Companies Getting Ready for Post-Katrina Tasks

From housing contractors to cleanup companies to casket makers, businesses across the country are being called on to help rebuild the Gulf Coast in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina (search) — and billions of dollars of federal funds are waiting for them.

A wide range of companies said they are starting to receive requests from government agencies and local communities to start the long-term reconstruction program, one for which Congress has already approved a total of $62 billion.

"We've been concentrating on preparing the infrastructure, logistically, for a long-term cleanup effort," said Bill Geary, general counsel for Clean Harbors (CHLB), a provider of environmental and hazardous waste management services.

The biggest problem in arranging work, some are saying, is that the confusion naturally following a disaster is being compounded by spotty communications on the ground.

"It's just kind of hard to get information on what's happening down there," said Esmeralda Aguilar, a spokeswoman for the umbrella labor group AFL-CIO (search).

The organization has set up centers in Atlanta, Houston, Mobile and Pearl for union laborers, although is not yet at the stage of providing "job bank" services to connect workers to rebuilding efforts.

What is clear though is that one way or another demand will rise for almost everything, including housing of any kind.

Sales agent Jeff Ellingson of the Abel RV Center outside Chicago, who sells Thor and Gulfstream trailers and motor homes, reported demand from displaced families, as well as emergency officials and expects dealers will "immediately" place further orders with manufacturers for thousands more trailers and vehicles.

"It's incredible," he said.

Analysts estimate emergency officials may eventually order 50,000 trailers for temporary housing on top of an existing stockpile of 18,000 vehicles.

Along those same lines, the Shaw Group Inc. (SGR) Thursday said it has won a $100 million, one-year contract from FEMA to supervise housing construction for displaced people. Fluor Corp. said Thursday they won a similar contract.

Others say they are not necessarily seeing big orders yet, but are being asked to lay in supplies now for down the road.

"We've gotten calls from some of the big boxes with request for product so they know we've got it on hand," a spokesman for building products company Eagle Materials Inc. (EXP) said, referring to so called "big-box" retailers with large super- stores.

Housing needs are so severe that Carnival Corp. (CCL) has seen some of its cruise ships pressed into service — for a payment of $192 million — as temporary housing.

"We will not earn any more money from the charter of these three vessels to the government than we would have by operating them according to our post-Katrina plan. However, there is a possibility that we could earn a little bit less," Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher said.

Unfortunately, the death business always prospers after a disaster.

"I do know that we have been contacted by FEMA and they are looking for supply for caskets. I do not know how many. We have told them that we would work with them," said Wendy Wilson, a vice president at Hillenbrand Industries Inc. (HB).

Another company, Kenyon International Emergency Services, said Wednesday it had been hired by FEMA for body recovery. The company has already supplied a mobile morgue and has sent 50 workers to the affected region. Kenyon is a unit of Service Corp. International (SCI).