Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dodged a bullet? Don't say that

5:15 p.m., 9/24/05

Hurricane Rita was not unlike an extended heavy duty thunderstorm, according to Bossier City spokesman Mark Natale said Saturday afternoon following a 4 p.m. public safety briefing. The city reported no flooding, just a few trees down and scattered power outages that also knocked some traffic signals out. With the relatively rosy rainfall scenario from the National Weather Service -- an inch or so of rain Sunday, a quarter inch on Monday -- the city was expected to suspend its sandbag operation Sunday. Of course, after New Orleans thought it had "dodged a bullet," perhaps a little dash of pessimism could make us feel more secure.
Shreveport Police were reporting scattered problems where downed trees had blocked traffic. They included Hollywood at Sussex, the 800 block of Dalzell,he 2600-2700 block of West College and the 6000 block of East Ridge. Only two traffic lights were reported to be out, one on East Kings at Captain Shreve, and another on Jordan.

Tasers for police, chainsaws for deputies

Caddo Parish sheriff's patrol desk reported that a tree had fallen on a car around 2 Keatchie-Keithville at Preston roads, but information officer Cindy Chadwick said there appeared to be no serious injuries from that or any wreck. There had been a number of accidents where cars had driven into high water.
A lot of power lines were reported down in all directions across the parish. Highway 1 at Ellerbe is closed right now because of power lines. Other stretches of roads were similarly closed or parrtially blocked by trees. "We tell our deputies to bring their chainsaws from home,'' Chadwick said.

Craig Durrett, editorial page editor

Leaky shelter

2:40 p.m., 9/24/05

Hirsch Coliseum evacuees were out of the wind, but not the weather Saturday afternoon. Times reporter Francis McCabe said leaks in the roof were forcing people to scoot their cots, bedding and their few belongings around to dodge the drops of water. Power had gone out earlier but had since been restored by 2 p.m.
At a 10 p.m. press conference, Reid Brau of the local Red Cross said only a few spots at CenturyTel Arena were left among the eight shelters now in operation. He made an appeal for towels and wash cloths, blankets and cots. Even sleeping bags, foam pads and air mattresses.
Though about 1,400 were currently in authorized shelters, the local Red Cross has processed 2,400 evacuees over past weeks, thereby depleting supplies. Foam cups, paper towels and plates were also being sought at other shelters. Snacks and Gatorade were also being sought. As always, cash donations are especially valued by the Salvation Army, Red Cross and other relief agencies since money gives them the flexibility to meet needs as they arise.
Donations can be taken to shelters or today only at the American Red Cross office at 422 Linwood.
Liz Swaine of the city of Shreveport assured local residents that if high waters forced locals to evacuate there were plans in place to open up additional shelters for home folks.

Shelter survival tips
Terry Davis, an advocate of health care literacy at LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, sent an E-mail from Providence, R.I., that one of her colleagues at Emory University, Dr. Ruth Parker and health care providers working in shelters around the country, have developed a one sheet handout, "Health Tips for People Living in Shelters." Information also came from the Centers for Disease Control. It is written at a very basic level in either English or Spanish. It was illustrated by Lewis Kalmbach, an artist and advertising man, formerly of Shreveport.
The American College of Physicians Foundation is distributing it but it can be seen at
Tips include frequent hand washing, covering your mouth when you cough and keeping medicine in the bottles they came in. People who are in a shelter more than a month are encourage to ask to be tested for TB.

Craig Durrett, editorial page editor

How'd you sleep?

1:50 p.m., 9/24/05
My question to Times columnist and reporter Teddy Allen when he called in from a few miles north of the Intracoastal Waterway, in a place called Erath, was where did you and Hud (photographer Jim Hudelson) spend the night?
"A rich man's Hirsch" was how he described a Lafayette Fairfield Inn that didn't have power. They had not bedded down under a piece of plywood, as he had told executive editor Alan English.
After reporting on how Bayou Tige was flooding downtown Erath, he said that the two were getting ready to head down state Highway 14, west toward battered and soggy Lake Charles.
My E-mail continues to be flooded with reports from the governor's Task Force Pelican. The latest said that Gov. Kathleen Blanco sent a letter to President Bush requesting an expedited major disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana due to Hurricane Rita.
As of 9 a.m., 44 parishes have declared states of emergency due to effects of Hurricane Rita. To date, there are approximately 16,000 National Guard soldiers on the ground. Approximately 4,000 of the troops have been dedicated to Task Force Rita. In addition to the current troops on the ground, Gov. Blanco has requested up to 15,000 National Guard troops deploy to Louisiana and 15,000 Federal troops be prepared to deploy to Louisiana.

