NEW ORLEANS - A few residents guessed correctly when they figured their moldy, mud-stained homes might have to be lifted off the ground to qualify for flood insurance or federal rebuilding aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines released Wednesday are meant to help residents rebuild in ways that comply with early drafts of flood maps showing how high water is expected to rise during a once-in-a-100-year storm. The so-called flood advisories also detail how well the city's levees would protect residents.
The guidelines recommend that thousands of homes and businesses in the area be raised at least 3 feet. Property owners who ignore the guidelines risk losing out on government aid to rebuild and could miss an opportunity for lower flood insurance premiums.
Some residents who suffered the worst damage have decided they might as well start fresh.
"We're going to build a new home meeting the new guidelines," said Jeb Bruneau, whose ranch-style home, built on a concrete slab, was flooded to the eaves during Katrina.
For Bruneau, president of a neighborhood association in the city's Lakeview area, demolishing and rebuilding seemed easier than dealing with the costly process of jacking up the structure and gutting, cleaning and treating for mold.
He expects many of his neighbors will do the same, which could dramatically change Lakeview's landscape. Like many across New Orleans, numerous homes in the Lakeview area were built on ground-level slabs in the past 50 years, after much of the city's levee and canal systems were built.
Bruneau was relieved the long-awaited recommendations had been released.
"This will spur activity unbelievably," he predicted. "A lot of people have been waiting for the advisory to come out so they'd have direction. A lot of people are looking at this as progress."
Homeowner Timothy Riley, 44, wasn't as enthusiastic.
He said the guidelines would sharply increase the cost of repairing his home. "We'd have to tear our house down," Riley said. "There's no way we can jack the slab up to go any higher."
In drawing up the advisories, government experts took into account the increasingly active hurricane seasons, recent erosion of coastal land that acted as a buffer against large storms and the sinking of land in parts of southern Louisiana.
FEMA had delayed the release of the advisories several times since the start of the year as researchers incorporated new post-Katrina data.
Federal aid is available to pay for raising houses but many homeowners could still be stuck paying for a portion of the costs.
Donald Powell, chief federal coordinator for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, and other officials declined to estimate how many homes would have to be raised.
Raising a house typically involves lifting it with hydraulic jacks and constructing new wooden or steel supports. The job can take one to two weeks and generally costs about $40,000 for the first foot and $8,000 to $12,000 for each additional foot, said Phil Pieri, regional manager for a Texas-based foundation-repair company that operates in 18 states.
In historic neighborhoods, many homes already were built on pier foundations several feet above ground and may not have to be raised at all, even if they flooded during Katrina, because the new flood data assumes that repaired levees will not break.
Powell said the White House's new $2.5 billion request for flood protection, if approved by Congress, would pay to replace flood walls and raise levees surrounding 98 percent of the homes in the region.
The long-term work, which is expected to be completed by 2010, includes the replacement of 30 miles of flood walls, said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock of the Army Corps of Engineers.