Good News Blog

Hurricane Katrina

Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

1286 children reunited with their families

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Gold Coast parents that the heroic thing: they would load their children on to the rescue helicopters first.

Having no idea about which rescue helicopter was which, here and soon found himself in the horror situation of having no ID where do children were investing no way to contact them.

Children often ended up in shelters hundreds of miles away from the parents.

On March 16, 2006 the last child was reunited with his parents.

Much of the work of locating and reuniting children with their parents was done by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The center used to techniques to reunite families: old-fashioned shoe work, beating the streets and talking with people, and spreading the word to the media.

The Hurricane Katrina hotline and website were used to accept information provided by the public.

Public support was so huge with up to 20 million hits a day to the web site that it soon brought the server down. The center appeal to Sun Microsystems for help; within a day a high-end server was delivered and set up to help manage the web traffic.

The center itself also so local to credit on to the media, calling it the media’s finest hour.

CNN for example was doing daily into fugues on the scene about stories of lost children.

People magazine read a story about a two-year-old girl in a shelter in Mississippi. Using her first name but no last name, because nobody knew it, Kalite Unknown was reunited in use in with her mother after her mother told CNN.

In yet another case one of the centers team members was trying to get information from another two-year-old girl. The girl was too traumatized to give any information about herself, her family, or her address.

Working on a whim to team member took a digital photo of the girl and showed it to her. The little girl pointed to the digital image and said “That’s Gabby!”

A database search showed that the mother was looking for a Gabriella Alexander: mother and daughter were reunited days after.

Many lessons were learned from the work of reuniting families after Hurricane Katrina.

The federal government has designated the center is an national emergency child location Center in case of future disasters.

The center would like to remind everybody to be properly prepared for disaster at all times.

You should know where your children are at all times. When disaster strikes keep the family together.

Make sure you have up-to-date photos with your children and carry one of them wish you at all times.

In general, but especially when a disaster strikes, make sure your child has proper identification which include name, birth date I’m a address is, and phone numbers.

During an disaster use a sharpie or another marker to write this type of information on the body of younger children.

Take digital photos of all family members, or have regular photos bitch spiced, an e-mail or mail them to your extended family and your friends. Talk as early as today which are children what they should do in case they become separated from the family.

Friday, May. 9, 2008

Man who lost homes in Katrina claims $97M Powerball prize

A construction company owner who lost two homes in Hurricane Katrina claimed a $97 million Powerball prize, a jackpot won off a ticket he bought at a convenience store where he stopped to buy his wife a gallon of milk.

When he turned in the winning ticket, Carl Hunter became the largest Powerball winner in Louisiana’s history. He won the jackpot in January, but the 73-year-old small businessman waited nearly four months to claim the prize.

An avid lottery player, Hunter said he already had bought a Powerball ticket on Jan. 16 at the gas station less than two blocks from his home in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie. But he stopped at the station again that day to buy milk — at the request of his wife, Dianne — and got a second “quick pick” ticket.

“I had some change, and one dollar was used to buy this ticket,” Hunter said Thursday at the Louisiana Lottery Corp. headquarters in Baton Rouge, where he claimed his prize.

“It’s all about milk,” his wife said, smiling.

The couple, surrounded by cameras, was decidedly low-key about the multimillion dollar win, saying they didn’t have specific plans for the money — besides retirement and the rebuilding of a camp lost to Katrina.

“I’m retiring, you know, naturally,” Carl Hunter said.

Hunter took a lump sum payment that will give him $33.9 million after taxes, according to lottery officials. Asked why he waited so long to turn in the winning ticket, Hunter said he wanted to wrap up some of his construction work and finish his outstanding contracts. In fact, Hunter’s wife Dianne said he was still at work this week.

“I don’t think about buying elaborate cars or homes,” Carl Hunter said.

Hunter said he owned two homes that were destroyed in 2005 by Katrina, and he and his wife moved into a Metairie home she owned after the storm, the home that was near the gas station where he bought his winning ticket.

The multimillion dollar win wasn’t Hunter’s first winning lottery ticket. He said he won $5,000 off a ticket a few years ago.

West Metairie Shell, the gas station where Hunter bought his ticket, will get $25,000 for selling the winning ticket. The station, tucked among brick ranch homes and raised wooden houses in a middle-class neighborhood, lost its roof during Katrina, and the store was looted.

Thursday, May. 24, 2007

New Orleans Neighborhood Rescues Itself

Paul Pablovich was the very picture of a good neighbor as he shoveled debris off the curb and mowed other people’s lawns in Lakeview, a middle-class section of town that was swamped with 15 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina and is now a patchwork of gutted and newly built homes.

But he wasn’t doing it entirely out of the goodness of his heart. He was protecting his investment.

Pablovich, an entrepreneur who lived in a different part of New Orleans before Katrina, bought a bungalow on the street from an elderly resident after the storm, renovated it and plans to live there with his fiancee. He purchased a second abandoned house for $107,000, fixed it up and hopes to resell it for $214,000. He would like to “flip” several other properties on the block, too.

The way he sees it, capitalism is the road to recovery for Lakeview.

“It’s how the country was built,” Pablovich, 38, said of the $600,000 he has pumped into the real estate market. “Free-market economics will kick in.”

Lakeview, a 7,000-home mostly white enclave in a city that is predominantly black, has emerged as a success story in the reconstruction of New Orleans through entrepreneurs like Pablovich and strong civic organization that existed long before the storm.

In contrast, hard-hit black middle-class neighborhoods in eastern New Orleans do not have the same financial means and civic organization, and are not drawing nearly as much private investment. As a result, their recovery is crawling.

“If you’re going to speculate, you’re much more likely to speculate in Lakeview than you would in the east,” said Louisiana State University sociology professor Jeanne Hulbert. “But you could end up, potentially, with a social and economic structure in the city that really carves out the black middle class.”

Nearly 21 months after Katrina, Lakeview has lights and other utilities, but still has no firehouse and no public school.

But it is a community so fiercely independent it tried in the 1990s to secede from the city. And its residents – who include business executives and other professionals – have considerable organizational skills.

Lakeview’s churches arranged for volunteers around the country to plant trees along Canal Boulevard, the main drag. And recently, nearly 1,000 original and potential new residents came to a civic association tutorial on how to navigate the city’s bureaucracy and find a reputable contractor.

In fact, the civic association drew up a list of recommended contractors by running credit checks on them and consulting the Better Business Bureau.

The group is so organized it has compiled its own data on rebuilding, finding in a February survey that 67 percent of Lakeview’s lots were in some stage of transformation. Seventeen percent were newly inhabited, just over 26 percent were under repair, and 23 percent had been demolished to pave the way for rebuilding.

In contrast, neighborhood leaders in eastern New Orleans, which encompasses four ZIP codes to Lakeview’s one, are just now undertaking a house-to-house count.

Independent research, at first glance, suggests Lakeview and eastern New Orleans have rebuilt at similar rates. GCR and Associates Inc. found last week that based on utility hookups, close to 36 percent of residents in the Lakeview ZIP code were back, versus 33 percent in the eastern New Orleans ZIP codes.

However, Richard Campanella, associate director of Tulane and Xavier universities’ Center for Biomedical Research, found that the flooding in Lakeview was, by some measures, far more severe. For example, nearly 22 percent of homes in Lakeview got more than 8 feet of water, compared with 3.5 percent in eastern New Orleans.

Lakeview has eclipsed eastern New Orleans in real estate sales since Katrina. Sixty-nine houses were sold there nine months before the disaster, compared with 147 during the past nine months of recovery, a 113 percent jump. In eastern New Orleans, 215 single-family homes were sold in the nine months before Katrina, and 287 during the past nine months, a 33 percent increase.

As he painted over the rust on an iron fence that ringed his family’s home in eastern New Orleans, Hank Long said it was obvious to him that his part of town was rebuilding with sweat equity more often than financial equity.

“In Lakeview, many of those houses were already paid for. A lot of people are still paying their mortgages here,” said Long, a 60-year-old black man. “Nobody has big money here. They gutted out their house, and that’s as far as they got. Whatever they could do, they did on their own.”

