Last FEMA trailer leaves New Orleans six years after Katrina

A FEMA trailer sits in front of a home in New Orleans' Lakeview section.
The last FEMA trailer in New Orleans has left the city, closing a brutal chapter in New Orleans' history more than six years after Hurricane Katrina stormed through the region and the levee system failed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday announced that the trailer, officially known as a temporary housing unit, had departed Sunday. The announcement described the event as "a significant Hurricane Katrina recovery milestone."

The temporary housing units, which included travel trailers and mobile homes, became a symbol of the scale of the 2005 Katrina disaster. Television coverage mesmerized the nation, showing people trapped on rooftops to avoid floodwater, long lines of vehicles packed with people forced to flee inland and people who sought safety in the Louisiana Superdome. Meanwhile, the National Guard was patrolling the streets in an attempt to restore order.

“For more than six years, temporary housing units were located on private properties, group and industrial sites, and in commercial mobile home/RV parks across New Orleans while her residents recovered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina,” Andre Cadogan, FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office deputy director of programs, said in a statement. “The transition of this final household is a huge success for our agency, the state, the city, local nonprofits, and all others who contributed to helping return normalcy to New Orleans and those who live here.”

That upbeat tone was echoed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

“At the end of the day, FEMA trailers were never meant to be permanent housing units, so I’m glad that our code enforcement efforts coupled with FEMA case work has helped individuals transition to permanent housing,” Landrieu stated. He replaced C. Ray Nagin, who served eight years as mayor and was in office when the hurricane hit and the levees failed.

“Another page has turned in New Orleans’ post-Katrina history,” Landrieu said.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in U.S. history, and Katrina ranks as the costliest and one of the most deadly hurricanes. Property damage has been estimated at more than $81 billion, and at least 1,830 people were killed in the storm.

Katrina was followed a few weeks later by Hurricane Rita. Ultimately, the season seemed to be never-ending, producing 15 hurricanes, four of which were rated at the top Category 5.

Katrina formed over the Bahamas on Aug. 23, 2005, crossed southern Florida and became stronger as it moved through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm surge caused major damage along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.

In New Orleans, the levee system, designed to protect the city from flooding, failed hours after the storm had passed. At one point, more than 80% of the city and neighboring areas were flooded.

Officials had warned residents to leave the area, but many ignored their pleas. After the storm, relief efforts became bogged down because supplies could not be moved to areas in need. Civil order seemed to collapse amid the looting. The poor emergency response became a political blot on the Bush administration.

According to FEMA, the response to Katrina and Rita was the “largest housing operation in the history of the country, providing THUs (travel trailers, mobile homes and park models) to approximately 92,000 families throughout Louisiana. Approximately 25 percent of these THUs were in service at the peak of the housing program in Orleans Parish.”

FEMA said it has provided about $5.8 billion to assist 915,884 individuals and families in Louisiana for Katrina and Rita, including $4.2 billion in housing assistance for rent, repairs and replacement housing and $1.6 billion in other needs for such things as furniture, clothing and replacement vehicles.

Three trailers from the 2005 season are still in use elsewhere in Louisiana, according to FEMA.


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Photo: A FEMA trailer sits in front of a home in New Orleans' Lakeview section in this photo from 2009. The last trailer left the city Sunday. Credit: Bill Haber/Associated Press

Dance of the hurricanes: NOAA video marks end of 2011 season

The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season officially ends Wednesday, marking the sixth consecutive year that a "major" hurricane did not make landfall in the United States.

The season spared the usual victims -- the Southern states -- but it did manage to produce Hurricane Irene. Although it wasn't considered a major hurricane, the storm pummeled the Northeast to such an extent that it became one of the costliest storms in United States history.

Irene killed at least 47 people in the U.S., and eight more in the Caribbean and Canada.

PHOTOS: In Irene's path

That hurricane was the only one to make landfall in the United States in 2011 and the first since Hurricane Ike, which in 2008 caused $10 billion in damage across Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Irene broke the ‘hurricane amnesia’ that can develop when so much time lapses between land-falling storms,” Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, said in a statement. “This season is a reminder that storms can hit any part of our coast and that all regions need to be prepared each and every season.”

The season produced an above-average total of 19 tropical storms, which includes hurricanes. That's the third-highest total since 1851, the agency reported.

In August, forecasters from the agency predicted that exceptionally warm ocean water and favorable atmospheric conditions would bring an above-average number of tropical storms and hurricanes to the Atlantic and Caribbean.

The above video shows the entire season in four minutes. To check out Irene, skip ahead to about the 2:00 minute mark.


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Kenneth becomes late, but strong, Category 4 hurricane in Pacific


Hurricane Kenneth has strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane, making it the strongest late-season storm on record in the eastern north Pacific Ocean, the National Hurricane Center announced Tuesday morning.


The storm is packing maximum winds of 145 mph and is located about 750 miles south-southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico. But it was moving west, away from the coast, at about 13 mph.

It represents no danger to land, the center noted in its advisory.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 40 miles outward from the storm center and tropical-storm winds reach as far as 150 miles away.

The storm is expected to remain constant for the next 12 hours but is forecast to weaken sometime Wednesday.

The eastern Pacific hurricane season ends Nov. 30.


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Bering Sea storm is as powerful as Category 3 hurricane

Nome storm Scott A. Johnson

The monster storm hurtling across western Alaska is the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane in more tropical climes, authorities said Wednesday as surging seas flooded low-lying parts of Nome and left remote communities to the north bracing for high water.

"It's on the line of a pretty destructive hurricane, and we know from experience what a Category 3 would do in the Lower 48 in terms of damage. This is something that would be on a par with that," National Weather Service warning coordinator Jeff Osiensky told reporters Wednesday.

Though winds that had gusted up to nearly 90 mph began to subside slightly, weather forecasters said a combination of remaining high winds, rising tides and storm surge could drive water levels along some areas of the coast up to 10 feet above normal -- potentially flooding low-lying villages in the path of the strongest winds.

Photos: Preparing for Alaska storm

"The worst won't be over until this storm is completely dissipated and everything is returned down to normal levels.... This is not a closed event. It's very much open," said John Madden, director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Authorities are worried about villages such as Kivalina, a town of 427 people near the Chukchi Sea that sits on an 8-mile-long barrier reef. Plagued with steady erosion from past storms, the reef has shrunk to just 27 acres.

Thousands of feet of rock revetment have been installed over the last few years to shore it up, and while the revetment appears to be holding, it does not protect the entire village -- the airport remains exposed, said Colleen Swan, a City Council member and operations manager for the town.

Forecasts for a change in wind direction as the storm moves west toward Russia raise the possibility of flooding on the ice-covered lagoon that lies on the inland side of the village, "and that will flood the low-lying areas of the village, a few houses on the north side of the village," Swan said in an interview. 

An emergency shelter has opened in the school and some elders and families with young children spent the night in it Tuesday, she said.

"We're doing pretty good, considering," she said. "It's been very stressful not knowing what to expect."

Residents along the coast have posted videos and photos all day of the crashing surf and wind-driven snow that have assaulted the entire coastline from the Yukon Delta up into the Arctic. The video below, shot on Little Diomede Island on the watery border between Russia and the U.S., shows a container being tossed about like a toy in the raging surf and an excavator surrounded by water on what is normally a roadway.

The National Weather Service said the low-pressure zone at the center of the storm was expected to gradually weaken and move northwest toward Wrangel Island in Russia by late Thursday.

"We're looking for the winds to subside a bit as the system weakens. However, the surge, the piling of water along the ocean, will continue over the next 12 to 18 hours," Osiensky said. "So even though the winds will die down, the water levels will remain quite high over an extended period of time. It's still going to be very critical in a lot of communities."


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Photo: Storm-driven waves pound the shore near Nome, Alaska. Credit: Scott A. Johnson

Video: Crashing surf on Alaska's Little Diomede Island. Credit: Mckay Enterprise


Bering Sea storm slams Alaska: Brutal winds, white-out blizzards

Bering sea storm nome luepxwpd

Western Alaska was reeling Wednesday from what the National Weather Service called an "epic" Arctic storm from the Bering Sea that blasted remote coastal towns with winds of up to 89 mph and white-out blizzards.

