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Hurricane Katrina

Q&A: Hurricane Katrina

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

By Times Staff Writer
Published September 2, 2005

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Federal regulations require that when a building erected in a flood plain is substantially damaged, it must be elevated when it is rebuilt. Does this mean that if New Orleans is rebuilt, the whole city will be on stilts?

Large parts of it, yes. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say that much of New Orleans is considered a flood plain, and if structures are rebuilt in those parts of the city, they will have to be elevated substantially. "Absolutely, yes," said Ed Pasterick, a FEMA specialist in Washington, D.C. "There may be decisions to be made as to whether large areas of the city can or should be rebuilt."

Before any of New Orleans can be rebuilt, millions of gallons of toxic sludge and millions of tons of wreckage into which the toxins have been soaking will have to be removed. How is that much dangerous debris disposed of?

Experts say it could be heavily treated to remove the toxins and dumped way out in the Gulf of Mexico. Or it could be buried in a concrete bunker, capped with concrete and then grassed over. It would, of necessity, be a very large bunker.

What happened to New Orleans' famed zoo and aquarium?

Reports from the city say they fared pretty well. According to Ron Forman, president of the Audubon Nature Institute that oversees the two facilities, a few flamingos died but there was little other loss of animal life. The zoo and aquarium are along the banks of the Mississippi River near the historic French Quarter. Although the aquarium lost power, it had a generator and plenty of food and freshwater. The French Quarter, built on the highest ground in the city, suffered less damage than other neighborhoods. The city's highest point is Monkey Hill inside the zoo.

What happened to traffic on the Mississippi River bound for the port in New Orleans?

It has all come to a stop in Arkansas. Katrina interrupted farm shipments through New Orleans, where more than half of the nation's grain exports depart for overseas. In the worst-case scenario, snarled river traffic would force shippers to rely on rail or truck transportation, which are more expensive options, particularly with fuel costs rising. The good news is that corn and soybeans, the major crops shipped through New Orleans, are still growing in most parts of the country, and harvest is a few weeks off.

How will people who are expecting Social Security checks this week get their money if their banks are gone or disabled?

If the checks are delivered by direct deposit, the money is accessible at any branch of the customer's bank outside the storm-affected area. The money also would be available through an ATM, although there could be a small transaction charge at the ATM. Checks that come by mail will be hung up at the last postal facility to handle them before processing for the Gulf Coast broke down. And in many cases, those checks are addressed to homes that no longer exist.

Is the state of Florida sending any personnel or equipment to help in the areas affected by Katrina?

Yes. The Florida teams include more than 200 state law enforcement members, 173 sheriffs' deputies and 42 municipal police officers. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission crews took boats and other equipment to aid in the search for people trapped in floodwaters. The Florida National Guard sent 19 members who specialize in urban search and rescue. The National Guard aviation team took three Blackhawk helicopters and a Chinook helicopter to aid in searches. The Florida Department of Health has sent three teams, including two specializing in epidemics. More than 100 civilian medical professionals have gone to the region, and 46 ambulances had been sent by late Wednesday, along with 171 trucks of water and 165 trucks of ice.

In Pinellas County, which is surrounded by water, what are the chances that evacuation shelters would be inundated by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane?

It's hard to predict since much would depend on where the storm made landfall and the angle at which it hit the coast. About half of the county's shelters are in evacuation zones. However, officials say that within those sites, the buildings that would be used to house people should stay dry.

Many federal employees are paid through a National Finance Center that is now underwater in New Orleans. How will they get paid?

Officials say no data has been lost, and payment operations have been shifted to Philadelphia. Paychecks should be on time.

Is there going to be a shortage of Tabasco sauce, too, since it comes from southern Louisiana?

Apparently not. The McIlhenny Co., makers of Tabasco, has its headquarters on Avery Island, La., west of New Orleans. The company reports that Hurricane Katrina took out its Web site but not its operations and there will be no interruption in the processing of the hot stuff.

Compiled by Times staff writer Jean Heller, with contributions from staff writer Matt Waite and Times researcher Caryn Baird. Information from Times wires was used in this report.

[Last modified September 2, 2005, 02:15:35]

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