USPS Struggles With Damaged Florida Facilities

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Days after Hurricane Charley devastated much of Florida, its effects are still being felt in the state's Suncoast region, where postal officials said yesterday that efforts to return service to 100 percent continued.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, 99 percent of the Suncoast District, which includes Florida's southwest coast, is operational. But postal officials are struggling to determine the amount of damage suffered by postal facilities and the status of delivery routes, said Gary Sawtelle, USPS spokesman.

"It's a case-by-case, post office-by-post office basis," Sawtelle said. "Each day that goes by, we're getting up to full speed, and power and delivery are getting up to full speed as well."

Impassable roads prevent carriers from reaching delivery addresses, postal officials said. Another problem is that residents are leaving cleared debris by the roadsides, preventing carriers from reaching mailboxes.

However, a larger job for postal officials will be assessing whether addresses remain deliverable, said Tony Brescia, USPS manager of marketing in the Suncoast District. The storm destroyed many homes and, in some cases, entire blocks of addresses. Included are mobile home parks that were wiped out.

The USPS is making ongoing updates to the national address database as information about addresses comes in, and should have the update of permanent changes complete within 30 days, Brescia said. Impassable roads hinder this process, and carriers sometimes have a difficult time determining whether houses will be repaired or torn down.

This issue is of particular concern to Standard or bulk mailers who mass mail to groups of addresses. Brescia advised mailers to check the national address database regularly for updates.

For time-sensitive mail, the USPS is notifying the mailers when their materials have been affected and is giving them the option of disposing of the mail rather than delivering it late, Brescia said. At least one retailer asked that its time-sensitive mail not be delivered because of damage to its local stores.

The USPS also asks mailers to refrain from mailing into certain ZIP codes for the time being. Information on current conditions in the Suncoast District is available through the USPS Business Service Network.

As of yesterday, the only ZIP code completely without delivery was 33924 on Captiva Island, a vacation haven that was devastated by the storm and remained closed off. Including Captiva, the USPS was asking mailers to avoid 29 ZIP codes in the Suncoast District yesterday.

Delivery units in the ZIP codes had substantial damage, resulting in limited mail storage, nonfunctional docks and downed communication lines, the USPS said. Mailers shipping medical supplies and prescription drugs should consider using First-Class, Priority or Express Mail, delivery of which was being attempted where access to addresses was permitted.

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