Search for Louisiana victims ends; some schools restart

By wire services
Published October 4, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - The search for Hurricane Katrina victims has ended in Louisiana with a death toll at 964, but more searches will be conducted if someone reports seeing a body, a state official said Monday.

State and federal agencies have finished their sweeps through the city, but Kenyon International Emergency Services, the private company hired by the state to remove the bodies, is on call if any other body is found, said Bob Johannessen, a spokesman with the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had completed its role in the search because its specialties were no longer needed, including getting to bodies in attics or other hard-to-reach places or in buildings that may be structurally unsound.

Mississippi's death toll remained at 221.

There were signs of normality in the city Monday - five weeks to the day since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.

St. Andrew the Apostle Elementary School was the first Catholic school reopened in New Orleans. A week ago, residents were allowed to return to the school's Algiers neighborhood of 57,000 people across the Mississippi River that largely escaped flooding.

Some public schools in nearby parishes also opened Monday. In Jefferson Parish, about half of the 49,000 public school students were counted. But public schools in New Orleans remain closed. Officials are developing a plan to reopen some by November, depending on environmental, health and safety concerns.

Texas school districts hit by Rita remain closed

AUSTIN, Texas - More than 40 school districts in southeast Texas, victims of Hurricane Rita, remained closed on Monday, and most had no idea when they would reopen.

At least 85,000 students and possibly as many as 100,000 were affected, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman said.

Most of the closed schools are in Education Service Center Region 5, including Jefferson, Tyler, Jasper, Newton, Hardin and Orange counties, which took a hard hit when Rita roared ashore.

Reports of shots fired at copters unconfirmed

NEW ORLEANS - Among the rumors that spread as quickly as floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina, reports that gunmen were taking potshots at rescue helicopters stood out for their senselessness.

On Sept. 1, as patients sweltered in hospitals without power and thousands of people remained stranded on rooftops and in attics, crucial rescue efforts were delayed as word of such attacks spread.

But more than a month later, representatives from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Louisiana Air National Guard say they have yet to confirm a single incident of gunfire at helicopters.

Likewise, members of several rescue crews who were told to halt operations say there is no evidence they were under fire.

White House limits use of federal credit cards

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Monday it would restrict the amount of purchases federal employees can charge on their government-issued credit cards for hurricane-related expenses, saying the new $250,000 limit was too high.

The Office of Management and Budget issued new guidelines that effectively reduced the purchase limit from $250,000 to $2,500 - or $15,000 in an emergency - following criticism from lawmakers and independent auditors about the potential for abuse.

Some cards in the past were used to pay for prostitutes, gambling activity, even breast implants, government audits have shown.

At the Bush administration's request, Congress increased the limit to $250,000 as part of a massive Katrina recovery bill approved last month. The aim was to make it easier to speed aid to victims. But it immediately drew criticism from watchdog groups and lawmakers who said the language was improperly slipped into the bill.