Residents from the Yukon Delta to Point Hope huddled in homes and makeshift shelters at schools as buildings on shaky permafrost foundations swayed, roofs in a few places blew off and powerful waves from the Bering Sea began surging toward shore.

"Basically right now we're getting the brunt of the storm. I live in a townhouse, and my house is literally shaking. You can actually feel it. It's like a continued earthquake," Keith Greene, acting city manager in the Arctic village of Kotzebue, said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning.

Photos: Preparing for Alaska's storm

"Let me open the door so you can hear it," he said, holding the phone into a creepy blast of whistling and thudding.

In Nome, Fire Chief Matt Johnson said wind gusts hit 61 mph in the early morning, with some flooding of the west end of the town's main thoroughfare -- and the wettest was yet to come.

"We've had some storm surge and we've had some water, but we haven't reached the high-water mark yet," Johnson told The Times. "The worst is probably over from the wind side of things, but from the water side, we've yet to see it."

Power went out to about half of Nome for about an hour Wednesday morning after a blowing piece of sheet metal lodged in power lines, but crews scrambled to quickly restore service. A local cellphone tower lost service for about an hour, residents said, and the town's 911 service wasn't available for parts of Tuesday night, when the brunt of the storm hit land.

"If you tried calling 911, you'd get 'Your call cannot be completed,'" Scott A. Johnson, a resident of Nome, told the Times. "But all things considered, it's not bad. I have a radio tuned in to our local emergency responder frequencies, and haven't heard any reports of injuries so far. So I think that's a great blessing."

The 750-mile-long storm is one of the most powerful ever seen blowing in from the Bering Sea. By mid-morning, the center was just northwest of the Bering Strait; it was offering a brief lull to residents who had passed a tense night.

"We don't see storms like this very often. I would say it has lived up to the hype," Andy Dixon, National Weather Service meteorologist in Anchorage, said in an interview.

"What we're seeing now is the winds turn more southwest, so there's been a brief lull in the weather. Now it's going to get worse again for several hours before it starts to get better for good, before the storm ultimately weakens and heads off to the north," he said.

As winds diminished, storm surges and rising water posed the biggest danger.

"Our initial concern with this storm was the storm swell, and that still is a real danger," said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which has activated a 24-hour-a-day emergency operations center for the storm. "We're trying to notify people that while the skies may begin to clear a little bit, there still is significant danger down by the coast."

State officials said damage to homes appeared to be minimal so far, in part because Alaska's coastal villages are accustomed to severe storms and most homes are built on elevated platforms. Zidek said the state had received sporadic reports of blown-out windows and blown-off roofs, along with some flooding of homes, but had not been able to complete a full assessment because of the difficulty in reaching all the potentially affected villages.

"It's tough to reach them after they've been probably all night long dealing with the storm. Things start a bit later in those far-flung rural communities," he said.

Residents up and down the coast reported blowing snow that made it hard to see across the street and whistling wind.

Johnson, in Nome, posted a video on Twitter that showed the lamp fixture in his apartment swaying and waves crashing into the town's seawall. Carol Seppilu in Nome posted images of the swirling snow outside her house.

"It was very much similar to being on an airplane and being in turbulence. The whole house was swaying and literally shaking," Johnson said. "But it's not unusual for us to have big winter storms. This one is just a bit more unusual than most. They're saying it's one for the record books."


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Photo: Children play near the harbor in Nome, Alaska, as a powerful storm approaches from the Bering Sea. Credit: Peggy Fagerstrom/Associated Press

Louisiana Superdome gets new name and image: Mercedes-Benz


In August 2005, the Louisiana Superdome was the scene of an American tragedy as New Orleans residents fleeing the inundation of the city after Hurricane Katrina huddled in the stadium in the most wretched conditions.

Six people died -- one of them throwing himself from the upper reaches of the stands. There was an attempted rape. The toilets backed up, and children slept amid urine and feces. The electricity failed. Part of the roof blew off.

These days, the Superdome is back, having undergone a $336-million renovation. The hometown Saints have a world championship under their belts. And the Dome will soon be used to invoke a very different kind of experience, the kind in which "modern design meets classic craftsmanship, to transport you in a spacious haven of endearing comfort and enduring quality."

