BLOGGING THE HURRICANE: Day One

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By: Greg Mitchell

Check here for frequent updates all day as we follow how newspapers in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast cover Katrina on their Web sites and blogs and (possibly) prepare print editions for Tuesday.

***
7:45 PM ET: The Times-Picayune blog starts printing letters from readers. Here’s one:

–Husband rescued in Chalmette

“Today at 3:45 p.m. Louisiana time, my husband called from a hospital in South Louisiana to let me know that he was OK. However, the apartment that he was using as shelter is no longer there. He also let me know that he and his friends were rescued by local boatmen and taken to the nearest hospital for shelter. His words to me were, ‘Sherry, everything is gone. Everything is gone.’ I could hear the fear and disbelief in his voice and all I could think was thank the Good Lord he made it!



“So thank you everyone in world who sent prayers for the people in the path of this horrific storm. I can now sleep peacefully tonight knowing that my five-year-old daughter will still have her father!”

Sherry, husband in Chalmette, LA

***
5:30 PM ET. The Sun Herald in Biloxi reports that it has survived the storm, and has a lot of help on hand:

“Operations Director Marlene Kler reported, ‘The worst is over. Water didn’t get anywhere near the building.’ The plant is located less than a mile from the Gulf of Mexico.
The building is without power and phone service, and cell phone service is out.

“She said, ‘We have many, many leaks, however. No power, and the roof blew off the generator switch. When the rain subsides we’ll try to get it started. We lost a vent in the print storage area, but I think we can salvage most of the newsprint.

“Earlier, several newsroom staffers went to the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, where The Sun Herald will be printed.
Knight Ridder Asst. Vice President News Bryan Monroe and a team of journalists from The Charlotte Observer, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, The (Macon, Ga.) Telegraph and the San Jose Mercury News are in Montgomery, Ala., ready to move in to help. They are also rounding up generators and chainsaws.”

***

4:40 PM ET. The Times-Picayune spots looting near its offices:

“Returning from a fact-finding expedition from the newspaper’s Howard Avenue headquarters, a group of reporters and photographers stumbled on a parade of looters streaming from Coleman’s Retail Store, located at 4001 Earhart Blvd., about two blocks away from The Times-Picayune offices.

“The looters, who were men and women who appeared to be in their early teens to mid-40s, braved a steady rain and infrequent tropical storm wind gusts to tote boxes of “clothing and shoes from the store. Some had garbage bags stuffed with goods. Others lugged wardrobe-sized boxes or carried them on their heads.

“The line going to and from the store along Earhart Boulevard numbered into the dozens and appeared to be growing.

“Some looters were seen smiling and greeting each other with pleasantries as they passed. Another group was seen riding in the back of a pickup truck, honking the horn and cheering. The scene also attracted a handful of curious bystanders, who left the safety of their homes to watch the heist.

“No police were present in the area, which is flooded heavily with standing water two to four feet deep on all sides of Earhart Blvd.”

***

4:25 PM ET: The Sun Herald of Biloxi has had by far the most interactive blog, with readers submitting queries about conditions in their areas, or areas they have abandoned, and reporters responding as best they can. Here is the latest dispatch, directed at nearly everyone:

“This from staff writer Geoff Pender, who is calling in reports from Hattiesburg: If you are thinking about getting in the car and coming back to South Mississippi, don’t. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is telling people who have evacuated to stay away until the roads have been cleared and the National Guard is in place. If we get word when that happens, we’ll pass it along.

“On a different note, we have a report that portions of U.S. 90 are under seven feet of water.”

A few minutes earlier, two reporters had blogged a kind of summary:

“Hurricane Katrina brought catastrophic damage from the Coast to Hattiesburg. Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said downtown buildings were ‘imploding’ or collapsing, particularly in the 19th street area.

“Coastwide there were reports of homes and buildings knocked off their foundations by storm surges as high as 28 feet. As of Monday afternoon, no fatalities had been reported in Mississippi, but even emergency communications were sporadic at best. Harrison County Civil Defense’s command post lost power and communications early Monday, and emergency operations centers in Hancock and Jackson counties had to be evacuated and moved to higher ground.

“There were numerous reports of people stranded in attics or on roofs as the tidal surge and floowaters rose. At times, emergency crews were unable to go out in the heavy winds. Hospitals in the three Coast counties reported damage and problems in operations. Memorial Hospital at Gulfport reported major damage.”

***

3:35 PM ET. More from The Times-Picayune.

“Wes McDermott, from the office of emergency preparedness in New Orleans, said officials have fielded at least 100 calls from people in distress in the Lower 9th Ward and Eastern New Orleans. People report they are waiting on roofs and clinging to trees, he said. But McDermott said the city cannot send rescue crews out until the wind drops below 50 mph.

