A Civil District Court judge Friday ordered Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard to make public autopsy reports on nine patients who died at Memorial Medical Center in the desperate days after Hurricane Katrina.
Judge Nadine Ramsey gave Minyard until 5 p.m. Monday to make the reports available to The Times-Picayune, which sued the coroner over his refusal to provide documents that the newspaper contends are public records.
The nine deaths prompted Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti to launch a criminal investigation against one surgeon and two nurses who stayed to work at the hospital during the hurricane. But the Orleans Parish district attorney's office declined to indict the nurses and a grand jury did not indict the doctor, Anna Pou.
Minyard contends that the autopsy reports are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation and therefore exempt from the public records law.
But that exemption, Times-Picayune attorney Lori Mince told Ramsey, would apply only if there is "criminal litigation that is pending or reasonably anticipated." Under either test, she said, the reports cannot continue to be kept under wraps because the two prosecutors who handled the matter, Foti and Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan, have said the criminal case is over.
The KatrinaRitaVille Express -- coming to you! br> Readers of Facing South know that the Hurricane Katrina crisis never really ended, and the Gulf Coast is still in dire need of a real recovery. But they can't do it alone -- if the 60,000 people still living in "temporary" FEMA trailers are to get the help they need, we need to make Katrina recovery a national issue.
But how do we take this message to the American public? Derrick Evans, a grassroots activist on the Mississippi coast, had an idea: literally drive it to our doorsteps. Earlier this year, Derrick bought a standard-issue FEMA trailer, and has been driving it around the country so people can see first-hand what Katrina victims have to deal with. Here's how Derrick describes the KatrinaRitaVille Express:
A young coalition of survivors and advocates called the Gulf Coast Peoples Movement for Full and Fair Recovery has launched a nationwide Katrina-Rita-ville Tour, featuring two modified FEMA trailers outfitted to show the American public and federal policy makers what is actually happening throughout their region. “Not only in New Orleans, but across the Gulf Coast, dislocation, privatization and the trashing of our public trust resources are the escalating norm. Our families, communities and environment can’t stand much more,” says Evans, whose nonprofit, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives/Turkey Creekkeeper, has sued both the City of Gulfport and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on environmental matters since Hurricane Katrina.
WASHINGTON -- Despite objections from Gulf Coast lawmakers, a Senate committee has unanimously voted to overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program without adding optional coverage for wind damage.
The 21-0 vote Wednesday was a victory for the insurance industry and the White House, which threatened to veto a House-passed bill that included "multiperil" coverage sought by property owners along the Gulf Coast still reeling from the 2005 hurricanes.
Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., offered an amendment adding optional wind coverage to the National Flood Insurance Program, but withdrew it when it became evident they lacked the votes. Martinez said he would try to add it when the bill comes to the Senate floor.
"It's not dead, but it doesn't have much of a pulse," he told Congressional Quarterly after the vote.
After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma two years ago, some insurance companies refused to pay claims filed by thousands of policyholders, saying the damage was caused not by wind but flooding, which is covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. The large number of claims put the federal program $17.5 billion in debt, and the director says interest payments alone will reach $900 million next year.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it will craft a process allowing reimbursements to Road Home applicants who have already elevated their homes -- but warned that such requests face rigorous scrutiny and could be denied.
The FEMA announcement reversed the agency's earlier refusal to consider retroactive elevation payments to "pioneers" who raised their homes to limit or prevent future flood damage, even as state and federal officials haggled over whether such owners should be compensated.
State and federal officials refused to say what percentage of at least 25,000 applicants for Road Home rebuilding grants who began elevation work early might qualify for up to $30,000 in reimbursements. And there was only a vague signal as to how long it might take FEMA to iron out procedures for dispensing the money.
"I can safely say we're going to have very significant progress by the first of the year," said Butch Kinerney, a FEMA spokesman in Washington.
