Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Waffle House Index: FEMA's "How screwed are you?" gauge

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2011 at 1:12 PM

As we prepare for National Waffle Week, let's pass the mic to FEMA director Craig Fugate, ladies and gentleman: "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? ... That's really bad. That's where you go to work."

The ol' Waffle House Index, developed by Dr. Hashbrowns von Larrythecableguy, is a gauge used by the disaster response agency following hurricane landfall in the U.S. to determine its impact on a given area.

... and here's how it works!

Green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on. Yellow means a limited menu, indicating power from a generator, at best, and low food supplies. Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.

During Hurricane Irene, Waffle House lost power to 22 restaurants in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, according to the WSJ. But in Weldon, N.C. that weekend, the fryers were up and running. Even the diners in Joplin, Mo., stayed open after the devastating tornadoes. Following Katrina, the company lost seven of its restaurants and 100 more were shut down — Waffle House jumped into the disaster recovery biz and invested in generators and a mobile command center (named "EM-50" after the Stripes' "urban assault vehicle").

FEMA explains: "The Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound — it also tells us how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again — signaling a stronger recovery for that community. The success of the private sector in preparing for and weathering disasters is essential to a community’s ability to recover in the long run."

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Photographer recreates Hurricane Katrina with toddlers

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 3:48 PM

In Canadian photographer Jonathan Hobin's series In the Playroom, the artist assembles richly detailed scenes dramatizing, on a small scale, terrible disasters and grotesque tragedies — all recreated with children. Like, small, toddler-y children.

Hobin's sets are playrooms or play areas, like sandboxes and pools, and the kids play dress up: Look, a miniature Princess Diana pouting as a paparazzo snaps photos on a hopscotch outline. And there's an eerily similar-looking Jim Jones childhood doppelganger smiling over a Kool-Aid jar and dozens of scattered, down-facing dolls.

Then there are sets for Abu Ghraib, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrinawith three black toddlers standing around kiddie pools with floaties and inner tubes tagged with the presidential seal and "FEMA.". The artist's statement:

In the Playroom is a metaphor for the impossibility of a protective space safe from the reach of modern media. The quizzical disposition of youth and the pervasive nature of the media are symbolically represented in my images through tableau-vivant re-enactments of the very current events that adults might wish to keep out of their child’s world. Just as children make a game of pretending to be adults as a way to prepare and ultimately take on these roles in later life, so too do they explore things that they hear or see, whether or not they completely understand the magnitude of the event or the implications of their play.

The Katrina piece is the least-striking, at least immediately. (I mean, there's a JonBenet Ramsey lookalike simulating hanging herself with pantyhose, so.) I'm just reminded of this scene:

(Via flavorwire)

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Coming up in this week's Gambit: The state of NORD -- an investigation

Posted By on Sat, Jul 10, 2010 at 5:55 AM

In Mayor Mitch Landrieu's State of the City speech, delivered July 8 at Xavier University, he addressed the current state of the New Orleans Recreation Department with these words:

"When I was a kid, NORD had great playgrounds and sports teams and even theater, dance and music programs. But when I came into office 67 days ago, I found a recreation department that would make you weep, one that is under-funded and under-prioritized. We found many of NORD’s facilities are in shambles — swimming pools without filtration systems, no restrooms and no shower facilities."

For the three weeks before the mayor's speech, Gambit had been looking into the state of NORD facilities around the city, visiting 25 of them in representative neighborhoods around New Orleans and recording the conditions there.

What reporter Matt Davis found was more than "swimming pools without filtration systems" or a lack of restrooms -- it was vacant lots listed as playgrounds, abandoned buildings and seemingly dangerous structures, rusty playground equipment, bulldozed lots listed as playspots, and, in one case, a open manhole large enough for a child to fall down.


In our cover story, Davis looks at the history of NORD -- from its founding in the 1940s, when Life magazine hailed it as the nation's finest summer recreation program, to its current state of neglect ... a neglect so profound that it was FEMA, not the City of New Orleans, who could provide us with the most up-to-date list of NORD's own facilities. We talked to city councilmembers, to city officials, and to the neighbors of these blighted properties; we took photos, video, and ranked each property.

Landrieu and other city officials want to make a change to the city charter (which will be taken to the voters Oct. 2) to turn NORD over to a public-private partnership; and NORD just received its fourth director in two years -- but will it make a difference this time? Is it possible to double the NORD budget when the city coffers are facing a $67 million deficit? And if NORD can't even manage to keep the grass cut on its existing properties, what does that say about the city's stewardship of even more money for the program?