“Angela Chalk, a lieutenant with the community emergency response team in New Orleans, said her neice, Brandi Hyde, is one of those people stranded and awaiting rescue. She said her neice is hovering on roof of a three-story apartment building on Bundy Road, along with other tenants.”


***
3:05 PM ET. A classic dispatch from The Times-Picayune blog:

“Don’t fear, New Orleans evacuees . . . all is not lost. Just finished lunch from Chez Picayune . . . huddled on the second-floor landing watching the trees whip outside the big atrium window.

“Red beans and rice. Comfort food in the middle of the hurricane. How you gonna get more sassy Yat than that?

“Flood waters continue to rise across town . . . reports pouring in on the scanner, and large trees branches are snapped off, blocking the stretch of Howard Street in front of the newspaper.

“Red beans and rice . . . it’s Monday, and at least something’s right with the world.”

***
1:55 PM ET. From the Sun Herald in Biloxi:

“Memorial Hospital at Gulfport has been heavily damaged. There are reports that all the hospitals in the Coast counties are reporting major difficulties.

“Gov. Haley Barbour and other officials have warned that looters will not be tolerated. ‘If you are in the business of theft, this might not be the time to play your trade,’ according to Harold Cross of the Mississippi National Guard. So far, there have been no confirmed reports of casualties.

“More than 180,000 people in South Mississippi are without power.”

***

1:25 PM ET: From the Sun Herald blog in Biloxi:

“Red Cross official said virtually all their shelters have received some sort of damage, including broken windows, leaky windows, no power and the like, but there have been no injuries. The most significant damage was at Lyman Elementary, where they lost two buildings. People were moved to another building on campus safely.

“At Woolmarket Elementary, they lost the roof. West Wortham Elementary has signficant roof damage.

“Again, no injuries have been reported, but communications have been spotty for some time.”

***
1:05 PM ET. Latest From the Mobile (Ala.) Register’s blog:

“Near the Mobile Register in downtown, storm surge flooded Water Street and trapped a car at the Exxon gas station at Water and Beauregard streets just before 11 a.m. A sport utility vehicle barely rescued at least one person in the compact car as the water continued to rise around the station, which had become an island.

“The floods moved dumpsters along Water Street as the wind whipped the water into a light chop. Also, an ice freezer – a traditional staple at gas stations – floated north.
The water appeared to seep into the newly renovated GM&O building and other buildings on the east side of Water Street.

“Mobile police tried to keep cars from heading into the high water.”

***

12:40 PM ET. From The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., inland but hard hit by storm:

“Emergency management officials are planning for an influx of refugees from New Orleans while addressing problems in the Baton Rouge area, according to a briefing at the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Emergency Management this morning.

“As of 10 a.m. Monday, there were 2,400 to 2,600 spaces still available in Baton Rouge area shelters. However, officials are trying to find ways to expand the special needs shelter at LSU in preparation for accepting special needs refuges from the New Orleans area.

“OEP officials said New Orleans hospitals are starting to flood and are talking about the possibility of evacuating patients north.”

***

12:40 PM ET. The Times-Picayune just posted a photo by Jon Donley on its storm blog of the roof of the Superdome with immense portions of its skin peeled away (though perhaps not leaking). Here is the caption:

“This shot, taken from the third-floor roof of the Times-Picayune building during a slight break in the rain, shows where Hurricane Katrina’s winds ripped away a large portion of the white covering of the Superdome on Monday morning.”

***
12:15 PM ET. From The Times-Picayune in New Orleans:

“Some people who stayed in St. Bernard Parish were
forced up into their attics to escape the floodwaters,
said state Sen. Walter Boasso, who heard from local
officials that some houses in Chalmette had water
rising beyond the second floor.

“‘We know people were up in the attics hollering for
help,’ said Boasso, who evacuated to Baton Rouge and
was camped out at the state Office of Emergency
Preparedness. Hopefully rescue workers will be able to
get to people who are trapped before the water rises
too high, he said.”

***

11:45 AM ET: latest from the Sun Herald blog in Blioxi, Miss.:

–Many requesting evacuation

“The Harrison County Emergency Management Agency is getting a lot of phone calls from folks asking to be evacuated. They’re being told in so many words that they missed the boat and to get as high in their houses or a neighbor’s house as possible and hold on. It’s still too dangerous to launch rescue operations.”

–BSL police trapped

“We have reports of a group of Bay St. Louis police officers trapped in the first floor of the Bay View Apartments.”


***

11:05 AM ET: From the blog at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans at peak of storm:

–Newspaper building taking damage

“The side of the Times-Picayune building facing the Pontchartrain Expressway has taken enough damage to cause some extra discomfort among those sheltered here. Windows blown out in the third floor executive suite have lead to flooding through the ceiling into the company cafeteria – Chez Picayune.

