WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 - Facing extensive damage by Hurricane Katrina to naval installations in Mississippi, the Navy turned immediately to the Halliburton Company's KBR subsidiary for tasks like restoring electricity, repairing roofs and clearing debris at bases that are urgently needed for response efforts.
It is a familiar role for KBR, which under longstanding contracts has delivered the engineering equivalent of first aid to the Navy and other military and government agencies after natural disasters for more than 15 years. This time, the Halliburton unit's performance is likely to be watched especially closely, as its work under separate contracts in Iraq has come under extensive criticism in the past two years.
The Naval Facilities Engineering Command turned to Halliburton after the hurricane under terms of a five-year contract worth up to $500 million, renewed in 2004 after competitive bidding, that calls on the company to provide immediate services on demand after natural disasters, in humanitarian crises or in military conflicts. Last year, the Navy invoked the same contract after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida.
Although Halliburton has not yet been asked to work on installations around New Orleans, it said on Friday that it would begin performing damage assessments there "as soon as it is deemed safe to do so."
The Navy faces urgent problems repairing installations such as the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Gulfport, Miss., which was heavily damaged and has become a crucial staging point for recovery operations in the coastal area hit hardest by the hurricane.
Almost all the base's personnel were evacuated before the storm, and there were no military casualties reported, but many buildings were damaged, power and communications were out, and roads were blocked or flooded.
But even as the Halliburton contract was being announced on Friday, the base was getting back in business, feeding 1,200 personnel each day, sheltering 350 Federal Emergency Management Agency employees in a warehouse, preparing to build a tent city for FEMA, supporting 1,000 employees of Mississippi Power, and deploying Seabees into nearby communities.
Even as it prepared for new jobs in the disaster area, both under its military contract and in its broader civilian role as a major engineering and construction company involved in ports and oil services, Halliburton and its employees faced problems of their own from the storm.
The company said on Friday that it had 3,000 employees working in the affected region and that "many have suffered devastating losses with many homes and vehicles flooded and some with a total loss of all of their belongings." The company, headed by Dick Cheney before he became vice president, has close ties to the Bush administration, and earlier this year confirmed that it had hired Joseph M. Allbaugh as a consultant on issues including disaster relief and homeland security. Mr. Allbaugh was the director of FEMA during the first two years of the Bush administration.
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