Hulbert of LSU said: “You have to remember the black middle class only took hold in the 1960s. That is different from several generations of middle-class life. Many middle-class blacks in New Orleans were the first in their families to go to college, and it appears many had their entire savings tied up in their homes.”

David Bell, president of the East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission, which formed in March to bind together 15 area groups, said a lack of private investment means eastern New Orleans is much more dependent on government recovery aid, with all the bureaucracy and politics that entails.

For example, a centerpiece of the eastern New Orleans redevelopment plan is a proposed $100 million shopping strip. But federal grants for the project will not be fully released until the city comes up with 10 percent.

Back in Lakeview, residents like to say that they ask mostly one thing of the city: for it to get out of the way.

TKTMJ Inc., a builder that is selling modular homes in the neighborhood, found the area so profitable that it established an office in Lakeview and has dubbed one of its designs “The Lakeview.”

Tommy Callia, a sales representative with the company, noted that most of those able to rebuild are middle class and white.

“I think we’re not going to be as diverse as we once were, and that’s going to be sad,” he said. “You can say it’s a little like a gumbo: If you don’t have all the ingredients, something is missing in the taste.”

Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007

Miracle project under way

Too expensive to be renovated and too historically significant to be torn down, Pamela Bolar’s West Fourth Street house was deemed a total loss after Hurricane Katrina had done its worst.

That left the mother of two in a cramped trailer with two teenage daughters, praying – along with the local United Way chapter – for divine intervention.

“We kept that case in what I call ‘the miracle pool,'” said Sheila Varnado, executive director of Recover, Restore, Rebuild Southeast Mississippi, the United Way’s long-term Katrina recovery arm known as R3SM for short. “If a miracle came along, we’d pull the case out and do something with it.”

Several unforeseen marvels later, what once seemed unthinkable is just a month away – Bolar and her daughters will move into a brand-new home next month.

It’s the first time that R3SM, which has provided house repairs to a raft of uninsured or underinsured hurricane victims, is providing a client a house that’s being built from scratch.

“Words can’t express how I truly feel about this,” said Bolar, who explained that serious health issues keep her from working. “It’s just like a big house coming down from heaven to me.”

More specifically, it came from the upper Midwest.

A church group from Orland Park Christian Reformed Church, a congregation in a Chicago suburb flush with talented professional construction workers, determined it wanted to build a new home for a hurricane victim and asked R3SM to find an appropriate client.

Bolar – whose application for aid R3SM initially had to turn down because her needs were beyond their ability to help – was at the top of the list, Varnado said.

The miracles seemed to come in quick succession after that.

Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church donated four plots of land on Duke Avenue when R3SM asked for just one; a Bobcat from Larry Johnson Construction cleared the plot over the weekend; R3SM’s building partner, Carpenter’s Helper, found a way to lay a foundation in the rain.

And Monday, a group of 16 from Orland Park had erected the skeleton of a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,150-square-foot home before noon.

“Our purpose is to encourage people to use their gifts with a servant’s heart for helping others,” said Orland Park group leader Don Waterlander, his jeans caked with red mud from the construction site where his colleagues were nailing beams into a house frame with dizzying speed.

The group – affiliated with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s Disaster Response Services, widely known as the Greenshirts – is bunking at Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Wright House, he said.

Two more teams will come in successive weeks, and the project – including about $45,000 in donated building materials, heating and cooling systems, plumbing and electrical work – should be done next month.

That means Bolar and her daughters finally will get a bit of privacy.

“I can’t wait,” she said. “It’s really something to be in such small living quarters … it’s been a big adjustment for us.”

Though it’s unclear whether R3SM will be able to build homes for other clients, Varnado said the Duke Avenue house – and the string of miracles that made it happen – is an achievement in itself.

For Waterlander and his group of trained builders, the work itself is compensation.

“It’s just great to help people,” he said.

Monday, Jan. 15, 2007

Publicity surrounds embryo rescued during hurricaine Katrina

Glen and Rebekah Markham are a bit taken aback by the worldwide publicity surrounding their child, scheduled to arrive by Caesarean section on Tuesday.

News outlets from as far away as Singapore are enthralled with the story of officers using flat-bottomed boats to rescue the child’s frozen embryo from a sweltering hospital in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The couple expected that maybe the story would show up in a local newspaper, and provide a page for the baby’s scrapbook.

“We never expected this much attention,” Rebekah Markham said Sunday.

The publicity has put them back in touch with childhood friends and neighbours. It’s also made it harder to get ready for the baby – preparations further hampered by the fact that Glen Markham can’t lift much of anything just now, or even install the baby car seat.

Markham, a New Orleans police officer, has been on disability since Dec. 3 when he wrenched his back wrestling a wanted man to the ground.

“We haven’t even picked out a name yet,” Rebekah Markham said.

That’s not because there’s a shortage of suggestions. They’ve ruled out Katrina, but friends and co-workers have suggested storm-related names, including Harry Cane for a boy and Cat Five for a girl.

Her husband’s choices include Duke and Nitro.

“I said, ‘I think that is a wrestler,”‘ Rebekah Markham said.

“Nitro could be liquid nitrogen, because that’s what saved him,” Glen Markham said. “For a girl, I like Breeze.”

When the storm hit, Glen Markham was assigned to the west bank of New Orleans, which didn’t flood. Most of his time in the next weeks was spent preventing looting and catching looters.

But the five frozen embryos that held the couple’s chance to give their son, Witt, a brother or sister were at a hospital in eastern New Orleans, which got some of the worst flooding.

Weeks after the storm, Rebekah Markham was afraid her embryos were gone. The embryos were among 1,400 frozen in canisters of liquid nitrogen at a hospital that housed one of the two labs for The Fertility Institute, the clinic which helped the Markhams create Witt.

The canisters can keep their contents frozen for weeks – but they’re designed for use in an air-conditioned room, not a building where temperatures were soaring into the high 30s during a hot September without any electricity.

Dr. Belinda “Sissy” Sartor helped lead a rescue expedition with officers from the Louisiana State Police and the Illinois Conservation Police, who were brought in because they had flat-bottomed boats. The officers plan to send the Markhams baby presents, said Illinois Conservation Police Lt. Eric Bumgarner.

The Markhams’ relief at learning the embryos were safe was far more than just knowing they wouldn’t have to pay another US$12,000 for a second round of in-vitro fertilization.

“We see our little boy – we see what the potential of those little embryos is,” Rebekah Markham said. “It meant more to us than a few cells frozen in a hospital.”

Witt is all boy, all energy, all two-year-old. His favourite word is “No!” Close behind is “tractor” – his green plastic battery-powered model, on which he zips around the yard.

At two, he doesn’t understand that he’s about to get a lot of competition for his parents’ attention. It will be good for him, the Markhams said. They said they’ll probably have him choose the new baby’s name – putting their top picks into a hat, and having Witt pull out one for a boy and one for a girl.

Friday, Dec. 15, 2006

Dog, man sundered by Katrina, reunited

More than a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans Steven Cure has been reunited with his best friend, dog Rocky.

“I knew he was alive,” Cure told the New York Daily News. “I never gave up, but I had to let go.”

Cure last saw Rocky as hurricane winds hit New Orleans and he left to help his parents evacuate. Rising waters cut him off from his home and dog.

Rocky, a boxer-Akita mix, was rescued by search crews who combed the city looking for abandoned pets. In February, he was sent to New York State to the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton on Long Island.

Luckily, Rocky, an older dog, was not adopted. A few weeks ago, Cure finally learned his whereabouts and on Thursday arrived at the shelter.

Rocky wagged his tail enthusiastically as Cure asked him, “What do you say, Rock? You remember me?”

Friday, Nov. 17, 2006

Dog lost in flood returned to owner

In the chaos of a freakish downpour as a river of water, mud and debris gushed down Pershing Avenue, Mary Larriba’s dog, Feather, disappeared into the sodden night. [Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About The Event That Changed History]

The Oct. 13 storm cell that pummeled a north San Bernardino neighborhood with 2 inches of rain in less than an hour sent torrents rushing through 18 homes, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

Larriba was at work during the storm and had no way of knowing that Feather had gotten loose.

