February 20th, 2012
02:13 PM ET

Strict new French Quarter curfew nets almost 200 Mardi Gras arrests

New Orleans’ infamous French Quarter is awash in memorable sights and sounds, especially during the busiest and most colorful weekend of the year - the one just before Mardi Gras Day. However, a strict tightening of the city’s curfew policy means revelers under the age of 16 must now be accompanied by a guardian if they’re going to visit the French Quarter after 8 p.m.

Proponents of the new curfew include New Orleans Police Cmdr. Jeffrey Walls, who’s quick to cite an ever-present mix of booze, nudity and violence as the reason for the change.

“We were having kids that were being victims and perpetrators of crimes,” argued Walls, who said prevention is his primary focus in the crackdown.

The newly strengthened curfew regulations apply seven days a week, but only in the French Quarter and the nearby Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. Other areas of the city will continue to enforce an 11 p.m. curfew for those under 16, which was already on the books.

New Orleans City Council members unanimously passed the curfew change in January. Like many things in New Orleans, the change did not come without controversy. Critics have called the new curfew racist, arguing the new law specifically targets African-American neighborhoods where, they say, the presence of poor, black youth is too often considered a blight on the city’s treasured tourism and revenue.

Walls, tasked with leading the nightly curfew enforcement in the raucous French Quarter district, maintains it’s strictly “a public safety issue."

"It keeps the kids safe," Walls said. "This is an adult entertainment area. It's not like Disney World. … There’s really no reason for kids to be out after 8 o’clock unsupervised."

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Dallas on track to set new record as heat wave takes toll
"Fuel City" gas station in Dallas, Texas, has a pool, but it's not enough to provide relief from the city's 40-day heat wave.
August 10th, 2011
09:07 PM ET

Dallas on track to set new record as heat wave takes toll

Dallas may be the only city in Texas - maybe even the country - that boasts a gas station with a swimming pool. Now, as the city endures a relentless summer heat wave, "Fuel City" is arguably one of few inviting outdoor scenes in town.

This summer's heat wave is wreaking havoc on virtually all aspects of life in Dallas, which has had 40 straight days of grueling 100-plus degree temperatures, with no end in sight.

Outdoor restaurants are nearly barren despite water misters and street-side advertising. Popular walking trails are empty of all but the most dedicated exercise enthusiasts and even they restrict their activity to the early morning hours, when the thermometer reads in the "bearable" upper 90's.

One night last week, the temperature was still reading an unthinkable 99 degrees at midnight!

It's not just miserable and hot outside, something for everyone to agree on and complain about. This year's heat event has also been deadly.

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Filed under: Heat • Texas • Weather
Flying 'blind' inside Mission Control
Ascent Flight Director Richard Jones, seated second from left, confers with his team Friday at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
July 9th, 2011
02:37 PM ET

Flying 'blind' inside Mission Control

Editor's note: Tracy Sabo is a senior producer at CNN. She was granted unusual access to watch Friday's space shuttle launch from inside Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Here is her first-person account:

As space shuttle Atlantis was in final countdown on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I sat in Johnson Space Center's Mission Control in Houston watching the historic mission from a perspective rarely seen by non-NASA employees and contractors.

The feeling of "history in the making" was palpable as Richard Jones, the ascent flight director, stood pacing and scratching his head in the middle of the floor. Jones was poring over data on screens both big and small inside this intense scene at NASA Mission Control.

The weather was a major concern for the launch team as thunderstorms were consistently a "moderate threat." With the world watching this final shuttle mission, the pressure of an on-time launch must have been immense on the shoulders of this team.

However, officials constantly reminded us that "safety comes first" at NASA and the launch would be called off if everything didn't come together perfectly during a narrow window of opportunity. A decision likely would come down "to the final seconds," a spokesman said.

Listening to the flight director poll his Mission Control team in the final minutes sent chills down my spine. Despite the early weather threats, all systems were determined "Go for launch," and the official countdown clock began.

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Filed under: Atlantis • NASA • Shuttle • Space • Texas
'Historic' flood scene: Anxiety mixed with fanfare, memorabilia on the ground
Heidi Fangue is selling commemorative shirts along the highway leading to the Morganza Spillway.
May 17th, 2011
11:53 AM ET

'Historic' flood scene: Anxiety mixed with fanfare, memorabilia on the ground

Since Louisiana’s Morganza Spillway gates were opened by the Army Corps of Engineers and began spewing massive amounts of water into the Atchafalaya River basin below, the massive concrete structure has become something of a local tourist attraction.

