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Old November 18th, 2006, 02:43 AM   #101
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Legislative panel agrees to $200 million for Entergy New Orleans
2006/11/17

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A state plan to give $200 million in federal hurricane recovery aid to bankrupt Entergy New Orleans Inc. was approved Friday by the Legislature's key money panel, moving the partial utility bailout closer to being final.

The full Legislature still must approve the deal by mail ballot, and federal officials must sign off on the plan before Entergy New Orleans gets the money.

Lawmakers on the joint budget committee questioned the decision to only help the New Orleans-area utility rather than other energy companies that suffered damage after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Katrina was a terrible thing, but it looks like everybody forgets that Rita, if we hadn't had Katrina, Rita would have been the most terrible thing that ever happened to us," said Rep. Charlie DeWitt, D-Lecompte, adding he was disappointed that aid wasn't slated to help utilities in other parishes outside of New Orleans.

Despite the concerns, the budget committee approved the $200 million for Entergy New Orleans without objection.

Entergy New Orleans -- with heavy damage and a drastically reduced post-Katrina customer base -- needs the money most to avoid giant rate increases for customers that could stymie the city's recovery, said Andy Kopplin, executive director of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's Louisiana Recovery Authority.

Kopplin said the aid will stop a $32 per month average increase for Entergy New Orleans customers, but even with that help, those customers still face rate increases higher than any other utility customers in Louisiana. Other utility companies providing service in Louisiana can spread the increases out among larger bases of customers around the state.

Three operating units of Entergy Corp. -- Entergy New Orleans, Entergy Louisiana LLC, and Entergy Gulf States Inc. -- along with Cleco Corp. asked the LRA for as much as $1.5 billion to cover the costs of repairing storm damage.

Louisiana, however, was given a limited amount of federal recovery cash from Congress in the form of Community Development Block Grants. Most of the money is earmarked for other items, mainly housing and rental property grant programs.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 02:44 AM   #102
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New Orleans begins hearings on seizing, demolishing buildings damaged by Katrina
By BECKY BOHRER
2006/11/16

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Hearings have begun on whether the city should seize or demolish hundreds of buildings damaged in Hurricane Katrina that are still in disrepair.

City leaders say that the empty, heavily damaged houses that dot some of New Orleans' worst-hit neighborhoods are impeding recovery and that they hope the hearings that began Thursday will spur property owners to begin repairs.

Housing inspectors began canvassing neighborhoods in August -- a year after the storm hit -- looking for damaged or derelict buildings.

Of the 8,500 properties inspected thus far, 1,020 have been deemed blighted or public nuisances and referred for administrative hearings, said Brenda Breaux, chief deputy city attorney for housing. She said some neighborhoods have not yet been inspected.

Housing officials went through tax and other records to try to locate property owners. They mailed notices, by regular and certified mail, and posted hearing dockets online, she said.

But it is unclear whether all the certified letters reached their intended recipients, especially those who were displaced by the storm. On a docket of upcoming hearings posted on the Web, the only address listed for some property owners is that of the derelict property in question.

In one hearing Thursday, a woman's case was dismissed after a code enforcement officer said her property was on a list for voluntary demolition and the lawn had been cut.

At least four people did not show up for morning hearings, Breaux said. In these cases, judgments are issued, clearing the way for the city to raze, gut or seize the property -- and put a lien against it for the cost of the cleanup work -- if the homeowner does not appeal the judgment, said Breaux.

A city attorney presided over the cases Thursday, but cases can be appealed to district courts.

New Orleans has set aside $5 million (euro3.9 million) in federal grant money to gut and repair houses deemed blighted or public nuisances, but Breaux said it might not be enough.

Enforcement appears to have had the desired effect, she said. People have been calling her office, she said, asking which part of the city inspectors are in and vowing to get started on the work. "People who want to do the right thing will," she said, warning that the city will take action if they don't.

Seven more hearing dates are scheduled before the end of the year, and the city hopes to hold hearings two or three days a week starting in January because of the heavy caseload, Breaux said.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 06:49 PM   #103
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From what I remember, Dade County's "drop dead" deadline by which you had to either demolish and clear the property, or at least have repairs actively underway, to avoid having the government come in and bulldoze away the rubble was sometime around summer 1995... a deadline everyone agreed was about a year later than it should have been (almost 3 years after Andrew). I remember the LACK of an absolute deadline was a MAJOR issue of contention in the middle-class neighborhoods by early 1994, because by then just about everyone in those neighborhoods fell into two categories: people who intended to keep living there, and had long-since rebuilt, and people who took the insurance check & bought new homes in Broward County (intending to hold on to their old properties for a few years before selling, but perfectly happy to leave their old homes as uncleared wreckage to blight the rest of the neighborhood in the meantime).
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Old November 20th, 2006, 01:19 PM   #104
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FEATURE-Dark humor brightens life in battered New Orleans
By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW ORLEANS, Nov 2O (Reuters) - A Hurricane Katrina evacuee walks up to a woman in a bar and says, "Want to go back to my place?"

"I'd love to," the woman replies.

"So would I," the man says.

In New Orleans, struggling to get back on its feet more than a year after Hurricane Katrina, stand-up comedy and satire are surging in popularity, as survivors of the storm turn to humor, the darker the better, to cope with their plight.

Navigating government bureaucracies, battling over insurance claims, and watching politicians roll out recovery plans that are never put into practice have all whetted what was always a large appetite for the ridiculous and the absurd.

Bigger-than-ever audiences attend comedy shows, residents are devouring humorous blogs and satirical newspapers and growing numbers of amateurs are trying stand-up routines, comics say.

"After the storm, I came back and wondered what kind of crowds we would get and what kind of mood they would be in," said Mike Strecker, who tells the joke about the evacuee's pickup line in his comic routine. "The crowds are larger, and they're so much more responsive.

"It's a release just waiting to happen," he said of the mood in his audiences who have returned since Katrina burst the New Orleans levees and flooded the city.

"BORN OUT OF FRUSTRATION"

Among the new additions to the comedy scene is a satirical newspaper, "The New Orleans Levee," with the motto: "We Don't Hold Anything Back."

