Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Month Hiatus

It has been really hectic here in my neck of the woods lately…and I just hate to see some interesting and historic events pass by without being able to keyboard my perspectives. Well, as long as planet Earth runs on a meager 24-hour cycle there isn’t much options; so the juggling continues.

I intend to resume ranting about my mental meanderings by mid October.

I leave you with these words:

Stay hale, hearty, healthy, and may peace reign supreme on Earth!


Thursday, September 15, 2005

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Daily Key Messages and General Mission Talking Points Part II

US Army Corps of Engineers'General Mission Talking Points (contd)

Read Part I

US Army Corps of Engineers' Daily Messages Part II
- Released 09/13/2005

Discovering the Breach
We received an unconfirmed report Monday morning, 29 August 2005, from local firemen that there was breach at the 17th Street Canal. Due to its potential significance the District Commander Col Richard Wagenaar, who had weathered the storm in New Orleans, attempted to view the site on Monday afternoon. He was unable to get to the area due to high water, power lines and debris. In their attempts to get to the site, Corps officials encountered significant flooding at the I-10/610 split. Based on water height at that location it was obvious that significant flooding had occurred. They were able to validate the levee breach on Tuesday, and they began implementing a plan to fix the breach

Receiving FOIA Requests
The Corps has received a number of Freedom of Information Act requests from news media over the past several days. The requests have been for inspection reports, evacuation plans, contracts, email and correspondence. We understand the public’s need for information about the Corps of Engineers capabilities, projects and performance in responding to national emergencies. Due to the hurricane and flooding in New Orleans, we are unable to access our files in the New Orleans District Office. In the interim we will process these requests for the records that are here in the DC headquarters.

Hurricane Preparedness
We are continually monitoring the weather and are prepared to respond, if needed, should another hurricane approach the United States. Although we have more than 2,000 people deployed in support of Hurricane Katrina, we are reconstituting our response capability and have many more employees prepared for any other major storms or other natural disasters. We continue to support our military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as supporting the civil works and military programs missions at home.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses full and open competition to award standing contracts for emergency disaster response to provide services we know we will need, such as debris removal, roofing, ice and water supply. Federal agencies can award non-competitive contracts for specific work not covered by the existing contracts when an emergency demands the fastest possible response - such as plugging the breaches in New Orleans’ levee. New Orleans District issued most of the Corps’ non-competitive contracts immediately after Hurricane Katrina to firms that could quickly bring in equipment to address critical recovery operations. The Corps used limited competitions to speed the award process for time-critical follow-on tasks in cases where the service provider needs to have a proven track record for completing difficult tasks. The repair of New Orleans’ unique system of levees, pumps and canals is an example of work awarded in limited competition. Emergency contracts have been critical to the ongoing success in drawing down Hurricane Katrina flood waters. As of Sept. 10, the Corps has awarded 124 contracts for Hurricane Katrina disaster response.

The Mississippi River has now been declared open by the U.S. Coast Guard, all the way from the Head of Passes, North. The Head of Passes is very far south. That's the part of the river that's just above Southwest Pass. So right now, the only part of the river that's operating under any restrictions at all is just that little part from the main stem of the Mississippi River channel through the Southwest Pass out into the Gulf. That section is limited to daylight traffic. The USGS continues restoring Aids to Navigation (AToN) to allow night transits, giving first priority to the AToN’s that the pilots say are most needed.

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is open from Texas to Florida using Baptiste Collette, as an alternative to the IHNC. The GIWW reach from Baptiste Collette to Pascagoula is limited to 9.5' draft, versus the 12' authorized. Caution is recommended for transit.

Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) Lock is operational but not operating due to bridge closures and sunken barges. The contracting firm of Boh Brothers is continuing to remove sunken vessels. Anticipate removal by mid-week.

Mississippi River Gulf Outlet is closed to deep draft vessels. Inland portion will serve as an alternative route to GIWW due to closure of IHNC for shallow draft vessels. Preliminary surveys indicate controlling depth of 27'.

Port Fourchon sustained significant damage, but is operating to a limited extent. Sunken vessels are not blocking the channel.

Corps preliminary surveys are under way for Atchafalaya, Houma, and other channels. NOAA is continuing its surveys of the Mississippi River to verify Corps centerline survey results.

Tiger Pass is shoaled to less than 6'. This channel, authorized to 14' provides a shorter route for vessels traveling to the west from the Mississippi River near the mouth. Primarily used by fishing and supply vessels. The Corps is preparing contract to dredge.

GWOT effect on Mission Capability
The Corps' 35,000 employees have a long history of volunteerism and dedication to assisting our nation in times of need, both at home and abroad. Our overall capability to respond to this and other disasters at home is not diminished by our support to the Global War on Terror.

Rebuilding New Orleans
At this time, the Corps is focused on its missions of disaster relief, recovery and unwatering New Orleans and surrounding areas. Local and state officials will lead the future discussions for rebuilding New Orleans.

