Saturday, September 17, 2005

Truth is Slow to Come Out

I received a link from Cousin Marc on a story about Acadian Ambulance and how they had better communication systems than the local, state or Feds. Read it and note several items - they bought a better communication system because they needed one to run their business, they lost their New Orleans radio towers and borrowed a portable one and they were able to borrow a portable one. I know people get nervous when the government privatizes essential services but I think this is an example of one that worked. Read the history of Acadian Ambulance on their site. We moved to Lafayette, LA in 1980 an I remember their pledge drives being only slightly less annoying and aggressive than the ones on NPR. One item you won't find in the NYT article, is something that happened to their mobile tower. Acadian Ambulance had their generator from their mobile tower stolen. Obviously they were able to get a replacement but I want to make a point. If you steal water and food in an emergency from a local grocery store, I think law enforcement should look the other way. If you steal a television or designer clothes, you should be arrested and charged with looting. If you steal a generator from a communication tower (the only one working at the time) from a emergency service you should be shot. I'm opposed to the death penalty but make exceptions for times of emergency.

The Fear - people around Baton Rouge are finally starting to find out the crime is not rampant in the city but they still have what I call "The Fear". I can't describe the fear, but I can give you some examples where reality and the truth part ways. The local government has gone out of their way to talk about how everything is safe and they will resolve the traffic problems brought on by doubling the size of the city. The reality is that most local business still have curfew hours - the local grocery by my house (semi-rural area) closes at 8:00pm sharp instead of the 10:00-11:00pm time they used to; the B-Dalton Bookstore in the largest Mall in the city closes at 7:00pm; many gas stations close at 7:00 or 8:00pm, etc. etc. etc. When I ask business owners and employees why they close early the answer varies. Some say the city or parish government asked them to - as best I can verify this is not true but is a canned answer designed to not put blame on the management of the store. Some say their employees don't feel safe after dark (i.e. The Fear). A friend of mine pointed out they wouldn't be surprised if their insurance companies required them to.

Insurance - I get mixed stories on this topic. I have personally talked with several people who have made claims and several adjusters for State Farm. All report that claims have been handled quickly and that the adjusters are being more than reasonable. The media keeps reporting that people are getting screwed by the insurance companies and that they won't pay a nickel. I have talked with some people who have had their home owners insurance adjuster be clear on what they won't pay on but none have been problematic. Flood insurance is not something that is covered by a homeowners policy and is optional in some areas and mandatory in others. Anyone who has ever purchased any type of property in Louisiana and most other places is familiar with the "Flood Determination" charge on your closing. Some people in areas where it is optional get and some don't. Flood insurance has a $250,000 cap. If you lost a home and everything in it, $250,000 is not enough.

Most insurance policies have waivers for acts of terrorism. After 9/11 the insurance companies agreed to pay benefits and the feds came in and assisted financially. I don't see any other option for the entire Gulf Coast. Otherwise you will have individuals and businesses going bankrupt. Some people had all the insurance they could possibly get and are still grossly under insured. What will be interesting to watch (and I'll post it hear) is the legal battle that will ensue after the rebuilding starts. Between the businesses that had hazardous chemicals that make areas uninhabitable, the fact that the governments knew the levees were not tall or strong enough for a Cat 4 or better hurricane and insurance companies who use weasel clauses to deny payments this should be a fun one to watch.

Friday, September 16, 2005

History Repeats Itself

I have been blasted with information on the history of the levee system and Mississippi River. It really is amazing how many times this scenario has been run through.

I have found a book that is an absolute must read. The book is called "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America". It is an amazing book and will make you angry and sad at how people were treated after agreeing to let them blow the levee to save New Orleans and flood their homes. Amazing parrallels as to what is going on right now with Katrina. Read this book before you go any further and follow the links below.

After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the Corp of Engineers proposed several systems. There is a detailed article on much if it on the Civil Engineering website that was written in 2003. I heard a more detailed first hand account on WJBO but can not find the live interview. The Corp actually suggested a series of floodgates that would protect Lake Pontchartrain from a storm surge. This would have prevented much of the flooding on the east bank of Jefferson Parish. It was blocked by an injunction from an environmentalist group. If someone could find some references and pass them along, I would appreciate it.

Finally, one last article that people told me about about was a National Geographic from October of last year. Thanks to cousin Kathryn (without the albatross last name) for forwarding an electronic link. Again read this and try to explain how any public official can claim that they had no idea this could happen. Remember this at election time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I have a friend who has 5 doctors from Iowa staying at his house. They came down to help and were told they weren't sure if they would be needed. They were also informed that the homes that had been arranged to stay in had fallen through. One of the doctors does disaster relief at least once a year and has been all over the world. This is the most disorganized he has ever seen. Fortunately, through some contacts, they were able to get in touch with the people who are dispatching doctors around the state and it looks like it will work out. FEMA is actually turning doctors away from New Orleans.

I have had similar reports from some people running (or attempting to run) the shelter at the Riverside Center in Baton Rouge. The people that I spoke with state that both the Red Cross and Salvation Army seem to have no leadership. There are supplies of mostly clothes that are making it to the centers but aren't getting to the people who need them. If you do decide to come to Louisiana to help out, have a backup plan for a place to stay.

St. Bernard - I spoke briefly with someone who attended the St. Bernard Parish meeting. I'll post more when I have more time to discuss it in detail. Bottom line is that the earliest residents may be able to return is next May. They will let people in as soon as they can to go back to their homes to retrieve what ever they can. The residents were informed that they will not recognize the area. They were also warned that between the flood and chemical contamination that they will probably end up bulldozing most of the houses and starting over. Any vehicle used to enter the Parish will have to go through some type of decontamination process. You will need to wear gloves and breathers. Not sure what they are going to do with what people choose to bring out. No word on when or if the refinery will open back up.