The free paper pokes fun at politicians and officials who are supposed to lead the post-Katrina rebuilding effort, said publisher Rudy Vorkapic, 42.

"This isn't making fun of New Orleans. This is making fun of people who are failing New Orleans," he said. "This is born out of frustration."

The latest edition features a playful story on local Congressman William Jefferson explaining the $90,000 cash federal authorities found in his freezer as a "manufacturer's rebate" for buying the appliance.

Another article details a study showing that hurricanes did not strike New Orleans this year "because there was so little for them to do."

Launched this fall with a budget of just $5,000, the nascent newspaper is almost breaking even and attracting thousands of viewers to its online edition ( http://nolevee.com ), Vorkapic said.

Unlike comedy by professionals such as those in the televised "Comic Relief" benefit for Katrina on Nov. 18, local humor is rooted in storm experiences, said Strecker, 43, who works in the communications department at Tulane University.

"Before the storm, if you had a tree fall in your front yard, you had a story to tell. Now when somebody asks, 'How did you do in the storm,' you say, 'Good, good, we got nine feet of water and we can't find Grandma, but we were blessed," he said.

Local comics make fun of everything from the rebounding crime rates to the tourists who take the so-called devastation tours of storm-ravaged neighborhoods.

"Comedy isn't the jokes," said comic Bill Dykes, 40. "It's your experience and how you tell it."

INTEREST IN AMATEUR COMEDY GROWING

The number of amateur comics showing up at "open-mike" nights has grown from a handful to dozens, said Dane Faucheux, 27, a local professional comic.

"Before Katrina, people would think, 'I can't get up before an audience,'" he said. "Now, who gives a crap? The storm made people start taking stock of their lives, and they say, 'I need to do the things I always wanted to do.'"

Not that he finds the trend surprising, he added, in a city where T-shirts mock the initials of the New Orleans Police Department, with the slogan "Not Our Problem, Dude" and the Federal Emergency Management Agency with the slogan "Fix Everything, My Ass."

"We're a city who throws parties for funerals. That's how we deal with grief," said Faucheux.

Jarret Lofstead, who launched the irreverent, dark-humored blog, NOLAFugees.com ( http://nolafugees.com ), after the storm, said the venture is attracting advertising dollars and 18,000 registered readers.

"In the face of all the absurdity that everyone who lives in this city deals with on a daily basis, it gives you a modicum of control if you can laugh at it," said the 31-year-old publisher. "That's why we've been having the success we've been having this year. Apparently it answers some call."

The interest in comedy has Dykes and Rodney Tate, 39, who moved to New Orleans after Katrina to build sewer lines, trying to open a full-time comedy club.

"It would be therapeutic for New Orleans," Tate said. "People need to laugh."
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Old November 20th, 2006, 01:22 PM   #105
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New Orleans eyes hurricane season's end with relief

NEW ORLEANS, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Nearing the end of a hurricane season that left New Orleans untouched, residents are breathing sighs of relief that their city was spared another disaster, even as much of still lies in ruins from 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

"All I can say is 'Thank God,'" said Laura McNeal, 48, a consultant whose house flooded when Katrina burst the levees protecting the historic jazz city in August 2005. "If it had happened again, we probably couldn't have come back."

Hurricane season 2006 ends on Nov. 30. And, so far, no hurricane has hit the United States. The quiet year has eased worries in New Orleans, where some damaged neighborhoods remain vacant, businesses are shuttered and thousands of residents have been housed in trailers since Katrina struck.

"We knew if we could just get through this season, things would look much brighter for the future," said Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Fear of another hurricane hurt the vital tourism industry this year, with the number of visitors down slightly more than half from pre-Katrina levels, she said.

"A lot of what we heard was concern for another hurricane hitting New Orleans," she said.

Defying predictions it would be more active than average, 2006 has brought nine tropical storms in the Atlantic basin, of which five strengthened into hurricanes. Last year saw a record 28 tropical storms and 15 hurricanes, including Katrina and Wilma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane recorded.

Hurricane specialist Michelle Mainelli at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said it is largely safe to assume this season will end quietly.

"It looks like the United States and most of the Caribbean escaped a season that could have potential disastrous effects, so we should breathe a sigh of relief," she said.

'WE WERE BLESSED'

Officials in New Orleans said they are pleased they didn't have to test their beefed-up readiness plans. Katrina left thousands of people stranded for days in sweltering heat.

New Orleans has a new evacuation program, with buses, trains and planes ready, said Jerry Sneed, director of New Orleans' Office of Emergency Preparedness.

"We had a very, very good plan," Sneed said. "But we're very, very glad that we were blessed by not having an active season where we didn't have to use it at all."

Since Katrina, residents have prepared themselves, prepacking cars, saving documents and stocking up on everything from extra medicine to extra-large suitcases.

"I learned to evacuate. I'm better prepared, I have a place to go, I have better savings," said Keonna Thornton, 29, who works at Tee-Eva's Creole Soul Food shop. "If I can get through Katrina, anything else is like a piece of cake."

Katrina caused $80 billion in damage and killed 1,500 people on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used the storm-free months to improve levees, flood walls and New Orleans' pumping and drainage capacity, said Lt. Col Murray Starkel, deputy commander of the Corps' New Orleans District.

"The predictions at the beginning of the season obviously gave us concern and made us work a lot faster, which is the good side," Starkel said. "The bad side was that there was that unnecessary fear and anxiety within the local population."

Engineer Chuck Watson said he was glad he missed the mark when he predicted last spring that New Orleans was the U.S. city most likely to be struck by hurricane-force winds.

"I don't mind saying that we were wrong this year," said Watson of Kinetic Analysis Corp., a Savannah, Georgia, risk assessment firm. "We're happy. They don't need to get another storm."

But the end of one hurricane season means only six months to get ready for the next one, said Kay Wilkins, head of the Southeast Chapter of the American Red Cross.

"While I am taking a deep breath and saying, OK, not this season, I do know it's possible it could happen next season," she said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Christie in Miami))
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Old November 25th, 2006, 03:46 PM   #106
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Festival of lights reopens in New Orleans' City Park
24 November 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - As they did last year despite the damage from Hurricane Katrina, managers at City Park have managed to open the Celebration in the Oaks, a light-filled holiday festival, this year.