Future Funding
Recently, Congress approved a large funding package for hurricane relief with $400 million for Corps missions separate from our FEMA ones. The President and Congress are currently considering additional funding to assist in the relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

At the request of the Administration, the Corps of Engineers is providing input regarding the restoration of flood damage reduction infrastructure as well as the inland and deep draft navigation system.

Corps Support to Louisiana
In support of FEMA, the Corps of Engineers will be assessing and repairing public facilities (schools, libraries, fire stations, etc.) for the state of Louisiana. This mission is estimated at $200 million.

Corps Team in Mississippi
Our MRFO web site is now up and growing at The site includes a Media Services section with names, contacts, and sign up for e-Media alerts. Suggestions welcome!

The Army Corps of Engineers’ Task Force Hope Mississippi has about 400 personnel from around the nation focused on recovery operations in the Mississippi Recovery Field Office (RFO). This number could eventually reach 1000 at peak recovery as the Vicksburg District sets up a district-size team to execute assigned FEMA missions.

The Corps mission in Mississippi is now heavily focused on recovery operations as requirements for power, water and ice support have dropped significantly with local systems coming back on line.

Debris Removal
FEMA estimates that there are currently about 18 to 20 million cubic yards of debris in the hurricane impacted area of Mississippi. This equates to 200 football fields piled 50 feet high. It will take about 8 months to remove it from the streets, and roughly a year and a half to completely dispose of it.

Right now we are moving roughly 100,000 cubic yards of debris per day, but we are ramping up and expect that to increase. Removal is underway in 6 counties (Jackson, Jones, Stone, Forrest, George and Hancock).We are expecting additional requests from cities and counties. Each county or municipality must agree to USACE debris removal support before it can be received.

The Corps of Engineers is not alone in this process. Disposal efforts are closely coordinated with the local community and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Coast Guard among others.

The EPA and Coast Guard are working on targeting large scale hazardous materials, while the Corps is working on clearing debris on the roads and selectively removing hazardous materials as they are discovered.
Hazardous materials that end up at our reduction sites inadvertently will be culled out and placed in separate containment areas. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality monitors our work and issues permits for reduction sites.

Temporary Roofing
Over 5200 requests for Operation Blue Roof have been received in the past few days. Over 200 roofs were repaired in the past 24 hours. More than 100 crews are now working. Estimates are that 23,000 roof repairs will be required. About 1000 work orders are about to be issued to contractors.

At peak, several hundred roofs per day will be repaired. Plastic staging operations are in Hattiesburg and Gulfport. Operation Blue Roof Sign Up Centers are now open in Jackson, Harrison, Hancock, Forrest, Stone, Lamar, Marion, Jefferson Davis, and Pearl River counties.

Temporary Housing
Temporary housing is being handled using a national/regional approach through the FEMA Housing Area Command.

Technical Assistance
RFO technical experts are providing technical assistance as request from the state through FEMA.

Water/Waste Water Restoration
Forty-six systems are known to need assessment. We have begun assessment of the state’s prioritized list. A 10-12 person team from the Environmental Protection Agency will join the USACE team at Keesler in supporting this FEMA mission.

Temporary Classroom Sites & Emergency Facilities
USACE has received a mission assignment to place approximately 450 temporary classrooms on school property in the impacted areas. This mission also tasks the Corps provide portable buildings for public facilities such as fire stations, police stations, and emergency centers. Current focus is coordinating with the state to identify and prioritize structures.

Today’s Vignette: Keeping the Lights on in Biloxi

The local power station in Biloxi faced a potential problem after Hurricane Katrina. The local power plant needed the damaged Popps Ferry Bridge opened to supply coal needed for power generation for the area. A united team from USACE, Bureau of Reclamation, Harrison County, the City of Biloxi, and a professor from the University of Wyoming developed a creative plan to safely raise the bridge and keep power flowing to the area.




Wednesday, September 14, 2005

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Daily Key Messages and General Mission Talking Points Part I

I remain most appreciative of the kindness of Dr Todd Stong to share this information with me. “You will be impressed with what the Corps is doing and how little of it seems of interest to the media, mired with their political agendas. You will also sense again the value of military leadership to be early on the scene when faced with a disaster…” He stated in his email message to me. I have had the pleasure and honor to blog about Dr stong, a retired volunteer engineer. He is about to undertake a bridge construction project in rural Eastern Nigeria by later this year.

Posted below are series of high content update-statements from US Army Corp of Engineers on progress made thus far since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the US Gulf coast. The statement posted in this blog was released on Tuesday, 13 September 2005. The scale of the aftermath devastation is staggering, likewise the efforts to de-water the city of New Orleans, and restore infrastructures in Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile and other cities affected. This statement speaks volume to all these efforts.

A big Kudos to the US Army Corps of Engineers!


