Initial reports of damage to Gulf Coast ports began spreading through the industry, with the major playerthe Port of New Orleanssuffering major damage to transit berths and wharves, but apparently with terminals and at least two out of four container cranes intact. Gary LaGrange, president and chief operating officer for the Port of New Orleans, summarized damage there in an e-mail that quickly circulated through the port industry. "Our wharves appear to be, for the most part, intact and able to conduct cargo operations," he wrote after surveying the damage Aug. 30. Several wharfs sustained moderate to heavy damage to transit shed doors, roofs and skylights. The Napoleon Container Terminal, a $101-million one-year-old terminal that can handle 366,000 shipping containers a day, appeared to escape major structural damage. Grange reported that about 100 stacked containers had "pancaked" in the yard, but that most were probably empty.

LaGrange wrote: "Issues concerning cargo operations would be procuring labor to work the vessels (a lot of the labor most likely incurred heavy damage to their homes or evacuated out of town), distribution of cargoes due to highway connectors being damaged."

Unaffected Gulf Coast ports picked up some of the diverted cargo; North Carolina's Port of Morehead City handled rubber imports and the Port of Houston stood ready to handle container ships.

Ports in Alabama sustained minimal damage from Hurricane Katrina, say Alabama State Port Authority officials. "We are delivering cargo to customers, but are not receiving cargo pending the conclusion of clean-up operations. The clean up is expected to take a few days," says Judith Adams, port spokesperson. Vessel traffic is expected to resume through Mobile's ship channels before next week.

Aaron Ellis, spokesman for the American Association of Port Authorities, says that updates from ports had just started to trickle in. The agency is posting those updates on its site at

Aside from having emergency operation procedures in place, tying down container cranes and having the steel doors on transit sheds that New Orleans did, "there's no 100% surefire way to hunker down against the worst nature can throw at you," he says.