Hurricane Florence; VA’s Ports are Prepared
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Posted by: Laura Bird
HAMPTON ROADS | By September 7th, 2018, the Mid-Atlantic Region knew that Hurricane Florence would soon hit the East Coast, but wouldn’t learn specifically where for another week. For days, Hurricane Florence threatened to land as a Category 4, a threat not easily ignored and requiring days of preparation.
“The planning efforts and collaboration of all port partners involved in the preparation efforts certainly proved we were ready to respond, mitigate, and recover from the effects of Hurricane Florence,” said Bill Burket, Director of the Virginia Port Authority’s Maritime Incident Response Team (MIRT) and chair of the Virginia Maritime Association’s Port Protection/Emergency Control Committee.
According to the Sector Hampton Roads’ Severe Weather Contingency Plan*, flooding and hurricane force winds can combine to cause substantial damage and problems to our port such as damage to bridges, vessels, waterfront facilities, and cargo handling equipment, as well as disruptions to aids for navigation, topple stacks of containers, petroleum, and chemical storage tanks, undermine structural integrity of piers/wharfs, and run vessels aground.
Preventative measures included a port evacuation of all the naval and commercial vessels ordered by the U.S. Coast Guard Hampton Roads Sector Commander, Captain Kevin Carroll. The ships would remain out of harms way until the threat of the storm had passed.
“Captain Carroll’s early and deliberate action to ensure the safety of all vessels and marine facilities enabled the port to reopen in an efficient and orderly manner after the danger from Hurricane Florence had passed,” stated Captain Whiting Chisman, Vice President of the Virginia Pilot Association.
Other port partners made their own preparations: the Virginia Port Authority removed empty containers, relocated staff on-board the MARAD Vessel CAPE RISE, and closed facilities for one day. To make up for the closure, the Port extended their hours for the next few days; railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern secured their assets, putting a halt to rail activity until the storm passed; and throughout the week, groups like the Virginia Maritime Association ensured that communications about the storm and port operations reached the maritime community.
“The storm’s impact on the Carolinas was severe, and I think people can now imagine what Hampton Roads could look like if the storm hit here instead,” said LCDR Peter Francisco, Chief, Waterways Management Division of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads.
The storm had a minimal effect on port facilities, although residual effects from weather in the western part of the state such as heavy rainfall and strong winds caused higher-than-normal water levels. Several vessels were hindered traversing the James and Elizabeth Rivers, resulting in delays to schedules.
Once the waterways, bridges, navigational aids, and facilities were evaluated to be safe for operations, the U.S. Coast Guard re-opened the waterways.
“Coordination with all the different port partners is key in these situations,” said LCDR Francisco. “Fortunately, this region’s port community has a great rapport built from ongoing dialogue and great communication.”