Though an earlier phase of the Road Home program, using different rules, simply required homeowners to agree to elevate within three years and to comply with building codes, FEMA rules require a cost-benefit analysis; evidence that the amount spent is reasonable and actually is spent for the intended purpose; reviews to determine whether federal environmental or historic preservation acts are violated; and a check of the engineering soundness of the project.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week to discuss the controversial case of the Jena Six, in which trumped up charges were brought against six black teens following a series of racially charged incidents in a small Louisiana town sparked by the hanging of nooses at a public high school.
Among those who testified was Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. His testimony challenged the notion promoted by some that the way toward justice in Jena would be for hate crime charges to be brought against the white students behind the noose incident:
"The criminal law is a blunt instrument, and too many of our young people are already being pushed out of our schools and into our prisons. A far wiser course than increasing federal prosecutions would be increasing federal investment in services designed to soothe the racial and ethnic tensions simmering in our nation's schools and to respond promptly when hate crimes occur."
Instead, Cohen said, Congress should consider increasing the size of the Justice Department's Community Relations Service, a program that was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ease conflicts arising from differences in race and national origin but that has shrunk even while the nation has grown more diverse.
Cohen also called on Congress to hold hearings about the collection of hate crime data, and he urged lawmakers to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007, which would require the collection of data about hate crimes committed by and against juveniles.
BATON ROUGE -- The population of Louisiana voters who might go to the polls Saturday is different in several ways from the electorate in the previous gubernatorial statewide election four years ago, and those shifts could have an impact on the primary, according to voter registration data and election observers.
The biggest question mark hanging over the election is how many of the voters on the rolls in the New Orleans area have not returned since Hurricane Katrina and won't be there to cast a ballot Saturday.
"The number is phenomenal," said Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson, who thinks more than 100,000 people on the city's voting rolls have left and eventually will be removed from the list.
As of Oct. 2, more than 2.8 million people were registered to vote in Louisiana, an increase of about 2 percent since the fall 2003 election. If Wilson's estimate is correct, the real statewide electorate has probably fallen slightly.
A few trends seem certain, with or without the New Orleans mystery. The number of Democrats, both in real numbers and as a percentage of the electorate, is continuing to fall. Registered Democrats make up 53 percent of the voting rolls, down from 57 percent in 2003.
BILOXI --FEMA announced Monday it is creating a reimbursement program for people who relocated because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita if they had not already received money from any other subsidized travel home program.
To be eligible for the program, applicants must have been displaced from their primary residence in a disaster-declared area as a result of hurricanes Katrina or Rita and have incurred or will incur relocation travel expenses. The expenses must have occurred between Aug. 29, 2005 and Feb. 29, 2008 for Katrina, or Sept. 24, 2005 and Feb. 29, 2008 for Rita, according to a news release.
NEW ORLEANS - Despite the heartbreaking destruction it left behind, Hurricane Katrina created tantalizing opportunities, including the chance of a fresh start for a majority of this city’s schools, which had been among the nation’s worst.
The remedy that officials chose was to turn 40 of the roughly 80 salvaged schools over to state-chartered and state-financed groups of business and community leaders, and to let them provide oversight with fewer of the bureaucratic rules that hobble school leaders. Conversion to charters is a free-market strategy that the Bush administration champions, and in Louisiana it backed its belief with $24 million.
At one such school, Lafayette Academy, the experience of a charter group with the profit-making company it hired to manage instruction offers a cautionary tale of how well-meaning trustees can easily stumble, and of how privatizing management is often far from a panacea. It also offers lessons in how a nimble, determined organization of amateurs can turn things around. Lafayette’s trustees eventually booted out the national company and installed a veteran principal with New Orleans gumbo in his veins. This year Lafayette is by all appearances humming like the solid school it was meant to be.
There is a national conversation over whether charters should remain mom-and-pop operations, or become franchises in enterprises like Edison Schools and Mosaica Education, which promise economies of scale, pools of capital and expertise. Most of the roughly 40 states that have created the 4,000 charter schools have kept them homespun — the typical school serves 200 students — and some states have barred profit-making firms altogether.
