Hurricane-damaged ports on road to recovery

A survey by the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) finds that most of the Gulf Coast seaports damaged by back-to-back hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma have returned to full or nearly full operation

A survey by the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) finds that most of the Gulf Coast seaports damaged by back-to-back hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma have returned to full or nearly full operation.

Even those with the most extensive damage are reporting significant progress toward accommodating normal volumes of freight and passengers, said Kurt Nagle, APAA’s president & CEO.

The Port of New Orleans and the two largest ports along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Pascagoula and Gulfport, received the brunt of Katrina’s impacts, yet all are reporting significant progress to date.

Gary LaGrange, New Orleans’ president & CEO, said the Port is seeing the return of about half of its normal ship call activity and about 60% of its normal trucking activity, even though approximately one-third of the port’s infrastructure was heavily damaged by Katrina.

“We were able to get about 70% of our infrastructure back up and running within a few weeks of the storm,” LaGrange explained. “We’re on schedule to be at 70% to 80% of pre-Katrina activity by March. Also, about 85% of our workers have returned.”

LaGrange also expect the Port of New Orleans will see a big jump in cargo in the first quarter of 2006, driven by increased steel and plywood imports.

Despite initial devastation at his port, Pascagoula’s port director Mark McAndrews said his seaport’s public facilities should be operating at approximately 75% of pre-Katrina levels by the end of December. Temporary repairs have been completed at all the port’s terminals, with permanent repairs underway with a target completion date of March 2006. “It appears we suffered approximately $10 million in insured damages and up to $5 million in uninsured damages and expenses,” he estimated.

Gulfport’s executive director & CEO Don Allee said Katrina destroyed over 700,000 square feet of his port’s covered storage space, but that the port is “progressively” recovering from the hurricane a little each day. “We’re planning on allowing poultry exports to go directly from truck-to-ship, and we’re currently arranging for a test shipment for the near future,” Alleee added.

Allee also noted that Katrina reduced Gulfport’s shipping channel depth to 30 feet from the previous 36-foot depth, but he expects U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging efforts should return the port to its authorized depth.

Other ports with operations at or near pre-hurricane levels include the Texas port of Beaumont, the Louisiana ports of Lake Charles and Fourchon, and the Alabama State Port Authority at Mobile.

Beaumont executive port director David Fisher said his port is back to 100% of operational capacity after being hit by Hurricane Rita. Adam McBride, port director of Lake Charles, offered a similar report, noting that all road and rail connections are fully functional again, with a workforce in place to handle all cargoes.

At the southern tip of Louisiana, Greater Lafourche Port Commission executive director Ted Falgout reports the petroleum-handling facilities at Port Fourchon are about 90% back to normal, and – although not all storm damage has been repaired – all berths at the port are fully functional and extremely busy. He also noted that Port Fourchon has filed about $6 million in claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for repairs and clean up around the port.

Alabama State Port Authority director & CEO James Lyons said the Port of Mobile suffered damaged not so much from the hurricane itself but the resulting storm surge. “It took us nearly two weeks to clear mud and debris from our warehouses and to fully evaluate and start up equipment,” he said. “We’re still calculating costs, but revised numbers show we sustained approximately $30 million in damage – and costs could climb further.” Yet Lyons said the Port of Mobile is 95% functional, with repairs to be finished by late spring or early summer.

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