Craig Durrett, editorial page editor

Overwhelming underestimation

1:35 p.m. 9/24/05
This hurricane season continues to catch officials, from the federal level to local government, in underestimation mode. The latest evidence was the demand for sandbags from the city of Shreveport. Cars continued to stack up Saturday at the city's sandbag pickup point with a wait time of several hours. Once under the shed, the swarming workers loaded cars and trucks without drivers even having to leave their vehicles.
The city's options apparently are limited in expanding sites since they need a large shed to keep the sand dry and to have room for front-end loaders to scoop it up into tidy piles. But it's clearly a point that will need to be addressed with the next flooding scare. As for the public, it means that the troubles in New Orleans coupled with the projections of potential double-digit rainfall totals has gotten everyone's attention. An ounce (or bag) of prevention ..

Craig Durrett, editorial page editor

The drive in

11 a.m., 9/24/05

The 9:30 a.m. drive into The Times office in downtown Shreveport found streets and residential yards already littered with small broken limbs, leaves and an occasional strip of sheet metal blown from some commercial awning.
Driving north on East Kings Highway power crews were already at work near the intersection with Patton Avenue. The traffic light at East Kings and Captain Shreve Drive was out, so take care.
Hydroplaning was a distinct possibility on Youree Drive. Drop the speed.
I flipped on the TV in my office to find a press conference of public safety and relief agencies seeking to reassure the public everything was in hand.
Some power outages were reported by Bossier Parish Sheriff's spokesman Ed Baswell.
Shelters are at capacity save for a few spots at CenturyTel which finally opened Friday afternoon.
State Rep. Cedric Glover, a candidate in next year's Shreveport's mayor's race, was the only politician in the on-camera tableau of public safety and relief agency representatives. He offered thanks from the state Legislature for northwest Louisiana's hospitality to evacuees and appealed for additional shelter volunteers, particularly in those overnight shifts from midnight til dawn.
Poised city spokeswoman Liz Swaine did what she does so well, drawing from her years as a TV news anchor to smoothly coordinate time at the microphone from one spokesman to the other, and even throwing in some humor. Noting that she had asked everyone to mute their cell phones, putting them on a vibration mode, she remarked about the "sea of buzzing behind me'' from all steady calls that were coming in to the assembled people.

Craig Durrett, editorial page editor

Rita beginning to impact Shreveport-Bossier-City

9:48 9/23/05

Rita beginning to impact Shreveport-Bossier-City

Travel on area highways is becoming difficult as winds pick up, reaching 31 mph with gusts to 46 mph. If you are on the roads, you can feel the wind pushing the sides of the car and sense sudden hydroplaning as you make your way. I should know; I just drove I-49 and I-20. My house in south Shreveport lost power an hour ago, but the lights across the street were still on at that time.

While downtown still has power, who knows how long it will last. We had a flicker here at the office at 9:30 a.m. Our online efforts were interrupted for a few minutes. The newsroom went dark for a minute. 

KSLA-TV12 Storm Tracker meteorologist Ron Young says the highest winds are coming. Most of the eye wall is across the Sabine River, he says. Tornados could spawn as Ritas winds strengthen near Nagadoches, TX. The storm is moving at good clip, he said. There is a chance well see sustained tropical force winds later this afternoon and evening. Well see trees and power lines possibly coming down, Young added.

Rita is starting her downpour around town. Even though the storm is weakening, do not let down your guard. A tropical storm will have an impact for days and possibly weeks in our neighborhoods. The predicted 10-15 inches of rain will force people from some homes. Times Reporter Don Walker and Times flood tracker James Ramage just left to make rounds. They will call from locations they are monitoring.

Check back here in an hour or so for another note or two.