“He’s an escape artist,” she said.

The young chow mix was one of Larriba’s great joys.

“He’s the spark around here, and I missed him,” she said. “It was lonely out here without him.”

Her home suffered damage to carpets and to property and cabinets in the garage.

But that was nothing compared to losing the dog with such a happy, rambunctious personality.

She had adopted him as a puppy after she saw him get hit by a car in a supermarket parking lot. Surprisingly, he wasn’t hurt.

It appeared he had another surprise in him. Feather survived the flood and wound up at the home of a neighbor who didn’t know where he belonged.

The neighbor called a small rescue group called Tina’s Hope, which specializes in finding homes for cats that wind up in shelters.

When the neighbor couldn’t reach anyone in the rescue group, she had to take Feather to the animal shelter, said Marty Layes of Tina’s Hope.

The group was finally contacted and managed to make sure the dog wasn’t euthanized while searching for his owner.

After reading a newspaper account about another neighbor who was worried about the missing dog, they were able to track down Larriba and arrange for Feather to be reunited with her.

She was immensely grateful for the help from Tina’s Hope.

“If it hadn’t been for all their hard work, he would have been put down,” she said.

Unfortunately, Feather was off to the veterinarian on Thursday.

Since coming home more than a week ago, the normally spry Feather was listless, losing weight and had a cough.

Larriba is thrilled he’s home and just hopes he gets well soon.

“When he’s feeling good, he’s all over the place. He’s a friendly, happy dog.”

The vet prescribed a stronger antibiotic and a cough suppressant.

“He’s a member of my family “I’m so glad to have him back.”

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006

Charity fixes 1,000th hurricane-damaged home

Today a group of Dubuque Catholic Charities volunteers from Dubuque will tear into the wreckage of Isaac Bolden’s home in the Gentilly quarter of New Orleans.

The structure is the 1,000th home Catholic Charities volunteers have rescued in the year since Hurricane Katrina inundated the city and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. [Unnatural Disaster: The Nation on Hurricane Katrina]

The 10-member demolition crew, led by the Rev. Jack Paisley of Dubuque, is made up of members of Resurrection Catholic parish in Dubuque.

“We have two more groups who are going in February,” said Sister Francine Quillin, pastoral associate. “We have a very active social justice committee in our parish. ”

For the most part, the Catholic Charities crews have focused their efforts on helping elderly and disabled homeowners begin the clean-up process. The Bolden home was inundated by 10 feet of water. Bolden did not have flood insurance and he has experienced major health problems.

Bolden is currently living in an apartment in Atlanta. He is traveling by train to thank the volunteers, according to Corinne Knight, spokesperson for Catholic Charities in the New Orleans archdiocese.

“A lot of people are so moved by the experience that they want to do more,” Knight said. “They want to continue their relationship with the community, something we are so grateful for.” [Rebuilding Your Broken World]

Operation Helping Hands began over Thanksgiving weekend last year and has taken off largely by way of word-of-mouth organizing, organizers said.

“A thousand homes gutted means that 1,000 families have started to rebuild not only their homes, but also their lives,” said Joan Diaz, project manager.

To date, 6,848 volunteers participating in Operation Helping Hands have gutted 999 homes and given 178,641 hours of service valued at more than $5.4 million, Knight said. More than 3,000 volunteers from across the United States are scheduled to participate in the project through March 2007. About 1,000 homes remain on the waiting list.

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006

Oprah’s Angel Network reaches out to Katrina victims

Oprah Winfrey, thousands of her fans and teams of architects are working to help families rebuild.

Oprah’s Angel Network is paying for the rehabilitation of 70 storm-damaged houses and the construction of four model homes for families who lost everything with a $3 million grant to the East Biloxi Coordination and Relief Center. Architecture for Humanity is designing the models and using other contributions to build a fifth house.

City Councilman Bill Stallworth, executive director of the Relief Center, revealed Winfrey’s involvement with permission from the network.

“She puts her money where her mouth is,” Stallworth said. “I just love that about her.”

The celebrity covers the charity’s operating costs so 100 percent of the donations it receives go directly to relief efforts. The charity has also given the Local Initiatives Support Corporation $2 million to repair, rebuild or build 80 homes in D’Iberville, Miss., and New Iberia, La.

Winfrey helped organize relief efforts immediately after Hurricane Katrina and broadcast her show from Waveland, Miss., on Sept. 7. Representatives of her charity later met with Stallworth and toured East Biloxi. Construction of the model homes is expected to begin in January; some of the rehabilitations are under way.

“We have three homes, one complete and two pretty complete,” Stallworth said. “We are starting a round of another 10..”

Architecture for Humanity was founded in 1999 to promote design solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. In Biloxi, architects were given the task of designing homes that would cost between $90,000 and $125,000 to build. Cameron Sinclair, one of the founders of the charity, said volunteer architects have embraced the task.

“All these families have is the land they own,” he said. “How do you make it financially viable for a family to grow?”

Three models at the relief center show the answers from three firms, MC2, Marlon Blackwell and Studio Gang Architects. MC2, a Houston-based firm owned by two Vietnamese brothers, came up with the “adaptable bungalow,” which combines elements of Southern and Asian architecture. Marlon Blackwell’s “pinecone house” exposes geometric structural supports and an open-air concept. Studio Gang’s “porch dog” looks like a mod beach house.

All will be built on pilings to comply with FEMA’s recommended base elevations. They will go on scattered sites in flood zones, but none will be built near the shoreline where casino companies and land speculators are buying property, Stallworth said. The families selected for the houses represent the diversity of East Biloxi, he said.

Mike Grote, a coordinator with Architecture for Humanity, said it was no easy task narrowing down the applications. The organization has a goal of building two more model homes, but needs funding.

The Relief Center is no longer taking applications for model homes, but it is still taking applications for rehab projects.

Thursday, Sep. 21, 2006

Byers is a hero of Katrina

Seabees are known more for their construction and battle skills than their prowess in the water. But retired Seabee Doug Byers put his swimming skills to the test the day of Hurricane Katrina when he was working as a Harrison County sheriff’s deputy in D’Iberville.

His long swim, and the lifesaving efforts that came with it, earned Byers the honor of Law Enforcement Officer of the Year from the Mississippi Veterans of Foreign Wars. He won the award over other deputies from throughout the state’s 82 counties.

“We all did our best,” the modest Byers said when he received the award this week at the D’Iberville City Council meeting. But others say there’s more to it than that.

“He’s a true hero. He rose above,” Harrison County Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. said.

The story begins with Byers, who has been on patrol in the city for three years, setting out the morning of the hurricane to rescue District 1 Constable Windy Swetman, who had reported by phone that floodwaters were rising around his D’Iberville home. But the five-ton Army truck Byers was driving stalled and became engulfed in surge waters and he found himself in danger of drowning.

Byers struck out swimming in search of higher ground. He came upon a man and two women struggling to stay afloat in the water. Calling to them that he was a sheriff’s deputy, Byers pulled the trio to him as the flood swept all four people down Central Avenue.

He saved the women by putting them inside a huge drainage pipe that was floating by, then took the man to safe ground elsewhere.

Byers then went to a shelter at D’Iberville High School, found help and set out again to successfully retrieve the people he had rescued.

“He did his duty, but that’s not what I thought was extraordinary,” said sheriff’s Capt. Windy Swetman, Byers’ supervisor and the son of Constable Swetman. “He literally put those people’s lives in his hands and he never wavered one time.”

Swetman nominated Byers for the VFW award. As for his own father, the senior Swetman survived the floods by taking refuge in a tree for several hours.

“Even the buzzards wouldn’t take him,” Payne joked.

Monday, Sep. 4, 2006

Katrina Evacuee Is Reunited With His Beloved Dog

If you ever had any doubts about dog being man’s best friend just talk to Earle Bryant.

The New Orleans resident was forced to evacuate his home during hurricane Katrina…and says he had no choice than to leave his beloved German Shepard, Ragnar behind.

