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Another Wind Whammy For New Orleans

Tornadoes early Thursday tore through New Orleans neighborhoods that were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina just five months earlier, collapsing at least one previously damaged house and battering the airport, authorities said.

Roofs were ripped off and utility poles came down, but no serious injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, government officials laid out the beginnings of an ambitious plan to restore the Gulf Coast's natural resources and improve the Gulf of Mexico's health to an audience of about 100 in Biloxi on Wednesday.

They also took recommendations from the audience for problems that need to be addressed by the five states, 13 federal agency partners and stakeholders that compose the Gulf of Mexico Alliance.

And a congressional report criticizes the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin told CBS News' The Early Show's Harry Smith that residents of New Orleans are left struggling with insurance headaches and rebuilding costs — if they've decided to return at all.

"There are lots of complicated issues as far as this recovery is concerned," Nagin said. "But the big problem is that local government does not have any funding since our revenue streams are gone."

Read the GAO Report (.pdf)

He and other residents say they were "very disappointed" by the scant mention of rebuilding the Gulf Coast in President Bush's State of the Union speech.

"We thought that the president would come out and reaffirm his commitment to rebuild in the Gulf Coast, which is a very important portion of the country," Nagin told Smith.

After the tornadoes, Marcia Paul Leoni, a mortgage banker who was surveying the new damage to her Katrina-flooded home, said: "Don't ever ask the question, 'What else could happen?"'

She would go no farther than the front porch of her house Thursday morning. Windows were blown out, and the building appeared to be leaning.

"I've been in the mortgage business for 20 years. I know when something's unsafe," she said.

Electricity was knocked out at Louis Armstrong International Airport, grounding passenger flights and leaving travelers to wait in a dimly lit terminal powered by generators. The storm also ripped off part of a concourse roof, slammed one jetway into another, and flipped motorized runway luggage carts.

In related developments:

  • The White House is expected to ask Congress for about $18 billion in new funds for the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast, a Senate Republican aide said.
  • New York City officials struck a deal that will allow thousands of pieces of knockoff designer clothing seized from apparel counterfeiters to be donated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Knockoffs of items by Rocawear, Phat Farm and Nike are among the millions of dollars of counterfeit goods that Mayor Mike Bloomberg said would be shipped to hurricane survivors.
  • Two of Hurricane Katrina's unknown Mississippi victims were memorialized today with prayers that some day their loved ones would learn of their final resting place. About two dozen people attended the brief graveside service, many stopping to place red and white flowers on the caskets. Nobody came forward to claim the bodies, which were found in different places about a week after the August 29th hurricane.
  • "There's more damage to the terminal than I saw during the hurricane," airport spokeswoman Michelle Duffourc said.

    A line of severe thunderstorms moved across the area around 2:30 a.m. Tim Destri, of the National Weather Service, said it appeared the damage was caused by two tornadoes, one that hit the airport and another that moved into New Orleans.

    The storm collapsed at least one house in New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged lakefront, police said.

    "I cannot believe this. We were hit twice. It's not bad enough we got 11 feet of water," said Maria Kay Chetta, a city grants manager. While her own home was not badly damaged, one across the street lost its roof and another had heavy damage to its front.

    The wind also blew down a radio tower near a major thoroughfare, authorities said.

    The National Weather Service had yet not determined whether a tornado had hit. The thunderstorm topped 50 mph as it raced across the region before dawn.

    At the meeting of officials in Biloxi, several speakers said the project would work to make the Gulf better than it was before the 2005 hurricane season.

    "The goal is to restore natural lands to pre-Camille levels," said Bill Walker, the director of Mississippi's Department of Marine Resources, one of the agencies in the alliance. "If we only get back to pre-Katrina levels, then we will have failed."

    Walker said that on the state level, Gov. Haley Barbour is trying to get $7.5 billion from Congress to fund a coastal restoration plan.

    Speakers, who came from Mississippi and Alabama, mentioned several threats to the Gulf that demand the attention of the alliance, including an overabundance of nutrients from rivers draining into the Gulf and knocking natural balances out of whack, poor water quality and plant and animal habitat loss.

    "The biggest problem is population growth on the Coast," said George Crozier with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, another alliance partner. "We need to balance growth with maintaining natural areas. We are in trouble in every aspect of the Gulf. Reports have said the Gulf is in fair condition. In reality, its state is fair to poor."

    Gloria Car, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Gulf of Mexico Program, said the Gulf's health affects national economics along with environmental issues.

    Amy King, with Alabama's Department of Conservation, was encouraged by the alliance meeting but said that conservationists need to work hard on educating the public.

    "If the general public and developers don't understand what you are doing, it won't work," King said. "Education is the thing that threads all of the important priorities together."

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