--Alan English, executive editor

"We're OK"

Lake Charles: Times photographer Shane Bevel called to let us know everyone is OK. The roof at the newspaper there was breached about 3 a.m. today and water was coming in. But he and reporter Yancey Roy are eager to get out and assess the damage. Look for updates from them later today on

Friday, September 23, 2005

Lake Charles: They are on their own

By Yancey Roy
Gannett News Service: 10:49 p.m. 9/23/05
LAKE CHARLES, La. -- Nearly all of low-lying, marsh-filled Cameron Parish evacuated before Hurricane Rita made landfall.
Except for three 40-something-year-old men who, at last check, were still in a trailer in the town of Cameron near the Gulf of Mexico, officials said Friday.
"The military went to their house. The Sheriff's Office went to their house. OEP went to their house," said Sheriff Theos Duhon, referring to Office of Emergency Preparations.
"We talked to them for two days. They said they were not going to go out."
That flies in face of 99.9 percent of the 9,500 or so folks in this parish. Every since Hurricane Audrey roared through in 1957, killing about 500, residents generally bolt as soon as there is a hurricane warning.
"Their parents went through Audrey," Duhon said incredulously.
At 5 p.m., on the way out to Lake Charles, the Sherriff's Department placed road blocks at the Cameron line more than 20 miles north of the holdouts. "If they stayed where they stayed," Duhon said, "Well, we'll find them when we get back."

Trucker rescued

9:28 p.m. 9/23/05
From Yancey Roy, Gannett News Service:
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office confirmed they
rescued a trucker after his 18-wheeler laid over atop
the Interstate 10 bridge. Few other details at this

Night notes on 9/23/05

8:20 p.m. 9/23/05
Night notes
The swirl of Rita's clouds cover the entire state of Louisiana. Wind advisories spread throughout the state – set at 30-40 mph in the upper corners. Rita's rains are starting a steady pace in the south moving north. Thunderstorms and tornados looms – promising flash floods in low-lying areas.

Tonight, families sit in shelters wondering whether they will find their homes tomorrow. Journalists bed down after a tiring day of chasing a storm which is slowly having an impact on an entire state.

In Teddy Allen's column tomorrow, reporting from Lafayette:
"South and west in Abbeville, James LeBlanc screwed plywood over the windows of his bedroom, where he would ride out Rita. 'Lilli (in 2002) just knocked these porch posts out,' he said. 'We'll see what happens tonight.'"

This from Times photographer Shane Bevel in Lake Charles at 7:32 p.m.:
"The press corp is bunkered down for the night. Many of us are staying at the Lake Charles American Press building. Reporters and photographers from Shreveport, Dallas, Houston, Lafayette, Austin and Lake Charles are all present.

The weather is beginning to worsen, and we are all in for the night. Periods of heavy rain and strong winds can be heard through the solid brick walls, and the lights have begun to flicker at times. Each time a band lets up and the weather breaks, it comes back that much stronger the next time around.

Earlier in the day the sun, I met Michael and Lori Reinauer leaving their boathouse over the edge of Lake Charles. They are staying in their home just off the lake front for the duration of the storm. As soon as they saw my camera they said 'Oh, another one of you!' Driving around and visiting with people it is obvious that aside from a few hard core residents there are only media and emergency personel in this otherwise dead town."

A few displaced journalist are here in Shreveport-Bossier City, having tracked evacuees from their hometowns. Eric Cormier from the American Press, Lake Charles, is planning a shower in the Times locker rooms beside a press that dates back to the '60s. He filed a report from Minden on his newspaper's blog earlier.

Some news may break overnight and journalists are watching as they get some rest, knowing tomorrow and Sunday are big reporting days. Times Melody Brumble will be sending updates from OEP in Baton Rouge. A team that includes our John Hill is poised to report New Orleans news at first light. Craig Durrett, editorial page editor, will be in the Times offices to help get the story online through this blog and helping New Media Editor Scott Anderson post updates and organize information which will be flying fast and furious.

We have news crews throughout the state to reveal the impact of Rita's winds and waters. A full partnership with our sister newspapers in Alexandria, Lafayette, Monroe and Opelousas strengthens this report for our communities.