“He’s like my son, I love him to death,” said Bryant.

Before he left, Earle left plenty of food for his pooch and a note, sealed in plastic urging rescuers to save his pet. Earle says he had no idea if Ragnar had been rescued and expected the worst.

“It was a tough decision,” said Bryant.

His expectations turned from grim to great one day he read an article mentioning that Ragnar was rescued and sent to Molly’s Kennels in Doylestown where he was adopted by a local couple.

Earle worked with the organization No Animal Left Behind to get him back, a process that’s taken a couple months, but Earle says Ragnar was in good hands.

“They have been unbelievable. They had no idea what was going on,” said Bryant of Ragnar’s adopted caretakers.

Earle’s reunion with Ragnar was an emotional one that reduced Bryant to tears.

For now Ragnar will continue to stay in Bucks County with his foster family because Bryant is currently living in a trailer provided by FEMA, which prohibits large dogs.

Now Bryant has more incentive to get his house in New Orleans back in order.

“I’ve decided to let the foster family have him a little longer ’til my house is where I can move back in it,” noted Earle.

Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006

Recognizing unsung heroes in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath

It was bad enough that Jason Williams (name changed) had witnessed Hurricane Katrina. Now, he was in the Superdome with others who had lost everything. But the worst wasn’t over yet.

While in the Superdome, he witnessed some of the criminal activity the news had reported, such as robberies and assaults. It was a nightmare that he wanted to end.

Fast forward to Chattanooga, Tenn., to the relief center where Mr. Williams was flown to from New Orleans. A place to rest and recuperate (or that’s what he thought) until he heard some men saying, “Wasn’t he at the Superdome? Didn’t he see what we did?”

That’s when Mr. Williams met Dr. Rozario Slack, pastor of Temple of Faith Deliverance Church of God in Christ.

“He told me the very men he had seen involved in criminal activity in the Superdome were now at the relief center with him, had recognized him and were planning his demise. We had to get him out of there,” Dr. Slack explained to The Final Call. “So we smuggled him out and put him on the next Greyhound to parts unknown.”

That’s just one example of the countless heroic efforts undertaken by ordinary citizens across the country that decided to step up and help the victims of Katrina.

“These are my people,” stressed Dr. Slack. “I have to do something to help them.”

His church gathered clothing and bought airline tickets to reunite families.

“We organized the congregation to donate their frequent flyer miles to provide tickets so families could be reunited,” he said.

Houston has become one of, if not the, largest second home for victims of Katrina who can now be found in 48 states. Many went from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston.

One of the many unsung heroes in Houston is ACTION CDC (Accepting Challenges to Improve Our Nation Community Development Corporation). What started as a simple clothing drive and food program has turned into a comprehensive program that provides case management for 500 families.

“We provide home visits, counseling, mental health services and health care,” explained Eric Muhammad, ACTION’s director of Health and Human Services. “We provide the resources to help these people gain their self-sufficiency.”

“The transition from New Orleans to Houston has not been easy for them. This is the fourth largest city in America. They reside in far out Houston, that doesn’t have access to public transportation,” he explained. “That means no bus lines, so they can’t access the resources as readily that they need.”

The problems are further complicated because they are not around their family members.

“We see many families suffering from being away from home. Further, they are here with the stigma of coming from the murder capital of the world,” Mr. Muhammad remarked. “They are lonely, frustrated and have health problems. They are lonely for the way of life they knew. This is Houston and we’re very different from New Orleans.”

The goals of ACTION, founded in 2000 by Nation of Islam Southwest Regional Minister Robert Muhammad, are to develop programs that meet the needs of people in five different areas: Education, Health and Human Services, Affordable Housing, Economic Development and Arts and Culture.

“The response to our work has been awesome. We’re treating disaster issues while also treating pre-disaster problems,” Mr. Muhammad explained.

The group partnered with the New Black Panther Party and National Black United Front to secure a large grant from Katrina Aid Today to do this work. It also received $50,000 from Islamic Relief to fund its feeding program.

The stories of unsung heroes are numerous. Consider the families that took in relatives in spite of the fact of limited space; the people who drove to the area to rescue families that they did not know; the volunteers who left the comfort of their home to aid the needy in the Gulf Coast area; and the students from colleges and universities who spent their spring break, not on the beach sunning and funning, but providing much needed assistance to the Gulf Coast.

The Final Call salutes your efforts.

Monday, Aug. 21, 2006

One year later Katrina cat, owner reunited

A cat and its owner were reunited at a Kings Beach animal hospital Monday afternoon after almost a year of being separated following the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

Tammy Hupin, a 36-year-old New Orleans-based court reporter, went through the pet rescue foundation Noah’s Wish to connect with the displaced 3-year-old mix named Lucy.

“I had to give her up because I lost my house,” Hupin said on the way to Agate Bay Animal Hospital. “But I found out she had never been adopted.”

For her special reunion, Hupin came armed with a gift basket of toys, old pictures of her cat and tissues. She couldn’t promise not to cry.

She said it was all she could think about, after pulling up to the hospital in a large, black sports utility vehicle driven by Noah’s Wish representative Jennifer McKim. The nonprofit pet rescue foundation based in El Dorado Hills arranged for the gathering.

Last October, Kings Beach veterinarian Dr. Bree Montana, in a partnership with Noah’s Wish, traveled to Louisiana to work at a temporary animal shelter where displaced pet owners surrendered their animals in the weeks immediately after the storm. Strays were plucked from the attics and treetops of the flooded region.

Hurricane Katrina, which rolled over southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29, claimed the lives of 1,836 people, devastated 100 miles of the Gulf Coast, flooded 80 percent of Hupin’s city and caused $81.2 billion in damages.

Montana described her triage work in Louisiana for the marooned animals as one of the hardest experiences in her professional career.

She was able to bring back one cat through efforts by Incline Village’s Pet Network, working in conjunction with Noah’s Wish and Kanab, Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society to bring several Katrina cats and dogs to the area for adoption. Most have since found homes.

A few weeks after Montana returned from the storm’s epicenter, she received a call from a Noah’s Wish official.

Twenty felines were flown to Sacramento.

“They all needed shots, and tests… many were ill, or shocked – it was a tough few weeks,” Montana said.

One by one, the cats were vaccinated, cared for and adopted – except four of them. Lucy was among them.

Clad in a sequined “I Love Lucy” shirt, Hupin cradled her beloved cat for the first time in 11 months.

Hupin was concerned about Lucy’s transition living once more with other animals in her household.

“She’ll probably warm up to (them). But keep them separate at first. Cats are like families at Thanksgiving, reunions can get a little heated – just give it time,” Montana said.

Hupin, who has been living in a one-bedroom apartment in Austin, Texas – will move back to New Orleans on Oct. 1. Her three-bedroom home east of downtown has been vacant since the storm. She will decide this fall whether to sell it or fix it up.

“For now, we’re moving up-town,” Hupin said. “I’m going to get back to work, get settled – and we’ll go from there.”

“We’ve never had this kind of reunion before,” McKim said. “It’s unreal.”

Hurricane Katrina was the sixth strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.

Wednesday, May. 31, 2006

Four recognized for Katrina rescue efforts

Guardsmen relayed calls and text messages to locate survivors and connect relatives

Frantic was the word Gene Barattini, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Louisiana National Guard, described the days after the New Orleans levees broke following Hurricane Katrina in August.

Even as he sat in Bossier City, more than 350 miles away from the disaster, he knew he needed to do something as cries for help came in from cell phones, text messages and sometimes relatives from several states away.

“Calls were coming from all over the country,” said Barattini, who works as a liaison between the Guard and the Caddo-Bossier Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “The best we can figure is that operators were telling people the closest big city was Shreveport and Bossier City.”

With the help of other Bossier City-based Louisiana National Guardsmen stationed at their Military Drive Armory in Alexandria, as well as those deployed to south Louisiana for the storm rescue efforts, Barattini was able to turn those cries of help into information that led to the rescue of more than 400 people trapped on roofs of flooded homes and buildings in New Orleans.

Tuesday, the Caddo-Bossier OHSEP acknowledged the effort of Barattini and three other Louisiana National Guard members for their unique role in those rescues.

Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker presented the awards, placing the Louisiana Cross of Merit around the necks of Capt. Jason Kendall, Sgt. 1st Class Russell Johnston and Sgt. 1st Class Neal Purcell and placing a Louisiana Legion of Merit award around Barattini’s neck.

“It’s an amazing display of cooperation, coordination and doing things beyond what the book says to do,” Walkers said.

One of the first calls Barattini took was from a Bossier City resident who was receiving text messages from her relative stuck on the roof of a building in St. Bernard Parish with 200 other people and they were surrounded by 20 feet of water.

“I asked her to send us copies of the test messages and we might get something like ‘200 trapped, 20 feet water,’ I could tell by the urgency in her voice and by piecing together the information we had to do something quickly,” Barattini said, adding that there were few phone lines south of Interstate 10 that were working. “New Orleans numbers were down and the Baton Rouge numbers were jammed.”

He called who he could. Kendall, Johnston and Purcell were the key contacts who helped push those messages and cries for help through to people who could deploy and rescue those trapped.

“There was some luck involved,” said Kendall, who at the time was in Alexandria involved in a mission of transportation of supplies, not rescue.

But Kendall coincidently used to work in a position that allowed him access to some high-level phone numbers in the Baton Rouge Emergency Operations Center and, more importantly, those people were working on that day.

“We had a direct line to the right people. It was pretty amazing,” he said.

News of the rescue for the 200 people came within the hour after Barattini got his message through.

According to the Emergency Operations Center log at the Caddo-Bossier OHSEP, on several occasions family members hearing positive news called back and credited the unique 350-mile “safety line” for saving their loved ones.

Barattini added he never thought he’d be working a disaster rescue through cell phones and text messages.

“It was the incredible teamwork. These guys were the hub of information that led to people getting rescued.”

Tuesday, May. 23, 2006

Penguins return home to New Orleans

Rescued from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 19 African black-footed penguins have arrived back to their New Orleans home in style.

Accompanied by two sea otter friends, the animals were welcomed at New Orleans airport by a brass band before being whisked back to the Audobon Nature Institute.

The creatures had been staying at an aquarium in California since September after being rescued from Hurricane Katrina.

Ron Forman, Chief Executive Officer of Audobon Nature Institute, said: “This is a historical day for the city of New Orleans.

“We were hit with the worst natural disaster in the country, our city has been shut down for almost nine months, the city is coming back.”

Sunday, Mar. 26, 2006

Cat, bird make odd-couple refugees

Alfie is still a storm refugee in Virginia. So is Oscar. One is a parrot. The other meows.

Before Katrina set our lives topsy-turvy, Alfie and Oscar were neighbors.

Alfie had the run of his large daytime cage that sat by a window overlooking the back yard, with its wealth of shrubs, big oaks, squirrels and occasional guinea hens checking out the dregs of the bird feeders.

Oscar would pay a daily visit to the patio in front of Alfie’s window, staring at the ball of feathers as cats do. The two never met officially, which is a good thing.

Then came The House Destroyer, Katrina. Before the storm, Oscar and Alfie’s humans evacuated them, and as fate would have it, to the same laundry room in a safe place in Biloxi. A window no longer separated them, only pet carriers.

Imagine the mind talk between these two natural enemies.

“What are you doing here?” Oscar’s curiosity gets the best of him.

“What are you doing here?” the brash Alfie snips backs.

“Are you a bird? I’ve watched you a lot, but you’re, well, different. And very loud. And very bossy.”

“Are you a cat? I had a calico not long ago myself. Her name was Sister and we were great friends. She never tried to eat me. She died of old age. Somehow, I don’t think you and I can be friends like that. I don’t like the gleam in your eye as you watch those wild birds at the feeder.”

“And I’ve watched you watch me,” Oscar admits before his cat chat is distracted. “Hey, what do you think all that outside ruckus is?”

It was Katrina, destroying 65,000 houses along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including what had been Oscar and Alfie’s neighborhood. Both of their humans lost everything, which means they lost their pampered pet status.

Alfie is my little squawky parrot with shades of blue and turquoise to match his disposition. Oscar is my neighbor Doris’ golden striped cat, a stray who’d convinced her years ago he was worthy of her affection.

To shorten the story, a last-minute change of plans after I volunteered for pre-Katrina newsroom duties caused Alfie and Oscar to be evacuated to the same location.

They haven’t been apart since Aug. 28. When neither Doris nor I had homes to return to, my little sister Estelle and her husband agreed to take them, which is quite a commitment. They are not bird people and already have two cats, two dogs and two horses and a betta to tend to.

Alfie now sits in a big cage by a window overlooking the woods of Barboursville, Va. Oscar has the run of a big basement, with a window view of the same woods, but he doesn’t get let out because of foxes and coyotes. They would eat an untrained Mississippi cat, Estelle insists.

So the silent animal mind language wafts up and down the staircases.

“Hey, you, Mr. Turquoise Feathers. Have you noticed that the squirrels here don’t look the same?”

“Yeah, but did you see that big thing with antlers? What was that?”

Meanwhile, back in Mississippi, work progresses at a snail’s pace on repairing a duplex so that Doris and I can move back to our old Biloxi neighborhood. Having our own space again and our pets still seems a dream away. I miss that little bird more than the things Katrina swept out to sea.

For the past seven months, I’ve lived in “my little dorm room” in the Gulfport home of another longtime friend named Doris, or Saint Doris as I call her for putting up with my katrinaed, missing-Alfie personality.

The other Doris, aka Oscar’s human, lives temporarily in an Air Force retirement village in Texas. We’ve all become a circle of connecting dots: Gulfport, Biloxi, Barboursville, San Antonio.

If it’s frustrating to us, imagine how it is for the hapless Oscar and Alfie – and all of the other thousands of Katrina displaced pets. At least Oscar and Alfie have a safe zone to retreat to – until I bring them back. And I will. Soon.

Saturday, Mar. 25, 2006

Leaving Minnesota; rescued dog is finally going home

Members of a Minnesota Air National Guard unit are finding it difficult to say goodbye to a four-legged friend.

The airmen adopted the dog, and called her Dixie, while they were helping out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

But now the puppy is going back home to the bayou after its new Minnesota family found the dog’s original New Orleans family.

Dixie was just a small dog when members of the National Guard found her in water logged New Orleans. The friendly black dog was wet, cold, and near death when Mike Forster rescued her.

“She didn’t move for three days,” remembers Mike.

But she was surrounded by loving nurses and soon she was healthy and given the name Dixie. The lovable mutt became the pride of the unit during the Minnesotans’ stay in New Orleans.

When it was time to go, and no one had come to claim her, Dixie flew back to Minnesota with the 133rd.

Soon she was navigating the cubicles at the operations building where her new friends work, giving sloppy wet kisses, “It’s easy to like that kind of personality.”

But she needed a more stable environment, so Master Sgt. Bob Hagel took Dixie home to Hugo to live with his family.

“We were really thinking she would be our dog for a long time,” said Hagel.

But thanks to a missing pet Web site, Dixie’s Louisiana family was finally located last week and the Hagel’s found out her name is really Panda.

Lori and Jimmy Price lost Panda in the chaos of the New Orleans evacuation. They said their three year old daughter Olivia still calls for her every night.

So now it appears that Olivia will get her dog back and the Hagel family will lose theirs.

The news has both pleased and saddened the Hagel family, “She’s going back home. I’m glad,” said Samantha Hagel as tears streamed down her face, “it’s tears of joy that’s what it is.”

There are so many unwanted pets in the world that it’s nice to meet one that owns hearts in two states.

The Price family said finding Panda was about the only piece of good news they’ve had in months. They lost their house and everything inside when Katrina hit New Orleans.

Dixie will leave Minnesota Saturday and arrive a few hours later in New Orleans as Panda.

Friday, Mar. 24, 2006

Katrina child feared dead reunited with mom

A 4-year-old girl, who was reported missing for six months and feared dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has been reunited with her mother in Houston.

