct hit by a cat 3 hurricane with minimal damage, but not even a house that flawlessly executes every last provision of the Florida HVHZ building code (basically, the original post-Andrew Dade County building code) would have emerged from a direct hit by Andrew with an intact roof. After Andrew, Dade County actually wanted to require roofs capable of withstanding a Category 5 storm, but the builders went ballistic because it would have effectively banned wood roofs, so they settled for simply mandating "best practices" for matchstick roofs and hoped for the best.

--------

(*)For anyone who cares, the designed roof is basically a 2-way slab with beams, with ~6" deep deck and ~12" deep beams, formed by putting blocks of styrofoam wherever the beams aren't, placing the rebar & tendons, shoring it below, then covering the whole thing until the foam is under 6" of concrete. The post-tensioning tendons are buried in the beams and tightened a few days after pouring. They basically enable the beams to be a little less than half the depth they'd have to be without them, and additionally strengthen the roof enough to transfer the entire load from the top down to the perimeter walls so no interior loadbearing walls are needed. The second floor's floor is a suspended slab, too (also post-tensioned, with enough steel to pull the exterior walls inward and counteract the spreading force from the roof load). OK, so maybe it is pretty unconventional by residential standards... but to a commercial builder, it's no big deal. Except commercial builders aren't interested in wasting their time on small (but intense) projects because they're too busy building skyscrapers around Miami.

Just so everyone believes that roofs like this REALLY DO exist in Mexico and Texas and that I'm not smoking crack or anything, here are some photos of a few... the first two are somewhere in Mexico, and the third is on South Padre Island:







in case anyone's wondering, the white stuff is styrofoam. It's left in place after pouring to provide additional insulation. Don't worry... there's ~6" of reinforced concrete on the other side of it... God, I wish I could afford to hire the guy who built that roof to come to Miami and build mine, instead of having to rely on our local luddites
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 11:05 PM   #43
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After floods, fires threaten New Orleans' heritage
By Russell McCulley

NEW ORLEANS, May 23 (Reuters) - Nine months after Hurricane Katrina's wind and floods laid waste to huge sections of New Orleans, a third element -- fire -- is slowly taking a toll on the city's historic architecture.

A rash of fires and a fire department short on equipment and manpower, are hampering rebuilding and leaving gaping holes in some of the three-century-old city's neighborhoods.

"We've lost a lot in the city," said New Orleans Fire Department superintendent Charles Parent.

With the city's population down by more than half from before the storm, firefighters are receiving fewer calls. But the intensity and duration of the blazes are up dramatically.

More than 1,260 fires have been logged since Katrina hit on Aug. 29. Four, including a huge blaze last week that claimed two abandoned wharves on the Mississippi, were five-alarm fires, meaning over 90 firefighters and 32 fire engines and other vehicles were called in from across the city.

In a typical year, Parent said, the department might respond to one or two five-alarm fires.

So far, no one has been killed in the fires, but they worry preservationists already reeling from the loss of an untold number of old buildings to Katrina.

"It's the sort of thing that makes you, as a preservationist or just somebody who loves old buildings or old New Orleans neighborhoods, it makes you feel terribly discouraged," said Stephanie Bruno, director of the non-profit Preservation Resource Center's Operation Comeback program.

Leaky gas pipes and storm-damaged electrical systems have raised fire risks. Many blazes, such as the wharf fires, have been blamed on construction and demolition crews.

Others, including an April 3 blaze that damaged a downtown hotel, have been attributed to transient workers squatting in abandoned homes and buildings.

Others are believed to have been deliberately set by building owners whose property was not covered by flood or wind insurance. And the salt-water intrusion of Katrina's floods, followed by a long dry spell, have turned vegetation and abandoned buildings in many neighborhoods to tinder.

With huge swaths of the city still underpopulated, Parent said, fires are being detected and reported later, adding critical minutes to response times. "We don't have people out there, so the fire gets a good start on us," he said.

Federal authorities are helping probe several suspicious fires, especially those that may involve insurance fraud.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Fire Department is battling internal woes. Short-handed even before Katrina, the department lost 62 of 680 uniformed firefighters to retirement or resignation after the storm, Parent said.

An average of 100 staffers are out sick on any given day, and the hurricane destroyed or heavily damaged 23 of the department's 32 fire stations.

With a new hurricane season two weeks away, the department is working to correct some of the tactical problems that hampered its work during Katrina, Parent said.

Communications systems have been beefed up and all available firefighters will be called to duty in the event of a citywide evacuation, he said.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 11:56 PM   #44
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New Orleans seen top US target for '06 hurricanes
By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla., May 24 (Reuters) - New Orleans, still down and out from last year's assault by Hurricane Katrina, is the U.S. city most likely to be struck by hurricane force winds during the 2006 storm season, a researcher said on Wednesday.

The forecast gives New Orleans a nearly 30 percent chance of being hit by a hurricane and a one in 10 chance the storm will be a Category 3 or stronger, meaning sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour (178 km per hour), said Chuck Watson of Kinetic Analysis Corp., Savannah, Georgia a risk assessment firm.

"Given the state of the infrastructure down there and the levees, gosh, that's just not good news. But that's what the climate signals look like," Watson said.

Watson, who has partnered with University of Central Florida statistics professor Mark Johnson, also predicted that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico will be disrupted for a minimum of a week at a cost of 7-8 million barrels of oil.

Up to 25 percent of U.S. oil production in the Gulf was shut down last year and 20 percent is still out.

Watson gave a one in 10 chance that oil rigs will sustain enough damage to reduce production by 278 million barrels this year, further escalating prices for gasoline.

The forecasters, who have worked with the oil and gas industry and with state insurance regulators, base their forecast in part on the paths of storms over the past 155 years and expected global climate conditions this year.

Watson and Johnson said a weak La Nina weather condition and warmer-than-normal Gulf of Mexico water temperatures were contributing factors. U.S. government weather experts say the La Nina phenomenon in place earlier this year has dissipated and should not be a factor during the hurricane season.

On Tuesday, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the 2006 hurricane season was expected to produce 13 to 16 named storms, including four to six "major" hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher. No leading forecasters came close to predicting what happened in 2005, when 28 tropical storms spawned a record 15 hurricanes.

The 2006 forecast for News Orleans was worse than Watson's prediction for the city last year, he said. But for now, he considers the 2005 season an aberration rather than a trend or a definitive sign of effects from global warming.

"If it happens again this year or next year, then we're in a different climate world than we were in the last 100 years or so," Watson said.

Of 28 coastal cities evaluated under the forecast model, New Orleans ranked top with a 29.3 percent chance of experiencing hurricane-force winds in the storm season that begins officially on June 1.

Other top candidates include Mobile, Alabama, with a 22 percent chance of being buffeted by hurricane-force winds, and the Florida cities of Key West and Pensacola, which both have a 20 percent chance.

West Palm Beach, Florida, which suffered severe damage during last year's Hurricane Wilma, came in just after Key West and Pensacola with a 19 percent chance of being struck yet again by hurricane-force winds.

Watson and Johnson have published a number of research papers on storm and wind damage modeling.
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Old May 30th, 2006, 05:11 AM   #45
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Ceremonies at two canals in New Orleans honor Katrina victims
By BRETT MARTEL
29 May 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Singing "We shall overcome," sorrowful residents and religious leaders accompanied by an old New Orleans brass band walked up a repaired levee and put their hands on a new flood wall Monday in a Memorial Day remembrance for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Some participants at the ceremony in the city's Lower Ninth Ward carried American flags as organizers also called on the crowd to remember fallen U.S. soldiers.

Noting all the state's residents who have fought for America, organizers said they now need Americans to fight for southern Louisiana and help restore the region's levees and wetlands for protection against future hurricanes.

A second ceremony, in the opposite end of the city at the site of a breach in the 17th Street Canal, drew a crowd of about 100 mostly middle-class residents of the area. The memorial in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward drew about 150 people, few of whom have the means to rebuild without help.

Ministers praised residents' resilience and dedication to their devastated neighborhoods, and urged them to set aside questions of blame and focus instead on how they might help each other.

"If we can find it in our hearts to say, `Hey, y'all, how ya doin', how's your mama 'n them,' then we've caught the vision," said the Rev. Oliver P. Duvernay, drawing smiles and light laughter from the crowd in the Ninth Ward.

At a makeshift podium within sight of a handful of laborers working on the Industrial Canal, which flooded the Lower Ninth Ward, memorial participants read hundreds of names of people who died during and after the storm in Louisiana. As they read, the Treme Brass Band softly and slowly played "A Closer Walk with Thee" and other funeral staples.

Near the 17th Street breach, participants sang "God Bless America" and dropped 1,557 carnations -- one for each known Louisiana victim -- into the canal to honor the dead.

Most homes are abandoned near the sites of the two canal breaches.

"From here, it looks hopeless, but we need to learn to transcend what we can see with our eyes," Duvernay said as he looked around after the ceremony.
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Old June 1st, 2006, 07:20 AM   #46
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The Big Sleazy
Nine months after Hurricane Katrina, the recovery effort has been slow, expensive--and riddled with fraud.
Elizabeth MacDonald and Megha Bahree
5 June 2006
Forbes

Nine months after Hurricane Katrina the recovery effort has been slow, expensive--and riddled with fraud.

The chaos following Katrina gave an interesting opportunity to a contractor working for AshBritt of Pompano Beach, Fla. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this fellow, assigned a trash-hauling job, loaded up his truck from a dump site in Jackson County, Miss., then pulled around to the entrance tower to the same dump site in order to earn a fee. He got caught after playing this game twice. Others broke the rules repeatedly. Subcontractors working for Phillips & Jordan of Knoxville, Tenn., says the Corps, took advantage of extra payments for trash carried more than 15 miles to a dump by routinely overstating mileage. Other haulers, say the auditors, found various ways to overcharge the government by exceeding or violating their contracts. One contractor and a Corps inspector pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in a scheme to charge for 19 false trips to the dump.

A few stolen bucks per haul doesn't seem like a lot. But multiply it many thousandfold within the $2 billion awarded to four garbage contractors and it starts to pile up. Throw in other varieties of mischief in the $15.3 billion spent so far in the recovery (of $62 billion earmarked and another $20 billion or so on the way)--and you have the makings of an epic scam. The government was in such a hurry that it created an open invitation to cheat. No-bid contracts were often the rule. The system of layering subcontractor on top of subcontractor, which accounts for 70% or so of the work done so far, according to Congressional investigators, invariably drives up costs. There has been little oversight: In at least one case the Corps agreed in advance not to scrutinize contractor bills if they exceeded initial estimates by 50% or less. "This is not Corps policy," says an inspector for internal review, who says the Corps stopped the practice. "These were lower-level [people]."

Government watchdogs are now starting to howl, unleashing 97 separate investigations at 21 U.S. agencies. At the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, up to 150 investigators are crawling over the contracts. Democrats are calling for hearings. "I still think we'll keep paying too much--three to four times as much as taxpayers should for Katrina contracts--because we have no one on the ground who's watching," says Senator Tom Coburn (R--Okla.). He is cosponsoring, with Senator Barack Obama (D--Ill.), an amendment to the emergency supplemental bill requiring that relief contracts of $500,000 or more be subject to open bids.

