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

Going snowhere: After 106 inches, Anchorage needs more snow dumps

Ever wonder -- after it's been snowing all winter long (think "War and Peace") -- where all that snow goes?

Up in Anchorage, they're beginning to ponder the same thing. With more than 106 inches of snow so far, the city's designated private snow dumps are nearly full -- many are closed -- and it's still coming down.

"The challenge this year is we've had numerous snowfalls back-to-back-to-back. And usually, we get 1- and 2-inch snowfalls. This year, we're seeing 6 to 10 inches," said Alan Czajkowski, deputy director of maintenance and operations for the city of Anchorage, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"And then, we got 4 more inches last night."

After a big snowfall, the city undertakes what's called a "plow-out," with a fleet of 30 graders and 16 dump trucks working their way through town -- first plowing, then hauling away, snow to places where residents can forget it ever happened.

"It's basically a 24/7 operation," said Czajkowski, whose name, appropriately enough for the mechanical symphonies he conducts, is a variant of the famed Russian composer's.

In a briefing paper, city officials said the amount of snow hauled as of January, if placed on a five-acre lot, would be 250 feet deep.

There's no problem at the city's seven municipal snow dumps, even though some of the discarded snow there already is towering up to 60 feet high. The problem is at the smaller commercial dump sites, where private companies plowing parking lots, condo walkways and sidewalks deposit their frozen treasure.

Six of the seven private dump sites normally used are full and have had to close, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

"Now the last one is getting ready to run out of room," Marcel Warmilee, owner of private hauler Arctic Green LLC, said in a telephone interview.

Warmilee, who moved to Anchorage 22 years ago from Hermosa Beach, Calif., said he's seen this much snow only once since he arrived. The big problem, he said, is that most of the areas that were once prime snow dump sites have been developed as the city expands.

Private contractors are pushing the city to allow them to use municipal dumps, he said. In the meantime, the Anchorage Assembly was scheduled Tuesday night to consider a measure to temporarily ease land-use regulations for opening new private snow dump sites.

"We're just helping them expedite the process," Czajkowski said. "Because we still have basically another month of winter here."


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Photo: City crews clear snow in the Inlet View neighborhood of Anchorage. Credit: Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News/MCT

Stormy Pacific rescue: 3 saved after sailing accident off Hawaii


The ocean voyage was fit only for the hardy: no on-deck swimming pools; no movies at night; no meals fit for the delicate epicure.

It was just two Canadian men and a 9-year-old boy on a 39-foot sailboat, traveling from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, across the Pacific Ocean through what turned out to be stormy weather -- and an agonizing, but ultimately successful, rescue from a capsized and disabled vessel.

“It was scary. I thought we were going to die,” the boy, West James, told the Associated Press on Thursday in Hawaii. West, his father Bradley, 32, and uncle, Mitchell James, 29, were rescued this week from their drifting boat about 340 miles from Oahu. The sailboat had been disabled by storms.

“There were waves crashing all over the place. We had no engine. We had no sail,” Bradley James, of Edmonton, Canada, told the news agency. He said the boat had a leaky exhaust, a broken water pipe, an overheating engine and a snapped mast, which made sailing to land impossible.

The trio sought help by satellite phone, and the Coast Guard redirected a commercial ship, the Horizon Reliance, from about 150 miles away. The 900-foot ship maneuvered into position, but two waves -- 25 to 30 feet, Bradley James estimated -- forced the big ship's bow onto the sailboat.

“It just crushed it,” he said. The sailboat sank, leaving the Canadian trio in the water, wearing life jackets and headlamps. The ship rescued Mitch James within half an hour, but Brad and his son had drifted away.

Horizon Reliance Capt. James Kelleher eventually solved the difficult nautical problem of steering his ship through the steep waves and fierce winds of 50 knots toward the father and son. They were rescued about an hour later; all arrived in Honolulu by Thursday morning.


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Photo: Horizon Reliance crew member Ahmed Baabbad, left, pats West James on the head in Honolulu. The boy was part of a Canadian family rescued from a capsized boat in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Marco Garcia / Associated Press


Winter storm dumps 20 inches of snow on Nebraska, moves to Iowa

A blizzard that dumped several feet of snow on Denver and northeastern Colorado on Friday moved across Nebraska overnight and into southwest Iowa on Saturday, causing dozens of accidents on highways as visibility was reduced to near-zero in some places.

