Human Aid Helps Zoo Weather the Storm

As the late afternoon was lolling toward dusk, Dan Maloney was on a mission. The giraffes needed food and water. He hopped into his green golf cart and headed down the path past the reptile center, around a sharp curve near the bear exhibit, darted slightly left to avoid a scurrying rabbit, and finally parked in front of a wooden blind overlooking the giraffe's spread of land.

Maloney, vice president and general curator of the Audubon Zoo, has not left his post since before Hurricane Katrina struck. He and about a dozen other workers have been clearing trees and feeding and watering the 1,500 animals living on 58 acres.

In uptown New Orleans across Audubon Park from Tulane University, the zoo is on some of the city's highest ground. Water came up to the entrance during the height of Katrina, but the zoo itself was spared from flood.

"We stayed because the animals can't leave," Maloney said. He said two small animals died in the storm and some waterfowl were missing. "And one alligator," he said, "but I think it's just in another lagoon."

But the white tigers, the bears and Satchmo the baby rhino came through the storm fine. The Miami zoo herded some animals into buildings, but Maloney let his animals stay outside, figuring the stress from the storm would be less than if the flamingos were locked in a restroom. "We have five flamingo chicks, still with their down, and they came through fine," he said.

A military helicopter roared overhead. "It would be a real shame if these animals made it through the storm and then get injured or killed because they got spooked by these helicopters," Maloney said. "I wish they would declare the zoo area a no-fly zone."

He coaxed the giraffes with his bucket of water. Another helicopter buzzed by. He said he was getting supplies from the zoo in Baton Rouge and had a promise of help from the Houston zoo.

As Maloney spoke, Alex the giraffe lowered his majestic head and stuck his tongue in the bucket. He slurped a good bit of water, and as he raised his long neck skyward he spit a stream toward Maloney and the visitors.

"Hey, Alex," Maloney laughed. Alex bent his head, took another long drink and, apparently not listening to his keeper, sprayed him again.

-- Timothy Dwyer

An Oasis of Gas Lights Up the Night

In this postage-stamp-size city across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, a beacon of light illuminated the pitch-black night.

Ahmad Mashhad, a native of Iraq who came here 41/2 years ago, was out in the parking lot of his gas station and convenience store. The lights were on, and he was open for business. This was Sunday about 9 p.m., and police with rifles and handguns were directing customers to the pumps.

"I had some gas left in my tanks, and the power came on, and so I decided to open," he said. "We had generators at first, and we were giving gas to the police and town vehicles, and then I decided to sell to the people in the neighborhood."

And guess what. The price was lower than it is in Washington and most of the country: $2.99 a gallon for premium. "That was the price before we closed," said Mashhad, 28, "and I thought it wouldn't be fair to raise it now."

He opened during the day on Sunday, and the line was hours long. He limited each customer to eight gallons. Some people complained, but the griping was quickly quashed by police.

"I told people that they were lucky to be getting gas," said Mike Dufrene, who works for both the city's fire department and its police department. "I told them that he was a good citizen. He could have sold all his gas to the city, but he wanted to help people out."

Some people ran out of gas and pushed their car into the station for their eight gallons. Dufrene said there was not another open gas station within 20 miles of Mashhad's and he thought that one had run out of gas.

At 6 p.m., Mashhad had closed but said he would accommodate everyone who was already in line. By 8:45 p.m. there were still about 10 cars snaking out of the station and down a dark side street.

Why, in a sea of darkness, was he blessed with electricity?

"Because this is the city of Westwego," Mashhad said with a laugh, as though it needed no further explanation.

-- Timothy Dwyer