However, the traditional nighttime driving tour through the park's decorated, tree-lined avenues will not be offered this year because miles of electric wire and twinkle lights are still in need of repair.

Also reopening Friday was the Carousel Gardens amusement park. However, the century-old carousel is still under repair.

This year, Celebration in the Oaks added an exhibit called La Maison Noel, a house festooned with the sort of decorations that would adorn a French house during the holiday season.

Bob Becker, the park's chief executive, said Celebration in the Oaks is an important morale boost for a recovering city. It is also a shot in the arm for City Park, which leans on revenue from the festival to finance maintenance and operations. The park sustained roughly $43 million in damage from the flood.

"I think it is extremely important to the community. It was very important last year when we managed to get Celebration open to help the community to forget the things that happened," Becker said. "This year, the city is still in the midst of recovery, and people are working very hard on their homes and businesses. It is really important to have a place to go to get away from things and celebrate with your family."
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Old November 27th, 2006, 07:06 PM   #107
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Queen Elizabeth 2 stops in New Orleans for first time
27 November 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Queen Elizabeth 2, one of the world's most luxurious cruise ships, arrived an hour before dawn for its first New Orleans stop.

It was a port call -- nobody was joining or leaving the cruise, but the 1,778 passengers had more than 12 hours to tour the city as part of a 28-night Caribbean round trip from Southampton, England.

"These ships are important for the port," said Chris Bonura, a spokesman for the Port of New Orleans. They come at less-than-peak times for cruise wharfs, supplementing the city's home-ported cruise ships, he said.

The QE2 arrived about 5:30 a.m., 2 1/2 hours earlier than scheduled, but passengers didn't leave until about 15 minutes before the scheduled 8 a.m. arrival.

That sort of delay is standard, because U.S. Customs paperwork doesn't start until the ship arrives at the dock, Bonura said.

A study done for the port before Hurricane Katrina found that cruise ships added about $220 million and 2,800 jobs to the local economy. Port president and chief executive officer Gary LaGrange has said the port was on pace to become the fifth-largest cruise port in the country.

Three cruise lines and four ships were home-ported in the city before the storm. Two, Carnival Cruise Line's Fantasy and Norwegian Cruise Line's Sun have returned in the last several months. The Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas will return in December. Carnival's Triumph will debut next year.

Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator, also owns the Cunard luxury line, currently comprising two ships: the QE2 and the Queen Mary 2, currently the world's largest and most expensive cruise ship. A new liner, Queen Victoria, will debut in December 2007.
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Old November 28th, 2006, 06:28 AM   #108
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New Orleans Police Chief: Wants To Extend Troops' Stay
27 November 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP)--The New Orleans police chief, reeling from the deaths of six people over the holiday weekend, said Monday that he would ask the governor to keep National Guard troops in the city past the end of the year, when their mission to help patrol hurricane-damaged neighborhoods was supposed to end.

Warren Riley planned to ask that the Guard military auxiliary stay through June.

"But we'd be satisfied with whatever they could do, to supplement our ranks, to let our ranks do the policing work and the National Guard can take patrol," police spokesman Sgt. Jeffrey Johnson said.

Soldiers began patrolling New Orleans neighborhoods last June after five teenagers were killed in a shooting. The Guard focused on areas most devastated by last year's Hurricane Katrina so police could focus on higher-crime areas.

"We really believed we'd turned a corner. We felt good we were doing what it takes," Riley said. Then, the violence "flared up again" over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, claiming six lives and raising the city's homicides for the year to 147.

An apparent stabbing death early Sunday on or near touristed Bourbon Street was under investigation. Three separate fatal shootings happened in other areas of the city on Saturday, and a double homicide occurred Thursday night.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the governor would reassess the need to extend the Guard's presence here at the end of the year.

Since June, 300 National Guard troops have patrolled New Orleans and assisted in about 1,400 arrests, spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Schneider said. Soldiers cannot make arrests, but they can detain people until a police officer arrives, he said.

While city police work to curb violent crime, the Guard has dealt mostly with the looting of vacant homes and burglaries, Schneider said.

Also Monday, the police department began its first officer training class since Katrina, taking on 41 recruits. But rebuilding the department will take time, Johnson said. "That's why we would need the guard to stay on a bit longer," he said.

The police force currently numbers 1,425 officers, down from about 1,670 before Katrina, according Mayor Ray Nagin's office. The mayor has called for increasing the police budget to expand the force to 1,600.

The Guard's six-month stay this year is expected to cost $13 million, he said. That figure includes salary, food for the troops, equipment maintenance, fuel costs and lodging at a hotel.
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Old November 29th, 2006, 07:29 PM   #109
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The power of paper ; A new book examines the history of New Orleans through its printed documents
Susan Larson Book editor
29 November 2006
Times-Picayune

History, as we all know, is written on paper, a flimsy substance that nevertheless seems to endure for centuries. Think of the medieval manuscript page, the brittle parchment of historical documents.

In a beautiful new book, 'Printmaking in New Orleans,' edited by Jessie Poesch (University Press of Mississippi/The Historic New Orleans Collection, $50), scholars of New Orleans history and art give us a tantalizing look at the works on paper that have been part of our city's history.

The fascinating illustrations, 180 of them, many culled from the Historic New Orleans Collection, draw in the viewer. Here are advertisements designed to entice settlers, vintage maps, bird's- eye views of the city in its early years, Carnival invitations and bulletins, invoices, product labels, lively and popular sheet music. Here are the colorful and precise architectural drawings of Marie Adrien Persac; the lovely work of Jules Lion, a free man of color; and closer to our own time, the witty satirical work of Caroline Durieux and the photographs of Clarence John Laughlin.

In her introduction, Poesch, Tulane University professor emerita of art history, gives an overview of the essays and the art. "Prints are documents of everyday life," she writes, "documents uniquely suited to capture the particularity and complexity of life in everyday New Orleans."

The city and the printmaking industry grew together naturally. In colonial America, the centers of printing were Philadelphia and Boston, then New York, so that much of the early material associated with New Orleans was printed elsewhere.

