September 14, 2005

Storm-hit New Orleans port back to life

By K.T. Arasu

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Port of New Orleans resumed
operations on Wednesday as the first vessel headed out to sea
more than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina closed down

"The ship is leaving as we speak," Paul Zimmermann, the
port's director of operations, told Reuters by telephone, as
the Lykes Flyer carried an assortment of products to Brazil,
Argentina and Mexico after unloading coffee from Brazil.

More than 640 people have been confirmed dead, mostly in
Louisiana, and some 1 million people were displaced by Katrina,
which swept across Louisiana and Mississippi on August 29.

Most ports at the Gulf affected by the storm have since
resumed operations, as have facilities along the lower reaches
of the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area that ship
billions of dollars of grain across the globe.

Three suburbs of New Orleans, which is also recovering from
the storm that submerged nearly 80 percent of the city in
floodwaters, said they will reopen on Wednesday with safe
water, electricity and sewer service for residents.

Zimmermann said the port, which ranks among the top five in
the country and is a major handler of containerized cargoes, is
in "fairly good shape for the most part," adding that it was
still far from fully operational.

He said only two of the port's 27 terminals were open for
business, adding that operations were expected to be just 10 to
20 percent of the normal pace this week.

The port's main exports include machinery, paper products
and some grain, while imports are coffee, rubber and steel.

The Gulf accounts for 55 to 65 percent of all U.S. corn,
soy and wheat exports and handled 59 percent of the 50.2
million tonnes of grain shipped through all U.S. ports so far
this year, the North American Export Grain Association said.

The port's chief executive, Gary LaGrange, said last week
it could take up to six months for the port to be fully
operational. He said up to 1,000 workers would be housed in two
ships as the port moves to get back on its feet.

Zimmermann said all traffic, including trucks bearing
cargo, had begun moving in and out of the port.

On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard lifted restrictions that
kept large Panamax vessels that carry grain from moving
upstream on the Mississippi River from the Gulf Coast.

Randy Gordon of the National Grain and Feed Association
said nine of the 10 grain export elevators in the New Orleans
region have had power restored, and eight had resumed
operations to varying degrees.