So far the probes have focused on penny-ante stuff--like using the $2,000 debit cards distributed by FEMA for food and shelter to buy adult entertainment and handguns. To date 261 people have been criminally charged with hurricane-related con games, resulting in 44 convictions, says the Justice Department. Two FEMA officials pleaded guilty to taking $20,000 in bribes for inflating the head count for a $1 million meal service contract. But there's more to come, lots more. Among the areas under investigation:

Transportation. Landstar System, a trucking company in Jacksonville, Fla., won a $500 million, five-year contract in 2002 from the Department of Transportation to shuttle people during national emergencies. Government auditors contend that Landstar waited 18 hours after Katrina made landfall to order 300 buses to evacuate residents--from a subcontractor, Carey Limousine. Carey then palmed the job off on yet another sub. Hurricane victims had to wait six days to be rescued, at a $137 million cost to taxpayers and a $32 million overcharge. Landstar insists it got four buses to New Orleans by 6 a.m. two days after the storm, but just four hours after it got its government marching orders. It also disputes the claim that it overcharged, claiming the money in question was part of an advance to support subcontractors.

Roofing. Contractors, who received $300 million in limited-bid deals from the Corps, charged an average of $2,480 per home to nail blue tarpaulins on top of damaged homes. The job typically takes less than two hours and costs only $300, says a Congressional report. Overruns at the three main roofing contractors--LJC Defense Contracting of Dothan, Ala., Simon Roofing & Sheet Metal of Boardman, Ohio and the Shaw Group of Baton Rouge--were inevitable, given the chain of handoffs to subcontractors and the negligence of authorities. (Simon insists it did more than just lay tarps.) Instead of inspecting the work, the Corps allowed prime contractors to sign off on their own work before submitting bills. In some cases the Corps visited sites for which bills had been submitted--and discovered that the roofing work had not been done.

Housing. FEMA paid $3 million to an unnamed contractor for 4,000 camp beds on behalf of evacuees; they were never used, according to the Government Accountability Office. "The camp beds are available for future disasters," says a FEMA spokesman. The GAO says FEMA paid another unnamed company $10 million to renovate military barracks that were supposed to serve as temporary housing but were used by only six occupants.

Congress has called for investigations into FEMA's award of a $236 million contract to Carnival Cruise Lines to lease three ships for six months to provide temporary housing for hurricane evacuees and emergency personnel. That cost amounted to more than $50,000 per person, nearly $300 a night. Why so high? Because the contract allowed Carnival to charge for lost revenues it would expect under normal operations (including gambling and liquor sales on board), plus any additional expenses incurred in emergency conditions. "The net effect was profit neutrality," says a Carnival spokeswoman. "Our objective was to make only what we would've made on a normal basis." FEMA says the ships provided "comfortable, safe, temporary homes to disaster victims and relief workers."

A no-bid $154 million contract to Bechtel Corp., to install and maintain 35,000 travel trailers in the storm-damaged states, has also come under scrutiny. Government auditors nixed one-third of this sum after they caught Bechtel billing twice for the same maintenance work. Bechtel says it never double-billed. It claims the $154 million was an estimate and that it never put in for that amount.

FEMA's most expensive flop: blowing $860 million on 25,000 modular homes. Government investigators charge that just 100 have been put into service and none in the worst-hit parts of Louisiana and Mississippi because the agency's own rules prohibit their use in a floodplain. (FEMA disputes this, claiming that more than 6,000 mobile homes have been leased to hurricane evacuees.) About 9% of the shelters can't be used anywhere since FEMA didn't tell contractors to build to the required length of less than 60 feet. All told, the agency spent $1.8 billion on temporary homes; $1 billion went to companies without full and open competition.

Schools. The Corps upped an existing contract with Akima Site Operations by $39.5 million to install 450 portable classrooms in Mississippi . The GAO says that Akima's price quote was 34% more than the company itself had offered to charge just one day before the contract was signed; it was also nearly double what Mississippi businesses said they would bid. Akima says the charge increase was due to feds' stepped-up delivery date.

Scariest of all is the job of rebuilding New Orleans' levees. Estimates have tripled to $6 billion; completion has been pushed up to 2010. To date, the government has disbursed $800 million. How good is the work? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it has inspected the entire system. Which makes folks like Senator Coburn nervous. "Why pay the Corps to fix problems [with the levees] it's been working on for 46 years and didn't get right in the first place?" he asks.

Hurricane season starts June 1.
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Old June 2nd, 2006, 01:30 AM   #47
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New Orleans sinking faster than thought
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
Wed May 31, 11:02 PM ET

Everyone has known New Orleans is a sinking city. Now new research suggests parts of the city are sinking even faster than many scientists imagined — more than an inch a year.

That may explain some of the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina and it raises more worries about the future.

The research, reported in the journal Nature, is based on new satellite radar data for the three years before Katrina struck in 2005. The data show that some areas are sinking four or five times faster than the rest of the city. And that, experts say, can be deadly.

"My concern is the very low-lying areas," said lead author Tim Dixon, a University of Miami geophysicist. "I think those areas are death traps. I don't think those areas should be rebuilt."

The blame for this phenomenon, called subsidence, includes overdevelopment, drainage and natural seismic shifts.

For years, scientists figured the city on average was sinking about one-fifth of an inch a year based on 100 measurements of the region, Dixon said. The new data from 150,000 measurements taken from space finds that about 10 percent to 20 percent of the region had yearly subsidence in the inch-a-year range, he said.

