The Port of New Orleans reopens as embargoes slow rail traffic

The Port of New Orleans was reopened to river traffic early July 14 after a two-day closure surrounding the arrival of Hurricane Barry, which weakened immediately into a tropical storm upon landfall, but still packed 70 mph winds. Numerous highways and rail service locations remain closed as of July 15.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of New Orleans Friday as Tropical Storm Barry moved toward land. The Mississippi River was closed to all traffic from the mouth north to the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola in unincorporated West Feliciana Parish. Vessels that normally use the river had steered clear of the mouth of the river beginning several days earlier, and port loading operations ceased in anticipation of Barry making landfall.

The Coast Guard said potential for port damage was minimized by communication between federal, state, local and industry partners. Preparations for reopening the port began before Barry made landfall.

“Even while the storm was still approaching landfall, we were making preparations to reopen our ports and restore critical infrastructure and marine transportation systems as quickly as possible after it passed,” said Capt. Kristi Luttrell, Sector New Orleans commander for the Coast Guard. “Along with the safety of the public and first responders, restoration of maritime commerce was one of our top priorities.”

After Barry officially made landfall near Intracoastal City, about 150 miles west of New Orleans, the port reopened at 6 a.m. Sunday with some restrictions. Flood gates along the river reopened that afternoon and the port administration building the following day.

Meanwhile, 10 Louisiana state roads and one U.S. highway servicing the area remained closed due to flooding as of July 15, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation.

A commodities trader reported no disruptions at facilities along the Texas Gulf as far east as Beaumont, although railroad embargoes have slowed rail flow. Up the Mississippi river, grain elevators in Baton Rouge sustained no significant damage, but effects at other sites wasn’t yet known, he said.

Embargoed locations in effect by the Union Pacific Railroad include New Orleans and Avondale, La., due to flooding. Both embargoes have been in effect since July 10. Upriver, embargoes due to flooding have been in effect since June 26 at East St. Louis, Ill., and for more than two months at Alton, Ill., Herculaneum, Mo., and Crystal City, Mo.

Kansas City Southern railroad embargoed its New Orleans interchange. BNSF railroad told customers to expect delays for cars through the area. Norfolk Southern railroad said it was working with interline partners to detour rail traffic over alternate gateways to minimize the impact. Norfolk Southern said although New Orleans operations were normalizing, 24- to 48-hour delays were to be expected for shipments to and through the city.

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