That's right: The Louisiana Superdome will henceforth be known as the "Mercedes-Benz Superdome."

According to the Times-Picayune, officials plan to announce a naming rights agreement with the German luxury car company Tuesday.

"I think this is great for the Saints and great for the state," Gov. Bobby Jindal is quoted as saying.

The deal will apparently be a good one for Louisiana as well, as it's expected to end the state's long-running subsidy of the Saints.

It will also further consolidate the Saints' reputation as the most continental of American football teams. Its fleur-de-lis symbol, evocative of the French monarchy, will apparently now share billing with Mercedes' three-pointed star symbol, which was adopted to hearken Schorndorf-born industrialist Gottlieb Daimler's desire to bring motorized vehicles to land, water and air.

Though New Orleans' French roots are best known to outsiders, this new Teutonic tinge (as Jelly Roll Morton might have put it) is rich with cultural resonance in South Louisiana, where German immigrants (to the French, "Des Allemands") have long been an integral part of the region's multi-culti landscape, making contributions to all sorts of culinary and musical traditions.


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Photo: Fans gather at the newly refurbished Superdome before the Saints' Sept. 25 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Fake deputy sentenced for lies about New Orleans police shooting

Marion David Ryder was one of the hundreds of volunteers who rushed to the drowned city of New Orleans to lend a hand after Hurricane Katrina.

He ended up sowing confusion and corruption in a city that certainly didn't need any more of it.

Ryder, 46, of Opelousas, La., went to New Orleans to help with search-and-rescue missions, posing as a sheriff's deputy from his home parish, the Associated Press reports.

He ended up on the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, six days after the hurricane, when New Orleans police, responding to a call of an officer down, stormed the bridge and opened fire, killing two unarmed civilians and wounding four.

Ryder, a convicted felon, told the FBI that one of the other civilians on the bridge, Lance Madison, shot at him. It was not so.

Last month, five New Orleans police officers were convicted of civil rights violations related to the shootings and an attempted cover-up.

On Wednesday, the AP reports, Ryder was sentenced to eight months in prison and eight months of home confinement after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators and illegal weapon possession. He faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Ryder's attorney said he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Madison, the man Ryan falsely accused, had been booked on suspicion of attempted murder of a police officer, and was jailed for weeks.

After the sentencing, the Picayune reports, Ryder hugged Madison and began crying.

"I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart," Ryder said.


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Photo: Jurors in the trial of New Orleans police officers walk the Danziger Bridge in July to get a first-hand look at the spot where two people were fatally shot and four others wounded less than a week after Hurricane Katrina. Credit: Associated Press / The Times-Picayune, Michael DeMocker

Virginia faces the Blob, courtesy of Hurricane Irene

Virginia Beach

The Blob appears to be back.

The reports aren't about the jelly-like creature that Steve McQueen battled in the 1958 horror film, but, rather, smelly blobs that have been found in the water and on beaches in Virginia. Perhaps they should be called "the blobs."

"Blob reports" have been flowing into the Virginia Institute of Marine Science since Hurricane Irene swept through the area, according to an institute spokesman. The reports of UFOs, for unidentified fishy organisms, have been going to a website the institute operates.

"Sightings of these grayish, brown clumps along the area's beaches over the weekend caused alarm and curiosity," the Virginian-Pilot reported.

Turns out they’re potato sponges — named so because they look and feel like spuds, David Malmquist, the institute’s director of communications, said in an interview.

The blobs normally live on sandy bottoms in the Chesapeake and were uprooted in large numbers and washed ashore by the hurricane, said Emmett Duffy, an institute professor, in an email.

"Because of their amorphous shape, grayish color, and the fact that they stink pretty badly when rotting on the beach, there was a bit of a scare down here that the piles on the beach were human waste washed up from a ship,'' he added.

The institute, part of the College of William & Mary, received a report of the blobs from as far away as Long Island, N.Y.

"Based on the number of reports we’ve had over the last two weeks, this is obviously a very significant event in terms of potato sponge incidents,"’ Malmquist said.