As the ground in those areas sinks, protection from levees also falls, scientists and engineers said.

For example, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, built more than three decades ago, has sunk by more than 3 feet since its construction, Dixon said, explaining why water poured over the levee and part of it failed.

"The people in St. Bernard got wiped out because the levee was too low," said co-author Roy Dokka, director of the Louisiana Spatial Center at Louisiana State University. "It's as simple as that."

The subsidence "is making the land more vulnerable; it's also screwed up our ability to figure out where the land is," Dokka said. And it means some evacuation roads, hospitals and shelters are further below sea level than emergency planners thought.

So when government officials talk of rebuilding levees to pre-Katrina levels, it may really still be several feet below what's needed, Dokka and others say.

"Levees that are subsiding at a high rate are prone to failure," Dixon said.

The federal government, especially the Army Corps of Engineers, hasn't taken the dramatic sinking into account in rebuilding plans, said University of Berkeley engineering professor Bob Bea, part of an independent National Academy of Sciences-Berkeley team that analyzed the levee failures during Katrina.

"You have to change how you provide short- and long-term protection," said Bea, a former engineer in New Orleans. He said plans for concrete walls don't make sense because they sink and can't be easily added onto. In California, engineers are experimenting with lighter weight, reinforced foam-middle levee walls, he said.

Dixon and his co-author Dokka disagree on the major causes of New Orleans' not-so-slow fall into the Gulf of Mexico.

Dixon blames overdevelopment and drainage of marshlands, saying "all the problems are man-made; before people settled there in the 1700s, this area was at sea level."

But Dokka said much of the sinking is due to natural seismic shifts that have little to do with construction.

Dokka also thinks all is not completely lost. Smarter construction can buy New Orleans some time.

"We've made the pact with the devil by moving down here," he said. "If we do things right, we probably can get another 100-200-300 years out of this area."

The Army Corps of Engineers is adding extra height to earthen levees to compensate for sinking and is setting benchmark measurements of all levees for regular monitoring of how much they sink, corps spokesman Gene Pawlik said.

"It's something post-Katrina, we're much more focused on," Pawlik said Wednesday. "It's certainly an engineering challenge."
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Old June 2nd, 2006, 06:47 PM   #48
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Bigger crunch this year for evacuation hotel rooms
1 June 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Having to evacuate from the New Orleans area during the current hurricane season will be a tougher task with hotels saying they will close for storms, putting an additional crunch on out-of-the-region rooms.

Before Hurricane Katrina, 38,000 rooms were available in Orleans and Jefferson Parish and 90 percent of the inns stayed open, filling up all their rooms with an average of three people to each, according to the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.

That could translate into 100,000 residents who used to ride out storms in New Orleans-area hotels pushing the market for the 40,000 other hotel rooms in Louisiana.

"You can imagine how it's going to be now," said Bill Langkopp, executive vice president of the Louisiana Hotel and Lodging Association. "There's 40,000 (rooms) spread out around the rest of the state. Is that enough? I don't know."

The neighboring states of Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi have a combined total of more than 400,000 hotel rooms, according to Smith Travel Research Inc. Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia offer 339,000 rooms.

But when a tropical storm or hurricane is approaching, some of those rooms are set aside under standing reservations for employees of various companies and industries.

The state tourism office has links to hotels across the state so it can inform callers what areas are full and where rooms are still available, said Angele Davis, secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

When Louisiana hotels fill up, the tourism office can link to other states to find rooms. Evacuees likely will have to drive to other states when storms threaten, Davis said.

"I think the network that we have set up will help people find the nearest hotel, but the nearest hotel may not be in Alexandria or Baton Rouge or Lafayette. It may be in Oklahoma or Arkansas. People may have to drive farther," Davis said.

Although many hotels waived their pet restrictions last year, hotels probably will expect evacuees to put down deposits to protect against damage, Langkopp said.

Some relief may come from the fact there are simply fewer people in the New Orleans area after Katrina.

"We really don't expect additional people evacuating over the people evacuating last year. With New Orleans hotels closing, we view that as a good thing because fewer people will need to be rescued," said Mark Smith, a spokesman for the state homeland security office.

The state estimates that 300,000 shelter beds are needed for storm evacuations, Smith said. There will be 70,000 beds in Louisiana, Smith said, and the federal government is expected to provide the remaining 230,000 beds in other parts of the country.

"We will find places to put people," Smith said.
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Old June 4th, 2006, 07:09 AM   #49
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Angry New Orleanians start public housing cleanup
By Peter Henderson

NEW ORLEANS, June 3 (Reuters) - Angry New Orleans public-housing residents on Saturday took charge of the recovery and cleanup of homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina and vandals, blaming the government for failing to act.

Acting without the approval of housing authorities, some residents took their first look at their homes since fleeing Katrina nine months ago. Many found criminals had done as much damage as the storm.

At three-year-old pastel-colored townhouses where families fled flooding by jumping from upper-story windows into boats, and at older brick units left last year by parents and children wading a mile to evacuation buses, residents and helpers began pitching lifetimes of memories into the trash.

Federal housing authorities who manage New Orleans units say 64 percent of the city's public housing base has mold and must be inspected. Former tenants are offered vouchers to pay rent elsewhere temporarily.

But many residents said have they found it difficult to find decent places to stay in the torn-up city.

Moreover, they say the time since Hurricane Katrina hit last Aug. 29, flooding about 80 percent of the city, is more than enough for inspection and cleanup to have started.

Silvia James, 37, walked into a three-bedroom apartment she last saw when she and one of her sons waded away. Water had reached part way up the steps of the CJ Peete complex, and the storm damaged the roof and blew in some windows.