US Army Corps of Engineers' Daily Messages Part I
- Released 09/13/2005

1. The Overall Corps Mission
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to work primarily in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, carrying out a wide variety of missions in response to Hurricane Katrina. In addition to our efforts to get the water out of New Orleans we are also providing services throughout the affected areas to include providing ice, water and temporary power; as well as debris removal and temporary roofing.

Our three priorities are:
First, supporting efforts to save lives and find people,
Second, sustaining lives (water and shelter) and
Third, setting conditions for recovery (cleanup, restoring infrastructure and navigation).

Corps employees are empowered to make decisions regarding hurricane relief support on the spot as long as the decision is lawful, ethical and the employee is willing to be accountable for the action. This has helped keep things moving in a time of difficult communication.

Currently we have nearly 2,000 Corps employees deployed in the affected areas and our missions are totaling $2.9 billion, of which more than $2.8 billion are missions from FEMA and more than $36 million are for Flood Control Coastal Emergencies.

Other Mission Statistics:

· More than 54 million liters of water delivered
· More than 216 million pounds of ice delivered
· 159 generators delivered
· More than 300 roofs installed; 51,000 projects to take place
· More than 560,000 cubic yards of debris removed

2. Un-Watering Progress in New Orleans
Working with the city of New Orleans and private contractors, the Army Corps of Engineers continues to make steady progress on pumping out floodwaters from the city of New Orleans and immediate vicinity into Lake Ponchartrain. The number of pumps that are operational at any given time is continually changing. On average, we are pumping 11.8 billion gallons of water per day, or the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 4.8 seconds.

Original estimates for completing the un-watering of the city have recently been revised. Several factors have contributed to this revision: improved pumping capacity and efficiency, additional pumps, intentional breaches in the levee system and better field data and hydrological modeling. As of today, we estimate the overall un-watering effort will be completed in early to mid-October. A breakdown by parish is provided:

New Orleans Parish, the week of October 2
New Orleans East Parish, the week of October 8
Chalmette Parish, the week of October 8
Plaquemines East Parish, the week of October 18, and
Plaquemines West, the week of October 18.
The estimates are based on normal seasonal rainfall.

It is important to note that the un-watering effort will remove most, but not all the water. There will be some isolated pockets of water the will remain. However, these pockets of water should not hamper recovery efforts such as debris removal, structural assessments and restoration of critical services.

3. Finding Human Remains during Work
The US Army Corps of Engineers is sympathetic to the tragic loss of life that occurred in New Orleans and throughout other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi as a result of Hurricane Katrina. As Corps personnel continue recovery operations throughout the affected areas, they may come discover human remains. If this is the case, Corps personnel will handle the remains in a dignified and respectful manner and will contact the appropriate authorities.

4. Water Quality Issues Related to Pumping Water into Lake Ponchartrain
Everyone is concerned about the quality of water being moved from New Orleans to Lake Ponchartrain, but our first priority is the health and safety of residents of New Orleans and all responders as we get the water out of the city. We are working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure human health and safety as we drain the water and have received approval from EPA to move the water following the agency's normal practices in emergencies. EPA is monitoring and testing the water. As water drains, we anticipate there will be times when we may need to take additional measures, and we are working with EPA on this right now. Any questions as to water quality should be referred to the Office of Water, U.S. EPA.

5. Corps Team in New Orleans
During and after disasters, the Corps of Engineers “victim district team concept” is often put into place. Colonel Richard Wagenaar, commander and district engineer of the New Orleans District, has shifted his attention to reconstituting the district, and Colonel Duane Gapinski of the Rock Island District has taken the lead on un-watering the city of New Orleans. The district has now accounted for nearly every one of its 1193 employees. Many employees are available and waiting to return to work and 75-100 are actually working at the emergency operations centers. The plan has three phases: (1) immediately place essential staff at existing offices in Vicksburg, Lafayette and St. Louis or by telework; (2) place other employees when space and IM/IT is available in Vicksburg, Jackson, Clinton, MS, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and other sites or by telework; and (3) transition to the New Orleans office when the facility is available.

Read Part II of the News Release



Ubuntu: African Software Gains Global Popularity

Original author: Gary Wilson, Business in Africa Online

Ubuntu is an African word that is one of the founding principles of the new South Africa, and it also is the name of a new computer operating system developed by South African Mark Shuttleworth and his company Canonical…

Ubuntu Linux calls itself the "Linux for human beings". In less than six months from its introduction in October 2004, Ubuntu Linux became the most popular Linux desktop distribution in the United States.
In July, PC World magazine named Ubuntu Linux one of its "100 Best Products of 2005". And it has won numerous other awards. A special version was developed by Hewlett-Packard for its laptop computers that are sold in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Linux is a computer operating system, the software that makes a computer work. The operating system most commonly found on desktop computers in an office, at school or at home is Microsoft's Windows. The second most common desktop operating system is Apple's MacOS, which at 4.5% of the market in the United States is a distant second. Linux is third at about 3.5% of the desktop computers.