National operators have had a mixed record. The for-profit Victory Schools organization in 25 New York and Philadelphia schools, and the nonprofit KIPP organization in 57 schools in 17 states, have generally been praised while others have been dismissed or discontinued. The expertise that national enterprises promise has often been remote or fleeting, a problem that seems apparent in the Lafayette story, where basic services like cleaning, buses and books were haphazardly provided.
WASHINGTON - States and the federal government are not doing enough to monitor and manage the water quality of the Mississippi River and its impact on the Gulf of Mexico, where an annual "dead zone" from farm runoff is killing marine life, according to a major scientific assessment released Tuesday.
The study by experts with the National Research Council calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate the efforts affecting the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico where its water is discharged.
“The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi’s water quality does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological and cultural importance,” said David Dzombak, chairman of panel and professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
In recent years, actions have reduced much point-source pollution, such as direct discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants.
But the report notes that many of the river’s remaining pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources, such as nutrients and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced today a reimbursement program that will provide relocation assistance to disaster victims displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The damage and destruction caused by the hurricanes resulted in many Gulf Coast residents temporarily relocating to various locations around the country. Currently there are Katrina/Rita households in all but one of the states, including 800 in Arkansas, 875 in Tennessee, 880 in Georgia, 225 in Colorado and 160 in California.
The program will reimburse eligible applicants for relocation expenses up to $4,000 that have been or will be incurred between Aug. 29, 2005, and Feb. 29, 2008, for Katrina, or Sept. 24, 2005, to Feb. 29, 2008, for Rita. Funding for relocation expenses must be available to applicants within the FEMA Individuals and Households Program cap and they must not have received funds from any other state, federal or voluntary agency subsidized travel-home program.
Those applicants returning to their pre-disaster states must relocate to housing that is not provided by FEMA and is not a hotel or motel. For those families that are already living in their pre-disaster state in FEMA travel trailers or mobile homes, FEMA will pay moving expenses to a FEMA-funded rental resource anywhere in the continental United States. However, FEMA will pay for an in-state move only if the new location is greater than 50 miles from applicants' current location in the state.
To be eligible for the program, applicants must have been displaced from their primary residence in a disaster-declared area as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and have incurred or will incur relocation travel expenses within the defined period.
Relocation assistance will be limited to travel costs including airfare, train, bus and/or a rental vehicle. Furniture transportation expenses are eligible, including commercially rented equipment for hauling and commercially purchased moving materials or moving services including cost of liability insurance and taxes. Mileage, gas and taxes incurred while using commercial rented equipment also are eligible costs. Lodging costs for one night, one room if the distance between the current residence and the new residence are more than 400 miles is also eligible. Moving costs for recreational or large luxury items such as boats or recreational vehicles are not eligible expenses under this program.
Eligible applicants are those individuals or households eligible for assistance under FEMA's Individuals and Households Program who still have funds available under their financial assistance cap. Applicants must submit verifiable estimates including anticipated travel dates; payments will be based on a one-time submission of receipts, statement of costs, and/or estimates for the entire household.
For more information on FEMA's Relocation Assistance program or to request reimbursement of relocation expenses, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) (TTY: 1-800-462-7585). Applicants are eligible to receive relocation assistance only under Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Rita, not both.
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (AP) — The federal government is considering buying out as many as 17,000 homes along the Mississippi coast and remaking the land into a vast hurricane-protection zone, raising anxieties that it could destroy the waterfront lives many residents are struggling to rebuild after Katrina.
The Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program could cost $40 billion, including buying the homes, building levees and restoring barrier islands. The land could be converted into wetlands or other public uses, such as golf courses or bike trails, but could not be sold for private development.
For Finley Williford, a 42-year-old boat captain, a buyout offer would have been tempting if it had come shortly after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his Bay St. Louis home on Aug. 29, 2005.
But instead of leaving, he invested countless hours of labor and more than $400,000 in two new houses for his family and his father.
"If they had showed up a day after the storm, I probably would have taken the money. It's kind of after-the-fact now," Williford said.
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