The exterior of the James apartment was generally intact, but inside furniture was strewn all about, and a television and bedroom set were gone. Other residents said thieves had stolen the complex's copper plumbing pipes.

"We could have been back here in October or November," James said, blaming the delay for the thefts. "People taken the little valuables we do have," she said. "I'm not willing to wait no more."

LOW-END HOUSING SHORTAGE ACUTE

Residents of other complexes which were flooded said upper floors could be inhabited and lower floors could be gutted and fixed, just as private homeowners are doing.

Housing police watched the activity at the Peete complex and others without interfering. Housing and Urban Development spokeswoman Donna White said by phone that residents were being allowed to go into units but not to stay. She added that the agency was committed to letting residents return when it was safe and had set up the voucher program for the mean time.

The agency has set aside $154 million for rebuilding public housing in the city. About 5,000 families had lived in New Orleans units before Katrina and about 1,000 have returned.

Louisiana State University real estate professor Kelley Pace said that sum should be enough to do at least half, and potentially all, the rebuilding. Major complexes could not be just "thrown up," he added, but also pointed out the housing shortage was most acute at the low end.

Some residents say they feel they are being kept out by officials who want to build more expensive housing or by those who blame public housing for crime. With about half the population before the storm, the city has seen 44 murders so far this year, versus 109 last year, police say, but many residents have a growing sense of increasing crime.

Organizer and complex manager Cynthia Wiggins said the situation proved her groups were not to blame. "Public housing is closed. Last week we had five murders. The drug dealers lived in other parts," she said.

But the housing problem is going to get worse, with families returning to New Orleans now that school has ended.

"We are not going to sit on the sidelines," she said.
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Old June 12th, 2006, 08:08 AM   #50
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New Orleans grapples with its 'hurricane highway'
By CAIN BURDEAU
11 June 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A "hurricane highway" blamed for flooding southeast Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina will likely become the subject of an intense debate in the coming months as commerce is pitted against the environment and public safety.

Under a spending bill President George Bush is expected to sign this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be given more than $3 million to study whether the Mississippi River- Gulf Outlet should be closed to ships.

The outlet, commonly known as the Mr. Go or MRGO, was built in the 1960s as a shortcut between the heavily industrialized eastern portions of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. At 76 miles, the channel is longer than the Panama Canal.

But since construction, the channel has turned into a monster, scientists say, by eating at the freshwater marsh and swamp forests that once thrived southeast of New Orleans. As the channel widened, it became a conduit for storm surge and acquired the nickname "hurricane highway."

"As long as it is there, New Orleans is not sustainable," said Carlton Dufrechou of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

The channel has become the culprit for residents and politicians of St. Bernard Parish, which was wiped out by Katrina. Only four structures in the parish did not sustain damage, officials say.

"MRGO has caused us more devastation than we care to think about," said Larry Ingargiola, the parish's emergency preparedness director. Closing it, he said, has been "the No. 1 project on our agenda every year."

But the Corps remains reluctant to say the Mr. Go is a storm surge conduit.

Jim Ward, deputy director of a Corps task force rebuilding the region's flood defenses, called that notion "a popular myth."

He said studies have shown the channel does not increase storm surge.

The report to Congress -- due in December -- could go in many directions, and it could even recommend continuing to allow deep-draft vessels to run up and down the channel.

Shipping and commercial interests are likely to throw up the biggest road blocks to closing Mr. Go, which is the only lane to the sea for many businesses in New Orleans East.

"There are some businesses back there that can't, unfortunately, relocate to the (Mississippi) river," said Sean Duffy of the Steamship Association of Louisiana. If the channel is closed to ship traffic, he said, some businesses would move out of the state.

"We have members who would hate to see it close," he said.

Adam Sharp, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., acknowledged the dueling interests: Business vs. public safety.

"There is an urgent need to move forward with a closure plan, but there's also an urgent need to keep the gateway to American commerce functioning," the spokesman said.

Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, a New Orleans-based environmental group, said officials are being forced into action because of a confluence of factors -- a heap of bad press, Katrina's devastation and a growing awareness of Louisiana's wetlands losses.

But, he said, "the real question mark is what will that (Corps) plan look like."

For his part, Ingargiola remained skeptical. "Until I see it (closed), I don't believe it."
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Old June 12th, 2006, 08:09 AM   #51
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Insurance Limbo Delays Gulf Rebuilding
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI
11 June 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The owners of the sagging, flood-stained home aren't in. Above the front door, a banner explains their absence, and the lack of progress: "Allstate paid $10,113.34 on this house for storm damage."

Like the home next to it and the one after that, the house was disemboweled nine months ago by Hurricane Katrina. The force of the gushing water punched the refrigerator into the kitchen wall, and it still sits leaning through the house's broken ribcage. Inside, mud has hardened into a crusty carpet, covering a designer sofa and a leather swivel chair.

"I want people to drive by my home and decide for themselves: Could I repair this for $10,000?" asks Eric Moskau, the home's exiled owner who had over $1.2 million in coverage on his 3,000-square-foot home.

Behind the sign he hung from his porch is a story all-too-common in this once-posh neighborhood of pummeled homes: Even New Orleans' affluent homeowners, who thought they had done the right thing by properly insuring their investment, are finding that technicalities are keeping them from securing enough from their insurers to rebuild.

The insurance industry says it has settled over 90 percent of its Hurricane Katrina claims, proving it's meeting its obligations to policyholders. But consumer advocates say insurers settled numerous claims for only a fraction of the actual damages, using numerous exclusions to reduce payouts. Insurance modeling firm ISO estimates Louisiana had $24.3 billion in insured losses, but the state department of insurance says only $12.5 billion had been paid out as of the end of April, the last month for which figures were available.