That's not insignificant though - it means that about one of every 28 computers in the United States is using Linux, and outside the US the figure is much bigger. Government agencies and local governments in Germany, Spain, Sweden Brazil and China have already changed from Windows to Linux. New Linux usage is picking up and its use on the desktop in the US is expected to reach six percent in 2007.

Free software

…Linux, unlike Windows or the MacOS, is software that is distributed under a Free Software Foundation license. The core of the operating system, called the kernel, is really the only part that of the system that is Linux. A Linux distribution takes that kernel and adds a great many additional software programs and utilities to make the whole system.

One common misunderstanding about Linux is to think that free software means that the work of developing it is being done for free. All the developers of the Linux operating system are being paid full-time wages. Most are employed by the giants of the computer industry like Hewlett-Packard and IBM. IBM alone has over 600 programmers working full-time on Linux development.
These corporations have chosen to be a part of the Linux development because some experts in the field of computer technology think that free, open source software can be more stable and secure than closed, proprietary systems.

Linux has convinced many that this can be true…
If you look underneath Ubuntu Linux, you'll find another name in Linux systems: Debian. Debian calls itself the "free software community" and its collection of Linux software emphasizes stability and security. Ubuntu Linux is actively part of that free software community. This has made it attractive to users in school systems, where having access to completely free software can make a difference.


Finally, Ubuntu Linux is successful because it has strong financial backing. In July, Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical set up the Ubuntu Foundation with US$10 million in financing. The money comes from Shuttleworth's deep pockets.

Shuttleworth came by his fortune by founding Thawte, a highly successful Internet security company that was an early seller of the digital certificates needed for online commerce. He sold the company for a reported US$575 million in 1999. After the sale, Shuttleworth spent US$20 million to be a space tourist on a Russian Soyuz rocket, spending eight days at the International Space Station orbiting Earth.

Back on land, he has put some of his fortune into developing Linux systems. His funding of the Ubuntu Foundation guarantees that Ubuntu Linux will have a stable future.

"The Ubuntu Foundation is a non-profit fund setup to ensure that a few core Ubuntu developers can be employed full-time for a few years, making good on commitments for long-term support for existing Ubuntu releases and also co-coordinating new Ubuntu releases," Shuttleworth told IPS in an email interview.

"So it allows people to be confident that Ubuntu won't go away, no matter what happens to me or to Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu."

Original article by Gary Wilson, Business In Africa Online



Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina: Gestures of Human Kindness

This post is an ongoing compilation of heroic stories of good-spirited individuals lending helping hands, and whose actions have brought solace and consolation to the victims of Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005. This post is a general tribute to those silent heroes and heroines in our midst. It is also a salutation and commendation to those that donated cash and/or kind to the relief effort. It remembers the group of men and women that stood in harms way to rescue the distressed during this calamity.

Names of the heros and heroines showcased are listed on the sidebar on the right under "Hurricane Katrina: Honor Roll". Readers are free and indeed encouraged to recommend individuals to the honor roll; just leave a comment with enough information.

Thanks for stopping by!


Story 8: Sept 12, 2005

Heroes: Eli & Peyton Manning, LA

Manning brothers team up for Katrina relief

The name Manning is legendary in the city of New Orleans for two generations of football greats. Now those hometown heroes are doing what they can to help their friends, family and thousands of their longtime fans recover from Hurricane Katrina.

…Peyton, quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, and younger brother Eli, who plays for the New York Giants, mobilized a plane full of relief supplies that were delivered to Baton Rouge on Saturday. Both brothers grew up in Louisiana.
Like countless other efforts across the nation, the collection and delivery of 30,000 pounds of water, Gatorade, infant formula, diapers and pillows took a lot of different players to become reality.

The Manning-led effort began in Atlanta where the airplane was housed early Saturday, with about 20 employee-volunteers from AirTran Airways, flying a mostly empty aircraft to Indianapolis, Indiana, to pick up the supplies. Peyton Manning now lives in Indiana and runs a charity there.
"This is not like an everyday trip," said pilot Lee Nall Jr. "We're just trying as best we can to add a little sanity to these people's lives. I've done two of these trips already. I'll do as many as I can..."
The Manning brothers helped load some of the pallets of baby formula and water. They also talked to more than a dozen reporters from Indianapolis newspapers, radio and TV stations before boarding the flight to Louisiana…"I talked to the Red Cross and told them I certainly didn't want to get in the way, but I wanted to do whatever I could to help," he said. "They said these people are down, so any kind of morale boost we could give would be good for them, too."

The Mannings have been involved in community assistance for many years. When he joined the NFL, Peyton Manning set up the PeyBack Foundation, which has since contributed money to youth organizations in Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana…

"It's just different when you have your hometown hit. It just triggers a nerve," he said. "We grew up in New Orleans, and my parents are from Mississippi. Slidell, St. Bernard -- I can just visualize them."
…Scores of Red Cross volunteers at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport loaded the tons of supplies onto waiting trucks. "This stuff is great, and we need it so badly," said Red Cross volunteer Karyn Degenais, a school psychologist from Oregon on leave from her job to help with the relief effort in Louisiana.

