- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The lumber, utility, helicopter, construction and engineering industries said yesterday they expect a jump in business on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But with emergency personnel still searching for survivors and most of New Orleans underwater, companies said it was too soon to estimate the extent to which their services will be needed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which handles natural disasters, is in the search-and-rescue mode after the Category 4 hurricane hit Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama on Monday. Earlier, a Category 1 version of Katrina hit Florida.

FEMA spokesman James McIntyre said the agency is working with federal, state and local officials in addition to some companies in current rescue efforts. “But I don’t have information at this time on how many are helping,” he said.

Insurers have estimated that claims from the storm could cost up to $24 billion, but industry groups said the cost for rebuilding cities like New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss., could reach hundreds of billions of dollars.

“I can visualize all sectors of our membership having some involvement in this recovery and rebuilding process for the next few years,” said Casey Dinges, spokesman for the American Society of Civil Engineers, a Reston trade group with 137,870 members worldwide.

“For the engineering industry, it’s a sad assignment, but there is so much work that is going to be needed there,” said Kathe Jackson, spokeswoman for PBS&J;, a Miami engineering firm.

The firm last week prepared its debris-management team to start work in South Florida where the hurricane hit. PBS&J; expects more work to come from the hurricane cleanup, Ms. Jackson said.

Greenhorne & O’Mara Inc., a Greenbelt engineering firm, may use 5 percent to 10 percent of its 600-plus staff on hurricane contracts, said Colin Vissering, vice president for the company’s water and environment division.

Greenhorne, a FEMA contractor, has been talking with the federal agency daily about sending a team to the region to get a report on how severely the buildings in the affected cities are damaged.

“The bottom line is it’s still too dangerous there and no one can get close to do evaluations,” Mr. Vissering said.

Helicopter companies also are trying to coordinate a strategy with FEMA, said Dave York, spokesman for the Helicopter Association International, an Alexandria trade group.

The agency “indicated the recovery effort will take months and they expect to need helicopter services through a great part of that,” he said.

Petroleum Helicopters Inc., a Lafayette, La., helicopter services firm for the oil industry, reported flying extra flights in the past few days for gas company clients.

The company, which would not name any clients, has been checking the status of offshore oil rigs and other facilities, said Richard Rovinelli, chief administrative officer and human resources director.

Utility contractors also will be in high demand, said Bill Hillman, chief executive of the National Utility Contractors Association, an Arlington trade group.

Contractors will have to clear debris from the area before they can start working on downed power lines and faulty water and sewer systems, Mr. Hillman said.

Lumber supplies, which were strained last year by four hurricanes in Florida, probably will have short-term price spurts, said Nicholas Kent with the North American Wholesale Lumber Association, a Rolling Meadows, Ill., trade organization.

While not many lumber mills were located in the affected region, an untold number of Gulf Coast shipping containers holding exported and imported lumber were lost in the storm, said Mr. Kent, president and chief executive.

Mr. Kent said he had no estimate of how much lumber would be needed to repair and rebuild areas in the Southeastern region.

Other businesses such as roofing contractors said they, too, will see an increase in business, but that is months away.

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