Tuesday, October 11

Calcasieu moves forward, but still feels effects of Hurricane Rita (10/11)

AccuMessenger.jpgBy JEREMY HARPER

The last remnants of the dusk-to-dawn curfew are gone, food and supply distribution sites are scaled back and more than 90 percent of Calcasieu Parish has electricity.

But local officials say Hurricane Rita's mark is still being felt. Debris removal, roof tarping and some aid programs continue throughout the parish.

"We still have a long way to go," Police Jury President Hal McMillin said.

McMillin lifted the parishwide curfew Monday afternoon at the request of local law enforcement agencies. The curfew had already been eliminated for vehicular traffic, but foot traffic was barred after 7 p.m.

"Operations are back to normal, we have the manpower still available, and we are requesting that the curfew be lifted," Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon said at the parish's Monday public briefing.

Entergy spokeswoman Sheila Matte said about 5,300 customers remain without power in the Lake Charles and Sulphur areas. She said majority of the outages are concentrated in the areas of Toomey/Starks, Gillis and Hackberry, which is counted as part of the Sulphur area.

Matte said the company will meet its self-imposed Oct. 20 deadline to have electricity restored to 95 percent of area customers who can receive power.

"We're pretty excited about this, and a lot of this is due to our customers cooperation and the cooperation that we've received from the parish, the city, the police officials and so forth," Matte said.

As more basic services are restored and more businesses reopen, local officials are scaling back the food and supply distribution sites that have been passing goods since the storm.

"A lot of our power is on, grocery stores are open and people should be returning to normal activities," Calcasieu emergency manager Dick Gremillion said. "We will still have some emergency supplies available and we will target those areas that really need those supplies."

Evacuation bus runs from the Civic Center have ended.

Help line expanded

Calcasieu Parish is expanding its local help line for people who were denied the $2,000 in expedited assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The number is 721-3850. It is staffed from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

Calcasieu set up the line to help the 17,000 residents of Calcasieu, Cameron or Jeff Davis parishes who have been denied the assistance.

Three operators have helped about 1,000 people in the few days the line has been open, but many others said they were not able to get through, McMillin said.

"They were just absolutely overwhelmed with the number of calls," he said.

McMillin said 10 operators will now take calls on eight phone lines, and he urged residents to remain patient with the local operators.

"I'm asking you to be kind to these people because they're our people and they're working for us here locally," McMillin said. "As they take this information, they're getting it directly to the FEMA folks and FEMA is expediting this information ... so these people can get the money as quickly as possible."

FEMA official Donald Jack said the local help line has been successful in collecting and forwarding information to the agency.

"We've never set up a local number like this, but it was suggested and we're willing to look at any methods that we can to get problems solved," Jack said.

Jack said FEMA has said issued more than 76,000 of the $2,000 payments in Southwest Louisiana totally more than $150 million.

Other aid, such as rental assistance and damage payments, has begun to flow, Jack said.

Business help

The Chamber/Southwest Louisiana has set up a business recovery center at its office on 120 W. Pujo St. The center is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.

Assisting business owners will be the Southwest Louisiana Partnership for Economic Development, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and the Small Business Development Center at McNeese State University.

Representatives of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which provides low-interest loans to affected businesses, will also be available.

"Our hope is to provide as much information to the business community in one location as we possibly can," said Donna Addkison, president and CEO of the Chamber.

The center will help businesses in Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jeff Davis parishes. At the state's request, the center will also be serving Sabine and Vernon parish businesses.

For more information, call the Chamber at 433-3632.

School update

All but one of the more than 70 Calcasieu Parish schools have electricity and classes resume class next week, Superintendent Jude Theriot said Monday. A detailed announcement will be made Friday.

Theriot said efforts continue to rid area schools of the mold that exploded in many powerless and waterlogged facilities after Hurricane Rita.

"We are making headway with the mold problem," Theriot said. "We're not complete there by any means but we did make some significant dents."

Food will be delivered to the School Board's main warehouse on Thursday, Theriot said.

Theriot the lost school time will likely be made up by adding 35 minutes to each school day for the remainder of the year. Teacher in-service days will be eliminated as student holidays and the five extra days built into the school calendar will be used for class time, he said.

"We will announce a complete strategy when we announce the opening of schools," Theriot said. "It doesn't look like we will have to address too many of the holidays that the school children will have."

Theriot said half of the calls the School Board has been receiving are about the resumption of student athletics.

Principals, coaches and school board officials will meet this morning to discuss when and how to stage athletic events, he said.

"You know things are starting to recover when people are interested in when we are going to play athletics," Theriot said.

"I think it will help people get back to normalcy, which they definitely need."

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