As the empty AirTran plane taxied for its return to Atlanta, Peyton and Eli Manning headed off to spend some time in the region they call home.
"We know these people; these people know us," Peyton said. "We have a connection to these people."


Story 7: Sept 9, 2005

Heroes: Curt & Shonda Schilling, MA

Schilling family hosts nine from New Orleans

Last autumn, Curt Schilling helped the Red Sox win it all. Now, he and his wife, Shonda, are helping a New Orleans family of nine who have lost almost everything.

Moved by the plight of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives were shattered by Hurricane Katrina, the star pitcher and his wife arranged to fly up a family and to put them up in a Boston-area hotel.

The Fields family has seven children, four boys and three girls. They are between the ages of 5 and 12. The family fled its New Orleans home just before the storm, with only a few clothes and groceries. As they realized the scope of the devastation in New Orleans, the Schillings decided to help, and they chose a personal, immediate gesture rather than a simple contribution of money…
"We decided we wanted to bring an entire family here and put them up," she added. "We all need to take care of each other at a time like this."
The Fields family spent last week in an Atlanta-area hotel, with the help of a charitable group. While staying there, they were contacted by a woman who had set up a website, OpenYourHome.Com, to match displaced families with people willing to take them in. The Schillings registered on the site Friday; on Saturday they anonymously arranged for the family to fly to Boston. The Fields had never even been to the Northeast. But with little money and no place to go, they accepted the offer.

"He said, 'I would like to help you,' " Efrem Fields, 31, said in a phone interview from his hotel yesterday. ''He didn't say who he was. He just said, 'You have a big family, and it's hard to take care of a big family in hard times.' He's right about that -- it is."

A van showed up at the hotel to take the family to the airport on Saturday afternoon. Fields and his wife, Shelita, 28, were frightened to fly, but they managed. They arrived in Boston that evening. The Schillings, who have four children 10 and younger, visited the family at the hotel. It was then that Fields learned who had helped his family.
"I said, 'Wait a second, I know this guy,'" said Fields, a big baseball fan. "Schilling...Schilling, there's only one Schilling I know, and he's a baseball player! It blew my mind."
The Schillings have pledged to provide housing for the family for a year, and are trying to arrange for the children to attend school...

…The Schillings are outspoken advocates for many causes, notably ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease; the Schillings made arrangements for the Fields family quietly, and discussed it only after they were contacted by The Boston Globe.

Via Boston Globe


Story 4-6: Sept 9, 2005

Adam family: Anthony, Michael, and Adriana, TX
David Blomstrom, TX
Houston Police Officer Beverly Bisso, TX

Houston Heroes: Neighbors join forces to bring relief

Story 6: Adam family: Anthony, Michael, and Adriana

Whether the help is big or small, to the families stricken by tragedy, many Houston residents have become heroes. Michael Adame, 15, acknowledged he was not too excited about rolling out of bed before dawn Saturday to be among the first volunteers at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

But once he got there, he was glad he'd come. "People lost everything. They lost their families," he said. Michael's father, Anthony, took Michael and his sister, Adriana, to the center at 4:30 a.m. The three planned to stay until 4 p.m.

The three worked behind tables stacked high with donated toothpaste and toothbrushes, in an area crowded with supplies that volunteers have come to call "the store." As evacuees filed by, the Adames helped them to the goods.

Story 5: David Blomstrom

David Blomstrom went to the shelter at the Reliant Astrodome on Friday, its second full day of operation. Four things motivated him — a desire to help and the three unoccupied bedrooms in his Richmond home. Once he arrived, he did not intend to leave alone...

At the Astrodome, Blomstrom met Chaka KhanWilson and her three children, and brought them home. Wilson, a New Orleans resident who left the Crescent City with nothing but her purse, had not slept Thursday night. She spent that time praying for a way to get her family out of the crowded Astrodome.

The following night, Wilson slept in the Blomstrom home, with her children — 8-year-old Kelvin Walker and 5-year-old twins Kelly and Keltin Walker.

Story 4: Houston Police Officer Beverly Bisso

Angie Rangel, head of housekeeping at the Astro Inn on Interstate 45, is now also in charge of organizing and distributing donated goods that have accumulating there since Thursday, when residents and businesses began to respond to a call for donations from Houston Police Officer Beverly Bisso, who works in the Heights...

Thirty-six of the 120 rooms at the motel were occupied by hurricane victims Saturday. Many are running out of money and food. Bisso started the drive after she drove by the motel Wednesday.

Via Houston Chronicles


Story 3: Sept 6, 2005

Hero: Deamonte Love, age 6, LA

A child in charge of `6 babies'

In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of refugees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader.