"Most people don’t want to get close to them because they really smell. They have a very strong rotten egg smell.’"


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Photo: Hurricane Irene left its mark on Virginia's beaches, damaging the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier, as shown here, and uprooting potato sponges that have since begun washing ashore. Credit: AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, L. Todd Spencer

New York Mayor Bloomberg gets high marks for Irene, 9/11 recovery

A day after Americans marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, New Yorkers are more optimistic about the recovery of Lower Manhattan than they were two years ago and increasingly convinced that the rebuilding of the former World Trade Center will meet the deadline for completion by 2014, a new poll shows.

Of those surveyed, 60% said the rebuilding was going "very well" or "somewhat well," compared with 40% in August 2009.

The survey by Quinnipiac University, released Monday, also shows that Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- thought by many to have presidential aspirations -- gets credit from 61% of New Yorkers for playing a "positive" role in lower Manhattan's recovery. The mayor also is enjoying his highest approval rating -- 54% -- since last December, results helped apparently by his response to Irene, the storm that battered the nation's largest city with wind, rain and flooding last month.

Bloomberg's decision to take the unprecedented step of closing down the city's subway and bus system the day before the storm hit and to order mandatory evacuations for low-lying areas may have seemed overly cautious at the time, but it appears to have won him points from New Yorkers, Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a news release.

Voters in the city approved of his handling of the preparations by a margin of 86% to 10%. Even in neighborhoods ordered to evacuate, 84% approved of his actions, while 15% disapproved.

“The critics cried ‘overkill!’  But most people agreed with the mayor, ‘Better safe than sorry.’  Overwhelmingly, Bloomberg’s handling of Irene gets high marks,” Carroll said. Irene's impact on New York City was far less than had been feared, but it devastated other parts of the state and killed more than 40 people along the East Coast.

The telephone survey, conducted Sept. 1-6, surveyed 1,282 registered voters across New York's five boroughs. Among its other findings: 70% of New Yorkers plan to visit the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site. The memorial was unveiled to victims' families at Sunday's anniversary ceremony and opens to the public Monday. And 75% of city dwellers plan on visiting the museum that will open next year on the plaza that forms part of the memorial.

But in one of the few signs of discontent with the management of the rebuilding, 71% say the museum should be free. Organizers of the memorial and museum have suggested collecting a $20-per-visitor entrance fee –- or asking for a donation in that amount -- to help maintain the site when the museum opens next year.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks Sunday at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site. Credit: Noah K. Murray / Pool 

Levees face test as Susquehanna River crests

The Susquehanna River crested overnight at its second-highest level ever in northeastern Pennsylvania, failing to top levees protecting some residents but leaving thousands of people further downriver or in areas not sheltered by levees in danger of flooding later Friday or over the weekend.

The National Weather Service said the river had been forecast to crest at nearly 41 feet -- the height of the levees -- in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but topped out at just below 39 feet at about 3:30 a.m. Friday, the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre reported. On Thursday, about 75,000 people in the city and surrounding communities were under a mandatory evacuation order imposed by officials who feared a repeat of the devastating floods that swamped the city in 1972 in the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes.

"Everything is replaceable...but my life is not," said Rose Simko, one of the evacuees, whose home sits about 150 feet from a levee, The Associated Press reported. Evacuees were told to expect to be away from home until Sunday or Monday.

The river, which runs through Wilkes-Barre, has been swollen by rain first from Tropical Storm Irene, and more recently by Tropical Storm Lee. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Pennsylvania early Friday to expedite federal aid to flood-stricken areas.

Further downriver, about 20,000 residents of Binghamton, N.Y., were also under mandatory evacuation orders as officials there prepared for the Susquehanna's crest. The city's location between the Susquehanna and the Chenango rivers makes it particularly vulnerable to flooding, and roads throughout the city and City Hall were closed Friday.

"This is nothing to be trifled with," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday after surveying the region, as he urged people to heed evacuation orders. "This is going to get much worse before it gets better."

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: National Guard troops rescue Yolanda Redick from the rising Susquehanna River in West Pittston, Pa. Credit: Eric Thayer, Reuters





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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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