Port of New Orleans Damaged But Still Workable

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi River is now officially open to ships with a draft of 35 feet during daylight hours. The river is open to one direction at a time. Now that a route has been re-established to the Port of New Orleans and other ports on the lower Mississippi River, the port is bringing together all of the pieces that will allow it to be a major force in the reconstruction of New Orleans.

“The Port of New Orleans’ riverfront terminals survived Hurricane Katrina in fairly decent shape,” said Port President and CEO Gary LaGrange. “Although they are damaged, they are still workable once electrical power and manpower is available.”

“In the next several weeks, almost all of the Port of New Orleans will be dedicated to military relief vessels. In the next week to two weeks, commercial vessels will return once electrical power and manpower arrive,” LaGrange said

He added that many repairs will be needed though to bring the Port back to full capacity. Cargo containers have been tossed around at the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal and the Nashville Avenue Complex and remain strewn about.

Two gantry cranes at the Napoleon and Nashville Avenue Complexes are expected to have damage to electronic components. The other two gantry cranes at Napoleon/Nashville are expected to work once they have electric power. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) is working to supply the cranes with power through huge generators.

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, about 15 ships passed by the Port of New Orleans on their way to upriver ports such as the Port of South Louisiana and the Port of Baton Rouge. All three river pilot groups on the lower Mississippi River recommend opening the river to two-way traffic.

The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO), an alternate route for the Mississippi River, is open to 9 feet of draft. It could be opened to 27 feet of draft once debris is removed from the channel. The conditions of the terminals along the MRGO and the Industrial Canal are unknown except that they have no electrical power and they are severely flooded.

Re-establishing a Headquarters
Three senior staff members of the Port of New Orleans have established a headquarters at the Port’s Administrative Office Building, and other members of the senior staff are working from the remote locations they evacuated to.

Port CEO LaGrange, Executive Assistant for Port Operations Ted Knight and Operations Manager Paul Zimmermann have been on the scene in an attempt to continue port operations under some very adverse circumstances. The three senior staff members based in New Orleans have been in constant contact with MARAD and two of the Port’s terminal operators — P&O Ports and Ceres Gulf Inc. — to commence cargo operations for humanitarian aid and commercial cargo by the end of the week.

A portion of the Port Headquarters building systems is running on emergency generator power. The Port is housing the Louisiana State Police SWAT team’s operations center on its first floor.

Supplying Labor and Power
P&O Ports and Ceres Gulf Inc have mobilized work crews in Texas. At the request of the Port of New Orleans, these work crews are available to load and unload ships at the Port of New Orleans pending the arrival of vessels. They could be at the terminal within two or three days.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration is following up on a request by the Port of New Orleans for help. They are providing several ships with the capacity to temporarily house 1,000 people who will operate the port.

Those 1,000 people will be either essential Port of New Orleans employees or crews working ships at the Port of New Orleans. Some of the ships will be outfitted with generators needed to supply the power needed for port operations.

“We are thankful to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and his staff for helping to get us what we need to get our port up and running as soon as possible,” said LaGrange.

Helping Employees
Port Chief Operating Officer Dave Wagner has established temporary administrative offices in Atlanta with the help of the Port’s Board Chairman John Kallenborn of Chase Morgan. They have established ways for staff payroll to be distributed as usual.

Some staff members have been notified by the Port’s Emergency Hotline to make contact with the Port for payroll information and to establish communications. Because of the quick approach of Katrina, many staff members may not have the emergency hotline. The Port of New Orleans is asking the media to publish the number, 1-866-476-7866, so that we can re-establish communications with our employees in order to aid our return to full operations.

Numerous staff members lost homes and incurred damages. The Port will address immediate needs of the staff through a temporary account opened in Atlanta. The Port should have the ability to wire money to employees who need it on Tuesday, with those amounts deducted from future paychecks.

Some port senior staff should start arriving this week as needed, followed by a phased in arrival of other staff as needed. Those key staff members choosing not to return for serious and legitimate reasons can continue to work from their remote locations with the permission of the CEO.

Facing Challenges
Although the Port is making tremendous progress in getting back on its feet, it continues to face many challenges, including fires.

Mandeville, Piety and possibly Esplanade Street Wharves have been damaged by fire. The fire started off port property at a produce warehouse when propane tanks exploded. The fire was battled from the river by the General Roy Kelley, the Port’s fireboat; Crescent River Tugboats; and two vessels owned by the Port of South Louisiana, the John James Charles and the Accardo.

“Propane exploding in the air like bombs touched off fires as far as a half-mile away,” LaGrange said.

The only way to fight the fire was to use firefighting vessels. Fire trucks responded to the emergency, but didn’t have ability to pump water.

Just after midnight early Sunday morning, the fire at the Mandeville Street Wharf started to emerge again. The team of fireboats and tugs were once again able to bring the fire under control, preventing the fire from spreading from the wharves into the French Quarter. However, the crews of the boats are extremely taxed because they have been working around the clock.

The Harbor Police, the Port of New Orleans’ police force, is working with about 15 officers who are very fatigued. A Harbor Police vehicle was struck by a hit-and-run driver and a Harbor Policeman had to be treated at a hospital.

Seeking Help and a Competitive Edge
From Texas, Pat Gallwey, the Port’s Executive Assistant for Administration, is coordinating the needs of the Port with Congressional leaders, FEMA and other federal agencies.

Port customers will be contacted by the Port of New Orleans’ New York office and by Marketing Manager Bobby Landry once he returns to New Orleans early this week. The port will express its desire to partner with our customers during this difficult time to ask them for their support in helping to rebuild the Port.

At 10 a.m. Monday, there will be a meeting in the Port Administration Building by the three pilot groups on the Lower Mississippi River, Port staff and any member of the maritime community to discuss rebuilding the port and making it more cost effective for customers.

“We must find ways to get out the word that we have port infrastructure in place, but we will become bigger, better and more competitive than ever,” LaGrange said.

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