Today was just a news coverage warm-up for some. It was the beginning of severe storm coverage on the coast. We expect the wind and rain to force a two-pronged focus tomorrow: the statewide story and the local impact of Rita's rains.

At my house, we have created little dams around the front door and garage to protect our belongings. We are a little relieved that the storm has weakened for the sake of those in Rita's eye and for the safety of our family. You see, we have these two gigantic pine trees in the front yard. I hope they bend.

-- Alan English, executive editor

Make way for Mother Nature

5:56 p.m. 9/23/05

Make way for Mother Nature

Gannett Louisiana bureau reporter John Hill gathered this detail in his leveeoverflow story being produced:

Brig. Gen. Miles Deering, head of the National Guard forces in New Orleans, arrived to survey the waterfall into the Lower Ninth Ward. Atop the drawbridge on the west side, winds gusted to 40 knots.
"Obviously, there has been a breach or an overflow on the east side," Deering said.
 "You can't do anything about Mother Nature," Deering said, blaming the water on the Rita storm surge and periodic rains, which were predicted to get worse overnight Friday.

Hills reports will appear in The Times, Shreveport, La., and sister newspapers in Louisiana.

Photo note

5:30 p.m. 9/23/05

Times photographer Shane Bevel reports from Lake Charles He says one of his better photographs shows a little boy upset while being shuttled to safety. The little boy had to leave his dog behind. Exacts were sketchy as reports were filed in haste by cell phone. Bevel is trying to transmit photographs from the day to The Times for tomorrows newspaper.

Putting news coverage puzzle together

The Times afternoon Page One meeting not unexpectedly was all about Rita. Though the storm may dominate Page One, it didn't mean everyone was on the same page about what stories to showcase. One debate: should a look back at the area's last major flood in 1991 be put on Page One or would it confuse readers thinking they were looking at current photos?
Most interesting photo: a line of cars in a four-hour wait for sandbags at a Shreveport public works site. That would play with the preparation report. As for preparation, next to my chair in the meeting room was a small wire buggy filled with fruit, junk food and drinks to help the staff weather the weekend ahead. It reminded me that even bureaucrats and state officials have to take personal preparations as well. At mid-day I had interviewed the Commissioner of Higher Education, Joseph Savoie, by cell phone as he ran supply errands in Baton Rouge before Rita arrived.
The reports about rainfall amounts locally had decreased from double-digit forecasts to single digits during the day, but such information, as well as hurricane charting, are such a fluid business. It points up the freedom that on-line publications now give newspapers in updating information, rather than taking your best shot at press time but knowing it could all drastically alter by the time readers open their paper the next morning.
The editors at the news meeting recounted how reporter and photographers teams were posted in New Orleans, Lake Charles and at-large somewhere in another corner of southwest Louisiana (For the moment their exact location was unknown. They'll turn up.).

Craig Durrett, editorial page editor

Centenary, LSUS close campuses

Centenary and LSUS have closed their campuses because of Hurricane Rita.

LSUS Chancellor Vincent J. Marsala said today that his campus will house AEP SWEPCO employees brought in to help with power outages caused by Hurricane Rita. The weekend closure includes Noel Memorial Library; all campus labs including computer labs; all credit and noncredit classes offered through the academic colleges and the Division of Continuing Education and Public Service, and any other student or community activities planned in campus facilities.

Centenary is expected to be closed until Tuesday, with classes resuming on Wednesday.More information is available at Centenary also intends to provide update messages via voicemail at any of the following numbers: 318-869-5011, 318-208-4956, and another number to be posted on the web site as soon as possible. The campus radio station, KSCL at 91.3FM, will be making announcements on the hour to provide updated and current information to the campus.

Scene from south La.

Times reporter Teddy Allen sent this text message from his cell phone at 3 p.m.:
"Boardin' houses, biz, (are) hopin' Bayou Vermillion doesn't swell more. Steady. Gray. Wet. All is closed. Gas scarce. Lots of sky watchin' and looking south."
Allen is part of a team of Times journalists traveling into the path of the storm. This report is from somewhere in southwest La.
-- Sent from wireless device --

Severity of local forecast downgraded

Hurricane Rita’s apparent muster is slightly dwindling, and that’s added a hint of a positive note for the weekend forecast for Shreveport-Bossier City.