Lisa Stewart, 31, who was separated from her daughter Cortez Stewart during the devastation in New Orleans, had almost given up finding her child until last week when she received a telephone call at her temporary home in Houston, reports The Dallas Morning News.

The child was found by Lee Reed, a retired police officer from Abilene, Texas, who now works for the Virginia-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Officials this week declared Cortez the last of 5,192 missing children accounted for by the organization after Katrina, the report said. The center said all but 12 of the children were found alive, living with other relatives, family friends or other adults.

‘I missed my mom,’ Cortez said, but added that she didn`t panic. The child was with her mother`s friend. The mother and the friend couldn`t find each other for months afterward.

Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2006

Children Separated by Hurricanes Reunited

When 4-year-old Cortez Stewart was reunited with her mother and five siblings in Texas last week, it closed a happy chapter in the sad story of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Cortez represented the last of 5,192 Gulf Coast children listed as missing or displaced after the storms struck more than six months ago. The effort to reunite those youngsters became the largest child-recovery effort in U.S. history.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children worked with the FBI, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Postal Service, Red Cross and other agencies to reunite children separated from their parents or guardians when Katrina hit on Aug. 29 and Rita hit just a few weeks later.

“I can’t say that there aren’t a few children that may have been missing and not reported to us, but we received more calls than anyone else did, and all our cases have been resolved,” said Bob O’Brien, director of the center’s missing children division.

In the months following Katrina, the agency received reports of 4,710 children missing or displaced in Louisiana, 339 in Mississippi and 39 in Alabama. In Louisiana, most of the reports were about children in the New Orleans area, where heavy flooding and frantic rescues separated families.

After Rita, another 28 children were reported missing or displaced in Louisiana; 76 were reported in Texas.

Of the more than 5,000 children from both storms, all but 12 were found alive. Most were found living with other relatives, family friends or other adults, O’Brien said.

Cortez, the final child, was reunited with her mother and five siblings in Houston on March 16. She hadn’t seen her family since Katrina hit and was taken to a New Orleans hotel by her godmother.

The two were rescued by helicopter as floodwaters rose around the hotel, and they were eventually taken to Atlanta, O’Brien said. Meanwhile, Cortez’s mother, Lisa Stewart, and her five other children were rescued by boat from their New Orleans home, taken to an interstate overpass and then to the Houston Astrodome, he said.

The family ended up in an apartment in Houston, not knowing whether Cortez and her godmother had made it out of New Orleans alive. Early efforts to reconnect the family were hampered by incorrect name spellings and other erroneous information, O’Brien said.

“Many agencies didn’t have a good account of who they were helping,” O’Brien said. “Moving them from shelter to shelter, by air, by bus, the transfers, people were separated. More than 411,000 were evacuated to more than 40 states, and it became very hard to track the movement.”

The national center sent teams of volunteers to shelters in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas to take photos of evacuated children to post on the agency’s Web site with information about the children to speed the reuniting effort.

The agency logged more than 34,000 phone calls starting in early September, when the agency established a missing persons hotline at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice. Of the missing children cases, 45 involved children who arrived at shelters with no parent or guardian.

All of those cases were resolved by early October, O’Brien said.

Besides the missing children, more than 12,000 missing adults were reported to the agency’s Katrina/Rita Missing Persons Hotline and were referred to the National Center for Missing Adults.

State authorities say roughly 1,900 people are still missing. It is suspected some may have washed to sea or remain buried by debris in New Orleans. Others have been found but haven’t notified authorities, while some do not want to be found.

Sunday, Mar. 19, 2006

Volunteer finds $30,000 in New Orleans wall

The woman who owned the flood-damaged home knew nothing about the money in the walls.

She was as shocked as the young volunteer who found it while helping tear out moldy Sheetrock.

“I thought it was Monopoly money,” said Trista Wright, 19, who attends Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., and has spent her spring break gutting homes.

She found the first few $100 bills poking out of a pile of Sheetrock that she was raking up.

Then she peeled back more Sheetrock from around an air conditioning vent in the closet wall where she’d been working and found a stack of bills almost six inches high.

By an unofficial count, it was more than $30,000.

She and fellow students notified the organizers of their church mission, who, in turn told the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office about it.

Deputy Gary Adams verified the identity of the woman who owned the home, which she said previously belonged to her father and had been in the family for generations. When the succession papers checked out and a call to a local lawyer who handled the transaction confirmed her story, Adams gave the money over to the homeowner.

“She was speechless,” said Wright, one of 175 Georgia college students who’ve been working as volunteers in the area.

Adams said the money likely dated to the early 1960s. He said it’s not uncommon to find stashes of weapons or medications behind the walls of homes, but this is the first time he’s heard of such a large sum of money being found.

“They were elated, but they didn’t know what to do with it,” Adams said. “It’s good to see someone find something like that and turn it over to proper authorities and the rightful owner.”

The homeowner, a woman in her 50s who grew up in the area and asked to remain anonymous, said she suspects the money belonged to her father, who grew up in the Depression and was wary of keeping his money in a bank.

“I had my suspicions about the money at first, but once I met the family and talked to the woman, I have no doubt she’s telling the truth,” said Aaron Arledge, one of the organizers of the mission. “She said her father grew up during the Depression and must not have told anyone in the family about it before he died.”

The one-story home in the Arabi area was flooded to the gutters, with no contents that could be saved, church officials said.

Warren Jones Jr., pastor at New Salem Baptist Church in the Ninth Ward, which has served as the home base for the church missions, said the woman submitted a request to gut her home earlier last week. He said the group normally doesn’t work in St. Bernard Parish because of the overwhelming need in the immediate area, but he agreed to make an exception for the homeowner after hearing about her needs.

“To see that woman’s face when we told her about the money, that’s the kind of positive story that makes all the hard work worthwhile,” Jones said. “She said it was a miracle. And when you think about it, it was.”

Saturday, Mar. 18, 2006

Rescuer dog will have her day

Jeff Mailes knew it was a great story: In the quagmire of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a dog plunges into neck-high water and drags a drowning man to safety.

But what Mailes never expected was that the dog would become a member of his family and that seven months later, Katrina as his kids’ named her would be a star attraction tonight at the Genesis Awards, the annual gala of the Humane Society of the United States, Hollywood, being held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. A two-hour special will air at 2 and 8 p.m. on May 6 and at noon on May 13 on the Animal Planet cable channel.

Mailes, a cameraman for a KCAL news crew covering the aftermath of the hurricane, said the crew noticed a man sitting on a porch surrounded by water not far from the French Quarter.

The man, Kevin Williams, waved the crew over and told his story how a strange dog had pulled him to safety.

“He had never seen the dog before, he didn’t own the dog before, but he couldn’t swim, he had been drowning, and the dog pulled him out of the water,” said Mailes, a La Caada Flintridge resident. “He was rather emotional about it.”

The KCAL crew aired Williams’ story, then took him to the New Orleans Convention Center so he could be transported to a hospital.

The next day, the crew returned to the same spot looking for the dog and found her sitting on the same porch where they had found Williams the day before.

After airing a story on the dog, Mailes got a telephone call.

“My wife and my daughters called me,” Mailes said. “They said, ‘Hey, what’s going to happen to the dog? We’d like to adopt her.”‘

And they did. “It’s just one of the sweetest stories,” said Gretchen Wyler, vice president of the Humane Society, Hollywood.

Katrina is still adjusting to life in Southern California and recovering from the trauma of the Gulf Coast hurricane. During the cross-country trip from New Orleans to Los Angeles, when Mailes would stop at motels for the night, Katrina would jump onto a desk or the bed instead of sleeping on the floor.

“It’s like she was trying to get away from water, scrambling to higher ground,” Mailes said.

During recent rainstorms, when the wind picked up, Katrina would hunch over and quiver.

But the Maileses are trying to provide a haven for the dog, estimated to be about 2 years old. Mailes’ two teenage daughters love to play with her, as does their golden retriever, Teddybear.

Thursday, Mar. 16, 2006

Congratulations to young volunteer

Much of the attention on Louisiana’s recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita has focused on the role of politicians and professional bureaucrats in advancing the state’s comeback.