The storm, the first major snowfall this winter for Colorado and the Midwest, pummeled Nebraska, dropping about 20 inches of snow in some areas, said Matt Masek, a National Weather Service meteorologist in North Platte, Neb.

By morning, the storm, with wind gusts up to 30 mph, had moved into southwestern Iowa, where snow totals had reached about 10 inches by midafternoon, Masek told The Times.

The slow-moving storm will continue to move eastward, reaching the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. by the early part of the week, but should weaken by then, producing rain instead of snow, Masek said.

The storm caused more than 600 flight cancellations Friday at Denver International Airport. It also led to dozens of accidents across the region, none major, authorities said. 

Travel across Interstate 80 in Nebraska and Iowa has been dodgy. Transportation officials in Nebraska had issued a "travel not advised" warning overnight but downgraded the advisory Saturday.


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Photo: A cyclist crosses the street during a snowstorm in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. Credit: Jacob Hannah/The Journal-Star

Blizzard moves east across Denver, dumps 2 inches of snow an hour


A blizzard moving across Denver and into parts of the Midwest is dumping 2 inches of snow every hour, prompting the cancellation of 600 flights at Denver International Airport and closing roads across northeastern Colorado. 

The fierce storm -- coming after a relatively mild and balmy winter -- is producing wind gusts of up to 40 mph and has forced closure of schools, businesses and government offices.

Denver's metro area has seen about 10 inches of snow so far, and snow totals are expected to hit about 2feet, said Chad Gimmestad, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Denver.

"It’s very slow moving," Gimmestad said. "It’ll be crawling across Kansas and Nebraska tomorrow. Here in Denver, we’re looking at least 36 hours of steady snow." 

The storm, the worst blizzard since 2006, has caused hundreds of accidents on Colorado roads and highways, said Capt. Jeff Goodwin, a spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol. 

"Mainly minor accidents, fender benders and spinouts," he said. 

Two Colorado troopers investigating accidents were rear-ended, Goodwin said. One was treated at an area hospital for minor injuries. 

Because of the winds, visibility was low -- in some places, only a few hundred feet, Goodwin reported. Denver International Airport said in a statement that about 600 flights had been canceled due to the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and move out by Saturday night, the National Weather Service said. 

The snowfall was a boon to ski resorts in the area, which have been starved for snow.

At Eldora Mountain Resort, the Denver Post reported that several hundred snow sport enthusiasts lined up for the first lifts to open.


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Photo: Motorist Myron Balason takes a photo of his car on Highway 94 as he waits for a tow truck to pull his vehicle from a snowbank on Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo. Credit: Mark Reis / Colorado Springs Gazette

Drought ends for Dallas-Fort Worth area; rest of Texas suffers


The Dallas area has officially moved out of drought, unlike much of the rest of Texas, but long-term projections show that the region could still face problems after one of the driest years on record.

In its posting on Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said the Dallas-Fort Worth area was no longer in an official drought -- for the first time since July. The improvement was caused by recent heavy storms.

“Locally heavy rain across central and eastern drought areas contrasted with unfavorably dry, warm weather elsewhere,” the monitor noted in its commentary. “A soaking rain (2-4 inches, locally more) fell from San Angelo northeastward across Dallas-Fort Worth into southeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas. A second, smaller but locally heavier band of rain (1-6 inches) was observed from San Antonio and Austin eastward across Houston into Beaumont-Port Arthur. Consequently, widespread reductions in drought were made -- in some case up to 2 categories -- as a result of the heavy rain.”

The Drought Monitor is a map, including animated versions that give perspective over time, compiled by the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center in cooperation with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies.

Texas and parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico have sustained drought conditions for a year as rainfall sharply fell. Ranchers have had to destroy cattle and prices for hay have jumped -- both signals of possible rising prices for meat-eaters at some point.

While the latest map was good news for the Dallas area, most of Texas still faces drought conditions.

Even in Dallas, reservoirs were below needed levels, and some degree of water conservation was expected to stay in effect for months.

Long term, weather experts predict, precipitation will likely be down and temperatures relatively up -- meaning that spring and summer could bring additional drought-related problems.


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Photo: Cowboy Stony Jones herds cattle outside Dallas in October. The cattle were to be sorted and shipped north until the drought abates. Credit: Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times


Groundhog Day 2012: Will N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg be bitten again?

Groundhog Day 2012 is upon us. (You can almost feel the excitement in the air.) In just a few more hours, the official Groundhog Day ceremonies will begin. Of course we all want to know whether we are in for six more weeks of winter, but the real question on everyone's mind is this: 

Will New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg get bitten again?