Without enough money from their insurers to rebuild, homeowners are left with two choices: Give up and leave, or else rebuild by hand, using their savings to pay for labor and materials.

"It's basically self-insurance," said Moskau, who had what he thought was plenty of coverage on his $600,000 two-story house and now counts himself among those who have abandoned their homes on once-stylish Bellaire Avenue.

Exactly 63 buckled, warped and mud-filled homes separate Moskau from the nearest neighbor who is now repairing his home. "With this," says 79-year-old Pascal Warner, holding up his large, lined hands, as the light streams in through the ribs of his still unfinished walls.

He and his 71-year-old wife, Irma, have dragged their sopping furniture to the curb, ripped the wet wallboard off the walls and stripped the house to the studs. With only a pittance from their homeowner's insurance, they had just enough money for supplies, not labor.

After last year's floodwaters receded, politicians initially blamed the residents of this below-sea-level city, claiming too few had purchased federal flood insurance on top of their homeowners policies, which cover only wind damage.

Yet an analysis by the office of Donald Powell, the Bush administration's Gulf Coast recovery czar, found few communities were better insured against flooding than New Orleans: Two out of three homes had flood insurance, 13 times more than the national average of 5 percent. It's also far more than in many other communities historically prone to flooding. For example, Harris County, Texas, has one of the highest rates of repetitive flooding in the nation and yet only a quarter of homeowners have flood coverage.

Moskau, a well-to-do real estate appraiser, thought he had taken every precaution: He had the maximum federal flood insurance of $250,000. But when the government issued that check, it was issued in two names: Moskau's and his bank's. His bank applied the check to his $600,000 mortgage, leaving him with an outstanding note of $350,000 and no money for repairs.

According to a spokesman at Freddie Mac, which over the last five years has bought over $7.5 billion in mortgages in Louisiana, banks are required to put insurance checks into an escrow account, disbursing the funds as repairs are completed. An exception is allowed if the home is in an area where rebuilding has been prohibited. In that case, the insurance check can be applied to the outstanding mortgage, said spokesman Brad German.

Flanking one of the city's buckled levees, portions of Bellaire Avenue are still in rebuilding limbo.

Warner, who has lived in the same ranch-style house for 40 years, had just $3,000 after his flood insurance settlement was used to pay off his remaining mortgage. He also received around $18,000 from his homeowners for wind damage, enough for construction materials but not labor.

Moskau's house, like most on Bellaire, swallowed less than 6 feet of water. It was enough to destroy the first floor, but not the second. The second floor, however, got wet, too. Water seeped in through the vents, pushed in by the hurricane's 140 mile-per-hour winds, he said. The roof was damaged and windows were punched out -- damage, says Moskau, which should be covered under the wind-only policy. Allstate told him it was all due to flooding.

"I agree that the first floor flooded. I used to be an insurance adjuster and I know the rules, so I didn't expect Allstate to pay me for that. But the second floor clearly didn't. So shouldn't I at least get 50 percent of my policy?" asked Moskau. He said that would be enough to pay off the mortgage and cover much of the rebuilding cost.

The CEOs of the State Farm Insurance Co. and Allstate Corp., the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 insurers, declined to discuss specific claims. Together, they control half the insurance market in Louisiana.

"When you track our claim satisfaction, it is very high in those areas. Ninety-three to 94 percent of our Katrina claims have been settled," said Allstate CEO Edward M. Liddy.

That hasn't stopped critical reviews by insurance regulators and lawsuits by policyholders.

Louisiana's top insurance regulator recently ordered reviews of consumer complaints regarding Allstate and St. Paul Travelers Cos. In District Court in New Orleans, a class action lawsuit was filed last month against 15 insurers, claiming they capriciously denied claims.

In Mississippi, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, whose Pascagoula home was torn off its foundation, is joining hundreds of his constituents in suing State Farm for unpaid wind damage.

Part of what really rankles consumers is the record profits property-and-casualty insurers are posting despite the unprecedented losses inflicted by Katrina.

The industry cleared a $43 billion profit in 2005, an 11.7 percent increase over the previous year and a 15-year high, according to the trade group, the Insurance Information Institute.

"I would say it's definitely good times in the property-and-casualty insurance industry," said Donald Light, a senior analyst at Celent LLC, a research and consulting firm.

But insurers say the profit numbers are only half the story: Nearly half the $58 billion in insured losses along the Gulf Coast resulting from last year's hurricanes were absorbed by reinsurers, companies that insure insurance companies.

Those same reinsurers are now jacking the rates they charge insurance companies by an average 80 percent in coastal regions, according to an analysis by Guy Carpenter & Co., a division of insurance-brokerage firm Marsh & McLennan Cos.

For some companies, the price has tripled: Allstate will spend $600 million on reinsurance this year, compared to under $200 million in 2005. To offset that cost, Allstate announced plans to seek premium increases in a majority of the 49 states in which it operates. It also canceled 30,000 policies in coastal counties of New York, including Brooklyn, even though a major hurricane has not hit there since 1938.

In the past year in Florida, insurers have left the state by the dozen, while those that are staying are seeking steep rate increases. State Farm is seeking a 70 percent hike in premiums.

"We're paying the price for hurricanes that hit thousands of miles away from New England," said George A. Cole III, Senior Vice President of Massachusetts-based Hingham Mutual. Cole explained that the company had no choice but to cancel 6,500 of their customers, most on Cape Cod, after being hit with a 50 percent rate increase from their own reinsurer.

Back in New Orleans, homeowners fight over money and the fret over deep financial losses is taking an emotional toll.

