North Carolina port officials don’t expect the Port of Wilmington to reopen until at least Tuesday or Wednesday in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
“We’d love to be open Monday, but the good goal would be to have the port ready by Tuesday or Wednesday,” Bethany Welch, the North Carolina State Ports Authority’s communications manager, told AJOT today (Friday, Sept. 14).
Florence made landfall near the Port of Wilmington this morning, packing gusts of 90-plus mph and threatening to bring days of rain and concomitant flooding and storm surges, as well as widespread power outages.
Florence’s eyewall made landfall at 7:15 a.m. today at Wrightsville Beach, on the Atlantic Ocean, about 10 miles immediately east the Port of Wilmington, which is situated along the Cape Fear River.
In anticipation of the storm’s arrival, NCSPA terminals in Wilmington and Morehead City closed to commercial truck traffic on Wednesday, with all access to both facilities cut off Thursday.
Welch said hurricane preparations were completed Wednesday, adding, “The initial response team plans to survey the ports on Sunday morning.
“At that time that will give us a better idea of when we will be able to reopen,” she said. “Most of our employees have evacuated, so the earliest any of our essential personnel will be back is Sunday.
“We’re expecting between 20 and 40 inches of rain, so we’re definitely not out of the woods yet,” said Welch, who had evacuated about 130 miles north to Raleigh. She said other NCSPA also had headed inland, including to Charlotte and Greensboro.
Welch said plans call for the initial response team to assess flooding and damage on Sunday morning, with a conference call meeting of essential personnel slated for Sunday at 3 p.m.
“Obviously, flooding is a major concern,” she said, noting that the Port of Wilmington has never experienced a severe storm surge. She said a few areas of the port, primarily those related to noncontainerized cargo, may be susceptible to flooding but added, “The container side is typically not prone to flooding.
“We’re all hoping for the best,” Welch said, saying return of personnel to Wilmington may be challenging due to anticipated road closures. “Safety remains a priority.”
Welch urged port customers to consult the NCSPA website – at ncports.com – for status updates, including information on reopening.
The unusually wide and slow-moving storm, downgraded to Category 1 from Category 4 but still packing a wallop, had already left more than 500,000 customers without power in the Carolinas as of late this morning, with Duke Energy projections that as many as 3 million people could experience outages.
About 180 miles southwest of Wilmington, the South Carolina Ports Authority’s Port of Charleston suspended vessel and gate operations Thursday through at least Saturday, with expectations of resuming normal operations on Monday. Also, train and gate operations were suspended at SCPA’s Port of Georgetown and its inland port at Dillon, while the inland port at Greer maintained normal operations.
Farther southwest, the Port of Savannah was remaining open, with Robert Morris, the Georgia Ports Authority’s senior director of corporate communications, telling AJOT,
“We are monitoring the storm right now, but we have no current plans to close our facilities and expect to be open for business as usual.”
About 250 miles north of Wilmington, the Port of Virginia closed substantial operations today, with truck gates closed at Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News marine terminal and container yard facilities, as well as closure of Virginia Port Authority administrative offices. The Richmond Marine Terminal and Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal remained open.
VPA plans call for reopening truck gates at most of its facilities in the early morning hours of Saturday, between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., depending upon the terminal, timing with plans of the U.S. Coast Guard to reopen the main shipping channel at the Virginia Capes for commercial vessel traffic, without restriction, Saturday at 6 a.m. VPA looks to resume all business as usual Monday.