As Florence Jumonville writes in "Early Printing in New Orleans," "Printing arrived in New Orleans in 1764 when Denis Braud, a merchant to whom the king of France had granted exclusive printing and bookselling privileges in Louisiana, imported the colony's first printing press," which was controlled by the government. The colony's first newspaper, Moniteur de la Louisiane, did not appear until 1794.

A growing city required a growing printing industry, for reasons not only of history and journalism but also of commerce. Even early invoices printed in the city were works of art, showing now- vanished buildings. Early maps traced the development of the city outward from Jackson Square and guided businessmen for future investment.

Portraits and advertising matter -- especially those vintage labels of food products now reproduced and hung on kitchen walls as decoration -- were also mainstays of the industry. Those labels appeared throughout the South, but what Louisianian could fail to have an affection for Hominy Grits, with a bright label featuring the Louisiana Capitol?

Entertainment enterprises also fostered printed material, especially sheet music; Louis Grunewald's music store and firm was printing vast quantities of sheet music between 1870 and 1920. When you are drawn to "The Unlucky Velocipedist" or "The Picayune Frog Polka," remember that there was a time when you could find such music on piano racks in ordinary family homes.

Poesch traces the interlocking fortunes of various businesses and firms over time, reminds us of such rich collaborations as that between Lafcadio Hearn and George Washington Cable, and highlights the handsome printed material produced in conjunction with the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, as well as the legacy of the Newcomb Art School.

The 14 essays in this book all deal with various aspects of printmaking, and are written by prominent scholars, our best and brightest in their fields.

The Historic New Orleans Collection, which hosted the 1987 conference that was the basis for the book, is well represented by essays by director Priscilla Lawrence on pre-Civil war lithography; John Lawrence on Clarence John Laughlin; Alfred Lemann on sheet music; John Magill on "Birds' Eye Views," those pictures popularized nationwide by Currier and Ives; Judith Bonner on illustrated periodicals after the Civil War; former publications director Patricia Brady's work on Jules Lion; John Mahe II's essay on maps and street scenes; and Kellye Rosenheim's paper on chromolithography, which includes those glorious Carnival invitations and bulletins.

McNeese State University professor Gay Gomez contributes an essay about the visual propaganda that was created to draw colonists here in the 18th century.

University of New Orleans Special Collections Director Florence Jumonville writes about early printing in New Orleans.

Architectural historian Barbara SoRelle Bacot describes the prints and drawings of Marie Adrien Persac, while Claudia Kheel of the Neal Auction Co. writes about Morris Henry Hobbs, whose French Quarter scenes are as gorgeous today as they were when they were created in the mid-1900s.

Earl Retif of the Stone Street Press and Gallery contributes an essay on 20th century printmakers, and Louisiana State University art history professor H. Parrott Bacot writes about Caroline Durieux, with whom he worked at LSU.

Though these essays were all papers presented at a scholarly meeting, they are lively and accessible -- each draws the reader into the world of New Orleans history. And the wonderfully selected illustrations are clear and inviting windows in time. With the fires and floods that are such a part of the story of our city, it is a miracle that we have so many bright and beautiful paper survivors, speaking our colorful past.

. . . . . . .

Book editor Susan Larson can be reached at [email protected] or (504) 826-3457.
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Old December 6th, 2006, 11:11 AM   #110
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Another cruise ship returns to New Orleans
2 December 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The last of three cruise lines that homeport ships at the Port of New Orleans returned to this tourism mecca on Saturday.

Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas docked at a cruise ship terminal near the French Quarter before embarking on a seven-day Caribbean cruise. The ship will make weekly sailings from the port through late-April.

Before Katrina, the cruise industry accounted for nearly 2,800 direct jobs and $200 million in direct expenditures within the city and three cruise lines and four ships were homeported in the city, the port said. A ship is considered homeported when it sails from the city on a regular weekly schedule.

The 2,400-passenger ship follows Norwegian Cruise Line's Sun and Carnival Cruise Line's Fantasy in its return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina sidelined the cruise industry.

"We are thrilled to welcome Royal Caribbean back to New Orleans," Port of New Orleans President and CEO Gary LaGrange said. "Royal Caribbean was one of our first cruise partners to pledge their return to the Crescent City."
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Old December 7th, 2006, 04:48 PM   #111
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Group: Close New Orleans Ship Channel
By CAIN BURDEAU
5 December 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A coalition of scientists, environmentalists and politicians on Tuesday told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close a shipping channel that scientists say contributed to the devastating deluge of parts of eastern New Orleans, including the Lower Ninth Ward.

The Corps is expected to release a report next Wednesday to outline what should be done with the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a channel built in the 1960s that has destroyed hundreds of square miles of wetlands. It was built as a shortcut to New Orleans and a way to kick-start the development of reclaimed swampland east of New Orleans that wound up drowned by Hurricane Katrina.

The coalition also issued a report, which said in part, "The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, known locally as Mister Go, was a bad idea when constructed and has become a worse one every year."

The document, unambiguously called "Mister Go Must Go," was handed out to members of Congress, who will have a say on what direction the Corps takes.

Roger Cawley, a Corps spokesman, said the agency would "keep a distance from what this group has said." He declined to discuss what the Corps plans to present next week.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., said there are indications that the Corps report will leave several options on the table. "I'm tired of them spending time to look at options, it's time to act," Melancon said.

The channel has caused widespread environmental degradation by eroding the surrounding wetlands and funneling the Gulf of Mexico's salt water inland, killing stands of cypress forests.

In all, the report said the channel has caused about 922 square miles of damage to the wetlands southeast of New Orleans. The report was sponsored by Environmental Defense and other groups.

Scientists and residents say the channel acted as a conduit for Katrina's storm surge, causing water to stack up and overwhelm levees ringing the low-lying neighborhoods that developed in the past century east of the French Quarter.

After Katrina the movement to close the MRGO has picked up and Louisiana's politicians nearly unanimously say the channel poses a menace to New Orleans. The channel now routinely gets called a "hurricane superhighway."

There are some opponents to closing the channel, most notably shipping companies and industries that rely on it to get deep-draft oceangoing vessels to their facilities.
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Old December 8th, 2006, 09:59 AM   #112
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New Orleans to Raze Public Housing
Many Units Closed Since Katrina to Be Demolished, Despite Protests

By Julia Cass and Peter Whoriskey
Special to The Washington Post and Washington Post Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 7 -- Public housing officials decided Thursday to proceed with the demolition of more than 4,500 government apartments here, brushing aside an outcry from residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina who said the move was intended to reduce the ability of poor black people to repopulate the city.

Residents and their advocates made emotional, legal and what they called common-sense arguments against demolition at the housing authority meeting. "The day you decide to destroy our homes, you will break a lot of hearts," said Sharon Pierce Jackson, who lived in one of the now-closed projects slated to be razed. "We are people. We are not animals."

She and others questioned why the Department of Housing and Urban Development would destroy affordable housing in New Orleans, saying it is essential to the city's recovery.

C. Donald Babers, the federally appointed administrator running the Housing Authority of New Orleans, did not respond to that question in tersely approving the demolitions.

Previously, HUD officials have said the old projects should be cleared out to make way for less dense, modern housing. But those new developments, to be constructed in partnership with private investors, would probably include far fewer apartments for low-income residents and would take years to complete. An unresolved lawsuit on behalf of residents charges that the demolition plan is racially discriminatory.

"This is a government-sanctioned diaspora of New Orleans's poorest African American citizens," said Bill Quigley of Loyola University's law school, who is representing the displaced. "They are destroying perfectly habitable apartments when they are more rare than any time since the Civil War."

The divide over public housing may be the most prominent skirmish in the larger battle over the post-Katrina balance of whites and blacks in New Orleans and how decisions on rebuilding shape the city's demographic future.

Before Katrina, the Census Bureau pegged the city's racial breakdown at about 67 percent black and 28 percent white. A more recent study conducted for the Louisiana Recovery Authority estimates that the city, still well under half its pre-storm population, is 47 percent black and 43 percent white.

When Katrina struck, more than 5,000 families, nearly all of them black, were living in New Orleans public housing, and a couple of thousand more units were vacant or uninhabitable. The waiting list for housing had 8,250 names.

Since the storm, most of the complexes have been closed, some surrounded by fences and razor wire. About 1,100 units were occupied as of July, according to HUD figures.

To repair the hurricane damage at the four largest complexes in question would cost $130 million, according to HUD figures. Residents and their attorneys say that those cost estimates are bloated and that many units now unavailable could be reoccupied with a little cleaning or minor renovation.

At Thursday's meeting, attended by about 40 public housing representatives and advocates, Stephanie Mingo, who had been a 43-year resident of the now-closed St. Bernard project, blinked back angry tears as she spoke during her allotted three minutes. "You are hurting people. You are killing people," she said. "I don't know how y'all can sleep at night."

The meeting, the last of a series of required "consultation meetings" with residents, appeared to be a formality. Babers thanked each person for his or her comments but made none himself. Nor did he answer any of the questions put to him. Residents called the process a sham.

HUD spokeswoman Donna White said public comments from the meetings will be reviewed by HUD in Washington, which can accept, reject or change the demolition plan.

The plans for redeveloping public housing in New Orleans resemble efforts in recent years in cities across the country. In response to critics who have said some of the old complexes deteriorated because they concentrated and isolated the poor, the replacement developments are typically less dense and only partly devoted to subsidized housing.

But in post-Katrina New Orleans, the idea of demolishing units that might be rehabilitated, and replacing them with fewer units, infuriates advocates of the poor.

They point to the former St. Thomas project in the city, which was originally designed to house approximately 1,500 families. Its demolition, in 2002, has been followed by the construction of 296 apartments, 122 of them for low-income families. When the project is completed, it is supposed to have 1,100 new residential units, but critics say far too few of the poor displaced by the demolition will ever be able to live there.

State Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) scoffed at the underlying logic of the new developments, saying it is audacious to blame residents' misery on the concentration of poverty in New Orleans. At a similar meeting last month, he said: "It was always concentrated. Because you can't get people to make beds and clean hotels if you educate them well and they expect a decent pay."

Whoriskey reported from Miami.
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Old December 10th, 2006, 10:41 AM   #113
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New Orleans area reelects congressman under probe
9 December 2006
Reuters

New Orleans area U.S. Rep. William Jefferson won a ninth term to Congress in a surprising landslide on Saturday as loyal black voters shrugged off a federal bribery investigation into $90,000 found in his freezer.

Jefferson defeated fellow black Democrat Karen Carter with 58 percent of the vote in the first election for the 2nd Congressional District since Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the area.

"What is called for now is unity, on the East Bank, West Bank, black and white, rich and poor throughout our district, with one objective, to recover this great and wonderful city," Jefferson, 59, told supporters.

Voter turnout was believed to be very low at under 20 percent, a testament to New Orleans' shifting demographics after flooding displaced half of the residents and slow rebuilding thwarted their return.

After the November 7 primary, Carter, 37, was the favorite of white voters, who nearly equal the number of blacks in Orleans Parish after the storm.

But she performed poorly in Jefferson Parish across the Mississippi River where the sheriff took on Carter for accusing his team of racism in a Spike Lee documentary because they didn't allow blacks to cross a bridge to escape flooding.

Jefferson's victory may bode poorly for the area's ability to win recovery money in Washington since Democrats led by California Rep. Nancy Pelosi , who will become House speaker next month, ousted him from the powerful Ways and Means Committee following the bribery accusations.

"I think it will make it more difficult to get money for Louisiana," political analyst Ed Renwick said.

Jefferson has said repeatedly he has not accepted bribes. But he could face indictment during his new two-year term.
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Old December 10th, 2006, 07:13 PM   #114
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Times-Picayune
December 9, 2006 Saturday
Developers castigate City Hall;
Bureaucracy stifles rebuilding, they say


A panel of investors and developers assembled by the Urban Land Institute raised questions Friday about the slow pace of post-Hurricane Katrina redevelopment.

The developers concluded a three-day tour of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast with visits to the 17th Street Canal and a lunch meeting at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans.

Rufus Lusk, president of Lusk Realty LLC in Baltimore, said he was amazed that the City Planning Commission had so few planners and just recently received budget increases to hire more.