As the gates were first being opened to help relieve flooding pressure, I looked to my right to witness virtually every law enforcement official, Corps employee, construction worker and local resident present – each with a cell phone camera or iPhone in hand. That’s in addition to several dozen media outlets, like CNN, on hand for the big day. Every recording device was intently trained on the floodgates and the grand, awe-inspiring deluge now inundating a previously dry basin. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “This is historic” flowing from the tongues of bystanders along the Morganza Spillway banks on Saturday.

The scene is like nothing seen here since 1973, when the floodgates were last opened to control the mighty Mississippi River’s rage.

The grand event was highly “produced” by the Army Corps, which controls the Morganza Spillway structure, complete with a dramatic live video feed beamed around the world, provided by the Department of Defense. Several local TV helicopters circled overhead as the gates were opened promptly at "1500 hours" as advertised. Louisiana state troopers officially closed the road for hours.

The event went off without a hitch. The excitement was palpable. The explosion of water out of the first opened bay did not disappoint. Fish were jumping, rabbits darting to safety, a gator swam through the open bay. Everyone was even allowed to walk onto the spillway to see the sights from above, once the Corps had deemed it safe for passage.

So, what’s left after all the hoopla? Certainly a ton of great video, pictures and memories for everyone who had a chance to see the 2011 opening of the Morganza Spillway floodgates. Go ahead, it’s okay to ask… what’s an event like this if there’s not a commemorative T-shirt?

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Filed under: Louisiana • Weather
Signs of resilience in flooded lowlands
May 16th, 2011
10:32 PM ET

Signs of resilience in Louisiana's flooded lowlands

You can almost count on them, usually within days following a disaster, especially in the South - the "signs" emerge. Each comes to mean something to a community, whether you agree or disagree with the message. Some of the signs even become community landmarks over time.

Louisiana knows a thing or two about disaster-inspired signs. After all, the state has had its fair share of recent disasters between Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the BP oil spill and now, record flooding along the Mississippi River. In the past six years, Louisiana has turned the making of signs to an art.

Such signs could be seen Monday in Louisiana's low-lying Atchafalaya River basin, which the Army Corps of Engineers was intentionally flooding to spare more-populated areas such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

"Hope you appreciate this Baton Rouge. You're welcome," read one sign posted outside a home in the path of the Atchafalaya River floodwater.

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Filed under: Louisiana • Weather
Flood evacuations through the eyes of a child
A truck was set to move the Ansley family's mobile home Monday before floodwater arrived in Krotz Springs, Louisiana.
May 16th, 2011
09:56 PM ET

Flood evacuations through the eyes of a child

Spending the day watching good, hardworking folks pack up treasured keepsakes, furniture and everything they love has an impact. As I and my CNN team on Monday visited Louisiana's St. Landry Parish - where many people were evacuating their homes because of rising water - I felt the anxiousness and worry that was so evident on residents' faces.

You don't have to tell folks here how bad high-water events can get. They know what's coming. Everywhere I looked, I wondered: What will become of these tucked-away, low-lying neighborhoods?

Everywhere you go in the parish - one of the areas in south-central Louisiana that the Army Corps of Engineers is intentionally flooding to spare more-populated areas like New Orleans - everyone is talking about the rising water. "Water’s coming!" almost seems like a passing greeting among friends here.

We went to Krotz Springs, where authorities were telling about 750 people to evacuate. It wasn’t until we pulled up to the small subdivision of Halphen Hollow and met the Ansley family that I really considered it - what would it feel like to be a child caught up in the chaos of mandatory evacuations? It's unfathomable what children must be thinking as they watch their rooms, toys, clothes being furiously packed up in a matter of hours and whisked away.

A truck was preparing to move the Ansley family's mobile home after the National Guard informed them they had until 5 p.m. to evacuate. Our team began making introductions and asking what the family's plans might be for the next couple months - that's how long they'd been warned the high water could keep them from returning to the subdivision. That's when an adorable, friendly 5-year-old girl grabbed my hand and whisked me away.

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Filed under: Louisiana • Weather