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September 5, 2005

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, says a release issued by the port yesterday.

"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

But 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 to which they evacuated.

Facing Challenges

The statement released yesterday notes that though 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.

A meeting was scheduled for this morning (Monday) 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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