"There are planners from cities that would volunteer to come and help," Lusk said, pointing out that the American Planners Association would be a good place to start for volunteers. He said that the last thing a developer wants to hear is that it will take months to have development plans reviewed, placed on an agenda and approved or modified.

"Who's in charge?" Lusk asked.

He also pointed out that in other metropolitan areas information on potential development sites -- such as zoning and ownership of the land -- can be easily accessed online.

But in New Orleans developers can't just jump on the computer and do some basic research on a property to decide if it's worth pursuing.

In New Orleans, the only way a developer can attempt to get land is to knock door to door, he said.

Thomas Thompson, president of Real Estate Partners of Irvine, Calif., said that he owns a large West Bank apartment complex and that the failure to address the insurance increases and continued building code changes are hampering his repairs and developments. He pointed out that things as simple as inspectors saying air conditioners must be raised to apartment floor levels is "an unanticipated $50,000" hit and that insurance has drastically increased his costs. Without a solution to the increase in commercial insurance, developers will be discouraged from investing, he said.

David Scheuer, president of The Retrovest Companies of Burlington, Vt., expressed amazement at the lack of a czar to handle inquiries from developers.

He said that any investor would be taking a "leap of faith" when pursuing development in New Orleans.

"It's been 16 months and it doesn't seem the federal, local and state agencies" are working in cohesion. He said a general is needed to ensure cooperation between the entities.

"I met a guy in the elevator from Lakeview who said he still can't get electricity for his trailer," Scheuer said.

Scheuer also expressed concerns about the area's infrastructure, from gas and water pipes to roads. He said the uncertainty of the city's population and the haphazard redevelopment in some neighborhoods creates little prospect for a developer's "exit plan five, seven years down the road."

Scheuer doesn't see opportunities for his residential development business in the city. "Maybe only altruistic virtues that would bring me to New Orleans," but the business uncertainties wouldn't, even with the numerous incentives provided by the Gulf Zone Opportunity Act.

Beth Kalapos, an architect with URS Corporation from Cleveland, said she is concerned about the piecemeal way that neighborhoods are coming back.

While aware that talk of "shrinking the city's footprint" is controversial, the problems of providing public services, schools and quality-of-life amenities will be worse down the road if incomplete neighborhood planning allows for piecemeal housing rebuilding, Kalapos said.

Scheuer agreed, saying that "scattered infill development isn't going to get any traction" in rebuilding the city properly.
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Old December 10th, 2006, 08:45 PM   #115
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I'm just glad that the city is finally seeing investment and that the white population is moving back into the city. Anybody know what the racial make-up of the city is post Katrina?
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Old December 12th, 2006, 08:42 AM   #116
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Put a touch of New Orleans under your tree
11 December 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Maybe you're looking for ways to say "thank you" to those who've listened to your endless tales of rebuilding. Or maybe you have family and friends who are still displaced and treasure any and all reminders of home.

Whatever the motivation, holiday shoppers can find a plethora of gifts, from praline gift boxes to fleur-de-lis jewelry to coloring books with vivid St. Charles Avenue landscapes to old-school shirts that pay homage to Charlie Saint, which spread the spirit of the city along with the spirit of the season.

"There's just been so much loss," said Wendy Laker, director of New Orleans' Mid-City Art Market. "Maybe people find solace in these little things that can remind us what we used to be."

Last month at the market, shoppers clamored to buy old photographs of New Orleans, jewelry and art made by area artisans, Laker said.

This month, vendors from the Mid-City market are offering their wares nightly at Celebration in the Oaks, and have their regular market day on Saturday, Dec. 23.

"It seems now when people come to the market, they're trying to embrace every little piece they can grab," Laker said. "One of the treasures of our city is our talented artists, and much like our food and music, we have to hold onto it and support it."

A new Web site sponsored by the Shell Corp., http://www.shopnola.org , has links to 60 New Orleans area stores and 20 charities. The site was launched last month to encourage out-of-town holiday shoppers to spend some of their money in support of New Orleans' recovering economy, said Virginia Miller of Beurman Miller Fitzgerald, a marketing and public relations firm working with Shell to promote the site.

"Our real push is to get people in other places to know businesses and nonprofits are here and in need of help," Miller said.

Any business or charity added to the site is thoroughly checked by the site's founders before being listed, but no one is charged a fee or needs a membership to gain access.

Here are some gifts that celebrate the spirit of the city:

-- Animal accouterments: Original orangutan painting, $25; African wild dog plush, (varying sizes from $6 to $32); Audubon Zoo toddler flower dress, $17; and Gigi and Zachary's Around-the-World Adventure book, $17. For information regarding Audubon Zoo and Aquarium of the Americas gift shop hours, visit http://www.auduboninstitute.org or call 504-581-4629.

-- Sportswear with purpose: Save NOLA sportswear items are created and promoted by a group of native New Orleanians who lost their homes and personal possessions. All profits go to organizations dedicated to building or rebuilding homes in New Orleans. Leather embroidered bracelet, $10; Save NOLA coffee mug, $10; women's Mardi Gras T-shirt, $20; and Saving NOLA T-shirt, $20. Items may be purchased at http://www.savenolanow.com or Earth Savers (all locations).

-- Spirited sweet tooth: Fleur-de-lis cookie cutters from Bella Nola, $11 (set of two). Bella Luna, 4236 Magazine St.

-- City scenes: My Louisiana, a postcard coloring book by Ellen Louise Macomber, $12.95, available at Still Perkin, New Orleans Museum of Art, 1850 House -- Cabildo, Maple Street Book Store, Historic New Orleans Collection, Botanical Garden Gift Shop, Garden District Book Shop, Preservation Resource Center, Borders and Adler's.

-- Trendsetter garb: Saints Baby Tee in black featuring the old Charlie Saint icon, $50; Street Tiles tie in forest green, $65; fleur-de-lis red tie, $65. Saints vintage shirts also available in men's styles and an LSU theme. Visit Perlis stores at 600 Decatur St., Suite 103; 6070 Magazine St.; and 1281 N. Causeway Blvd., Suite 6, in Mandeville.