What? You've never heard about the infamous encounter between Hizzoner and Staten Island Chuck? We'll recap.

It's Groundhog Day: Pick your groundhog

Staten Island Chuck is a lesser-known groundhog counterpart to Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog prognosticator in all the land. Staten Island Chuck lives at the Staten Island Zoo, and each year the community rallies around to see its most famous resident throw down his weather prediction.

Bloomberg does the honors. But on Groundhog Day 2009, Staten Island Chuck turned on Bloomberg and nipped him good. It seems the critter did not appreciate the mayor sticking his gloved hand into Chuck's cabin in a bid to coax him out. Bloomberg later used a few choice words to describe the encounter, leading to a flurry of headlines about how he cussed out poor Chuck. (See video above.)

The two will face off again Thursday at 7:30 a.m., according to a Staten Island Live story. And since we're talking about New Yorkers, here's what one of the commentators had to say about the possibility of another nip: "Please do the 'Dracula' on him, Chuck, and go for his neck this year!!"

As Groundhog Day lore and legend has it, if a groundhog ventures from its den and sees a shadow on Feb. 2, that's a sign we're in for six more weeks of harsh winter weather. But if the critter emerges from its den and sees no shadow, that means we can look forward to a mercifully short winter.


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Twitter / renelynch

Rare winter tornadoes rake Alabama; at least 2 killed, 100 injured

Storm damage in Trussville, Ala.

A line of rare winter tornadoes roared through Alabama early Monday morning, ripping apart homes and businesses and prompting the state’s governor to declare a state of emergency. Two people were reported killed.

The tornadoes combined with powerful thunderstorms and straight-line winds to topple trees and power lines, injuring at least 100 people. Windows were blown out of homes and cars as people were roused from sleep in the early morning hours.

Some tornadoes struck near neighborhoods ravaged by twisters that killed 240 people last spring, said Jennifer Ardis, press secretary for Gov. Robert Bentley. She said authorities were trying to confirm reports of a total of four people killed in the storms.

"We have reports of damage from at least seven counties," Ardis said.

Officials postponed a meeting previously scheduled for Monday to discuss the state’s response to last spring’s tornadoes.

Emergency workers were searching for victims and clearing trees and debris that blocked some people from leaving their homes. A 16-year-old girl was killed in the town of Clay and an 82-year-old man died in Oak Grove in north-central Alabama, according to local officials.

The worst damage was in Jefferson County, where Birmingham was devastated by last spring’s tornadoes, and in Chilton County in the center of the state.

Tornadoes were also reported in Arkansas, with hail and high winds whipping through Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois.

The Alabama tornadoes were spawned by a collision between warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico and a large cold front that dipped into the South from the Great Plains, said Mark Rose, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Birmingham.

"It’s very rare to see tornadoes here in January -- it’s just highly unusual," Rose said.

The tornadoes began in Mississippi and tore through Alabama between 2:30 and 8 a.m., Rose said. Three weather service survey teams were in affected areas Monday to determine the number and strength of the tornadoes, he said.

Bentley declared a state of emergency in all 67 Alabama counties. "The severe weather outbreak of last year is still fresh on our minds and is a reminder that we must take the threat of severe weather seriously," the governor said.

In Clay, northeast of Birmingham, Stevie Sanders hid with family members in the laundry room of their brick home as the storm hit and trees began snapping outside.

You could feel the walls shaking and you could hear a loud crash," Sanders told the Associated Press. "After that it got quiet, and the tree had fallen through my sister’s roof."


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Photo: Residents walk through the debris of their neighborhood after a possible tornado ripped through the Trussville, Ala., area in the early hours Monday. Credit: Butch Dill / Associated Press

Seattle headed back to what it knows best: rain


The Pacific Northwest storms that have plunged Seattle into weather mayhem -- first snow, then ice, then freezing rain, and now slush -- were headed Friday toward what the city knows best: rain.

A healing surge of warm air was creeping across western Washington, and by afternoon was expected to bring enough rain to start melting the snow that has paralyzed the city for much of the week.

Oregon, meanwhile, was still reeling under the double-whammy of melting snow followed by rain, with 17 rivers at or near flood stage and hundreds of homes in the Willamette Valley between Salem and Eugene evacuated in the face of rising floodwaters.

