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Evacuees receiving federal funds

Survivors of Hurricane Katrina have started receiving federal money to help get them back on their feet.

About 100 evacuees staying in Utah received checks from the U.S. Treasury on Monday and Tuesday, said Bobbi Samborn, a liaison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency working with Utah officials.

Each head of household who qualifies for assistance will receive $2,000, Samborn said.

"It's like a down payment," she said. "They're still going to be getting housing assistance. This is just money that they're trying to get out to them to help them right now."

Most of the Camp Williams applicants were approved for funds on Sept. 9, meaning it's taking less than a week for evacuees to receive their money, Samborn said. "They're pushing them through."

Because those evacuees now have money in their pockets and little private space in which to stash it, Zions Bank was working Tuesday to set up a branch at Camp Williams specifically for them.

"We will be taking every effort to be sure that it's secure, and that's one of the reasons why (state officials) came to us and asked us if we'd be willing to do this," Zions spokesman Rob Brough said. "They were certainly concerned about security and people carrying around cash. . . . This will provide that security for them."

The bank essentially will be a satellite office of Zions' Saratoga Springs branch, where evacuees have previously been transported to do their banking, Brough said. This will be more convenient for the evacuees, he said, and will be available for as long as they remain at Camp Williams.

"We recognize that the number of people out there is diminishing, so we don't know if this will be a three-week deal or a three-month deal," he said.

Of the 583 people originally transported to the Utah Air National Guard training base, approximately 280 remained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the state's Joint Information Center.

Many evacuees lost everything in the hurricane, including their identification, making it difficult to open new accounts. Because of that, Zions is accepting the Camp Williams ID cards issued to each evacuee as they arrived in Utah as a primary form of identification.

"One of our concerns is making sure we protect ourselves in all of this, so we're making every effort to appropriately identify each of these new members, while also recognizing the unique circumstance that they're in," Brough said.

The bank is expected to be up and running by Friday and will be open each day from 9 a.m. to noon.

Also on Tuesday, Salt Lake-area postal employees visited Camp Williams to help reconnect Katrina survivors with their mail.

The employees helped the evacuees complete change-of-address forms so their mail would be forwarded from their permanent address to Camp Williams for the time being.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, more than 100,000 hurricane victims so far have filed a change of address. Officials have encouraged people to change their address, even if they'll only be displaced for a short time. A new form can be filed as soon as the evacuees move to more long-term locations.

Displaced customers who can do so should use the Postal Service's change of address option online at www.usps.com or call 1-800-ASK-USPS. Change-of-address forms are also available at local post offices.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com