According to the National Weather Service in Shreveport, it’s anticipated the two-city area could see rainfall of 6 to 8 inches beginning tonight through Sunday. That’s as much as a 2- to 4-inch decline in Thursday’s initial weekend outlook, based on Rita’s then-Category 5 status. Rita is now a Category 3 with sustained winds of 125 mph.

Mark Frazier, warning coordination meteorologist, said higher amounts of rain could be generated by the hurricane south of Caddo-Bossier parishes, and particularly along the state line between Texas and Louisiana.

Rita is anticipated to make landfall at about 7 a.m. Saturday. Frazier said if the hurricane stalls over northeast Texas, it would generate heavier rain for northwest Louisiana.

Winds this weekend in Shreveport-Bossier are anticipated at 20 to 30 mph on Saturday, with lighter winds on Sunday. It was initially forecast that winds could be as high as 50 to 80 mph.

“The hurricane winds have come down, so it has decreased,” Frazier said.

Sandbag traffic jam

2:00 p.m. 9/23/05    Sandbag traffic jam

Shreveport Police Department spokesperson Kacee Hargrave advises people to only pick up sandbags on Mansfield Road if theyve flooded in the past. She said there are lines of people trying to get sandbags. They have enough, but the rush is causing traffic to back up. She said if they want sandbags, be prepared for a long wait.

--Alan English, executive editor

New Orleans levee update

Story coming on

Early parts of Rita break through levees


By Melody Brumble


BATON ROUGE -- Water is flowing over or seeping through two spots along the Industrial Canal in New Orleans. One area was breached during Katrina but patched about a week ago, said Dan Hitchings of the Army Corps of Engineers.

An eerie mood

1:00 p.m. 9/23/05

An eerie mood in South Louisiana…

Times columnist and reporter Teddy Allen and photojournalist Jim Hudelson are positioned in southwest Louisiana, providing reports online and for each newspaper. I spoke to Teddy by phone this morning. Many businesses in Opelousas and the surrounding areas are closed – even a Wal-Mart. There is an eerie feeling in the air. This was also mentioned by Opelousas Managing Editor Lisa Faust (former Times assistant managing editor).

Teddy will report scene-setting descriptions as Hudelson works to capture, visually, the effects of Rita on our neighbors south of Alexandria.

What might occur?

Former Associate Editorial Page Editor Martha Fitzgerald sent me an e-mail this morning, reminding us that Morningside neighborhoods flooded in a storm many years ago. Some staffers remember a series of thunderstorms in 1991 when people were using boats to navigate Youree Drive. Will we see that again?

We prepare

I bought a generator yesterday, moved the lawn furniture and bought a few extra batteries. Everyone should be readying for power outages that we hope will never come. Prepare for the worst; hope for the best.

At the office, we set up a second newsroom connected to a generator. A myriad of planning is going on to assure we publish a newspaper and get it to you quickly. As a matter of expediency, we will be inserting Sunday circulars in the Saturday paper (delivering to all Sunday readers). This will help speed delivery in the middle of a rain storm.

A beefed up Baton Rouge bureau is chasing news stories such as the levee break in New Orleans and reports from the Office of Emergency Preparedness. Times reporter Melody Brumble shared in a recent report:

War against hurricanes now a two-front battle

 She goes on to highlight the gas concerns in her story, “ Instead of collecting in Baton Rouge, people headed north, with many running out of gas in Alexandria and Monroe after bypassing shelter checkpoints," said Col. Jeff Smith, deputy director of OEP.

Smith estimated that 2,000 evacuees are without shelter in Louisiana because all the spaces here are full. Plans call for them to be flown elsewhere from Alexandria and possibly bused from a collection point in Minden to shelters in Arkansas.

"Gas shortages are adding to the problem.”

National Hurricane center reports a change to Rita

Hurricane Rita, making a beeline toward the Texas coastline with landfall expected by 7 a.m. Saturday, has been downgraded to Category 3, with winds of 125 mph.

Alan English, executive editor

Hurricane Rita downgraded to Category 3

Hurricane Rita, making a beeline toward the Texas coastline with landfall expected by 7 a.m. Saturday, has been downgraded to Category 3, with winds of 125 mph.