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Lower Mississippi Reopens to Traffic as Hurricane Recovery Begins

garret graves
Image courtesy Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA)

Published Sep 2, 2021 6:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

Now that Hurricane Ida has passed, Louisiana's ports and maritime interests are beginning the hard work of damage assessment and recovery.  

The Captain of the Port for New Orleans has reopened the majority of the area's waterways, with restrictions. The Mississippi is open for navigation between the river mouth and the Nine Mile Point on New Orleans' western edge, but traffic is limited to daylight hours only for deep draft vessels. The COTP reopening order cautions mariners to be aware of a large field of partially sunken barges along the west bank near the International Marine Terminals coal loading facility at river mile 57. 

A segment of the river near the former Avondale shipyard site is closed because of the collapse of a giant power transmission tower. The tower's high voltage lines are in the river, and electrical utility Entergy hopes that it will be possible to remove them by Friday. Until then, river miles 105-108 are impassable. Above the downed power line, river miles 108-167 (Avondale to the Sunshine Bridge) remain closed to any traffic without a waiver.

In an interview with Reuters, Capt. Will Watson, sector commander for the Coast Guard's New Orleans sector, said that there was still a lot of cleanup to do. Among other hazards, there are roughly 40 barges aground on the Mississippi's banks. "We have barges, tugboats, and deep draft ships aground, and we have to mitigate those things to make sure we get the waterways open,” Watson said. 

The Port of New Orleans' container terminals remained closed for shoreside operations on Thursday. In an update, the port said that both terminals plan to resume normal operations on Monday morning. One breakbulk terminal has already reopened, and others are restarting in phases over the next several days. At the port's cruise terminal, Carnival Cruise Line has opted to cancel a scheduled September 5 departure due to the disruption caused by the hurricane. 

At hard-hit Port Fourchon, the main oil and gas service hub for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico oilfields, the recovery process is still just beginning. As of Wednesday evening, the only access highway to the port was still shut due to debris, and its waterways were closed because of the hazards from "multiple obstructions and sunken vessels." However, in a live-streamed update Thursday, port director Chett Chiasson said the damage was less severe than expected and the port will likely be able to reopen "fairly quickly."

Ida disrupts cargo operations in the Northeast

The remnants of Hurricane Ida arrived over the Northeastern U.S. on Wednesday, dropping massive quantities of rain.  Six to eight inches fell on large swaths of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey over the span of just a few hours Wednesday morning, inundating streets and shutting down public transportation. With its unprecedented rainfall, the storm claimed at least 28 lives as basement apartments flooded and roadways washed out. 

At Newark Airport, an important air freight hub located just across the I-95 freeway from Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, flooding inside one passenger terminal forced a brief closure and the cancellation of hundreds of flights. 

The Port of New York and New Jersey's marine operations were also affected. A section of the roadway to and from the Elizabeth Marine Terminal flooded out, and the port advised truckers inside of the terminal to remain in place until given the all clear. The road reopened Thursday morning, but several tenants - PCNT and the SalSon Centralized Examination Station - were forced to delay opening due to flooding. Maher Terminal and its associated container depot opted to close for the full day and reopen Friday.