US ports hunker down as Hurricane Nate threatens

  • 08/10/2017
sand bags
Sand bags are placed at a New Orleans canal as Hurricane Nate approaches. Photo credit: Getty

Major shipping ports across the central US Gulf Coast are closed to inbound and outbound traffic, as Hurricane Nate intensifies and storm surges of up to 3.74 metres are expected.

On Saturday (local time), the US Coast Guard ordered port condition 'Zulu' - a halt to all traffic - for New Orleans, Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi, Mobile in Alabama, and Pensacola and Panama City in Florida.

New Orleans, which sits near the mouth of the Mississippi River, is an important transit point for energy, metals and agricultural commodities moving to overseas and domestic markets.

The National Hurricane Centre expects Nate to strike the US coast on Saturday night (local time), as a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. At that intensity, it would have destructive winds of 154-177km/h.

Restrictions on New Orleans inbound and outbound traffic span the lower Mississippi River, the Coast Guard said.

Gary LaGrange, executive director of trade group Ports Association of Louisiana, expected traffic restrictions to be lifted quickly, once the fast-moving storm passes overnight.

"It'll be short-lived, based on the projected path and movement of the storm, unless an unlikely event happens - such as two vessels colliding."

Vessels were still moving to secure berths at the ports on Saturday morning.

The storm has already caused oil companies to evacuate workers at 66 production platforms and five rigs in the US Gulf of Mexico, according to the US government. 

As of Friday, operators had shut output equal to 1.24 million barrels of oil per day and 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas production per day in the US Gulf of Mexico due the storm.

Phillips 66 also halted operations at its Alliance, Louisiana, oil refinery on Saturday. The refinery is south of New Orleans, along the banks of the Mississippi River.