One last rant... The front page of the Baton Rouge paper today had a piece on Governor Blanco being outraged about the dead not being given the respect they deserve by FEMA. Right above the article is a picture of an emaciated person being rescued yesterday! How about we make sure all the living people are taken care of before being outraged of how the dead are handled.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Orleans and other stuff

The NY Times has a good photo comparison of the amount of water that the marshes in LA soaked up. You may have to register with the website to view the article.

I spoke with someone well informed on some of the events in Orleans Parish. A pattern seams to be emerging that the press is either getting things wrong or are not being allowed to tell the real story. There are still many rumors that are untrue. Below I will do my best to address these issues.

Prison Riots - there were some minor disturbances and yes guns were drawn but no prisoners or law enforcement officers were shot. No member of law enforcement or their family was taken hostage (I had heard this rumor from someone who was there). The Orleans Parish Jail did not have its roof ripped off with prisoners getting wet.

Prisoner Movement - this has been a huge issue with lots of misinformation. It is true that all prisoners were taken from the Orleans Parish Jail and moved to other prisons around the state. The prisoners that were walked down I-10 along other refugees were the misdemeanor prisoners who were in jail for 90 days or less. They probably should have been let go. No felony prisoners were anywhere near any law abiding citizens at any time. The felony prisoners were removed last and taken on special buses out of the city. All prisoners had to be boated out to a staging area where they eventually made it onto buses. The felony prisoners had plenty of guards with shotguns on them at all times.

Police deaths - as best I can tell, no NOPD or Orleans Criminal Sheriff personnel have been killed by any citizens - law abiding or criminal. 15 NOPD officers have been reported as drowning. At this point no one is sure of the circumstances. I have reports that 12 not 2 NOPD officers have committed suicide. I only know the circumstances of 1 and that individual's spouse had been killed as a result of the hurricane (presumably by flood). No Orleans Criminal Sheriff personnel have lost their lives (if some have, they are not known yet).

Police being shot at - yes, some police were shot at. Some of the people doing the shooting were killed and some got away with it. Much of the shooting was people shooting guns in the air. No idea why other than it's a Louisiana thing. Per previous paragraph, no officers were shot (that I can verify).

Lack of communication - NOPD, Orleans Criminal and Jefferson Sheriff use different radio systems. All of them failed. In the case of NOPD and Orleans criminal, the main towers are on top of the Entergy building. This site was chosen for 2 reasons. First, it is the tallest building in the city. Second, it is owned by the company that supplies electricity for the entire city. Guess what one of the first buildings to lost power was? There are generators in this building but I have no report on status. Additionally, most RF radio systems have a telco line from the dispatch building to the tower. With all of the telco problems this may be where the 1st failure was. I'm most interested in this failure. After 9/11, this was one area where all cities were focused on addressing. I have seen editorials with people claiming to have solutions to fix the communication problem. Given that all private and public systems failed, I want to find out what happened before believing anyones solution. I don't think the problem here was the technology, there were multiple areas that failed that were supposed to have redundancy built in. I have reports that Jefferson Sheriff radio system is back up.

Telecommunication failures - In New Orleans city there are some buildings that have various telco providers for voice and data working. There are some buildings where every vendor is completely dead (as of today). Since many of these building have nothing above ground to have been cut and the under ground lines get flooded all the time. I have no answer or intelligence as to how this type of failure occured. We know that Sprint had a major switch failure in the city but what about the other vendors? This is another good question to have answered. I'll post more info as I get it.

Violence at the Superdome - I can't figure out what to believe on this one. I have several NOPD and Criminal Sheriff contacts claiming there was almost no violence. The murders and rapes have been completely misrepresented. If you saw the TV Sunday night the National Guard screened everyone entering the building for weapons and drugs. I saw an interview with Charmaine Neville where she claimed to have witnessed all of this - I have other people telling me she is not a credible witness. We will have to watch this one.

Martial Law - I don't have time to research this one so if some Lawyer could comment, I would appreciate it. I was told that Martial Law was never declared anywhere in Louisiana. The reason is that since LA follows Napoleonic Code and not English Law there is no such thing and you can not declare it. I'm sure there is some equivalent that the state has the right to do but it is still an interesting technicality.

Reality Sinking In

St. Bernard Parish - residents learned yesterday that it will probably be next summer before they are allowed to return permanently. They will be allowed in to view their homes in a few weeks. Most of the water is gone but there is sludge everywhere. Much of the sludge is contaminated from the Murphy Oil refinery. I'm sure between an oil company and Walmart owning a percentage of it that this will be a fun legal battle to watch. Residents were warned that when they do go back, they will recognize little. There are areas that had close to 100% destruction of homes and others where the structures are still standing.

Slidell - much of St. Tammany Parish now has power. The areas in Slidell that did not get flooded have residents returning and there are more businesses opened up for food and gas options. 2 weeks and some people are just getting power back. As residents return, it will help Baton Rouge and Livingston Parishes get some of the traffic congestion solved.

Orleans - I had an opportunity to sneak into the Parish on Sunday. We went uptown to check on a cousin's house. No flooding in the areas we went into. Mostly similar storm damage that Kenner/Metarie had. We didn't see any signs of looting where we were. Audubon Park looks like a small military village. There is definitely a military presence in Orleans.

Kenner/Metairie - We went down Airline Hwy to get in this time. We went right by the airport. Not nearly as much activity as before. We made it to Esplanade near the mall to check on some houses. Much more flooding in this area. The homes we looked at had a few feet of water. We saw several drug stores that had been looted. Homes are starting to get power. The streets had most of the trees and power lines cleared but the yards did not. They are letting certain businesses back in to start to get some of the infrastructure set back up.