There's more in this week's issue -- from a first-person account of what volunteering to help oiled wildlife really entails to a fun Gambit interview with burlesque queen Dita Von Teese -- but we really hope you take the time to read about the current state of the New Orleans Recreation Department.

Here's a quick video of what we found -- and please keep in mind that these aren't abandoned or defunct playgrounds: these are active NORD facilities, this is is where the city of New Orleans expects its children to play, today ... and this is only the first installment of what we expect will be an ongoing series of reports.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Developer Stewart Juneau requests "temporary suspension" of Municipal Auditorium deal

Posted By on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 4:46 PM

Stewart Juneau, owner of the Baton Rouge-based development company LeTriomphe Property Group, was selected last November by Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to redevelop the Morris F.X. Jeff Sr. Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park. At the time, the proposed professional services agreement drew controversy, due to Juneau's relationship with Nagin (he had hosted the mayor's much-mocked "Excellence in Recovery Award" gala back in August 2008), as well as for the fact that LeTriomphe was the sole bidder on the project. In December, New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux slammed the deal, urging the New Orleans City Council not to approve it. In January, city attorney Penya Moses-Fields slammed right back, saying the IG's recommendation was premature and that there was "no existing contract."

This morning, Juneau announced that LeTriomphe was requesting a "temporary suspension of negotiations" on the Municipal Auditorium deal:

LeTriomphe Property Group, LLC (LTPG) announced today that it has requested a temporary suspension of negotiations on a professional services agreement for the redevelopment of the Morris X. F. [sic] Jeff, Sr. Municipal Auditorium.

LTPG remains confident that providing a landmark home for the cultural arts and creative industry in New Orleans in the damaged and unused auditorium is one of the most important projects that will be undertaken in the city in the near future.

The letter gave no reason for requesting a suspension of negotiations, but concluded on an optimistic note:

We look forward to working closely with all segments of our great community on making the mission of providing a landmark home for the cultural arts in New Orleans a reality.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

City Cancels FEMA Request for City Hall Move

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 2:54 PM

The City of New Orleans has withdrawn its request to FEMA for funds to move City Hall to the Chevron Building, according to a source in the New Orleans City Council. FEMA officials were scheduled to hold a meeting this Monday to begin reviewing the city’s plan, but it has been cancelled.

In a letter sent to the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Nov., Martin Altman, an administration official, requested the state approve the purchase as an “improved project” because the amount of work deemed eligible by FEMA for storm-damage repairs was not enough “to restore City Hall to its former functional status.” The state office has been serving as an intermediary between FEMA and local municipalities for disaster funds.

The city council had voted against Mayor Nagin’s proposed City Hall relocation in July of last year, and the FEMA request was seen by some council members as a way to make the move without council approval. As reported in a Gambit Scuttlebutt last month (“Ray Nagin’s Chevron Building Dream”), an ordinance had been introduced that would have required council consent on the $8.2 million purchase even if FEMA had approved the project.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Unadulterated Eggers

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 3:24 PM

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My first impression of Dave Eggers during our recent interview was how much he cared about the Abdulraham and Kathy Zeitoun and their children, the New Orleans family and subject of Egger's book, Zeitoun. He had spent a lot of time talking on the phone with Zeitouns, and made numerous trips to New Orleans to learn more about their experience following the levee failures. He said he had learned quite a bit from these visits, and he looked at Abdulraham and Kathy as teachers.

This evening at 8 p.m. at the NOCCA Institute, 2800 Chartres St. (940-2900), Eggers will be discussing the book, and he'll be joined onstage by the Zeitouns. Just as he did in the book, Eggers says he'll try to stay in the background and let the Zeitouns tell their story. Call the above number for ticket info.
Below is the full transcript of the interview with Eggers.
You first heard about the Zeitouns through your nonprofit book series Voice of Witness, which chronicles individual stories of human rights abuses. Human rights abuses aren’t what most Americans think about when it comes to Hurricane Katrina, is it?
“It depends on their level of information, and I guess their opinion on the competency of the government — local, state and national — in the wake of the storm. I think also though that slowly but surely information about some of the private contractors that were in town, some of the abuses from the police too and even some of the soldiers, all of these things have been trickling out. What happened to the Zeitouns is one of hundreds of stories that need to be told, and some of them are being told and have been told by your paper and The Times Picayune. For me, Voices From The Storm, our book of oral histories was eye opening because I wasn’t aware of any of these things until these first-person accounts of grandmothers having guns pointed at their heads by unmarked soldiers and people from private contractors. There was such an array of human rights abuses, whether passive or active, and Abdulraham Zeitoun was just one of so many stories.”

