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Transportation, logistics sector braces for Hurricane Laura

Hurricane Laura is headed toward the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts, with significant potential to disrupt freight flows in the region.

Trucking fleets, ports and airports in the region are preparing for the storm, which could make landfall late Wednesday night.

“This has been a very difficult storm to predict,” said Brian Fielkow, CEO of Houston-based motor carrier Jetco Delivery. “We’ve not rerouted any trucks yet. We’ve had clients wanting to accelerate shipments ahead of the storm and have accommodated those requests.”

Jetco has a fleet of more than 100 trucks and 250 trailers. Fielkow said the company is monitoring the hurricane and will determine what’s best for its more than 160 employees as more information becomes available.

“In terms of staying open, most of our office staff is working remote as the result of the pandemic, and we plan to continue this during and after the storm,” Fielkow said. “When it comes to our drivers and shop, the key is to put their safety first.”  

Fielkow said some drivers may elect to take their trucks out of the path of the storm.

“We will suspend operations wherever it is not safe to operate. Because there is still great uncertainty as to landfall, it’s hard to make a pinpoint decision at this time,” Fielkow said. 

Downed trees and road closures are major concerns along Interstate 10, according to Mark Russo, chief science officer for Riskpulse, an Austin, Texas-based supply chain analytics firm. I-10 runs east-west through Louisiana and Texas.

Russo said during a Tuesday webinar briefing by Riskpulse that high winds and flooding could also close some stretches of Interstate 45, which stretches from Dallas to the Gulf Coast.

Other motor carriers in the Texas Gulf Coast region said they were also experiencing delays.

“Hurricane Laura — We are experiencing delays in Beaumont, Texas,” Central Freight Lines (CFL) posted Tuesday on its website. “CFL has suspended our CFL guaranteed service effective immediately until further notice. We’ve suspended signatures required for most shipments.”

Waco, Texas-based CFL is a less-than-truckload carrier specializing in regional overnight and second-day markets. The company has a terminal in Beaumont.  

Officials for Houston Airport System (HAS) said as of late Tuesday they hadn’t canceled any passenger or cargo flights yet, but that could change as Laura moves closer. 

“We’re monitoring the situation very closely with our operations team,” said Augusto Bernal, a spokesman for HAS. “We’ll know more by [Wednesday night], if there’s any flight cancellations, maybe flights from Louisiana, or from the Eastern states.”

HAS operates George Bush Intercontinental Airport, as well as William P. Hobby and Ellington airports. HAS totaled $15.25 billion in two-way trade during 2019, according to census data analyzed by WorldCity.

Class I railroads with operations along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, such as BNSF and Norfolk Southern, are also taking precautions to protect infrastructure and rail equipment from possible flooding, officials said.

Hurricane Laura is also already having an effect on seaports in Houston and Beaumont, which will be closed to most ships and personnel before Laura is set to make landfall Wednesday night.

Port Houston announced on its website that it will suspend operations Wednesday and possibly Thursday due to Hurricane Laura. The Port of Beaumont’s terminals will be closed to incoming cargo Wednesday through Saturday, with plans to resume operations Monday.

Port Houston and the Houston Ship Channel are part of the nation’s largest logistics hub for oil, gas and petrochemicals. Port Houston is also one of the largest U.S. container ports, accounting for $158.27 billion in two-way trade during 2019, according to WorldCity.

The potential for disruptions to the nation’s fuel and shipping infrastructure is significant, according to Ben Ruddell, director of the FEWSION project at Northern Arizona University.

The region is responsible for roughly $1 trillion a year in economic production — much of that concentrated in the fuel sector, Ruddell said.

“If a large fraction of your upstream supply chain is located in the impact area, you should take steps to ensure that you know as quickly as possible how well your suppliers weather these storms, and you should prepare for contingencies in case there are disruptions,” Ruddell said in a release.

Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco have already affected offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the past few days, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell evacuated some platforms and drilling rigs, according to The Associated Press.

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