• Ports, rail tracks reopen in Louisiana and Alabama as Hurricane Barry moves inland

    15 July 2019

    On July 13, Hurricane Barry made landfall near Intracoastal City, Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (115 km/h) before weakening to a tropical storm and moving inland. As it crossed Louisiana, the storm produced strong winds and a significant amount of rainfall which caused roads and rail tracks to flood, container ports to close and petrochemical companies to halt production. Shipping traffic on the lower sections of the Mississippi River was entirely halted for two days and more than 150,000 businesses and households were temporarily without power on July 14. At the time of writing, approximately 73 percent of oil production in U.S.-regulated areas of the Gulf of Mexico remained offline as 283 platforms temporarily stopped production.

    As logistics and transportation activities came to a near standstill over the weekend, operations were expected to largely normalize by July 15. New Orleans Airport reopened on July 14 after a daylong closure the previous day. Similarly, the U.S. container ports of Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana resumed most vessel and port operations as early as July 14. Key railway passages to and near the Port of New Orleans have also reopened and barge traffic on the lower section of the Mississippi River has resumed. However, many roads remain flooded and about 35,000 customers are still without power across Louisiana. While transportation disruptions are likely to be solved within the next few days, some on and offshore petrochemical production may remain offline for a longer period as companies continue to conduct damage assessments before restarting operations.

    Past and predicted trajectory of Hurricane Barry and associated risk incidents; Source: Resilience360

    Storm causes limited impact to petrochemical plants

    Before Hurricane Barry made landfall on July 13, some petrochemical companies located near Lake Charles in western Louisiana and near the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, Geismar, and Plaquemine reduced or shut down operations as precautionary measures. Louisiana is an important source of several petrochemical products and accounts for almost 50 percent of U.S. production for styrene, ethylene dichloride (EDC), and vinyl chloride monomer (PVC). These products are chemical building blocks used for a variety of manufactured end applications such as packaging, wire coating, and automotive parts.

    Among the affected companies were Shell and Philipps 66: Shell’s refineries in Convent and Norco both operated at reduced rates since July 13, while Philipps 66’s Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse shut down ahead of Barry’s arrival. Philipps 66 reportedly planned to restart activities on July 15 after damage assessments revealed no significant impact. ExxonMobil confirmed that its Baton Rouge refinery, chemical plant, and Sorrento terminal were operating normally as damage assessments were ongoing.

    In the Gulf of Mexico, Barry has cut down 73 percent of crude oil production in U.S.-regulated areas while natural gas output from the northern Gulf of Mexico was down by 62 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). According to market information, this has caused commodity chemical prices to increase because of higher crude oil prices.

    Delays possible as rail and seaport operations normalize

    Ahead of Hurricane Barry’s arrival, the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Mobile, two container gateways in the Gulf of Mexico, preemptively closed for all inbound and outbound vessel traffic. Ports in Texas such as Galveston and Freeport remained largely unaffected by the storm’s passing. The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, a key rail section which serves the Port of New Orleans, was also closed on July 11, with rail operators including Norfolk Southern and BNSF advising that delays and extended transit times for traffic in and out of New Orleans should be expected.

    Affected seaports Current status Fully reopened on Closed on
    Port of New Orleans Open July 15 July 11-13
    Port of Mobile Open July 14 July 13

    While the Port of Mobile reopened to vessel traffic on July 14, the Port of New Orleans was expected to fully resume operations on July 15. As flood gates gradually reopened across New Orleans, barge traffic on the Lower Mississippi River up to Angola, Louisiana resumed on July 14, albeit with some restrictions. Railway services to and from the Port of New Orleans have also largely normalized, although embargoes by Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern remained in place and some detours to alternate gateways may still be necessary. According to rail operator Norfolk Southern, intermodal shipments via rail to and from New Orleans should expect delays of 24-48 hours.

    Flooded roads impact ground transportation

    Secondary impacts caused by Hurricane Barry such as flooding and fallen trees and power lines have severely disrupted road transportation and led to numerous temporary closures of highways and roads throughout the state of Louisiana. Among the areas most affected by roadway closures were New Iberia Parish, Lafayette Parish, St. Martin Parish, and Vermilion Parish. In addition, Highway 23 in Plaquemines Parish, Highway 51 between the I-55 interchanges in Laplace, and Ruddock near New Orleans and state highway Louisiana 1 in Lafourche Parish were temporarily closed over the weekend due to high waters but have since reopened. A detailed list of roadway closures and disruptions can be found on the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development website.

    Lingering power cuts may impact business operations

    At least 19,000 Entergy customers were without power already last Wednesday, July 10, mainly throughout the New Orleans area, due to heavy rainfall the storm brought before it made landfall. Further outages were reported as the storm approached the Louisiana coast, with approximately 150,000 residents and businesses in southern Louisiana without power on early July 14. The power cuts were mainly caused by downed trees from hurricane-force winds. The most severely affected areas were Iberia Parish, Avoyelles, St. Landry, St. Martin, Lafayette, Lafourche, Assumption, and Terrebonne. On July 15, about 45,000 residents and businesses remained without electricity in Louisiana, with repair efforts likely to last until later this week.

    Outlook

    Despite weakening to a tropical storm, Barry will likely continue to produce flooding and torrential rain from Louisiana and Mississippi to eastern Arkansas as it moves further inland. While rail services and container gateways have largely resumed operations, further delays may be expected throughout the week as backlogs start to be cleared at port yards and intermodal facilities. Flood-associated roadway disruptions, in particular, are likely to persist over the next few days as clean-up efforts in the affected areas continue. Customers are advised to monitor further developments on Resilience360.

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