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Regional Interests

Hurricane Ida Does More Damage At Port Fourchon Than Previous Storms

NOEL KING, HOST:

Hurricane Ida made landfall in Lafourche Parish in Louisiana. That is south and just west of New Orleans. That parish is home to Port Fourchon, one of the biggest ports in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, over 90% of the Gulf of Mexico's deep-water oil production goes through there. With me now is Chett Chiasson. He's the executive director of the port. Good morning to you, sir.

CHETT CHIASSON: Good morning.

KING: What is the damage like there?

CHIASSON: It's extensive. It's far-reaching. And we're - we have a long recovery ahead of us.

KING: What has been damaged? I assume you've got ships down there. I assume you've got terminals for refining oil. But I actually don't know what - I couldn't tell our listeners what it looks like. You tell us. What are you seeing?

CHIASSON: So I can tell you Port Fourchon is the service base for the offshore oil and gas industry. And as you mentioned, refining - we're not any refineries. We are the day-to-day operations of the drilling, so the exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, mainly deep-water Gulf of Mexico. What we're seeing is tons of damage, obviously, being exactly where the landfall was for Hurricane Ida. There's vessels, you know, in places that they're not supposed to be...

KING: Wow.

CHIASSON: ...To say the least. And there's - you know, navigable waterways have to be surveyed because there's things everywhere. And we're going to have to get things back up and running as soon as possible. But the bottom line is we have a long road ahead of us, and there's a lot of damage for us to assess and try to recover from.

KING: As you look around, what is it that you think needs to be done first?

CHIASSON: Look; we're - today, in just a few hours, we're going to be clearing Highway 1, Louisiana Highway 1, down to the port with heavy equipment and making sure that the road is clear for passage for emergency personnel and ourselves to get down there to assess the damage by vehicle, and to get cleanup crews in, started, ready to move power poles and debris out of our way so we can access all of our facilities in the port. And that's - item No. 1 is clear the roads, get safe access so that we can bring equipment and things in to begin to clear the roads, begin to get ourselves back up and running when we can.

KING: Do you have electricity there?

CHIASSON: There is no electricity. There will not be electricity for a long time. And in our area, in our community, we have no running water. So that's really key at this point is, you know, all the folks at our local water district are trying to get our water system back up and running so that we can have just the basic needs of - you know, for our human services, so to speak.

KING: Sure.

CHIASSON: So no power, no water. But we have equipment. We have a will to get things back up and running. And we'll do that as best we can.

KING: How many people live there?

CHIASSON: So no one lives in Port Fourchon itself. But in Lafourche Parish...

KING: OK. It's strictly industrial. Yeah. Go ahead, please.

CHIASSON: In Lafourche Parish, it is about - just under 100,000 people live in Lafourche Parish. In our jurisdiction for the port authority here, we have about 25,000 people that live in this area. And many of them left. But many of them stayed. And, you know, people are trying to assess their damages at homes. We have - you know, it's amazing what hurricanes and weather does. You have some facilities that are in pretty good shape, maybe just some cosmetic damages, and others that are completely destroyed. And that's what, I think, you're going to see in the entire area of southeast Louisiana.

KING: OK. What do you imagine the ripple effects on fuel production will be across the state of Louisiana? Are people going to be looking at higher gas prices, for instance?

CHIASSON: Absolutely. With Port Fourchon services, day-to-day, efficient services, the most efficient in the world in terms of servicing offshore energy, the prices are going to go up because we're - day to day, we service about 16 to 20% of the nation's entire oil supply.

KING: Wow.

CHIASSON: So as we move forward, every day that that production does not get back up and running is every day our supply is limited and is going to continue to cause prices. And what everybody looks at mainly is prices at the pump for fuel for vehicles. It is going to go up because there's no efficient services for the offshore oil and gas industry. And it's certainly not back up and running as of yet. They're still assessing damages offshore.

KING: I imagine this is a difficult question to answer. But how long do you think it will take to get things back up and running?

CHIASSON: It'll take weeks to get things back up and running. How many weeks is a good question. But we just don't know that. We're continuing to assess these damages. In the next couple of days, we'll have better information on what the true damages are and how we can get services back up and running and how the offshore energy industry can get things back online, in production.

KING: That was Chett Chiasson. He's the executive director of Port Fourchon in Louisiana. And he joined us on Skype.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAS OF YEARS' "LIKE TALL SHIPS UPON THE SKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.