They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2, and one was wearing only diapers. A 3-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love...

In the Baton Rouge headquarters of the rescue operation, paramedics tried to coax their names out of them; nurses who examined them stayed up that night, brooding.

Transporting the children alone was "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, knowing that their parents are either dead" or that they had been abandoned, said Pat Coveney, a Houston emergency medical technician who put them into the back of his ambulance and drove them out of New Orleans.

"It goes back to the same thing," he said. "How did a 6-year-old end up being in charge of six babies?"
Deamonte began to give more details to Derrick Robertson, a 27-year-old Big Buddy mentor: How he saw his mother cry when he was loaded onto the helicopter. How he promised her he would take care of his little brother.

Late Saturday, they found Deamonte's mother, who was in a shelter in San Antonio along with the four mothers of the other five children. Catrina Williams, 26, saw her children's pictures on a Web site set up over the weekend by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. By Sunday, a private plane from Angel Flight waited to take the children to Texas…

In a phone interview, Williams said she is the kind of mother who doesn't let her children out of her sight. What happened, she said, was that her family, trapped in a New Orleans apartment building, began to feel desperate.

The water wasn't going down, and they had been living without light, food or air conditioning for four days. The baby needed milk and the milk was gone. So she decided they would evacuate by helicopter. When a helicopter arrived, they were told to send the children first and that the helicopter would be back in 25 minutes.

It was a wrenching moment. Williams' father, Adrian Love, told her to send the children ahead.
"I told them to go ahead and give them up, because me, I would give my life for my kids. They should feel the same way," said Love, 48.
The helicopter didn't come back.

While the children were transported to Baton Rouge, their parents wound up in Texas. Days passed without contact. On Sunday, Williams was elated.
"All I know is I just want to see my kids," she said. "Everything else will just fall into place."
At 3 p.m. Sunday, social workers said goodbye to the children who now had names: Deamonte Love; Darynael Love; Zoria Love and her brother Tyreek. The girl who cried "Gabby!" was Gabrielle Janae Alexander. The girl they called Peanut was Degahney Carter. And the boy whom they called G was actually Lee--Leewood Moore Jr…

Via Yahoo News


Story 2: Sept 6, 2005

Hero: Champlin Victor Sheldon, LA

Chaplain's initiative spurs rush delivery of baby supplies

Spc. Brandon Taylor (right) hands a box of baby supplies through a window of a helicopter to Staff Sgt. Charles Miller at Baton Rouge Metro Airport Monday. The Army delivered diapers, infant formula and bottles to Bogalusa. Greg Pearson/The Times 09.05.05. Via Shreveport Times, by Dan Turner

Sheldon, who leads a double life as a chaplain in the Navy Reserve and an Episcopal priest, overheard Washington Parish official on a local radio station describing a severe shortage of infant formula and diapers in Bogalusa, a small town along the Mississippi River about 80 miles north of New Orleans. Sheldon responded to the call, challenging St. James Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge to come up with the baby supplies.

"I had an idea, since they needed the formula so badly, of a way to get it there quicker," Sheldon said. "Driving was going to take too long."
On a day when President Bush came to town to make sure various agencies were cooperating in the relief effort, Sheldon managed to convince a U.S. Army search-and-rescue crew to haul the goods.

It wasn't a tough sales job.

"We've flown all over New Orleans picking people off of roof tops with the boom lift, but I'm just as excited about this," said Spc. Brandon Taylor, crew chief for the group making the first of two flights late Monday afternoon.
A trip to Sam's Warehouse produced a full pallet of formula, while a church volunteer rounded up bottles and pacifiers.

"We bought all the formula they had," Sheldon said, just as another church volunteer rounded the corner with a trailer loaded with more. In short order, the flight crew packed the helicopter to the brim with the supplies. The image of an olive-drab Army helicopter crammed with brightly packaged diapers and formula left Taylor deeply impressed.

"This," he said, "is so cool."

By Dan Turner, Shreveport Times


Story 1: Sept 3, 2005

Hero: Greg Lawrence, MN

Minnesota man offers homeless family a home

Via Kare 11 News.

Some people who made it out of Katrina's path on Monday kept right on moving, driving to get as far away from the misery as possible. On Thursday, a few of those refugees made it to Minnesota. They found a father's small home, big smile and thankful heart waiting to welcome them.” According to Brad via Kare11 News. But “unlike the thousands who ignored the warnings to leave New Orleans or simply didn't have the means to leave, Robertson Bruno and her husband (Harold), sister and four kids between them, fled.
"We have nothing. This is what we have, the clothes on our backs."
Bruno and family have spent the past four days fleeing from Katrina in a car. Three weeks ago, Greg Lawrence bought a home with the intention of renting it out after he finished doing some work on it. Then Hurricane Katrina struck and put a considerable twist into his plans.

Now Robertsons have a new home, thanks to Lawrence! Now the family has a newly renovated, three bedroom home with two baths, one of them a jacuzzi.

