updated 4/3/2006 2:01:11 PM ET 2006-04-03T18:01:11

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, the Postal Service began processing mail Monday in New Orleans, a move officials say should eliminate delivery times of a week or more for cross-town mail.

“Our expectation is that we will get back to 95 percent overnight service,” New Orleans Postmaster Alan Cousins said.

An embargo continues for magazines, newspapers, catalogs and other second-class mail, though it likely will be lifted next month, officials said.

“We know the services has not been up to usual standards, but we’re working on it,” said Postal Service spokesman Dave Lewin.

The processing and distribution center is housed in the same building as the main New Orleans post office. It closed after Katrina’s floodwaters destroyed the electrical equipment.

Before the storm, the plant processed 6 million to 8 million pieces of mail a day for the New Orleans area, as well as for parts of Mississippi and Alabama.

After the storm, letters destined for the New Orleans area, even if mailed locally, had to make a 540-mile loop through three cities to be processed, resulting in deliveries taking weeks.

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