US Gulf Coast infrastructure could be compromised for weeks

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NEW ORLEANS, La — The impact of Hurricane Katrina on the US Gulf Coast infrastructure is expected to linger for weeks.

The devastation caused by the hurricane, one of the worst in American history, has prompted US president George Bush to declare major disaster areas in parts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and South Florida. The hurricane caused devastating flooding in the region, and continuing tropical storm-level rains and winds will impact the area north into Tennessee and Georgia.

The flooding and power outages could prevent New Orleans residents from returning for weeks and possibly months. How long it may take for normal commerce to resume remains in question.

The region’s transportation infrastructure has been seriously compromised. The road network has been swamped with flood waters and concrete bridges have toppled. Many roads remained impassable a day after the hurricane hit. The I-10 was shut down to all but emergency vehicles.

Port activities have been shut down at New Orleans; Gulfport and Pascagoula, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; and Pensacola, Fla. In addition, it has blocked access from the key bulk shipping center of the Port of Southern Louisiana, at Baton Rouge, La., reports the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association.

All railroads have also had to stop service into the immediate area. CSX and Norfolk Southern are reporting impacts in their larger operations in the Southeast. The flooding and wind damage will require those rail carriers to carefully check their track networks for blockages from downed trees and other debris. That process could take days even north of the flooded areas.

The U.S. Coast Guard had to move its operations center from New Orleans to St. Louis on a temporary basis. The Coast Guard has established a Web page for hurricane news, , but its immediate focus is on rescue operations, rather than just harbor safety.

The Coast Guard is advising shippers to contact their individual ocean and air carriers for details on service status and alternatives.

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