Moskau, who is living in Idaho with his wife and two boys, literally hasn't been able to sit still since Allstate cut him the check for $10,113.34 several months ago. He still does not know what to do with his buckled home, for which he is still paying a $3,500-a-month mortgage, and is instead making plans to build a new house an hour's drive outside New Orleans.

"My wife is always telling me, 'Will you please stop moving your foot?' We'll be sitting at the lunch table and the whole thing is moving," he said. "All from the anxiety."
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Old June 12th, 2006, 11:54 AM   #52
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I have a feeling the insurance industry will need to be bailed out by the government too.
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Old June 12th, 2006, 07:23 PM   #53
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Hey Hkskyline,

Just wanted to thank you for posting all these articles on N.O. Not much is in the general media about the state of the city so it's always good to come here to get a summary. Keep it up
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Old June 12th, 2006, 07:29 PM   #54
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No problem. I thought it'd be interesting to follow the reconstruction efforts since the media seems to be more interested in the destruction rather than the aftermath. The newswires are keeping up with the progress so it's quite easy for me to update this thread on a regular basis.
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Old June 12th, 2006, 10:41 PM   #55
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TexasStar
This kind of thinking really makes me mad. New Orleans IS worth the risk. This city was founded in 1718 and has sucessfully stood up to hurricanes for nearly 3 centuries. The truth is we're unlikely to see another storm hit the the Crescent City like Katrina in any of our lifetimes. We should do whatever we can to protect New Orleans, including raising the levees and restoring the protective wetlands. But, New Orleans is too unique and precious a resource to even consider abandoning. That's just crazy talk.

I have nothing against new orleans. It seems like it was a great place. but as the quote in a previous post mentions, New Orleans has a 1 in 10 chance of seeing a major hurricane THIS YEAR. But hurricanes are not the real reason to stop pouring money into New Orleans. Instead, the real problem is that the city is sinking by an inch per year, and already sits 17 feet below the Mississippi and 14 feet below Lake Ponchartrain. Its a tub of levees floating in a swamp, waiting to be filled up by any of the three bodies of water nearby.

Furthermore, our shipping channels (along with Nutria) are destroying the wetland habitat that used to protect New Orleans, and will continue to do so. Lastly -and most importantly- the mississippi should not still be flowing next to new orleans. There is a much faster route to the Gulf that the river has tried taking on two separate occasions this century. Maintaining this unnecessarily long one just to support a dying city makes no sense.

I really think they should probably just keep a tourist outpost at New Orleans, and build a New New Orleans on the new Mississippi (the atchafalaya river), so that city can flourish for a couple hundred years before it suffers from the same fate.

This image clearly shows the artificial channel that we've forced the mississippi to use, spewing all its sediment into the gulf (light blue) and thereby starving the wetlands of needed soil and nutrients, which in turn allows the ocean to creep closer and closer to new orleans.


this image shows the Atchafalaya, the riverbed that the mississippi naturally would enter if we didn't spend billions to stop it (and even then the river has almost gone this way twice). It also shows the unnecessary 200 mile diversion that the river takes past new orleans.
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Old June 13th, 2006, 06:47 AM   #56
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Very good picture in explaining the situation. Common sense clearly does not prevail, and fighting nature is a lost case. Stubborness will cost many more lives if it doesnt stop.
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Old June 15th, 2006, 06:23 AM   #57
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HUD plans to demolish some of New Orleans' largest housing projects
By MICHELLE ROBERTS
14 June 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The federal government said Wednesday it will demolish some of the largest public housing projects in New Orleans, using the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help improve poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

After the demolition, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would build mixed-income developments on the sites.

The buildings the agency plans to demolish are the C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte and St. Bernard, the largest housing project in the city. They were home to nearly 3,000 of the 5,100 families living in public housing before Katrina.

Residents, who have been increasingly vocal in their demand to return to their housing projects, vowed to fight the plans.

"I want to live in St. Bernard -- where I have history," said Stephanie Mingo, who was camping across the street from the project before being given a unit in another building.

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said the agency would increase by 35 percent the amount it pays in vouchers to landlords, so residents who were displaced could afford rents that have gone up dramatically since Katrina. Many have complained the vouchers were inadequate.

Currently, about 1,100 families have been allowed to return to less damaged public housing units, while another 1,000 units should be open by August. Those slated for demolition suffered the most water and mold damage, and some had fallen into disrepair before the storm.

St. Bernard had units with several feet of water and now have mold growing on the walls and ceiling.

"Katrina made a bad situation worse," Jackson said.

Public housing in New Orleans is run by the federal government, which took over the job in 2002 after years of mismanagement and waste by local officials. Redevelopment of much of the housing already was underway or in the planning stages, a process that will now be accelerated, Jackson said.

The plans will be implemented as soon as possible but could take three years to finish, Jackson said.

Other housing projects in New Orleans and elsewhere nationally have undergone similar redevelopment in an effort to prevent poor residents from being confined to neighborhoods that often had poorer schools and more violent crime.

Endesha Juakali, a former resident of St. Bernard who ran a youth center nearby, said he has little confidence that if St. Bernard is destroyed, promises of better housing will be fulfilled.

"Every time, they make a promise, the politician changes, and another politician comes in, and they forget the promises," said Juakali, noting that the Bush administration comes to a close in less than three years. "If they tear down St. Bernard, poor people are never going to live there again."