But scores of volunteers also are making significant contributions to the recovery effort, as we were recently reminded when President Bush honored a Southern University student for his service in the recovery effort.

During a recent trip to New Orleans, Bush presented Theo Richards of Baton Rouge with a National Service Award to acknowledge Richards’ work in City Year Louisiana.

City Year, a national youth service organization, unites youths 17 to 24 years old for a year of community service and leadership development. City Year Louisiana includes 50 volunteers from across the United States who are helping with Louisiana’s recovery by serving the needs of families affected by the hurricanes.

The 20-year-old Richards is enrolled at Southern, but he’s taken a year off to serve with City Year. As part of the organization, Richards has worked with displaced students and faculty at Scotlandville Middle School. He assists teachers and helps youngsters with academic tutoring and mentoring. Richards also has worked with community service projects in New Orleans such as building playgrounds and cleaning schools.

We commend Richards for his service to Louisiana and congratulate him on his honor. We are also grateful to the many other volunteers who are aiding this recovery.

Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006

Lost Katrina kitty reunited with owner in Atlanta

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Tristan Carter thought she lost everything – her home, a grandfather, two dogs, a housecat and a rabbit.

But she was wrong about losing her cat – “Cupcake” came back, after 6 months of living as a stray in her hurricane-ravaged neighborhood. On Wednesday, animal rescue volunteers reunited the lithe, 7-pound black cat with Carter, who now lives in Atlanta.

“I lost a grandfather in the hurricane. To find a little kitty survived 6 months, that’s great,” said Carter, holding Cupcake close and thanking the rescuers who found her. In turn, Cupcake happily squeaked and, at least once, reached her head up to give Carter a kitty kiss with her nose.

For nearly a half year after the hurricane, the tiny cat lived on her own, never straying far from Carter’s destroyed home and surviving all dangers – stray dogs, parasites and starvation.

She lived off of food dropped off daily in her neighborhood by volunteers from Animal Rescue New Orleans. Finally, on Feb. 12, rescuers captured her in a humane animal trap.

Best Friends Animal Society, the group that arranged the reunion, has rescued more than 1,200 former pets living as strays in New Orleans and has been working to reunite them with their owners. Those efforts will conclude Feb. 28, according to a statement from the society.

A veterinarian treated Cupcake for worms and fleas that she acquired while living as a stray, and volunteers worked to find her owner.

Cupcake wore a collar with rabies tags and rescuers hoped to quickly link her with her owner. But volunteer Shelley Thayer could not find a person who matched the tag’s name and address. A phone number on the tag was disconnected.

But after using professional Internet-based searching services, Thayer matched Carter with the tag’s address. The people-finding service provided Thayer with Carter’s phone number.

Carter said animal rescue volunteers called her last week while she was filling up her car at a gas station. Her family had given up any hope of finding their pets – in November, they returned to their former home and searched for the pets without success.

Although superstition links black cats with bad luck, Carter said she knows this cannot be true.

“God works in mysterious ways. She is a gift, she is here to let us know there is hope,” Carter said. “She’s our good luck charm.”

Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006

Lost cat and owner reunited months after Katrina

After making it through Hurricane Katrina only to spend three months in Texas, three-year-old Margo, a calico cat from Louisiana, was finally reunited with her owner at the Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in Caledonia, Mississippi.
Sylvia Latham of Buras says she is happy and excited to see her pet again.

After Katrina blew through town, her family’s house was under 20 feet of water and Latham and her family had to be rescued by boat.

Margo was presumed drowned.

But Latham wouldn’t give up hope and posted a picture of the cat on a Web site, petfinder-dot-com.

A woman from Best Friends, an organization that matches displaced pets with their owners, saw Margo’s picture and called Latham.

After Katrina, Margo was picked up at Lamar-Dixon Rescue Center in Gonzales and taken to a wild animal orphanage in San Antonio, Texas.

From there, she was taken to Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary.

Margo is the first of the sanctuary’s 43 cats rescued from Hurricane Katrina to be united with her owner.

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006

Katrina volunteer atop first lady’s list

Theresa Shamlian, a Houstonian who helped the displaced masses at the Reliant Astrodome after Hurricane Katrina, was a guest Tuesday of first lady Laura Bush for the president’s State of the Union address.

Shamlian was chosen as a representative of the more than 100,000 volunteers who assisted relief efforts after the hurricane, said Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.

“She is very enthusiastic and energetic in her job,” said Mark Sloan, coordinator for the organization.

Shamlian and her husband, Robert, were flown to Washington on Monday and had a tour of the White House, Sloan said.

The 51-year-old former planner for Continental Airlines became a full-time volunteer after retirement.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq who reinvigorated the anti-war movement, was taken into custody by police in the House gallery Tuesday just before President Bush’s address.

Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said Sheehan had worn a T-shirt with an anti-war slogan and covered it up until she took her seat.

Police warned her that such displays were not allowed, but she did not respond, Schneider said.

Sheehan was taken in handcuffs to police headquarters a few blocks away, where she was to be released on her own recognizance.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., had invited Sheehan to the address as her guest. “I’m proud that Cindy’s my guest tonight,” Woolsey said before the speech. “She has made a difference in the debate to bring our troops home from Iraq.”

First lady Laura Bush’s guests certainly were diverse. One, in fact, wasn’t even human.

Rex, a 5-year-old German shepherd, fit in with the other Iraq war veterans who were guests of lawmakers.

His owner, Air Force Tech Sgt. Jamie Dana, awoke in a military hospital last summer badly injured by a bomb in Iraq and crying for her bomb-sniffing dog. It would take an act of Congress before she could take him home to Pennsylvania.

The Air Force said that by statute, Rex needed to finish the remaining five years of his useful life before he could be adopted. Dana’s congressman, Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., helped abolish that policy, the White House said.

Friday, Jan. 13, 2006

Katrina Dolphins Reunited

Sixteen dolphins from a marine park that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina — including several that were swept out to the Gulf of Mexico and later rescued — have been moved to a resort in the Bahamas.

The dolphins, which had been housed at temporary locations around the country, were transported to Mobile, Ala., and loaded onto an airplane for the final stage of their trip, officials said.

Another dolphin was left behind because she is ill with a fungal infection, said Stacey Coltraine, a former trainer of the dolphins, and will be flown to the Bahamas when she is healthy.

The mammals lived at Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, doing jumps and other tricks in programs for tourists, before it was severely damaged by Katrina on Aug. 29.

Some of the younger dolphins had been moved inland to hotel swimming pools ahead of the storm. Eight others were pulled out to sea during the storm when their Oceanarium tank was destroyed. Biologists located them Sept. 10 by performing aerial surveys, and they were rescued within a few days.

While the dolphins were well cared for at their temporary locations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Florida, Baltimore and New Jersey, officials were concerned that cold weather and the effects of separation could soon take a toll.

The dolphins will live in seven interconnected resident pools at Atlantis, a resort on Paradise Island.

The Atlantis team of more than a dozen marine mammal specialists and veterinarians helped with the transfer.

The resort will also take on 24 sea lions and 22 exotic birds from Marine Life.

The dolphins have been at the center of a legal battle between the two owners of Marine Animal Productions, the company that owns the dolphins. One of the two, Dr. Moby Solangi, had opposed moving the dolphins out of the United States.

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006

Katrina survivor reunited with photo album

Kaysi Higgins came to Lansing in October with clothes for three days, a toothbrush and not much else.

Photo albums and other belongings back home had been ruined when Hurricane Katrina hit and split the ceiling of her New Orleans home, but she still had an album that held pictures from as far back as her baby years.

Higgins, 16, lost the album in MSU’s Main Library but got it back Tuesday after an MSU police staff member tracked her down using clues from the photos.

Higgins got tears in her eyes as she looked at the album.

“I didn’t realize I have all these good pictures in here,” Higgins said. “This is all of my friends and cousins and everybody.”

When Higgins came to Michigan with her mom, Karen Taylor, they didn’t plan on staying. After the hurricane was finished, however, they realized conditions in their hometown wouldn’t allow them to return.

