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Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Search for Hurricane Katrina victims finished

NEW ORLEANS — The search for Hurricane Katrina victims has ended in Louisiana with a death toll at 964, a state official said yesterday.

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

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. FEMA did nearly 23,000 thorough room-to-room searches in New Orleans with about a dozen teams of emergency workers.

The death toll in Mississippi remained at 221.

Federal employees

Credit-card limits pushed back down

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

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

At the Bush administration's request, Congress had increased the purchase power 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. The OMB said yesterday the higher limit was necessary to buy emergency supplies after the disaster, but with the worst of the dangers past, there was no longer a need to have the far higher purchase limit.

Rebuilding

Bill will let casinos move to dry land

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said yesterday he will sign a bill this week to let hurricane-battered coastal casinos move a short distance onto dry land.

The state Senate passed the bill 29-21 yesterday; the House approved the measure last week.

The final vote came a month after Hurricane Katrina smashed many of Mississippi's floating casinos. Barbour pushed for the legislation in a special session dealing with hurricane recovery, saying the storm showed that the casinos would be safer on shore.

Mississippi legalized casinos in 1990 but said they must be on barges floating on either the Gulf of Mexico or the Mississippi River. The bill sent to Barbour does not allow the river casinos to move onto dry land.

While some gambling companies have said they plan to rebuild over water, others want to go on shore so their buildings will be sturdier and easier to insure.

Before Katrina, the coastal gambling houses employed about 14,000 people and generated about $500,000 a day in state and local taxes. Thousands more people had jobs supplying goods or services to casinos.

Education

Parochial school in Algiers reopens

NEW ORLEANS — Just a week after residents began returning to the city's Algiers neighborhood, a parochial school there reopened yesterday for the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck, and its principal told pupils their school is "a place you can call home now."

"My heart is just bursting," said teacher Jewell McCartney, fighting back tears as she welcomed back her class of sixth-graders at St. Andrew the Apostle Elementary School. "I just want to give them all a hug."

"It's like a resurrection," said the Rev. Paul Hart, pastor at the parish connected to the school. "Kids bring life to any place."

Archdiocese officials said their schools also were reopening in areas outside the city.

Some public schools in nearby parishes also opened yesterday, 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.

Newspaper

Times-Picayune to return in 2 weeks

NEW YORK — The Times-Picayune newspaper, which evacuated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said yesterday it will resume printing in New Orleans within two weeks.

Ashton Phelps Jr., the newspaper's publisher, said in a statement that the newspaper would also invite all its employees back to work.

The newspaper, owned by the Newhouse family, had moved its operations for several weeks to nearby Baton Rouge as well as to Mobile, Ala., and Houma, La.

"We would like to express our profound gratitude and pride to those Times-Picayune employees who, at a time of unimaginable personal and professional stress, worked tirelessly to ensure that their newspaper would continue to publish," Phelps said in the statement.

The Times-Picayune published only online versions for three days after the hurricane hit, then resumed print publishing through arrangements with other newspapers.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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