“The cafeteria, which usually features some pretty decent local cuisine, this morning is dishing out simpler fare – well-appreciated grits, bacon, biscuits and scrambled eggs. The line of employees and families are cramped in the lunch line, because most of the room is barricaded due to the ceiling leaks. Along the wall, where the lunchroom’s huge windows are shuttered against the storm, leaks from the hurricane-driven monsoon are cascading in a waterfall. A steamy waterfall, since the air-conditioning has now been out for hours.

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

–New Orleans is sinking

“Reports of widespread flooding now, although not at the doomsday scenario levels. But we’ve got several hours to go before we’ve seen the worst past. Scanner traffic is busy with calls of rising water, including 18 inches and rising against the levee in the French Quarter. Independently, NOLA has received a flooding alert for the French Market area.

“Fairly heavy street flooding in front and behind the Times-Picayune . . . water appears about knee deep, whipped by the steady wind into whitecaps and breakers. Water is hubcap deep on the furthest vehicles in the employee parking lot, and rising quickly.”

Note: The web site’s Bourbon Street video cam is down.

***
10:55 a.m. ET: More from the hurricane blog at The Sun Herald in hard-hit Biloxi, Miss.:

–From a staffer: “Emergency people are receiving many, many calls from people who are seeing the water rise and calling for someone to come get them. But in most cases, there’s nothing the emergency workers can do right now. There has been a report that some Biloxi firefighters on the East End are stranded in their station because of water.”

–From a reader: “Thank you for keeping this blog! We
already found out from your blog that our house is in the water. Any info about closed roads and inaccessible areas would be greatly appreciated by everyone who is away from home right now. Thank you again for providing such a valuable service during hard times.”

–From a staffer: “This is the latest from Chief Pat Sullivan in Gulfport, reported by Sun Herald staffer Josh Norman: A tornado was reported in North Gulfport this morning — no further info right now. The Gaston Hewes Recreation Center is partially collapsed. There is water in buildings all over Gulfport Business District (downtown), and glass has been blown out of many buildings. There is water in the Downtown Library.”

***

10:15 a.m. ET: Hurricane damage and flooding is also hitting hard as far east as Mobile, Alabama. Here is the latest from the Storm Central blog at The Mobile Register.

–Tornado Warning in Mobile

“A tornado warning has been issued for Mobile and George (MS) counties. The tornado-producing storm will be near St Elmo and Irvington by 8:50 am CDT, Hutchens Elementary School and Dees by 8:55 am, Tanner Williams and Big Creek Lake dam bu 9:00 am, and Agricola and Movella by 9:05 am.”

–A state of emergency has now been declared for Alabama.

“Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour says that Katrina is taking the exact track of Hurricane Camille, a devastating storm of 1969.

“Meanwhile, reports out of New Orleans indicate that part of the roof of the Superdome, currently housing thousands of evacuees, has blown off. No further details on the severity of the damages to the dome are available at this time.”

***

9:40 AM ET: From the “hurricane bunker” blog at New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, this just in:

–Building collapse reported, possible victims.

“Building collapse reported on Laurel near Washington in the Garden District . . . possibly with people inside. Emergency workers trying to see if they can get a National Guard deuce-and-a-half to get through the storm for possible rescue.”

–High-rise windows blowing out

“Listening to reports of windows blowing out . . . most frantic calls about downtown hotels, where a number of windows have blown out. Guests huddling in halls. Water blowing in through windows, leaking through ceilings.”

***

9:30 a.m. ET: The Sun Herald in Biloxi, now expecting the worst as the storm hits east of New Orleans, is also carrying a hurricane blog. Here are the two latest entries.

–A report from Hancock county: “Dee Lumpkin, the deputy director of Hancock County Civil Defense, took a quick minute for an update. It’s getting ugly over there.

“They’ve got 9 feet of water in Waveland. She thinks they’ve lost part of the back of the courthouse over there. There are houses in Bay St. Louis that don’t normally flood that have water up to the doorknobs.”

–Sun Herald reporter Josh Norman filed the following report from the paper’s offices on DeBuys Road on the Gulfport-Biloxi city line about four blocks off the beach:

“The wind is whipping now. The roof on the building is creaking. You can hear the building’s joints straining. Pat Sullivan called at 6:15 to ask if I wanted to go for a ride with him. I took one look outside and said, ‘nope.’

“Anita felt brave briefly and thought she’d give it a go. Then she saw the winds. Pat pulled up, in a sedan I’d like to note, and said it was getting too rough and that he was heading back. I also just heard him over the scanner saying that he had succesfully extracted a woman and her 4 kids from their apartment after the roof ripped off.

“Lots of people still in their homes now and the shelters were pretty much all at capacity last night. I can’t believe the complacency of people down here.

“There was a seagull in the parking lot, desperately clinging to life this morning. It was amazing that the thing held on in some of these gusts. It managed to find a slightly less windy spot behind a tire. Just hope the car stays there.

“On the upside, the SunHerald’s showers are lovely. And those windows in the conference room are providing a great view.”

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