Two weeks after landfall, grid power has not been restored to more than 160,000 electrical customers in Louisiana. Local water systems are down for about 20,000 residents. Boil orders are in place for another 320,000 plus. By the end of the first week after landfall, over 90 percent of cell sites in southeast Louisiana had been restored. Most grocery stores are operating at close to their pre-Ida levels. Yesterday (September 11) SNAP recipients in eighteen parishes received an emergency boost equal to 55 percent of their usual monthly payment.
On this Sunday morning, more than half of retail fuel stations in southeast Louisiana have gasoline and diesel to sell. A combination of reduced demand volatility (with fewer emergency generators needed) and streamlined Fuel Loading Racks has steadily improved fuel distribution service levels. Of nine refineries closed, four are now “operating” and one other has begun its restart process. Approximately 60 percent of Gulf of Mexico crude oil production capacity remains shut-in. Supply chain implications for US and global petrochemical flows will be significant and long-lasting.
Truck freight flows have remained remarkably stable into and through the impact area. Bulk cargo operations at the Port of New Orleans resumed on September 2, container flows restarted on September 7. Commercial flights from Louis Armstrong International Airport took off again on September 2. Norfolk Southern and most other regional rail cargo operations were underway by September 6.
It is a complex mix of problems and progress.
Along the axis of Ida’s track, especially the first ninety miles north of landfall, there is much slower progress and many more persisting problems. More than 300,000 people remain off the grid, with no safe tap water (even none at all), spotty telecoms, primitive means to cook whatever food they can get, and open gas stations few and far between. Many have lost the roofs off their homes or worse. Last week the heat index was in the triple digits. This week rain is predicted every day. (More and more and more.)
On August 29 a very strong force hit a dense set of interdependencies in southeast Louisiana where roughly 2.4 million people reside. Widespread destruction of the electrical grid prompted failure of several water systems and a considerable proportion of regional telecommunications. As emergency generators started, demand for fuel exceeded the supply capacity of available loading positions at local Fuel Loading Racks. Long lines formed at those retail gas stations that got fuel. Damaged and without grid power, refineries did not quickly restart.
Given the important role of local refineries in national fuel flows, local inventories of refined products have been sufficient for local demand. But these refineries’ flows into outbound pipelines stopped. According to the EIA, “From August 27 to September 3, total gasoline stocks on the East Coast fell by 3.6 million barrels and total gasoline stocks on the Gulf Coast fell by 3.2 million barrels.” Hurricane Ida’s landfall was very close to Port Fourchon, a crucial neck in the hourglass that connects Gulf of Mexico oil production with Gulf coast oil refining. Bloomberg explains:
The monster storm’s direct hit on Port Fourchon a few hours before sundown on Aug. 29 completely disabled the primary jumping-off point for helicopters and vessels that service hundreds of offshore platforms and rigs. Even the lone road connecting Port Fourchon to the rest of the state — Louisiana Highway 1 — was knocked out of commission by Ida’s massive wall of sea water and the tons of sand it swept ahead. “When Port of Fourchon is out of service, it breaks a link in the chain,” said Winders, a Louisiana native who’s been working in the oil industry for four decades. [Bert Winders, a Baker Hughes Inc. health and safety manager]
In contrast, the comparatively — even surprisingly — quick restoration of telecommunications functions allowed grocery demand and supply to largely persist post-Ida. Point-of-Sale digital transactions were mostly working in metro Baton Rouge from the second day-after and in metro New Orleans from the fourth day-after. Grocery distribution and retail operations were constrained by work force absences, debris on roads, and damage to facilities. But regional sales volumes had normalized by Labor Day weekend.
It is also true that on Friday, September 10, one national chain that usually sells groceries in many locations across southeastern Louisiana had no power back-up and no telecommunications connections. The grocery market leader in the hardest-hit area did not open three stores in order to ensure other nearby stores were well-staffed and stocked. In the aftermath of something as strong as Ida, gaps will emerge in even the most resilient networks.