Metering Rita

Metering Rita

Metering Rita

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 26 2005 7:35 AM

Metering Rita

The papers continue to assess the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, which struck Louisiana, Texas, and other parts of the South on Saturday with less force than expected. The New York Times says two people died as a direct result of the storm, and 23 seniors were killed while evacuating Houston, while the Wall Street Journal claims Rita's economic impact "may be muted." The NYT has the cheeriest lead ("RELIEVED TEXANS RETURNING HOME AS STORM FADES"), but it joins the other papers in emphasizing that the storm has virtually obliterated some rural areas (particularly, Cameron Parish, La.). The Washington Post'sleadgrimly points out that "hundreds of thousands of people were told they could not return to their homes in southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana because water, power, sewage and emergency services will not be restored for weeks."

The Los Angeles Times notes that hundreds were rescued from southwestern Louisiana yesterday. Everyone says that Louisiana's Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco praised President Bush's efforts and asked for around $32 billion in federal aid. Additionally, Bush indicated that the Pentagon should take the lead during massive natural disasters.

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The Post has the most nuanced piece about Bush's suggestion. It says, "The Defense Department has been hesitant to take such a role because of sensitivity to the idea of adopting a police presence on U.S. soil and because of strains on the armed forces from the war in Iraq." The article further points out that, unlike certain National Guard troops, "active-duty troops generally cannot take on domestic law enforcement roles." According to the LAT, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was thankful for the federal response to Rita and for the National Guard troops deployed to his state.

The Post also fronts news that Louisiana's two senators are asking Congress for $40 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, as part of the $250 billion Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief and Economic Recovery Act. The number of billions flying around is already confusing—but it's clearly ginormous. Blanco helped draft the request, and part of the almost-$32 billion she is asking for is considered a "down payment" on the larger amount. The skeptical article points out that $40 billion is "about 16 times the amount the Corps has said it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane." Critics are already up in arms. One "water resources expert" says, "Brazen doesn't begin to describe it. The Louisiana delegation is using Katrina as an excuse to resurrect a laundry list of pork projects."

The LA Times gives the most detail about Blanco's new demands. She wants to fix up the roads right away, "including replacing the Interstate-10 Twin Span from New Orleans to Slidell with a six-lane bridge. Other projects include repair of ports and airports and completion of Highway 49, which is a hurricane evacuation route that has been flooded."

Rita damaged oil facilities much less than expected, and oil prices fell on Sunday. Inside, the WSJ claims, "Consensus earnings estimates have actually risen since Hurricane Katrina. Most of that is because energy companies are raking in so much cash. But even outside of energy, profit expectations for the next few months haven't fallen that much."

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The NYT makes the obvious point that the smallest changes will influence the oil market. It also points out that slight damage to its Bayton, Texas, refinery (the largest in the States) led Exxon Mobil to act out of character. " 'We ask that you use fuel wisely,' the company said in newspaper advertisements yesterday. It suggested that drivers 'conserve fuel by reducing trips' and 'defer discretionary purchases to ease supply pressures.' " The LAT indicates that residents of the Southeast and Midwest will be hardest-hit by oil prices.

Most of the papers suggest that the parts of New Orleans that Rita flooded might be dry this week (way ahead of time) and that Mayor C. Ray Nagin will open some parts of his city within a day or so. The WSJ agrees, but points out that "Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who's leading the federal government's response to Katrina, expressed caution about bringing New Orleans residents back to the badly damaged and deserted city."

The WSJ also has a good piece about post-Katrina suits (the "most ambitious" attacks Louisiana's oil and gas pipeline companies for ruining the wetlands). The article claims, "The disaster's mounting legal fallout has emboldened lawyers' Republican critics in Congress, who have long sought to rein in class-action cases."

The NYT fronts an investigation into FEMA's post-Katrina response and finds that "More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition."

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A court battle over the teaching of intelligent design, which some have dubbed Scopes II, will commence on Monday in Pennsylvania.

The NYT notes that Mexico has reopened a sordid investigation into the murders of 350 women, at least 90 of whom were "raped and killed in similar ways."

The Irish Republic Army is officially disarming.

The WSJ fronts the difficulties the United States is facing in ensuring the safety of Russia's two largest nuclear sites.

And finally, in a piece about agricultural pollution, the Post notes, "Tom Frantz, a Shafter native who heads the Association of Irritated Residents, said area farms are 'like a factory in your midst.' " The article claims, "Dairy farmers have assailed the science underlying the rules and blocked a plan that would have made them install technology to capture methane and other gases that cows emit."