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Post office tries to forward mail

Says it's delivered 15,000 Social Security checks in Gulf region

From Paul Courson
CNN

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Postal Service has delivered 15,000 Social Security checks to people otherwise unable to receive mail in regions devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Meanwhile, the price tag for Postal Service buildings, vehicles and mail handling equipment ruined by Katrina is expected to reach about $100 million, said Thomas Day, senior vice president for government relations.

In the days since the storm moved through, officials have handed out about 10,000 Social Security checks in Mississippi and 5,000 in Louisiana, Day said at a Wednesday news conference at Postal Service headquarters.

Workers at trailer-type stations, backed by security personnel, are handing out checks at locations such as Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi.

The stations are jointly run with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has established banking services for beneficiaries to cash the checks.

Day said deliveries have returned to 100 percent levels in Alabama, but 100,000 people in Mississippi are still unable to get mail.

Postal officials are strongly urging evacuees to submit a change-of-address notification, even if it means an interim shelter or other temporary destination.

They can out a form at a post office window, log on to the Postal Service's Web site at www.usps.com, or call 800-275-8777. Nearly 52,000 evacuees have filed change-of-address forms so far, Day said.

He estimated that for some 720,000 customers around New Orleans deliveries are not possible.

The Houston Astrodome now has a special ZIP code -- 77230 -- to help sort mail headed for people being sheltered there.

Day said the Postal Service has established "a phantom box number, not a physical box, but each person or family gets the number, and then who's in charge of shelter gets that, and they hand it out."

To help lessen the load of backed-up mail, the Postal Service has asked companies to temporarily stop sending junk mail to selected ZIP codes where mail has been disrupted. Some of the bulk mail may also be discarded, if the sending companies give the OK.

About 300,000 pieces of mail were awaiting delivery from the New Orleans processing center when the hurricane hit.

Just beforehand, they were moved to an upper floor and survived the flooding, Day said, citing postal officials who reached the site Tuesday.

Thousands of postal employees were dislocated by the storm, Day said, but they can resume their jobs at other facilities.

He said workers are "showing up at postal facilities saying, 'I'd like to get back to work,' " but that many others remain unaccounted for.

Day appealed for unaccounted postal workers to call the agency with their whereabouts, if possible.

"We want to know you're alive and okay," he said. "Even if your facility has been impacted, we'll find an alternate location for you, and hook you up as best we can with emergency services and alternative housing."

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