Ships Travel Up Mississippi Once Again: Port of New Orleans Fights Fires, Works to Repair Gantry Cranes

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.

"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.

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.

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.

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