------

On the Net:

Department of Housing and Urban Development: http://www.hud.gov

Housing Authority of New Orleans: http://www.hano.org
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Old June 15th, 2006, 07:22 PM   #58
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i saw a news report on the N.O. after katrina....made me sick to my stomach the way the government handeled it
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Old June 16th, 2006, 01:54 AM   #59
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Quote:
Originally Posted by schreiwalker
I have nothing against new orleans. It seems like it was a great place. but as the quote in a previous post mentions, New Orleans has a 1 in 10 chance of seeing a major hurricane THIS YEAR. But hurricanes are not the real reason to stop pouring money into New Orleans. Instead, the real problem is that the city is sinking by an inch per year, and already sits 17 feet below the Mississippi and 14 feet below Lake Ponchartrain. Its a tub of levees floating in a swamp, waiting to be filled up by any of the three bodies of water nearby.

Furthermore, our shipping channels (along with Nutria) are destroying the wetland habitat that used to protect New Orleans, and will continue to do so. Lastly -and most importantly- the mississippi should not still be flowing next to new orleans. There is a much faster route to the Gulf that the river has tried taking on two separate occasions this century. Maintaining this unnecessarily long one just to support a dying city makes no sense.

I really think they should probably just keep a tourist outpost at New Orleans, and build a New New Orleans on the new Mississippi (the atchafalaya river), so that city can flourish for a couple hundred years before it suffers from the same fate.

This image clearly shows the artificial channel that we've forced the mississippi to use, spewing all its sediment into the gulf (light blue) and thereby starving the wetlands of needed soil and nutrients, which in turn allows the ocean to creep closer and closer to new orleans.


this image shows the Atchafalaya, the riverbed that the mississippi naturally would enter if we didn't spend billions to stop it (and even then the river has almost gone this way twice). It also shows the unnecessary 200 mile diversion that the river takes past new orleans.

But you could use that argument to say that San Fran, if (or should I say when) it's hit by an earthquake that destroys it, it should not be rebuilt because of the probability of it getting hit again.

While NO will undoubtedly get hit again by a hurricane (although probably not at the strengh of Katrina), if proper procedures are made, a Katrina should not happen again. SF has perhaps spent billions to make their buildings earthquake resistant rather than giving up their city. If properly constructed dikes as well as several flood relief canals are made, this would prevent such a disaster again.

I think the best way to look at it is to think of your very own city. If your city is hit with a natural disaster of the magnitude of Katrina and is devestated, would you give up on your city or fight to make it better. I don't know about you, but I would fight tooth and nail for Toronto if it ever suffered such fate.

One option would be to turn over the most dangerous (or low lying areas) of NO into natural parks and swamps. This would serve to absorb water in future floods and avoid having people live in the most dangerous areas. The unfortunate part of this is that it affects the mostly poorest areas. So, if they are to be relocated, it would be in an area in or around NO so that they are still citizens of that city. This way only a portion of NO is relocated instead of the entire city.

Anyways, just my crazy ramblings.
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Old June 17th, 2006, 05:32 AM   #60
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New Orleans seen a boom town as storm aid arrives
By Peter Henderson

NEW ORLEANS, June 15 (Reuters) - The devastation of New Orleans has made the city a modern American tragedy to many, but billions of aid dollars about to flow may transform the city known as the "Big Easy" into a boom town.

Twisted houses, warped cars and boats closer to highways than water still define the Louisiana landscape more than nine months after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the state, destroying 200,000 homes and killing more than 1,500.

But Congress has approved more than $10 billion aimed primarily at rebuilding housing in Louisiana, and state officials expect checks to start flowing to homeowners later this summer.

That is in addition to billions more from insurers to homeowners and other funds for rebuilding levees.

"This city is getting ready to take off," said Ray Nagin, mayor of the city called the "Big Easy" for its slow way of life. "I think it is going to be the Big Easy on steroids."

New people already are changing the face of the city, including a major influx of Latino workers who make up about half of the construction work force. Approximately half of the Latino workers are in the country illegally, according to a Tulane University study.

"A lot of Hispanics are coming because there is more opportunity and good pay," said cleaner Karen Recarte, 28, who was born in Honduras and has been in New Orleans for four years.

At the same time, about half of New Orleans' pre-storm residents are still evacuated, and it is not clear how many will come back.

A study by the Louisiana Recovery Authority Support Foundation found 57 percent of Louisiana residents still evacuated from their homes are somewhat likely or very likely to return.

Nagin months ago sparked a controversy by vowing New Orleans would be a "chocolate" city again, with a majority black population, but wealthier whites have found it easier to return.

POOR FEEL SQUEEZED OUT

Many poor blacks feel they are being told to stay away by Nagin and others as the government presents plans to tear down public housing and build mixed-income units.

That will build a sounder community, Nagin and federal officials say, but there will be fewer homes for the poor.

"There is a group of people for whom the government has no more use," said community organizer Curtis Muhammad.

New Orleans is a poor city and has been falling farther behind, growing at a third the pace of a basket of southern cities between 1990 and 2004, University of New Orleans data show.

But signs of improvement are clear, for the lucky few who can find housing, with even fast food jobs offering bonuses.

The boom is expected to gather steam in the fall as federal payments of up to $150,000 to homeowners with damaged property start coming through.

Construction jobs will account for 20 to 25 percent of the work force in coming years, compared with 6 to 8 percent in most states, Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Michael Olivier said.

At the same time, tourism will be slower to recover as many conventions have already been booked -- without New Orleans -- for the next few years, he added.

Fortunately for New Orleans, the most historic sections of town were built on the highest ground and are among the least damaged.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco argues that the reconstruction will reinvigorate rather than dilute the state's culture.

"The beauty of our people is that we welcome newcomers, we let them fold in to our own special cultural blend. Right now what we have is something that has been sorely lacking for a long time, and that is job opportunities. I think it is going to revitalize what we have," she said.
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