The post office has delivered some 15,000 Social Security checks at collection points in the area affected by Hurricane Katrina (search), officials said Wednesday. But the agency is still trying to locate 2,000 of its workers.
In the affected region, 188 post offices have returned to full service, 189 are providing limited service and 120 are still closed.
"In some cases the facility has ceased to exist," Postal Service senior vice president Thomas G. Day said.
Postmaster General John Potter (search) said about 720,000 delivery points in Louisiana, mostly in New Orleans and the surrounding area, remain without service, as do about 100,000 delivery locations in Mississippi. All post offices in Alabama have returned to service.
Day said 51,800 people who have been evacuated from their homes have filed change-of-address forms so their mail can be forwarded, and the post office is encouraging more people to do so.
The agency is working to get checks, financial documents, medications and other vital items delivered to the people who need them, Day said.
The normal 30-day limit on temporary change-of-address forwarding has been suspended for these people, he said. Changes can be filed at any local post office, by phone at 1-800-275-8777 or online at http://www.usps.com.
Day said many people have changed their mailing addresses to shelters such as the Houston Astrodome (search), and people can file additional changes as they move to longer-term locations.
Potter said new technology allows the post office to reroute mail at the post office where it is received if the agency has a change-of-address notice.
In the past, mail would have been sent to the Gulf Coast area, where workers would then reroute it. But computers now allow the post office to scan mail when it is received. If someone from New Orleans, for example, has filed a change of address to California, the item is sent directly there.
"Regardless of where they are, we'll move their mail to them," Potter said in a telephone interview. "My message to everybody is, if they are relocated, please inform us."
The Postal Service (search) had about 6,000 employees in the affected region, Day said.
Many have returned to work. Others, who have been evacuated, are working at post offices in other areas, and some 2,000 have not been heard from.
"That's a concern for us a week into this event," Day said.
Day and Potter urged postal workers to contact the agency if possible.
"We want to know that you're alive and OK," Day said. The post office will help its workers find emergency housing and other services, he said.
Potter said the agency wants to make sure its workers get paid and will invite them to work at nearby offices, regardless of where they are in the country.
Day said postal facility damage has been estimated at more than $100 million, but stressed that is a rough estimate.
He said some mail must have been damaged or destroyed in facilities that were damaged by the storm, but the agency was able to divert mail headed for New Orleans beforehand, sending it to Houston for storage.
About 300,000 pieces of mail in the New Orleans processing center that could not be delivered before the storm hit were moved up to a higher floor, and Day said postal inspectors reported that mail does not seem to have been damaged.