ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Hurricane Ida made landfall Sunday morning as a category 4 storm near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, a critical port to the U.S. oil industry. Ida, the first significant storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season to hit the Gulf Coast, struck with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, matching the intensity of 2020’s Hurricane Laura and an 1856 hurricane that made landfall in the state.
Ida made a second landfall Sunday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane southwest of Galliano, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center tweeted. Sunday marked the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s deadly landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi as a Category 3 storm. Ida was expected to drench parts of the Gulf Coast with 20 or more inches of rain, create dangerous storm surges and spawn tornadoes. There were widespread power outages, including across the city of New Orleans. More than one million Louisiana utility customers were without power this morning.
By Monday morning, Ida had weakened into a tropical storm as it moved northward over southwestern Mississippi. Dangerous storm surge and flooding continued over portions of southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and southern Alabama, the National Hurricane Center said. Ida was expected to further weaken into a tropical depression as it moves inland through the Lower Mississippi, Tennessee Valley, Upper Ohio Valley, Central Appalachians and the Mid-Atlantic through Wednesday.
President Biden Sunday declared a state of emergency for Louisiana and Mississippi. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards last week declared a state of emergency as Ida gained strength. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency for Mississippi on Saturday. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also declared a state of emergency on Saturday ahead of the storm.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Sunday issued a regional emergency declaration for Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, effective through September 28 or until the end of the emergency is declared.
FMCSA granted motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance to the emergency related to Hurricane Ida in the designated six states emergency relief from 49 CFR § 395.3, maximum driving time for property-carrying vehicles, and 49 CFR § 395.5, maximum driving time for passenger-carrying vehicles, subject to the restrictions and conditions set forth herein.
The declaration grants regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations “providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts transporting supplies, goods, equipment, and fuel into the affected states, and transporting persons into and from the affected states, or providing other assistance in the form of emergency services during the emergency related to Hurricane Ida in the affected states,” FMCSA said.
Sunday, Colonial Pipeline as a precaution temporarily closed lines 1 and 2, its two main lines that carry gasoline and distillate from refineries along the Gulf Coast to Greensboro, North Carolina. Supplies are still available via its terminals across the Southeast, Colonial Pipeline said, and operations should return to normal once sites are evaluated today.
Colonial Pipeline is North America’s biggest pipeline, running some 5,500 miles from the Gulf Coast to Linden, N.J. In May, a cyberattack forced Colonial Pipeline to take its pipeline offline for nearly a week.
Oil Price Information Service said it expects calls for Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waivers to allow “deepwater terminals in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to take receipt of cargoes of off-spec gasoline on the water…Previous hurricanes or other disruptions have seen the EPA end the summer RVP season before the September 15 date.”
Port Fourchon is the land base for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), which is the largest privately held crude oil terminal in the United States. The port’s deepwater marine terminal is located about 18 nautical miles off the shores of Louisiana. LOOP is a joint venture of Marathon Pipe Line LLC, Shell Oil Co., and Valero Terminaling and Distribution Co.
Shell and other oil companies took precautions ahead of the storm to shut down production and evacuate workers from deepwater sites in the Gulf of Mexico. Shell Sunday said it evacuated all personnel from Ursa, Mars, Olympus, Auger, Enchilada/Salsa and Appomattox assets, shutting down production. Shell said it was working to resume partial production at the Stones site. This morning, Shell said it will conduct a flyover today of its deepwater assets in the Gulf that were in the path of the storm.
Phillips 66 shut its Alliance plant in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, Friday, and Exxon Mobil cut some production at its Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refinery on Saturday. Exxon Mobil said its refinery and chemical complexes at Baytown and Beaumont are operating as normal.
Valero Energy temporarily halted operations at its Meraux refinery in Chalmette, Louisiana, and its St. Charles refinery in Norco, Louisiana. Both Mississippi River refineries have access to LOOP. The Meraux refinery ships finished products through the Colonial Pipeline, and St. Charles ships finished products via the Parkway pipeline and the Bengal pipeline, which in turn provide access to the Plantation and Colonial pipelines, Valero said.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) estimated that about 96% of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico had been shut in and workers had been evacuated from 288 of the 560 manned production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Workers also were evacuated from 11 rigs, while 10 dynamically positioned rigs were moved out of the storm’s path. The Gulf Coast is home to about half of all U.S. refining capacity from Houston, Texas, to New Orleans.
The bureau activated its Hurricane Response Team, which works with offshore operators and other government agencies until operations return to normal and the storm is no longer a threat to Gulf of Mexico oil and gas activities. Once the storm passes, facilities will be inspected, and production from undamaged facilities will be immediately brought back online, BSEE said. Any damaged facilities will take longer to bring back up.
Waffle House Index
The Waffle House in Morgan City, Louisiana, was shuttered on Saturday ahead of the storm, leaving a sign on the door indicating that it would reopen as soon as the storm passed. Waffle House locations in Houma, Raceland, Boutte and Thibodaux also were closed Sunday, according to the company’s website. Those locations remained closed this morning.
Whether Waffle House restaurants remain open during severe weather or close is considered an indicator of a storm’s intensity.
Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Obama Administration, created FEMA’s “Waffle House Index.” It’s an informal barometer of the severity of storm damage and has three levels:
- Green—local Waffle House is open with a full menu, so damage is minimal
- Yellow—Waffle House is open but with a limited menu, meaning the restaurant is operating with limited power or running on a generator or food supplies are low
- Red—The restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage or flooding
Fugate shared in NACS Magazine that the pandemic has added another layer to emergency preparation: “Especially in this time of COVID-19, retailers are pressed for time, but not preparing for a hurricane or other natural disaster will put them at a distinct disadvantage and will hamper their ability to re-open quickly.” Fugate headlined a NACS webinar last year on how to plan and prepare for emergencies and how to use the NACS Convenience Store Emergency Planning and Job Aids.
The resource is designed to help convenience retailers quickly and efficiently determine the best course of action for their teams to plan for an emergency and resume operations quickly and safely.
For more emergency planning resources, NACS Magazine articles and Convenience Matters podcast episodes, visit the Disaster and Emergency Preparedness page.