Because of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, there are millions of dead chickens in Mississippi, prompting health concerns and dealing the poultry industry a blow that is expected to take nearly half a year to recover.

As part of the “chicken belt” — a swath of chicken growing and processing that runs through Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia and Texas — Mississippi is a major producer of chicken and turkeys.

About 10 percent of the poultry consumed in the United States comes from Mississippi, according to the National Chicken Council. Much of that is in the south central area stricken by the killer storm.

Farmers are trying to cope with millions of dead birds that must be disposed of. 11 USDA veterinarians have been dispatched to Mississippi to determine the best way to dispose of the birds. That may be to turn them into huge compost mounds with the help of sawdust or finding landfills where they can be dumped without harm to the environment. Decomposing chickens can breed salmonella, a bacteria that causes severe intestinal illnesses.

The USDA is ready to help farmers get rid of the birds. It’s thinking of bringing in backhoes and hiring private contractors. But federal officials have been hamstrung in their efforts because they’re not able to travel to south Mississippi because of a shortage of fuel and the trees that still block many rural roads.