-- Sparkle time: Bring old postcards of New Orleans to new light with Plum's stylish Louisiana lamp shade, $60 (large shade $90). At http://www.plumneworleans.com , or 5430 Magazine St.

-- Crescent City icons: The front of this all-cotton white T-shirt features the City Park logo and "da hawt of New Orleans," while the back has Vic and Nat'ly in front of the peristyle in "City Pawk," $15; signed by artist Bunny Matthews, $20. This year's City Park ornament was designed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the park's antique carousel, featuring a carousel horse surrounded by a festive wreath in a pewter finish. To purchase, visit http://www.neworleanscitypark.com or stop by the Garden Gift Shop and at Celebration in the Oaks.

-- Ponies to polos: The New Orleans Fairgrounds is back up and running. If you're not the betting type, you can still support the local hangout by picking up a stuffed beanie pony, $8, for the grand-baby, and a historical book for dad, "The Fair Grounds: Big Shots & Long Shots," by Bob Roesler, $15. For the real track fan, a fun gift basket might include: a lined jacket, $65; a ball cap, $12; reading glasses (to read the racing form), $10; and polo shirt, $35. Fair Grounds Race Course, 1751 Gentilly Blvd.

-- Cheery greetings: Scriptura designers are at it again with 10 new beautifully designed holiday cards that could only come from NOLA. Three designs include Rue Dolph, Jazz Tree-O and High Spirits (eight cards for $16.50). To view the full selection of holiday greetings, visit http://www.scriptura.com or Scriptura's two locations at 5423 Magazine St., and 3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd.

-- Serve worthy: When families gather in Louisiana, it's usually around a plate of food. Gentry's cheese or dessert platter by Home Etc. Inc., $25, is one of several pieces that display colorful crawfish, crabs, lobster and Tabasco sauce designs. Items range from a $10 coffee mug to an $88 soup tureen. Gentry, 6047 Magazine St.
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Old December 13th, 2006, 05:44 AM   #117
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FEATURE-Musical home-wreckers hit right notes in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Trombonist Craig Klein recalls ripping open the door to his house 14 months ago and finding a second calling.

It was just weeks after Hurricane Katrina and Klein had returned to clean up the damage caused by 10 feet (3 metres) of water on the house in Arabi, a community on the east bank of the Mississipi that was devastated by the flooding river.

While hauling out soggy furniture, his friend Armand Richardson, who is known as Sheik, picked up a crowbar and took a few swings at a moldy wall.

"I said, 'Sheik, you're a one-man wrecking crew," Klein, one of New Orleans' busiest musicians, recalled. "He said, 'Yeah, that's us, man -- the Arabi wrecking crew.'"

It was the start of what's become an institution of musicians helping musicians in the aftermath of the disaster that tossed the city's soul -- its music scene -- into limbo.

More than a year and 110 gutted homes later, Klein's Arabi Wrecking Krewe has attracted dozens of volunteers to get jazz, R&B and brass band players on track to rebuild their houses by ripping out nearly everything but the studs free of charge.

Luminaries such as soul singer Irma Thomas, trumpeter Leroy Jones and bandleader and clarinetist Dr. Michael White have all had work done by the "krewe" -- the spelling used by groups that put on Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans.

TEAR IT UP, TEAR IT DOWN

Most of who those have donned facemasks and picked up tools are themselves drummers, trumpeters, pianists and sousaphone players who tear it up on the bandstand just hours before doing the dirty work of tearing it down at a house.

Besides his band Bonerama, which features four trombonists playing inventive arrangements of tunes by everyone from Thelonious Monk to Jimi Hendrix, Klein works with Harry Connick Jr. and an array of other artists.

His colleagues are as busy, but he has no trouble assembling a team. During the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last spring, the krewe cleaned out five houses.

After the storm, Klein, like many colleagues, feared the unique scene, where jazz, Afro-Cuban and Caribbean styles mix as easily as those who play them, could be lost with so many people forced to flee ruined neighborhoods.

"I really thought I would be doing something else. I said, 'Man, it's over with. We'll never know it as it was'," said the 46-year-old father of four. His outlook brightened as he and his associates gutted houses, he said.

The effort fits with New Orleans traditions of communities helping their own, like the social aid and pleasure clubs that have held jazz funerals for musicians and others for more than a century.

The krewe is one of several grassroots relief groups that rallied after the storm to help musicians get back on their feet with new instruments, gigs, legal advice and housing.

Katrina's floodwaters submerged 80 percent of New Orleans and damaged as many as 150,000 homes. In the aftermath, toxic mold coated the ruined interiors.

Musicians -- seen by many as the lifeblood of the city's key tourism economy -- were scattered around the country.

Fifteen months later, many still travel back from Baton Rouge, Houston and other centers for regular work in New Orleans, where more than 90 clubs again offer live music, even though the population of musicians is still about half the pre-Katrina number of about 450,000.

Some players say they've never been busier, at home or on the road, with the city's music taking center stage following the disaster. But for local working musicians, that does not necessarily translate into rich paychecks.

'THEY HELP KEEP MUSIC SCENE ALIVE'

Drummer Lawrence Batiste would have had to either slowly and painstakingly finish the job of gutting his house in the upper Ninth Ward himself, between caring for his disabled son and playing gigs, or pay a contractor at least $2,000.

Half a dozen volunteers from the krewe blitzed it in a few days, said Batiste, 68.

"They help keep the music scene alive. They helped the musicians get some of that worry off their minds, when you lose your home and everything," he said. "Craig has helped ease that. All I'm worried about now is getting rebuilt."

Before taking the stage with fellow Arabi Wrecking Krewe all-stars at a Thanksgiving concert on the bank of the Mississippi River, singer-songwriter Susan Cowsill said hard work has brought the music community closer at a crucial time.

"We've all been together before as musicians and we never really helped each other out like this," said Cowsill, whose family pop band had hits in the 1960s. "Everyone's happy to sit in with each other but no one ever came out to mow the other guy's lawn."

The krewe's legend has spread. A Netherlands-based traditional jazz combo, the Hurricane Brass Band, raised about $12,000 for the cause. Other donors have sent tools and gift certificates to home improvement stores.