"The return of severe winter weather has overwhelmed communities across our state," Gov. John Kitzhaber said as he declared a state of emergency Thursday in Marion, Coos, Benton, and Lincoln counties -- a zone he said could be expanded.

Parts of Lane County saw more than 15 inches of rain fall over the last 48 hours, dramatic even by Oregon's wet standards. The Willamette River was expected to crest at midday, and most other rivers were starting to recede, though state officials worried that might be a temporary phenomenon.

"We're on the mend, but I'm thinking it's more of a lull. Because there are other storms coming, and I doubt the rivers will go down that much," Jennifer Chamberlain, spokeswoman for Oregon's emergency management agency, told the Los Angeles Times.

"We're still going to have some problems, and when another storm hits, we'll have to do it all again," she said.

The worst of the storm casualties happened when a car in the town of Albany, near Salem, was swept Wednesday evening from a grocery store parking lot and into the culvert of a nearby creek, killing Catherine McLaughlin, 18, and her 20-month-old son, and injuring 24-year-old Christopher Wilgus and his son Maliki, 5.

The boy remained in critical condition Friday, and the Oregonian spoke to Wilgus' father, Karl Wilgus, who said his son related a terrifying story of hitting a bump in the parking lot and being pulled into the swirling water nearby.

"He tried to break the window to get Cathy and the kids out, and couldn't," Wilgus told the paper. "He's repeated several times: 'I was trying to get at them. The water swept me away. I was just doing somersaults. I felt sure I was going to die.'"

In Seattle, dozens of flights were cancelled again at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Amtrak service was suspended between Portland and Seattle. About 250,000 homes in western Washington were without power, victims of the large numbers of snow and ice-laden trees that have toppled onto power lines.

Yet after two days of hunkering down, a larger number of commuters were braving the remaining ice and growing pools of slush and heading to work Friday. Temperatures were in the mid-30s by mid-morning and were expected to climb another 10 degrees, with rain on the way.

"We are melting. Slowly, but we're melting," National Weather Service meteorologist Mike McFarland said in an interview. "Southwest Washington will probably be a big, sloppy, wet mess for the next 36 hours or so."


Fire near Reno: 20 homes burned; 1 dead

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Photo: A car negotiates its way around a fallen tree in Kent, Wash., near Seattle. Credit: Jon Lok / Seattle Times/MCT

Fire near Reno: 20 homes burned; 1 dead; blaze at 50% containment


More than 20 homes have been destroyed by a brush fire sweeping through Nevada's the Washoe Valley area, officials said Friday, and at least one death has been reported in the fire zone.

The blaze has consumed more than 3,700 acres and forced thousands of people to flee, a Washoe County spokeswoman said Friday morning. About 2,000 people remained under orders to evacuate.

Although the fatality occurred in the fire zone, officials said they were still investigating whether it was a direct result of the blaze, which began Thursday.

Approximately 150 firefighters worked through the night battling the fire, which was believed to be about 50% contained Friday morning. About 400 more firefighters were expected Friday, said Mark Regan, a spokesman for the Sierra Fire Protection District.

In all, more than 700 people are assigned to the fire, including law enforcement officers and members of the Nevada National Guard, Regan said.

"We're going to work as best we can to secure the area," he said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, he said in a prepared statement.

Twenty homes have been lost to the fire, but officials said about 800 homes have been saved.

U.S. Highway 395 was closed and is expected to be out of service intermittently on Friday due to damage to power lines and guard rails, according to a statement released by officials. Commuters between the Reno-Sparks area and Carson City were advised to seek alternate routes through Fernley and Silver Springs.

The blaze is similar to a wildfire that destroyed about 30 homes around Reno in November. That fire forced the evacuation of 10,000 people.

The Reno area went 56 days without precipitation before snow this week, and the weather Friday and Saturday should help efforts to contain the fire, especially by evening, according to National Weather Service reports.

Wind gusts of up to 55 mph were expected early in the afternoon, a relative relief from the 80 mph winds that fanned the flames on Thursday, according to weather service meteorologist Mark Faucette. Even better, the weather system the winds are bringing could dump three-quarters of an inch of rain in the valleys of western Nevada, Faucette said.

"We don't expect much of a chance of rain today during the day, at least down on the fire," Faucette said. "By tomorrow morning, we could have snow down on the valley floor, a tiny little bit, like an inch."

The humidity is also expected to climb to about 35% to 40%, Faucette said. It dropped to about 10% on Thursday.


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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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