by Kevin Taylor, Joel Smith and Ted S, McGregor Jr. & r & Breakfast Club & r & The city of Alexandria, La., which opened its arms to North Idaho National Guard soldiers passing though last Thanksgiving en route to Iraq, had to close its schools last week.

The Rapides Parish School District sent 200 buses to help evacuate Hurricane Katrina survivors to safe shelters as far afield as Dallas. Of course, the district may not have had much say in the matter, as Rapides Parish School Superintendent Gary Jones, a general in the Louisiana National Guard, has been placed in command of coordinating relief efforts in New Orleans, according to The Town Talk, Alexandria's newspaper.

Neighboring Grant Parish schools sent 10 buses, and drivers hauled about 500 evacuees to Dallas. The convoy passed through Alexandria.

The drivers, shocked that their riders were so dehydrated and famished after nearly a week in shattered and flooded New Orleans, radioed ahead to the schools -- which had shut down for lack of transport -- and rolled in to a hot breakfast for 500. -- KT

Circles of Hell & r & Think of all the things Hurricane Katrina survivors have had to deal with -- loss of loved ones, loss of homes and jobs, floating corpses, trigger-happy crazies acting out Mad Max fantasies, no food, and no water except for the stinking toxic sludge that you wade through up to your armpits.

Finally, you get away from all that and are evacuated to the Pineville/Alexandria area of central Louisiana where a new horror awaits: a traffic circle. Police have had to offer driving tips for the south Alexandria traffic circle near the defunct England Air Base and surrounded by offices, including one that has an old fighter plane aimed skyward out front.

Refugee Mike Seither told the Town Talk's Mandy Goodnight he knows he's in trouble if he passes the airplane more than once. -- KT

Gimme Shelter & r & Central Louisiana, which escaped Katrina with only a light rain, is now home to thousands of refugees from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The Rapides Parish Coliseum has become a Red Cross shelter; the National Guard's Camp Beauregard is open to military families who have lost their homes. An abandoned Wal-Mart in Pineville has become a shelter.

England Air Base, where Idaho's 116th Brigade Combat Team stayed in ancient barracks that local soldiers likened to county fair horse barns, is about to be renovated for longer-term housing of refugees.

But the thousands of new people are already looking for jobs, if only so they are not stranded at the shelters with nothing to do but sit in a car that has no gas. -- KT

Flatware Friends & r & Cities and states across the nation -- hell, even countries like Cuba -- have opened hearts and wallets to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Then there is this tidbit: The city of New Haven, Conn., is offering to take in up to 100 households, bringing in 25 every two weeks, and hoping the feds will help pay the $8 million cost. The city even wants to offer help "getting kitchen utensils for these folks," said Mayor John DeStefano. "It's a challenge and a sacrifice New Haven is prepared to make."

Yes, send us your spoonless masses yearning to eat soup. -- KT

Rising Waters & r & One person who is working hard (for him, at least) to keep his head above water is President Bush, whose leadership has been called into question by storm survivors, politicians of both parties and even the occasional member of the media. After Katrina, he flew to San Diego, where he compared himself to FDR and strummed on a guitar. Meanwhile, Condoleeza Rice was spotted at Spamalot on Broadway during the crisis. Dick Cheney was nowhere to be found, but it appears he closed on a new vacation home during the week.

Bush may have hoped for another 9/11-esque bounce in the polls, but it's not forthcoming, and there are no terrorists to blame this time -- we're the ones who bet billions of dollars and thousands of lives by not fixing the levees in New Orleans. Still, the New York Times is reporting that Karl Rove has his spin machine in high gear, and the talking points are simple: blame the victims. People should have evacuated, the locals should have asked for help sooner -- you're already hearing it from all the way up to Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff.

& lt;a href="" & Salon & lt;/a & 's Eric Boehlert makes a chilling point: Perhaps if the election were just around the corner, the federal response would have been better. Last year, just before the November elections, two minor hurricanes hit Florida and FEMA was on the scene immediately, handing out cash to people in counties that weren't even hit and covering 90 percent of the state's expenses, when 75 percent has always been the rule.

One FEMA e-mail from the time said "top-level people from FEMA and the White House need to develop a communication strategy and an agreed-upon set of themes and communications objectives. Communication consultants from the President's re-election campaign should be brought in." As you know, Bush won Florida and the election. -- TM

Now That's Good TV & r & & lt;a href="" & Salon & lt;/a & 's Stephen Elliot reports that, while walking through the rubble in New Orleans, he came across Geraldo Rivera helping an old woman out of the Fox News van, carrying her dog. Cameras are rolling. Geraldo tells Elliot that he saved the woman from her home, where she'd been trapped for six days. A doctor nearby tells Elliot that this is the second time Geraldo brought her there. Elliot doesn't understand. "They did two takes," the doctor explains. "Geraldo made that poor woman walk from the Fox News van to the heliport twice. Both times carrying her dog." -- JS

A Pox Is Coming? & r & & lt;a href="" & Slate & lt;/a & 's Sydney Spiesel talks to New Haven, Conn. pediatrician Jim Morgan, who's on his way to New Orleans to help in the relief effort. Morgan catalogues the various health risks Katrina has stirred up. He says it's not the floating dead bodies or lack of refrigeration that are causing the most serious health problems. It's a fundamental breakdown of public health services. The floodwaters are contaminated with sewage, leaving no clean water for cooking, washing, etc. That, he says, opens the door to e. coli, cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever, many of which have already been seen in the hurricane victims. Add to this the fact that many refugees are packed together in close quarters, making bacteria and viruses easier to exchange, plus the major lack of medical care, plus the mental and emotional shock of living through what victims just did, and floating corpses begin to pale in comparison with the region's larger health epidemic, Morgan suggests. -- JS

River of Humanity & r & Clint Confehr, of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette in Tennessee, interviews Dan Buckner, the co-owner of a local mortuary, who also volunteers with Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMort), a volunteer arm of Homeland Security. Buckner's partner was deployed to Gulfport, Miss., on Monday and he expects to be called up, too. "DMort is telling us to expect up to 40,000 bodies," he tells the paper. And that does "not include the number of disinterred remains that have been displaced from mausoleums." Buckner says, "My personal opinion is they will be recovering bodies for 30 to 120 days." -- JS

Party Time & r & From an editorial published Saturday on the Web site of the conservative National Review, giving the GOP a little much-needed advice: "No single step would go further to dramatize the GOP's commitment to rebuilding New Orleans than announcing now that the party's 2008 convention will be held in the recovering city. Such a move would signal the party's confidence in the Big Easy's renewal and put it at the forefront of what should be similar commitments from private actors to do their part to help New Orleans come back."

& lt;a href="" & Wonkette & lt;/a & 's Holly Martins does a little editorializing of her own: "Actually, we can think of lots of single steps that would go further to dramatize the GOP's commitment to rebuilding New Orleans -- like for instance, following through on it." -- JS

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