Hurricane Laura was expected to come ashore near the heart of the Gulf Coast’s oil and gas infrastructure on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning as a category 4 hurricane. Wind gusts were already reaching 150 mph Wednesday evening.
A storm surge of up to 20 ft was expected as far as 40 miles inland, near Cameron, La.
Laura was expected to impact more than a half-dozen refineries and liquefied natural gas plants in its path.
The National Hurricane Center warned that wind and water levels were increasing and that “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding [are] expected along the northwest gulf coast tonight.”
The NHC further indicated that “unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes… and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm.”
The cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur, as well as Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes issued mandatory evacuation orders.
Contractors across the Gulf Coast have been preparing for the storm well in advance. McCarthy Building Cos. has tracked Hurricane Laura since it entered the Gulf, company officials said. As it turned west, site-specific preparations at each of the firm’s projects in Houston were implemented. At its numerous port projects, barges and work boats have been secured and moored, while landside equipment and materials areas have been readied for a forecast 2- to 4-ft storm surge in the Houston area. Tower crane booms at a purification plant project were allowed to "weather vane" and turn with the wind, according to Mike Mooney, McCarthy's vice president in charge of marine projects in the region.
At the 450,000-sq-ft Museum of Fine Arts Houston expansion, McCarthy workers will ride out the storm with owner personnel in order to respond immediately to flooding or other problems, Mooney says.
The approach of a weakening Hurricane Marco earlier in the week gave jobsite teams a headstart on preparations as for the more formidable Laura, he adds.
“We were really ready for Laura yesterday,” he says. “Today we regrouped and made sure everything is in a good position.”
With Laura forecast to move north out of the region Thursday morning, McCarthy supervisors will use the rest of the day to assess jobsite conditions and investigate any immediate storm-related issues. The company will then begin the gradual process of resuming work activity.
Hurricane Marco’s presence in the Gulf triggered Turner Construction Co.’s preparations, so “once Marco changed course around the same time Laura set her sights on Houston we were already ahead of the game for Laura,” says Gary Collura, area environmental health and safety manager for Turner.
A new addition to Turner’s plans this year is an app called “Crisis Go.”
“We had every Houston employee download the app so we can send important information to everyone at once and conduct check-ins to make sure everyone is safe,” he explains. “We also geolocate all our employees and retirees home addresses in the area so we know based on the storm’s path if an employee would be in danger. If needed we will assist employees with evacuation by procuring hotel rooms in a safe place.”
Government officials are already gearing up for a response to storm-related damages in the coming days. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards submitted a pre-landfall emergency declaration Aug. 22
The investor-owned trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, said electric companies in the path of the hurricane are prepositioning crews and equipment in the areas most likely to be hardest hit, and mutual assistance workers from at least 26 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada already are en route to assist with power restoration.
About 58% of the Gulf of Mexico’s oil production was temporarily shut down on Aug. 26, according to the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. As of Aug. 25, about 46.5% of the Gulf’s natural gas production has been shut down, BSSE reported.
Workers have been evacuated from 299 production platforms, about 46.5% of the 643 in the Gulf, and from 11 rigs of the 12 rigs currently operating in the Gulf, according to the agency.
Meanwhile, BSEE estimates that approximately 84.3% of the current oil production and 60.94% of the natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico have been shut down.