Continue reading »

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Friday, September 25, 2009

New Orleans family loses FEMA trailer suit

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 1:42 AM

By Matt Robinson

After a two-week trial in federal court in New Orleans, the first manufacturer sued over formaldehyde in FEMA trailers was absolved of responsibility Thursday. An eight-member jury found Gulf Stream Coach, an Indiana company that made 50,000 trailers for FEMA’s emergency housing program after Hurricane Katrina, did not construct an unreasonably dangerous product, and Fluor, the FEMA contractor responsible for hauling and installing the unit, was not negligent in setting up the trailer that housed New Orleanians Alana Alexander and her two children.

After the verdict was read, Alexander and her son Christopher Cooper declined to comment on the proceedings and quietly left the courtroom alone.

Alexander and Cooper claimed the temporary housing unit FEMA provided them in 2006 was contaminated with formaldehyde that worsened Cooper’s asthma. The trailer, one of the ubiquitous Cavalier units built by Gulf Stream, was installed by Fluor in May 2006, and the family lived in the unit until December 2007. During that time, the suit alleged, the family suffered health consequences from the toxic exposure, particularly Cooper, who was 9 years old when they moved into the trailer. Christopher had been diagnosed with asthma at age 3; the suit alleges his condition got worse as a result of living in the trailer for 19 months.

Over the course of the trial, Alexander's attorney, Tony Buzbee, argued the formaldehyde-laden trailers were set up incorrectly, damaging them. The damage led to broken seals, loose ductwork and pressure differentials inside and outside the units, which affected ambient formaldehyde through heat and humidity, then circulated contaminated air inside the living space.

The defense team, headed by attorney Andy Weinstock, argued the trailers met all FEMA specifications when Gulf Stream sold them to the U.S. government. Alexander’s trailer tested 0.050 parts per million (ppm), or 50 parts per billion (ppb), a month after the family vacated the unit.

During the first week of testimony, the jury watched hours of videotaped testimony from Gulf Stream representatives, including Jim and Dan Shea, co-presidents of the company. Their testimony, along with that of Gulf Stream Vice President of Operations Scott Pullen and others, revealed that, although the manufacturer claimed to have a policy of using low-formaldehyde-emitting (LFE) processed wood in its products, up to 15 percent of the wood product purchased around the time Alexander’s trailer was constructed was regular, or “reg,” wood, which emits more formaldehyde than LFE. At the time, no limits or standards existed on the amount of formaldehyde permissible in travel trailers such as the one Alexander’s family inhabited, but the company claims it had an LFE policy its vendors should have followed. The lawsuit alleged Gulf Stream used “reg” wood for FEMA-spec units, and claimed that was the root of Cooper’s health problems.

In the videotaped testimony, Dan Shea admitted under questioning that even more of its wood could have had elevated levels of formaldehyde than the amount his brother and co-president Jim Shea had claimed. Dan Shea said only a third of the wood supplied by Weyerhauser and Samling was compliant with HUD codes for formaldehyde emissions, and he conceded that “probably two-thirds or more” of Gulf Stream’s wood from those two manufacturers violated HUD certification standards.

Other videotaped testimony included Dr. Christopher DeRosa, a researcher for the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), who testified regarding occupants’ potential exposure to formaldehyde. DeRosa was demoted when he challenged a study by the ATSDR, a sister agency of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In his testimony, during which he became emotional at times, DeRosa recalled that “kids were presenting with clinical signs of formaldehyde toxicity,” with symptoms including asthma attacks, in Katrina-affected regions, but were “being returned to the environment which caused [the symptoms],” namely the trailers he suspected of being the source of the toxin.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Cooper’s asthma had been improving, according to the live testimony of Dr. Janet Barnes, the boy’s pediatrician, whose office in eastern New Orleans was inundated with 6 feet of water when the levees failed after the hurricane. Her records were destroyed, but she remembered much about the young man because he had been Barnes’ patient since 2000. She examined Cooper in April 2008, four months after the family moved out of the trailer, and diagnosed him with allergic conjunctivitis. His asthma, however, was improving: “His lung fields were clear,” Barnes testified, “but his eyes were involved. … He had dark circles under his eyes.” She noted that symptom often correlates with chronic exposure to irritants.