"I want to help you. There's no rent and you can live here up to a year", Lawrence told the Robertsons.
A year to get back on their feet. Harold can't believe how nice the place is, "I'm about to cry, but I usually don't cry, I'm excited. I'm just speechless." Speechless over what has evolved from tears of sorrow to tears of joy. "Welcome to Minnesota. I'm sorry for your loss guys," said Lawrence has he welcomed the family to their new home...

Read more about this extraordinary story




Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hydraform Blocks: Innovative Housing

There is a deficit of over 14 million houses and a growth demand of 200,000 homes per annum in Nigeria, according to data from the Federal Mortgage bank of Nigeria’s (FMBN). This, coupled with the Nigerian Government’s target of building 40,000 housing units per year, a growing population and increasing urbanization establishes an urgent need to creatively solve the problem of housing in Nigeria.

The price of building materials is partly responsible for the astronomic cost of real estate development. In addition, the absence of mortgage backed securities, archaic laws and regulations, and the difficulties associated with getting long-term loan are some of the limitating factors against housing developers in Nigeria, according to the communiqué released at the end of a conference on mortgage-backed securities conference in Nigeria (June 2005). As I wrote in an earlier post, CreditRegistry, a pioneer Nigerian credit bureau service company, appears poised to offer some services in this regard.

Now, “imagine building a wall out of blocks made from just soil and cement that interlock with each other and require no mortar”, Ugo Okafor writes via his African Architecture and Design Blog. The Hydraform building system is a cost saving home building system that replaces the traditional bricks and mortar with innovative interlocking, dry-stacked soil-cement blocks.

The blocks are manufactured in South Africa, by hydraulically compressing a soil-cement mixture in the Hydraform block-making machine. The company was founded in 1988 by Jochen Kofahl and Robert Plattner, who started initial production in their car garage. According to the company website, the product is widely in South Africa as well as in many African countries, Mexico and the USA. In additional, the manufacturer claims that the “Hydraform building blocks are being used successfully in earthquake stricken regions of Argentina and India. These blocks have been extensively used in Jigawa state, a northern Nigerian state.

After Moladi, Hydraform is the second company showcased on Grandiose Parlor proffering innovative housing solutions out of South Africa.



Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina: A Fumble of the Highest Order!

Commerce was the sole reason that made the French settle on the strip of land between Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. An exotic piece of real estate that is prone to perennial floods and hurricane. That land later became New Orleans. Since then it’s been a well-known fact that New Orleans sits right in the bulls-eye of disaster. It’s just a matter of when.

After many decades and many hurricanes later, New Orleans finally succumbed to Hurricane Katrina, somewhat. Despite not being hit directly by the storm, the city now lies in ruins, waterlogged and inhabitable. Since Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005; gory and pathetic images upon images of the storm’s aftermath have been televised worldwide, and one can’t help but wonder what went wrong, after all, this is America. It is shameful and disappointing that we did not get to see the might of a superpower as I envisaged in an earlier post.

What went wrong?

Some factors acting in synergy partly account for the resultant effects of Katrina; the cumulative effects of which will later hunt and torment many forever.

A city below sea level

The vast majority of New Orleans lies below sea level. In June 2002, the Times-Picayune published a five-part series special report, aptly captioned: Washing Away; on the likelihood of catastrophic flooding following a relatively mild hurricane. This was way back in 2002. According to John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, the authors of the article:
“The combination of sinking land and rising seas has put the Mississippi River delta as much as 3 feet lower relative to sea level than it was a century ago, and the process continues. That means hurricane floods driven inland from the Gulf have risen by corresponding amounts…”
Thus, the city has been depending on a system of levees and sophisticated pumps to stay dry. Then some levees failed following Katrina’s assault and everything went haywire.

There have been numerous warnings in the past!

Earlier this year I understand the local and state officials worked on a tabletop exercise involving a hypothetical “Hurricane Pam”. This group was billed to examine the resultant effects of a major hurricane. Unfortunately they did not finish their exercise before Katrina came roaring in.

There have been some warnings in the past detailing the impact of category 3 storm on the levee system and the city in general. This excerpt from an US News article (7/18/05) titled: Big Blow in the Big Easy is an example:
“The city's levees, meanwhile, aren't intended to protect from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane..., and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is at least a decade away from upgrading to that level of protection. The corps says the current levee system doesn't provide full protection from even Category 3 storms, which could be the scariest scenario of all. "If a Category 5 storm enters the Gulf, I don't think we'll have to encourage people to leave--it'll be an easy sell," says New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin.”
Heck no! It did not happen as you thought Mayor.

Then there was the New Orleans paper (2002) referenced earlier. Excerpt from the report:
“Once it’s certain a major storm is about to hit, evacuation offers the best chance for survival. But for those who wait, getting out will become nearly impossible as the few routes out of town grow hopelessly clogged. And 100,000 people without transportation will be especially threatened…”
According to the report, Jefferson Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Walter Maestri said: “Evacuation is what’s necessary: evacuation, evacuation, evacuation."

