Saturday, July 15, 2006

Saudi help to NOLA and other news

Weddings at fever pitch in New Orleans

Religious leaders quit Katrina Fund panel

It's hard to stay here, but harder to leave

Mr. T sheds gold after Katrina destruction


The Saudi ambassador tours N.O. and discovers signs of optimism
Thursday, July 13, 2006

By Gwen Filosa

Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, toured the devastated neighborhoods of New Orleans on Wednesday, representing the oil-rich kingdom that has given more than $250 million to Hurricane Katrina efforts.

Even in plain sight of 2,000 dying trees in City Park, FEMA trailer parks lining St. Claude Avenue and the vastly abandoned Lower 9th Ward, the prince said he found optimism and hope for recovery.

"It must have driven people to the end of their wits," Turki said after taking in the ruins of the Lower 9th Ward. "But to see how much people want to come back, that gives you all the hope you can aspire to as to the nature of human beings. The things I have seen are so admirable."

The Saudi people, who began donating in December by giving $2.88 million for clothing, household goods and furniture to the St. Vincent de Paul Council, continue to keep the New Orleans region on their charitable list, the prince said.

"I bring you the friendship of the Saudi people," he said. "The kingdom is here, making contributions in kind. It is an Arab custom to take those in need and give them shelter without asking questions of anything in return. From jazz to jambalaya, New Orleans has made important contributions to the global community, and now the global community is making contributions to New Orleans."

The Saudi kingdom has for the past 10 months contributed to relief efforts such as Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest Food Bank, Louisiana State University Health Science Center and the American Red Cross.

Turki spoke earnestly of helping a poor, battered city recover and restore its place in the world.
"We especially want to see Charity Hospital restored," he said of the once integral health center washed away by the floodwaters of Aug. 29.

The prince spoke at a luncheon at the Plimsoll Club, 30 stories above the French Quarter, before taking an extensive tour that included City Park, Bayou St. John, the Lower 9th Ward and stretches of neighborhoods in between.

In an elegant speech at the white tablecloth luncheon, Prince Turki included quotations from Robert Kennedy and Herman Melville. He also tapped Bob Dylan, saying that in New Orleans, "the past does not pass away so quickly here."

The Quran teaches that it is good to be charitable in public, but that it is preferred to do good works in secret, he said.

"We are all human; we need warmth and shelter, food and clothing," Turki said.

"Little else matters without that which allows simply to live. . . . You can't simply erase the spirit of a community," Prince Turki told the group of business and political leaders. "You have picked yourselves up to rebuild your families and your lives. "

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, The Rev. Luke Vien of Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, attorney and former mayoral candidate Virginia Boulet and Charles Baquet, a former ambassador to Djibouti now at Xavier University, were among the local dignitaries receiving the Saudi ambassador.

One glaring omission from the guest list, however, was Mayor Ray Nagin. Spokesman Terry Davis said, "The prince's schedule team made previous arrangements" to meet the mayor, but he wouldn't say why Nagin did not attend the luncheon.

City Council members Shelley Midura, Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Cynthia Hedge Morrell each spoke to welcome the prince on behalf of the city, Midura beginning her remarks with a greeting in Arabic. Willard-Lewis later rode beside the prince in one of the minivans that carried a group of local leaders through the battered remnants of the Lower 9th Ward.

In a wheat-colored hat and sunglasses, the prince absorbed the sights of devastation with the respectful awe that other leaders have shown. It was his first visit to New Orleans.

The prince stopped to greet a woman and her two grandchildren, who left their temporary trailer to catch a glimpse of visiting royalty in the 1400 block of Caffin Avenue.

Turki, the youngest son of King Faisal, who attended a New Jersey preparatory school and Georgetown University, knelt to say hello to 4-year-old Kiante and her grandmother, Stephanie Andrews.

Later, after learning what the spray-painted rescue messages on vacant, gaping houses meant, and that the floodwaters rose to 18 feet in the Lower 9th Ward, the prince marveled at meeting Andrews and her family. Amid collapsed homes and debris piles, the woman greeted him with warmth.

"She was smiling," Turki said.


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