Now, with so many of the houses gutted, the focus is shifting to arranging roofing, siding, electrical and plumbing as the task of rebuilding begins in earnest and musicians bring their families back to town, Klein said.

That's especially key with many musicians underinsured and being forced to deal with the slow pace of government grant money being made available to homeowners, he said.
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Old December 18th, 2006, 08:35 AM   #118
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US agency approves closing New Orleans shipping channel locals call "hurricane highway"
15 December 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A shipping channel blamed for widespread flooding during Hurricane Katrina and extensive wetlands destruction should be closed, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended in a report to Congress.

But the report released Friday rejected the contention that the channel, which some residents call a "hurricane highway," acted as a funnel for storm surge during Katrina and led to some of the city's worst flooding.

The report stopped short of recommending when the channel should be closed. Locals want it closed immediately.

A message left with the Corps seeking comment was not immediately returned Friday.

The report said it is not cost effective to keep the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet open "to both shallow and deep-draft navigation" and recommended it be closed by an armored earthen dam.

The report said it costs about $12 million (euro9 million) a year to dredge the channel for use by ships, twice the money it brings in.

The channel was dug in the 1960s as a shortcut to New Orleans and a way to start the development of reclaimed swampland east of New Orleans. That land wound up drowned by Katrina.

Scientists, politicians and environmentalists contend that the channel worsened Katrina's flooding.

But the Corps has been steadfast in saying the channel is not a "hurricane highway." The report dismissed the "hypothesized link" between the channel and storm surge, saying the surrounding wetlands are overwhelmed with water during severe storms.

Since its construction, the channel also has destroyed hundreds of square miles of wetlands.

Shippers, who now agree that the channel should be closed to big ships, have urged the agency to consider the economic ramifications of closing it to other vessels like barges, which carry coal for power plants and other goods along the Gulf Coast.

Shippers also have begun arguing that the channel might be helpful for supply vessels when offshore drilling picks up in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Last week, Congress agreed to open waters off the Florida coast to drilling.

A final decision on the channel should be made in conjunction with a master plan being developed to help protect south Louisiana from future hurricanes, the report said. The plan is to be finished by next December.
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Old December 18th, 2006, 08:38 AM   #119
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`Brain drain' threatens to take hold in New Orleans after Katrina
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
15 December 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - It was not the flooding that drove Dr. David Jones out of New Orleans for good. His house in the Lakeview neighborhood stayed dry. Instead, it was the way Hurricane Katrina eroded the orthopedic surgeon's practice.

With fewer patients to treat and no patience for the sluggish pace of the city's recovery, he moved his family and practice to Raleigh, Nroth Carolina in July.

"I love New Orleans and always will," said Jones, 39, who now works at a hospital affiliated with Duke University. "I could have made a go of it there, but it would have been slow and arduous."

New Orleans is losing an alarming number of young professionals in Katrina's aftermath. Many doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers and other highly educated people are gone. Some left during the storm and never came back. Others came back, but soon gave up and moved out altogether.

Whether a full-blown brain drain is under way is unclear. But some suspect so, and fear the exodus will only get worse.

"They don't see the career opportunities here that they see elsewhere," said University of New Orleans political science professor Susan Howell.

For many professionals trying to make a living here, the number of patients and clients has dropped off drastically. Less than half New Orleans' pre-Katrina population of 455,000 has returned.

A recent survey by the University of New Orleans suggests the loss of the region's best educated, most talented and highly trained workers could worsen. One-third of residents surveyed in October said they are likely to leave within two years, and those with postgraduate degrees were even more likely to consider leaving.

Health care has been especially hard-hit. Thousands of doctors, nurses and medical technicians were evacuated after Katrina in August 2005. Sixteen months later, only five of 11 hospitals are open, just one at full capacity.

According to another UNO survey, the city has regained less than 60 percent of its non-hospital physicians and its private education jobs. A similar percentage of professional, scientific and technical workers, including lawyers, engineers and architects, had yet to return more than a year after the storm, the survey found.

One who came back but plans to leave again is Jennifer Lange. Lange, 33, was president of the Young Leadership Council, an organization of young professionals, when Katrina hit. A marketing manager for Isidore ****** School -- whose graduates include the NFL's Manning brothers -- she evacuated to Houston, then came back a few months later.

But her job was one of about 90 eliminated by the private school, and she found herself working at a lower salary for an insurance and benefits company.

Now, she plans to move back to Houston, where she and her fiance, financial planner Thomas Brandino, will wed next year.

"I never wanted to leave," she said, "but he looked around and couldn't find a job here." Still, Lange is optimistic: "We'll be back one day. He's promised me."

William Frey, a University of Michigan demographer who has studied post-Katrina population trends, said young people with professional opportunities are the most likely to leave.

"The long-run trend has been a substantial brain drain from the metropolitan area," said Frey, who added that he expects more young professionals to leave.

Louisiana State University economics professor James Richardson said he has yet to see "irrefutable evidence of a brain drain."

But Katrina has made recruiting a challenge for Entergy Corp., the utility company whose New Orleans division declared bankruptcy after Katrina destroyed much of its electric and natural gas systems. Robert Spencer, an Entergy human resources director, said the company has 400 openings, mostly for accountants and engineers.

"We're not getting enough people knocking on our door as we were pre-Katrina," Spencer said. "The moment they find out we are headquartered in New Orleans, they think back to some of the scenes of what they saw on TV and they don't give us any kind of consideration."

Tulane University has a similar problem. About 40 of 400 tenure-track faculty members left after Katrina. Provost Paul Barron said he probably will not know until spring how many faculty members will return for the 2007-08 academic year.

"There is probably a large number of people who are thinking about leaving," he said. "It's still not the easiest city in the world to live in."

Jones, the doctor who moved to Raleigh, said a lack of recovery planning by government officials may be causing white-collar workers to move on.

"It seems they were more interested in getting tourists back than helping residents return," he said. "They had a real chance to change things, but they blew it."
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Old December 18th, 2006, 09:34 AM   #120
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New Orleans is too full of crime and violence right now to recommend living there. I'd wait for basic functions like the court system to return to functionality first. It might take a few years. Especially if you have children, living in New Orleans would be really irresponsible for their safety.
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