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I have posted today some pictures from our weekend trip to New Orleans with Senators Landrieu and Clinton. Click on the text icon to the right to see them. Note: Senator Hillary Clinton has a photo credit today on the blog — this is a first. As we were ending the 5-hour bus trip around the devastation in New Orleans, Senator Clinton grabbed my camera from me and directed Senator Landrieu to get in a picture with me. She then snapped a picture and handed me my camera.

I hope you watched the interview we did in New Orleans about Hurricane Katrina and its destruction since one thing we must not get is "hurricane fatigue" — meaning we forget about this story. The heartache in this region continues and almost appears infinite. The water has receded and now you see debris and debris — it looks like a bomb hit the area.

If you want to read gripping news stories about Katrina, check out the Web site of the New Orleans newspaper: The Times Picayune. Each story in more captivating than the next. It is hard to believe Mother Nature could be that cruel. The value of members of Congress visiting the region is that they actually see first hand the impact so that better decisions can be made as to what to do. Nothing beats firsthand knowledge.

The trip to New Orleans this past weekend was my fourth one since Katrina hit. I just don't know how to describe New Orleans to you. It is just horrible... but my words are lame in attempting to fully describe the devastation. I guess some of the pictures posted will do a better job of describing it to you. And the damage is not limited to New Orleans or Louisiana. The damage extends to Mississippi and to Texas. My colleague Shepard Smith is in the area all week and you should make a point of watching Shep at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. since he will put you right on the scene of this tragedy. After the e-mails I have posted two recent A.P. stories about Katrina.

Since I am on vacation, I am putting some of you to work on the blog today by posting many e-mails:

E-mail No. 1 — this e-mail is about Friday's show:

Great program, but lose the orange jacket as it is not flattering to you. Love the program, watch every night.
Jill Anderson

E-mail No. 2

Your daily letter coming into my box, I guess I take personally. I love your posts. Why do I think you want my comments. I am a 75-year-old retired real estate broker. Since 1978. I missed almost all the good things going on family-wise in the beginning of my career. And decided one day, that when the light-bulb came on and I realized I had to choose between a customer, and a family event, I was going to pick family every time and turn that customer over to someone else. I think I lost all those customers, Greta, but NOW my family is around me still, and all those other people I worked with or didn't work with have faded into the distance. I say, hang onto that husband... poop on Hillary, if she gets elected I am going to shoot myself... and keep up the good work, gal.
Ginny Henkaline
Zionsville, IN

E-mail No. 3

I wanted to write and say thank you for continuing to visit and report from New Orleans when you are able. I was lucky in that my house was not one of the ones seen on TV under 10-20 feet of water. I live in a New Orleans suburb and drive through the edge of the city to work everyday. The disaster that has struck this city is more than most people in the country realize and the clean up effort will be more than most in this country are willing to admit. It is the continuous reporting and pictures from this area that will help New Orleans by showing the politcal powers in Washington that there is still so much to do. Thanks,
Donald Martin

E-mail No. 4

My daughter was killed when the dam broke in St. Bernard Parish. Her home was under 12 feet of water and an oil spill and chemical leak now makes it impossible to rebuild. Everything is so toxic that they will not only have to destroy the house but they also have to take up 5 feet of soil under it. I am told that it will be years before anything can be built there again, if ever.
My daughter was 38 years old and an animal rescuer. She refused to leave her home and animals. It was 30 days before they found her body and then the government kept her from me for 2 1/2 more months. They lied to us telling us that they were doing DNA testing, when all along they didn't even have a lab to do the testing. When I found out they had been stalling me all this time I went on local TV and forced them to release her to me. We finally buried her on 12/10/05.
The insurance companies, the State of Louisiana, The Federal Government and the Oil Company are screwing us because they can and nobody is doing anything about it.
Please, please do not let these stories die. The public needs to know what's going on down here. Thank you,
Jerry Jordan

E-mail No. 5

Merry Christmas to you, your family and your Fox Family!
I read your blog today with great interest. While I DO know how very important it is to let viewers know how important the Hurricane Katrina story is and your interview with Senator Clinton, I can't help but be haunted somewhat by your change of vacation plans with your husband. It is wonderful that he is so understanding, but when I see things like this, it makes me wonder how important these particular news items would be if your husband were suddenly taken away from you. I don't mean to be a wet blanket, so to speak, but we always think there is tomorrow to spend with family or a loved one and what we have to do today, work, etc., can't wait, BUT those we love can. I think especially at this time of year we all owe it to ourselves to step back and truly look at what is important.
Have a wonderful vacation!

E-mail No. 6

I hope all you news people get enough of Hurricane Katrina, you know we were hit by Rita and we have lots of damage and no one seems to care, all we hear about is poor Katrina victims and when New Orleans will be whole again. You know something, we do not care! I will never go to New Orleans again. I think the news people have been very unfair to us. New Orleans is not the be all end all of the world. I wish them well but get off the news and deal with your on problems and quit reaching out for handouts.