Higgins now attends Lansing Catholic Central High School as a junior and plans to stay in Lansing with her mother until at least the end of the school year.

Higgins said she lost the album while at the library researching for a paper. She didn’t realize it was lost until Denni Kraft, security systems supervisor for the MSU police, tracked her down.

“I knew when I saw the photo album someone would miss it,” Kraft said.

She found the album in a large bin of items and looked through it. One photo had someone wearing school clothing that said “De La Salle” and another showed a birthday cake with the name Kaysi.

With these two clues, Kraft started calling schools named De La Salle around the country, asking what their school colors were to find a match with the photo. After about five calls, she found last week that De La Salle High School in New Orleans matched the maroon and white colors from the photo. She also had someone check the school records for a person named Kaysi.

A day later, Kraft got a call back with a contact number for Kaysi’s grandmother in New Orleans, who told Kaysi’s mother in Michigan.

Kraft said she cried when she was able to contact the owner of the album she had looked through so many times.

“(It’s) amazing to think two little pictures like that could do that,” Kraft said.

Canine hurricane victim reunited with family

This is the saga of Jesse Jane, a purebred chow whose personality has touched many lives from Louisiana to Plumas County.

This past summer, as the world watched in horror, thousands of people saw their lives change in a flash as Hurricane Katrina swept in off the Gulf of Mexico, taking everything with her.

In the aftermath of the storm, many found their lives entwined across thousands of miles, even reaching rural Plumas County.

Among the many who lost their homes that day were Hazel, Albert, Andrew and Brittany Jones of New Orleans-along with their four dogs.

Andrew said Jesse began her life with the family quite by luck.

Jesse’s sister Brittany was heading home from her aunt’s house one day when she ran into a man on a bike being followed by a puppy.

The man said he no longer wanted the puppy and offered her to Brittany. …

As the hurricane began baring down on the city, residents were ordered to evacuate.

“We didn’t want to leave the dogs, but because of limited space in our small SUV with five people, including my grandmother, we couldn’t bring the dogs with us,” said Andrew.

The family also believed they would be gone for three or four days at most.

Andrew said they filled a storage tub with a 55-pound bag of dog food and filled 10 large pails with water. …
As the days dragged on, the family members found themselves unable to return home and lost track of the dogs who had by then been rescued themselves.

Oscar, Samantha and Beanie ended up in Gonzales, La., and were found via the Internet. …

Jesse had traveled from Louisiana to Portola, Calif., and was being taken care of by High Sierra Animal Rescue. …

Although the family is still unable to return home, they are all together once again-which is what really matters.

TCA Salutes Highway Angel Jimmy Levan

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) recently recognized Jimmy Levan, of Graysville, Alabama, as a Highway Angel for his outstanding generosity in helping families stranded by Hurricane Katrina.

On the evening of August 31, 2005, Levan pulled his rig into a Wal-Mart parking lot in Brookwood, Mississippi, thinking he would get some sleep after completing his delivery for Celadon Trucking, but his “break” turned into anything but that. With Hurricane Katrina on their heels, many Gulf Coast residents who were fleeing their homes had found their way to this Wal-Mart, seeking gasoline and supplies. But by evening, when Levan arrived, the pumps were empty and dozens of vehicles were stranded in the lot for the night.

“The sheriff had told people to vacate the property, but some people had grabbed everything they could when they left, and they had no gas and no place to go” Levan said. In surveying the situation, he realized that many of these people were families who would be forced to spend a very warm night sleeping in vehicles stuffed with their belongings. Levan decided he could offer some assistance. He approached the group, which included an asthmatic woman and her pet dogs, and invited them to sleep in his empty trailer. The woman said she was concerned about her pets, but Levan told her they could sleep on the top bed with her. Although incredulous, she accepted the offer, knowing the evening would be much more comfortable in the air-conditioned trailer. So Levan unhooked his trailer, opened it up, and the woman and a few other adventurous folks climbed in.

“At first they didn’t know what to think,” Levan said of the stranded families, but their trepidation soon turned to trust, and “one by one they started coming up, once they saw it was OK.”

Levan was soon playing host to about 50 to 60 people. But his generosity didn’t stop there. When he heard on his CB radio of a nearby station that potentially had gas, he drove some of the stranded motorists, who had credit cards and empty jugs, to the location. On the return trip, he decided to stop at a McDonald’s to help feed the hungry crowd. When he showed up with sacks full of at least 100 hamburgers, it was more than these people could fathom.

“If the world was full of people like Jimmy, we would all be better off,” the grateful woman wrote in a letter to Levan’s employer. “Please tell him that we, the hurricane survivors that were at that Wal-Mart, can never thank him enough.”

Levan dismissed the unusualness of his generosity, explaining that he wanted to do this, “because a lot of people have helped me on my path.” He cited examples where strangers have given him assistance when he was stranded, and, he said, “I believe what goes around comes around.”

Levan received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate, and patch for his efforts, and his employer, Celadon Trucking Services, also received a certificate for acknowledging a Highway Angel in their midst.

Since its inception in August 1997, the Highway Angel program has recognized hundreds of drivers for the unusual kindness, courtesy, and courage they have shown others while on the job. TCA has received letters and emails from people across the country nominating truck drivers for the program.

“We continue to be amazed by the number of professional truckers who go out of their way to help a stranger and many times put their lives at risk as well,” said Nancy O’Liddy, director of public affairs and marketing for TCA. “TCA is proud and delighted to offer the kind of program that gives these drivers the recognition and support they deserve while at the same time creates a greater public awareness and appreciation for the many outstanding drivers in this industry.”

Monday, Jan. 2, 2006

Reunited Mother, Daughter Heading Back

Two more Hurricane Katrina evacuees were scheduled to leave Greeneville for Louisiana today.

Mrs. Clothilde Mack departed late Friday morning aboard a motor home whose use had been donated, and former St. Bernard Parish resident Cynthia Parr and her daughter, Nicole LeBlanc, were scheduled to leave Greeneville today for their native state.

Stephanie Adsit, in whose Buckingham Road home Parr and LeBlanc have been living since early November, said during a Friday interview that Parr and LeBlanc were scheduled to fly to New Orleans from Tri-Cities TN/VA Regional Airport this morning.

Adsit said Parr and LeBlanc had decided to relocate to Gray, La., about 50 miles from New Orleans. She noted that Parr and LeBlanc have family in Gray and that LeBlanc has two children who live there.

To help the mother and daughter reestablish themselves in Louisiana, Adsit said, local volunteers raised money and obtained donations of food, appliances and other household items.

“It all left by U-Haul trailer this morning,” Adsit said on Friday.

She noted that Lenny Lawson, of Lawson Chevrolet-Oldsmobile/Mountain Mazda Mitsubishi, had donated use of a pickup truck to tow a U-Haul trailer rented at a discounted price from U-SAV Auto Center on Snapps Ferry Road.

Volunteers left Friday morning to tow the trailer carrying the household goods of Parr and LeBlanc to Louisiana so those items would be at the mobile home in which they are to live when they arrive.

Adsit said a number of local churches and individuals had donated money and other items to help Parr and LeBlanc.

The pair were scheduled to depart Tri-Cities Regional Airport about 10 a.m. today and to arrive in New Orleans shortly before 2 p.m., Adsit said.

Had Been Separated

Parr, a St. Bernard Parish, La., resident, had been evacuated to an American Red Cross shelter at the Clyde Austin 4-H Center here in September in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

She and LeBlanc, her daughter, had become separated during the hurricane and were not reunited until Nov. 1, when LeBlanc, 25, arrived by bus in Greeneville, thanks to the persistence of local volunteers who had worked for weeks to locate her.

“I’ve never felt this glad in my life,” Parr said shortly after a tearful reunion with her daughter beside a Greyhound bus that brought the young woman to Greeneville. “I had no clue where she was. A couple of times, I almost gave up.”

After sharing a long hug with her mother, Nicole said she felt “wonderful.” Asked if she was glad to be reunited with her mother, Nicole replied, “Very much so.”

Parr said the separation from her daughter had been devastating for her.

“I hope no other mother has to go through it,” she added.

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