After Hurricane Ida strikes, Louisiana's seafood sector struggles back
Blasting onshore at the end of August, Hurricane Ida sent its immense storm surge coursing through coastal areas of the U.S. state of Louisiana, with winds reportedly gusting up to 172 miles per hour.
After landing at near-category 5 hurricane strength, Ida passed between Galliano and Houma, Louisiana, sustaining 130 mph winds. Through Sunday, 29 August.
Falling trees blocked roads across the region and caused the first reported death in Ascension Parish where a man was killed when a tree fell on his house, authorities said.
“In Louisiana, we have a lot of shrimp fishermen, commercial fishermen,” ready to head out for high-water rescues, Todd Terrell of the volunteer group United Cajun Navy told CNN.
Docks in Dulac, Louisiana, are heavily damaged, and Lafourche and Terrabonne parishes “are devastated,” Louisiana Sea Grant Seafood Industry Liaison Julie Falgout said.
“My house is totaled, the whole roof is off, and everything soaked,” Falgout said. “I know several Vietnamese fishermen in Bura moved their boats inside the levee. Some of them are flipped over, and others drifted away and haven’t been found yet.”
Port Fourchon “is pretty torn up,” said Falgoud, but most of the offshore services fleets there moved west to Port Arthur and Houston area refuges before the storm, she said. But some fishermen kept their vessels outside of levees, hoping to resume work after the storm passed, and Falgout said she is trying to assess the fleet’s conditions.
“We have more boats affected than in [Hurricane] Laura [in 2020],” she said. “We didn’t think anything could beat Laura, but we just saw something that did,” she said. “We’ll build back. But everyone is tired.”
Louisiana Shrimp Association President Acy Cooper said the region’s waterfront infrastructure may have largely survived Ida’s storm surge, but repairs will take weeks.
“It’s bad all over. Lafourche and Terrebonne got pretty much wiped out,” he said. “The fishing industry has taken a real beating. The [shrimp and ice] plants are going to be knocked out for a while. They weren’t making a whole lot of money to begin with, with competition from imports and everything else. It’s going to be at least a month, no doubt, to get the plants and docks back up. It’s overwhelming at times … hopefully everything gets back to normal while we still have a season.”
On Sunday, 29 August, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said state officials were confident in U.S. Corps of Engineers modeling that USD 15 billion (EUR 12.7 billion) in flood protection improvements since Katrina in 2005 would contain the storm surge, predicted to be 12 to 16 feet high at peak locations.
“If there’s a silver lining, and it’s hard to see one today, it’s that our levee system performed extremely well,” Edwards said at a press conference on Monday, 30 August.
But the New Orleans power grid was not up to the task, as eight transmission line failed Sunday evening, according to power company Entergy, leaving around 940,000 users in the dark. One massive power line tower collapsed, dropping its lines into the Mississippi River near Avondale just before 9 p.m. Entergy officials said they were working to assess and restore connections as soon as possible.
Edwards said search and rescue crews staged at 3 a.m. to move out at first light and rescued hundreds of people across the region. The mission now is to go out and do a gird search” to methodically sweep for stranded people, he said.
“It will likely take days to determine the extent of damage to our power grid and far longer to restore electrical transmission to the region,” the company said.
Hospitals are the priority for restoring power, said Edwards, who noted three hospitals had to be evacuated and a fourth, Terrebonne General Medical Center, was in the process of moving out patients and staff late Monday.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden granted Louisiana’s request for an emergency declaration and by 30 August, 18,000 residents had already signed up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for aid, said Edwards.
The high winds sent idle vessels breaking away, including 22 barges and a ferry at Chalmette. The Regional Transit Authority reported its ferries RTA2 and Thomas Jefferson ran aground without posing any danger of damaging levees, and tugboats were readied to retrieve the vessels when it was safe to make the tows.
In Bayou Barataria, runaway vessels piled up and damaged a bridge, said Edwards.
With the hurricane’s approach, the Greater Lafourche Port Commission opened its emergency storm harbor marina to commercial fishing vessels seeking safe harbor within the South Lafourche levee system. The South Lafourche Levee District closed the gate over LA 1 at the Leon Theriot Lock in Golden Meadow, while the Ted Gisclair Floodgate in Larose and the Leon Theriot Lock in Golden Meadow were closed to all marine traffic.
Downgraded to a tropical storm early Monday morning, Ida made a slow march toward the north-northeast. Forecasters predicted continued showers and heavy thunderstorms through Tuesday, 31 August, to complicate rescue and recovery operations.
Reporting by Kirk Moore
Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard