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Katrina Q&A

By Times Staff Writer
Published September 3, 2005

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Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath:

Why is the price of gasoline rising at every station every day, when several days go by between gasoline deliveries to the stations?

According to Fred Rozell, retail pricing director of the Oil Price Information Service, wholesalers generally adjust prices to retailers based on the daily closing price of gasoline sold on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Changes at the pump reflect the new wholesale price retailers pay. So gas stations don't charge customers based on what they paid for that gasoline, but for the cost of replacing it. Retailers also factor in what nearby competitors are charging and changes in overhead costs. For example, as the price of gas rises, more customers use credit cards. Retailers may boost prices to reflect the credit card fees they must pay.

Has deployment of so many National Guard troops to Afghanistan and Iraq hampered hurricane response?

Undoubtedly. When 3,700 members of Louisiana's 256th Mechanized Infantry Brigade were sent to Iraq 11 months ago, they took with them many high-water vehicles and generators, all of which would help in relief efforts. About 3,500 Guard troops from Mississippi are serving near Karbala and Najaf, and more than 2,000 troops from Alabama are deployed overseas.

If the National Guard needed reinforcements to keep the peace in New Orleans, why not send in the regular Army?

Because of an 1878 federal law known as Posse Comitatus. It largely prohibits the use of the military as a domestic police force. The National Guard, on the other hand, is the state militia until activated for regular military duty. A state militia is under command of the state's governor, not the president, and is not subject to the Posse Comitatus restrictions.

Why were the levees protecting New Orleans allowed to sink into such disrepair?

New Orleans has long known it was vulnerable to flooding in a direct hit from a hurricane. The federal government began working with state and local officials in the late 1960s on hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA. Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers spent $430-million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50-million in local aid. But at least $250-million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to weaken. After 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA evaporated because of the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security and federal tax cuts.

How can someone whose car disappeared in the storm make a claim for the loss, since there's no way to prove it is missing?

Once flood waters have subsided and insurance adjusters can get into devastated areas, they will conduct what Allstate calls "an exhaustive search" for vehicles and then attempt through state records to match them with owners using the Vehicle Identification Numbers. Once the matches are made, claims will be paid. If vehicles are never found, owners are simply out of luck. "We can't pay a claim unless we can lay eyes on the vehicle," one claims agent said.

What is the latest estimate of losses due to Hurricane Katrina?

Losses of insured property are estimated as high as $35-billion, but that figure is growing. Total losses are estimated at more than $100-billion.

Why aren't the homeless in New Orleans being airlifted out, which would be faster than busing them to Texas?

Relief flights donated by airlines began to fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans at a rate of about four an hour Friday. Transportation Department spokesman Greg Martin said the planes are bringing in supplies and leaving with people. Most of the flights will take evacuees to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The first flight on Friday, he said, was a Spirit Airlines MD-83.

When those who evacuated New Orleans are allowed to return, what will they do for jobs?

If and when rebuilding begins, there will be work for those in the building trades, but overall, the unemployment rate is expected to spike to 25 percent or more. Many who leave may opt to resettle elsewhere.

What impact has the storm had on wildlife?

That has yet to be assessed, but based on past storms, it can be expected that immobile marine species such as mussels and oysters will have been wiped out. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew killed an estimated 25 percent of Louisiana's oyster seed beds and killed an estimated 184-million fish in south Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin alone. Upland terrestrial habitats can be flooded or inundated, washing away or drowning their resident small mammals such as rabbits and mice. Nesting rookeries, including the eggs and young, of colonial water birds (herons, seagulls, pelicans) can be destroyed.

Who is helping domestic animals lost or left behind in the storm?

There are several agencies engaged in animal relief. Go to and look on the left side of the page for "Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts." Click on "Network for Good." The page lists agencies, including the Humane Society, accepting donation to help lost pets.

-- Compiled by Times staff writer Jean Heller. Information from Times wires was used in this report.

[Last modified September 2, 2005, 20:45:13]

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