Port of New Orleans Getting Back to Work

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Containers at the port of New Orleans that were blown over by high winds from Hurricane Katrina. i

Containers at the Port of New Orleans that were blown over by high winds from Hurricane Katrina. Amy Walters, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amy Walters, NPR
Containers at the port of New Orleans that were blown over by high winds from Hurricane Katrina.

Containers at the Port of New Orleans that were blown over by high winds from Hurricane Katrina.

Amy Walters, NPR

After being closed for two weeks, the Port of New Orleans reopens for limited operations. The port did not suffer heavy damage, but there hasn't been any electricity and many port workers no longer have homes.


If New Orleans and the rest of southern Louisiana are to thrive again, then the port simply must operate at full capacity. From the very first days of the city in the early 1700s, New Orleans has been, above all else, a port city. Even now the ports provide billions more dollars than tourism. It will be months before the ports completely recover from Hurricane Katrina. NPR's Adam Davidson visited the ports and found that, for the first time since the hurricane, some cargo has started moving.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

For one of the biggest ports in the world, today's shipment wasn't much.

(Soundbite of port activity)

DAVIDSON: Just a bit of steel loaded into a barge. Gary LaGrange is the president of Port of New Orleans.

Mr. GARY LaGRANGE (President, Port of New Orleans): They're going to the Hyundai plant in Alabama. We're looking at your future car or truck.

DAVIDSON: What's the significance of what we're watching?

Mr. LaGRANGE: The significance is huge. If we can't get this steel to Hyundai, then they can't manufacture automobiles. Your car and my car will be a lot more expensive. I don't know by what dollar amount, but the same holds true for our rubber that's going to Goodyear and Michelin. The same holds true for the coffee.

DAVIDSON: In fact, before Katrina, more of these raw materials came into the country here than any other port. But it will be a while before they return to pre-storm levels. It's not because of obstructions in the river. Those have almost all cleared. And it's not because of flooding. The port is on one of the highest and driest points in the city, says Dave Morgan, who runs the key wharf here for P&O Ports.

Mr. DAVE MORGAN (P&O Ports): Yeah, luckily, as you see on the terminal, all of our equipment is fine. Our cranes work. The terminal itself is intact. The only affected area is the empty containers.

(Soundbite of heavy machinery)

Unidentified Man: ...nails on the top!

DAVIDSON: If the port wasn't damaged, why can't it open up right away? The answer is that the port's fine, but the rest of the city isn't. The port can't run without electricity and it needs food and beds for the workers here, most of whom are suddenly homeless.

(Soundbite of hammering)

DAVIDSON: Both those problems are solved in part by the SS Diamond State, a US Maritime administration crane ship. Tim Nellick(ph) is the ship's captain. He gave me a tour of the nearly 700-foot-long ship filled everywhere with cots and mattresses to house port workers. Because without that housing, little work could get done here. Captain Nellick says housing workers is one of his two missions.

Captain TIM NELLICK (USS Diamond State): The other is electrical power generation. Now you see--step out. We have substantial power generation--electrical power generation capability.

DAVIDSON: He points at a huge generator and a thick black cable that goes from the ship to the dock giving electrical power to the port. Port president, Gary LaGrange, says that with the power the port can accommodate as many ships as normal, but those ships' containers would just pile up. The railroads that normally take the stuff away aren't working, and no one has told LaGrange when the trains will run again.

The port officially reopens Wednesday when a ship from Lykes Lines will arrive at this wharf carrying about 400 containers. After the Lykes Lines ship leaves, though, not much will happen. Another ship will arrive next Tuesday, then a third ship later next week. Three ships in two weeks is a small fraction of what the port handled before the hurricane, but it's a start. Lagrange says the port will be fully operational within six months.

(Soundbite of a boat's motor)

DAVIDSON: About a half an hour up river, things are completely different at the Port of South Louisiana. It was hardly affected by the storm at all, and it handles most of the grain shipments on the Mississippi River. Those shipments are expected to reach 100 percent of pre-Katrina levels this week. Adam Davidson, NPR News, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

SUSAN STAMBERG (Co-host): And I'm Susan Stamberg.

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