Rail service still hampered, but truck stops, roadways reopened following Hurricane Laura

I-10 Hurricane Laura damage

The remnants of Hurricane Laura continued to move toward the Atlantic Ocean, but they remain a potential disruption to freight activities along the way. And, the cleanup and recovery in Louisiana and Texas is ongoing and could take weeks.

Forecasters for the National Hurricane Center, in their final update on Laura Saturday morning, said the storm was moving east and is now a post-tropical cyclone. Heavy rain and flash flooding threats remain, but are diminishing, the NHC said. At 5 am ET, Laura was about 130 miles east of Louisville, Kentucky with maximum sustained winds of 25 miles per hour. It was traveling east at 28 miles per hour.

Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP), which took heavy damage to its rail network near Lake Charles, Louisiana when the Category 4 storm made landfall, continues to restore service. As of Saturday morning, most of UP’s service had been restored, although the rail line running from Longview, Texas, to Alexandria, Louisiana, and on to Houston remained out of service. The company advised customers to expect delays of up to 72 hours in additional transit time as a result.

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Most major highways, including I-10 in Louisiana, have fully reopened. Some lingering closures exist on local roads, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. The full list of current closures is available here: http://wwwapps.dotd.la.gov/administration/announcements/Announcement.aspx?key=24260

Several truck stops in the area were closed during the storm. All of Pilot Flying J’s locations are now open, a spokesperson told FreightWaves on Saturday, and are fully stocked with suppliers and fuel.

“While a few stores have restaurants closed, all locations are fully stocked with snacks, water, coffee and other supplies and grab and go food is available. Where possible, our hot grills are also up and running to provide additional food options to the community,” the spokesperson said.

Repairs are being conducted as locations are cleared by law enforcement, the company added. In some cases, generators were brought in to quickly restore power, and in one case, Pilot assisted the local community with power needs.

“Pilot Company has donated a generator from Store #199 in Haughton, LA to the town of Iowa, LA, after outage issues at the water department,” the spokesperson said. “The generator was installed this morning and is now helping restore water to 3,000-4,000 residents and businesses that were without water after Hurricane Laura.”

Pilot continues to update store operations and closure details at https://www.pilotflyingj.com/severe-weather-updates/  and on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The impact of the storm on the freight markets is still being assessed, but Zach Strickland, appearing on the latest episode of FreightWaves’ On the Spot with John Paul Hampstead, director of Passport Research, said it could be significant.

“These are tremendous events for the freight market,” Strickland, the director of freight intelligence for FreightWaves, said. “These can have long-lasting impacts to the spot market, to freight rates. … A lot of capacity gets sucked into these areas, and [it] really creates an environment where truckers just abandon – or a certain section of the capacity – abandons what they usually do and go help with the relief effort.”

Still, Strickland said it is still too early to assess the impact on capacity and rates moving forward.

The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) has shifted into gear. The organization, which was founded in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, offers free logistics assistance to disaster relief organizations. Kathy Fulton, executive director of ALAN, said the need for assistance will grow in the days ahead.

“The situation is still evolving, and we anticipate the need for everything from warehouse space to transportation to grow steadily as the full extent of the damage is understood, and temporary humanitarian supply chains are established,” she told FreightWaves. “As we work with our partners to understand what gaps they are identifying in their response plans, we will share them on our website.”

The site is: https://www.alanaid.org/operations/.”

Fulton added that a sustained response will likely be needed as more than 500,000 people in the area remain without power and more than 80 water systems sustained damage.

“Amazingly, a good portion of the cellular infrastructure seems to have survived, which greatly assists with coordination efforts,” Fulton said. “All of those – power, water, communications – are pre-conditions for getting businesses re-built/re-opened, homes repaired, and the community re-established.”