The Port of New Orleans, shut down for more than two weeks because of Hurricane Katrina, is slowly resuming operations. The first commercial cargo ship arrived Tuesday evening and officials hope to return the port to its normal schedule within six months.
This is the fifth largest port in the United States. Closed since August 27, the facility is now partially open for business.
Tuesday, the first container ship since the storm, unloaded its cargo. Port official Gary LaGrange says the ship carried coffee and wood from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.
"That ship is quite significant - more psychologically than it is from a cargo and commerce standpoint," he explained, "because it's indicative to the rest of the world. It's a message that we want to send that the Port of New Orleans is back up and we're open to business."
Mr. LaGrange says the port has two sections on the Mississippi River. One part, which handles 70 percent of the cargo, suffered moderate wind damage but no flooding. Damage from flooding was serious in the other section.
"Unfortunately, that part of the port houses the largest container carriers in the world, Maersk, and it also houses one of the biggest exporters of chickens in the United States, the New Orleans Cold Storage Facility," he said.
He says the good news is that the power is back in the upriver part of the port. He says the whole facility will gradually return to its normal operations.
"Today we may be at five or 10 percent. Next week, we may be at 12 or 15 percent. Our target is within a month to be at 30 to 35 percent," he explained, "within three months to be at 70 to 80 percent and four to six months to be right at 100 percent or so."
The port provides 100,000 jobs in the New Orleans region, as it brings in rubber from Indonesia and steel from Japan and Russia and handles 60 percent of all American grain exports.