Dr. Karen Pacheco, who examined Cooper in 2009, found the young man may have suffered from “suboptimal” treatment of his asthma prior to Hurricane Katrina. Because Cooper’s medical records from before Aug. 29, 2005 were destroyed by flooding, however, her opinion could not be verified. Cooper reported other symptoms related to asthma and allergic responses at the time, and in videotaped testimony Pacheco said, “In my opinion, his symptoms were due to formaldehyde.”

The defense did not challenge whether Cooper had asthma, or that his condition worsened while in the trailer. But defense attorney Andy Weinstock, who represented Gulf Stream, argued the boy’s asthma had been “suboptimally treated” before and after Katrina and as a result, any problems with his health were due to an improper medicine regime, not exposure to formaldehyde.

Defense witnesses challenged opinions expressed by Alexander’s witnesses, who had attested to improper installation of the unit and had testified that the levels of formaldehyde in the family’s trailer were high enough to cause concern. But Weinstock countered that the 0.050 ppm formaldehyde in the trailer was well below levels believed to cause harm. HUD’s standard of 0.4 ppm for manufactured housing is eight times as high as the level measured in Alexander’s trailer; other recommended limits of exposure range from as low as 0.008 ppm to as high as 3.0 ppm.

“Some of [the jurors] live in mobile homes,” Weinstock said after the trial, “and they understood the argument that the level in the Alexander trailer was not unreasonably high.”

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Charity Baby!

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 6:23 AM

Over 1,000 people paraded Monday for the resurrection of their beloved Charity Hospital. Although someone did lean over at one point and say to me, “those second liners will follow the brass bands off the plank of a ship!” HA! And you know it’s true! But it’s also true that New Orleanians love them some Charity Hospital.

Organizer’s of the Save Charity Campaign say that rebuilding Charity would take less time, less money and is less destructive than leveling Lower Midcity to build a parking lot for LSU’s midlife-crisis Hummer of a hospital complex. And I believe them. Times are hard and they wanna spend tax dollars like it grows on trees when there’s a perfectly good building right there on Tulane and Perdido that can be restored. Phft. We’ll see what happens with that arbitration over the extra 300 mil LSU wants FEMA to pay to cover their documented post-storm neglect of the Charity building. I predict judgment coming down on the side of HELL NAW!

Now if you didn’t make Monday’s rally, you can get a taste of what you missed by checking out these vids. I’ll also throw in the City Council form letter the organizers passed out so you can get in on the action.

New Orleans City Council,

I want you to:

____ Order an Independent Cost-benefit Analysis of the two plans for new hospitals

____ Hold Public hearings

____ Include the hospitals in the city’s Master Plan

Name ________________________________

Address ______________________________

Oh yeah – and I VOTE _____

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You're invited to Veronica White's booksigning tomorrow

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2009 at 2:15 PM


It's $35, but Amazon has a used copy for $26.99.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Vitter drops objection to FEMA director nominee

Posted By on Tue, May 12, 2009 at 5:10 PM

After a week of bipartisan criticism from the White House, some fellow GOP senators, and withering editorials in several national newspapers, Sen. David Vitter has formally dropped his hold on the nomination of Craig Fugate as the new director of FEMA. As The Washington Post reports:

"Louisianans have gotten way too many easy spoken assurances from FEMA over the last four years that didn't mean anything," Vitter said in a statement this morning. "Now that I've secured a specific written commitment from them on the V-Zone issue, we can move forward." He said he is "very confident" the issue will be resolved soon.

Last week the White House and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) called on Vitter to lift his objections to Fugate -- especially since the 2009 hurricane season begins June 1 -- suggesting his delay tactics were inspired more by politics than home state concerns. The criticism grew last week when the senator sent an e-mail to supporters explaining that his continued opposition "isn't about politics." Opponents noted however that a link in the e-mail led to a financial donation page on Vitter's 2010 reelection campaign Web site. In response, Senate Democrats yesterday released a Web-only video slamming Vitter's continued opposition.

The New York Times, in a Sunday editorial, had opined "But we suspect that Senator Vitter is more preoccupied with the approach of re-election season than any weather events. He is clearly relishing doing battle with the administration, issuing broadsides styling himself as a populist standing up to “strong arm” tactics of the White House." Gambit's own commentary this week concluded: "Sen. Vitter needs to stop posturing and do what's right for his constituents, the Gulf Coast and the country. Craig Fugate's record of accomplishment is beyond reproach, and he has support from leaders across the political spectrum. Hurricane season is less than one month away. Louisiana needs a FEMA director in place, and we need one now."

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