E-mail No. 7

Thank you for coming here. We feel like we have been forgotten and no one cares. I hope you realize that the story needs to be covered at great length. This is an American city that has been forgotten and may not exist much longer if we do not get help. The insurance companies, government, state and local agencies have failed and we are losing hope. Please get someone to cover the story it is more than looting. There are so many issues and we need help. I thank you for taking time off of your vacation to come here. I have lived here all my life and now face leaving in order to sustain a normal life. We were told they would do what it takes but then they left. My home is destroyed 19 feet of water but the insurance said it was just a flood no wind, therefore no homeowners with the help of living expenses. Now I pay for a mortgage and rent for another home while trying to determine if we can rebuild. Maybe you can find out if our land is worthless or if the government wants us out. Can we get flood insurance again? We are all very tired but there has been no answers and this is a news story. Please help us.
Thanks for caring enough to come down here.
Alice Dornan

If you are curious what is the latest in Congress on Katrina, here is a recent wire story — late Monday:

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — After securing $29 billion in aid for hurricane-ravaged states, Gulf Coast lawmakers held their breath Monday as the funds became entangled in a Senate debate over a controversial oil drilling measure.

The hurricane aid was part of a massive defense spending bill approved by the House early Monday but that was still awaiting Senate passage. The measure included money to repair levees, spur economic development, help financially struggling school districts and rebuild badly damaged roads in the region obliterated by Hurricane Katrina.

Congress will likely have to continue annual additional funding — in the billions of dollars — in future years to help the region recover, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

"We may never be able to overcome all the damages and the difficulties that have been sustained," said Cochran, who authored much of the aid package.

He called the overall plan "a big victory — it will help a lot of disaster victims recover sooner, and with more assistance from the government."

But the region's senators kept a wary eye on a measure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling — as most Democrats oppose — that was attached to the entire spending plan. The drilling measure by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, which was approved in the House package, would also direct nearly $10 billion in federal oil revenues to the Gulf Coast over the next three decades.

"That is very much a part of this hurricane package," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

"Far too much is at stake," he said. "If there is ever a time for us to look at the substance, and the national good, and not Washington politics, it is now."

An aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she also supports the drilling plan.

A vote on the entire bill is expected later this week.

The $29 billion aid package is the result of two weeks of negotiating among lawmakers to nearly double President Bush's funding request. It includes:

—$11.5 billion in Community Development Block Grants to spur economic development and help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild or repair their homes.

—$4.4 billion for storm-related Defense Department expenses and facility damage.

—$2.9 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to continue storm and flood repairs, begin reconstructing levees and accelerate studies on improving Gulf Coast flood protection.

—$2.8 billion to repair damaged roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

—$1.6 billion for education, including $645 million for schools that took in displaced students, $750 million for schools damaged by the hurricanes and $200 million for higher education.

Public school districts that took in hurricane-scattered students would get $6,000 for each displaced student and $7,500 for each special education displaced student. Louisiana reshuffled its own education spending to give school districts that took in students an extra $1,250 per student, but the districts had said that would not cover the expenses for educating them.

"School districts should be back in better shape, back to where they were before the hurricanes hit," said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education.

Missing from the package, which initially had a $35.5 billion price tag, were relief funds for agriculture disasters across the country — a $4 billion move intended to build political support from lawmakers beyond the Gulf Coast. Instead, negotiators targeted $400 million to farmers and forests in Katrina disaster areas.

Negotiators also trimmed $1.5 billion in block grants from the final plan.

"It was just too much to overcome," Cochran said.

In a show of bipartisan praise, House Democrats from the region credited Cochran with pushing the aid package. Still, Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., said it failed to provide storm victims with several important provisions, including direct assistance for Louisiana fishermen and retroactive flood insurance coverage.

"This $29 billion is a good step," Melancon said. "But for the thousands of people who will spend the holidays battling mortgage lenders, insurance companies or just trying to find real shelter, Congress should have done better."

Meanwhile, tied up in a separate deficit reduction package awaiting Senate passage is $2 billion in Medicaid funding that would reverse planned cuts to Louisiana's health care services for the poor that are slated to take effect Jan. 1 as a means of rebalancing Louisiana's budget.

Among the cuts that would be stopped are plans to shrink the number of free prescriptions that Medicaid recipients can receive each month from eight to five and to cut the money paid to providers, like doctors and nursing homes, for providing care to those on Medicaid.

"If Congress does approve this, the cuts will be avoided for this fiscal year," said Charles Castille, undersecretary for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

The Medicaid boost for states like Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi is included in a bill that would reduce long-term Medicaid spending for states, so Castille said passage of the measure won't be easy in the Senate.

AP Capitol Correspondent Melinda Deslatte contributed to this story from Baton Rouge

The next story is also interesting:

HOUSTON (AP) — Texas authorities have captured 13 Louisiana fugitives who'd applied for federal aid as refugees from Hurricane Katrina.

The Texas attorney general's fugitive unit found the eleven men and two women in November and December, using Federal Emergency Management Agency info.

Ten were arrested in the Houston area, two in Fort Worth and one in Austin.

No details yet on extradition.

The FEMA aid information list was used to identify 29 violent fugitives in Texas.

Among the 16 still at large are two wanted in homicide cases and one in a manslaughter case. Most of the 13 Louisiana fugitives were wanted on parole or probation violations.

Four were wanted on charges of assault, four on robbery and three on sex offenses. One was wanted for failure to appear on stalking charges. One was wanted on weapons charges.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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