Going by the aforementioned, one would have expected a better-orchestrated show from the authorities than we saw a couple of days ago. Instead, there were glaring signs and display of finger-pointing, in-coordination and confusion. It was as if they never had the exercise and warnings!

A botched evacuation, “what is mandatory evacuation”?

The 2000 census put New Orleans metropolitan area's population at 1,337,726. The median household income is $27,133. The per capita income for the city is $17,258. 28% of the population and 24% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 40% of those under the age of 18 and 19% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line. Blacks constitute 67% of the population. This statistics depicts a cash-strapped populace.

It is a fact known to the local authorioties that many depend on welfare checks, and that a sizable chunk of the population depend on public transportation. Since there weren’t any concrete assistance from the authorities, I wonder how in hell these people were expected to get out and away from the looming disaster?

A nation with misplaced priorities?

I think the bulk of resources (money & manpower) that should have been spent and used in strengthening the basic infrastructure and the public safety-nets nationwide have been grossly reallocated to pursue the war in Iraq! The feds drastically cut FEMA’s budget and that needed to maintain the levee system. It wasn’t a surprise that the failed. In addition, a sizable portion of the army reserves in Louisiana are unavailable when they are needed most. Yet, we keep hearing from President Bush that the nation has enough resources to fight two wars and deal with the largest natural disaster in American history. I hope the paltry $10.5 billion approved by the congress for relief efforts is just mobilization money.

The ever-ubiquitous race card

No doubt, race, class, and poverty played huge roles in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans. And it should be expected given that the more wealthy citizens have vehicles, and live on higher ground compared to the poor. But given that the majority of the city’s officials are blacks, and the fact that there have been series of warnings in the past, it is somewhat tragic to inject racism into this fiasco. As Earl Ofari Hutchinson aptly states in this post captioned Playing The Katrina Race Card on
“…New Orleans was indeed the classic tale of two cities, one showy, middle-class and white, and the other poor, downtrodden, and largely low-income blacks. It was a city that didn’t wait for a disaster to happen. The city’s grinding poverty and neglect had already wreaked that disaster on thousands. Katrina only added to the misery. What happened next was predictable. Federal bumbling, bungling, and cash shortages turned relief efforts into a nightmare.”
Earl adds further that:
“The heavy handed rush to openly or subtly to paint the tragedy of New Orleans as yet another terrible example of the black-white divide in America does a horrible disservice to the poor and needy that are suffering. Admittedly a majority of them are black, but many of the victims are white too... That kind of talk smacks of defeatism. If one screams racism and deliberate neglect, and when it happens scream even louder, I told you so, it becomes a grim self-fulfilling prophecy…”
In a broader sense, the aftermath of Katrina as showcased live on the world stage, was yet another example of leadership failure that have been ravaging the United States of America in recent times. It was an unfortunate, unprecedented, unforgettable, and tragic fumbling of the world’s only superpower at the most crucial time in history; at a time her very own people were in dire strait and needed her most.

Food for thought

After all said and done, what if Katrina had maintained her course and made a landfall in New Orleans as a category 5 hurricane as predicted earlier?

Well, your guess is as good as mine!




Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina: An Organized Chaos

President Bush has called for patience, and stated that help is on the way. Based on what one sees on the TV, it seems there is a huge disconnect between the people on the streets in New Orleans and government officials.

The situation is fast turning into an organized chaos! What is going on? Based on the limited information at my disposal it seems that much has not been done in coordinating relief efforts in New Orleans, and I’m at a loss as to what is really going on.

To start with, the evacuation prior to the arrival of Katrina was just a big lousy job. The majority of those affected have no means of transportation, so getting out wasn’t all that easy for them. Compared to those that stayed put at home, the fate of those that did evacuate to the dome does not really seem any better at the moment. Hopefully the evacuees at the dome will get moved to Texas, but what about those stuck all over New Orleans? I am surprised that we have not started seeing airdrops of food and water. Winching people off rooftops can only work to an extent; engine-powered flat bed boats need to be deplored to rescue the stranded, and move people to dry ground.

Yeah, there are talks of some people shooting at the helicopters; the authenticity of this is yet to established. Then the looting; we have been inundated with TV imageries of folks looting and carting off TVs, bikes, liquor and all that. While this may have been over-played by the TV network cabals, it should not be encouraged. I can understand if some looted for survival, but what the heck is a brother doing with a 36-inch TV set? I wonder.

I am getting angry and embarrassed by the general state of conditions of folks in New Orleans. America can do better than we are seeing. Didn’t America airdrop water and food in Afghanistan and Iraqi, places that are of higher risk than New Orleans? It was done in the desert, and after the last Tsunami? What if this were a terrorist attack, is this the best we can do?

Please donate; I just dropped my widow’s mite this morning.