|A tanker sits moored in the Mississippi River near New Orleans. (Photo/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)|
Published Aug. 29, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — First, it was this summer’s drought that drained the Mississippi River and threatened operations at the Port of New Orleans.
Now, it’s yet another hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast seven years to the date after Hurricane Katrina’s floods nearly drowned the Crescent City.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” port President and CEO Gary LaGrange said when announced that the facility would be closed at least through Wednesday.
“The safety of our personnel and their families is paramount during any threat of this kind,” LaGrange said. “Our staff and terminal operators have taken all of the necessary precautions in anticipation of the worst, while we hope for the best.”
Cargo terminals within the New Orleans port ceased operations at 5 p.m. Monday as port personnel and terminal operators finished preparing for the storm.
The Associated Branch Pilots, which pilot ships through Southwest Pass at the mouth of the Mississippi River, cut off operations Sunday night, and the Crescent River Port Pilots and the New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association stopped moving vessels Monday morning, closing the river to deep-draft traffic until the storm passes.
Cranes were locked down, and crews removed any potential hazards from wharves and secured all floating equipment.
The 778-foot MSC Nederland, which was loaded Monday, will remain in port, along with five other ships until the Mississippi River reopens.
Meanwhile at the Port of Mobile, acting director H.S. “Smitty” Thorne said storm preparations began Friday, including the stowing or securing all equipment, moving vehicle fleets to higher ground, clearing the railroad interchange yard of all rail cars, and readying buildings and information technology systems against winds or high water impacts.
This has been a tough summer at New Orleans, which handled 476,413 TEUs in 2011, ranking it No. 12 among U.S. ports.
Just a couple of weeks ago, low levels on the Mississippi River raised questions about whether operations would be affected at the port.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintained the 45-foot-deep channel from Baton Rouge, La., to the mouth of the river.
“Deep-draft shipping and cruise operations within the Port of New Orleans have not experienced any interruptions as a result of the low river stage,” LaGrange said. “All of the port’s berths are at 100% of their authorized depths and no restrictions on the lower Mississippi River are anticipated.”
The river has become so shallow that shippers reduced the number of barges their tow boats push and lightened their loads. Two weeks ago, some 100 vessels were stopped near Greenville, Miss., because vessels ahead of them had run aground.
The river is a key conduit for the movement of commerce. In 2010, more than 566 million tons of freight worth $180 billion, including 60% of U.S. grain exports, 22% of U.S.-produced petroleum and 20% of coal used to power electric generation plants, according to the Waterways Foundation in Arlington, Va.