Hurricane Zeta Batters Southeast Louisiana

Hurricane Zeta made landfall close to 4 p.m. October 28 near the south Louisiana town of Cocodrie with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph., just short of reaching Category 3 status.

The storm raced to the northeast, bringing dangerous winds and heavy rainfall to all of southeast Louisiana, including the New Orleans metro area.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Zeta was the 11th named storm to make landfall in the United States during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season and the sixth hurricane. The former is a new record, besting the nine storms that made landfall in 1916. With Zeta becoming the 27th named storm this year, 2020 now joins 2005 as the most active years on record. It’s also the fifth named storm and third hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana this year. Both are records.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers quickly got to work to survey, assess and reconstitute area waterways, locate and reset aids to navigation and assess navigation infrastructure.

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By the afternoon of October 29, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port of New Orleans announced a return to Port Condition Normal for the area, including the Lower Mississippi River, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) between Mile 20 west of Harvey Lock and Mile 44.2 east of Harvey Lock and the Atchafalaya River.

With the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal still closed for repairs, the Coast Guard said the alternate route through the Chandeleur Sound between the Mississippi River and Gulfport, Miss., remained closed pending the assessment of aids to navigation.

The storm’s center track took it through the New Orleans area, passing right over the Mississippi River. Michael Nation, vice president of operations for Harbor Towing & Fleeting/Star Fleet, which operates a fleet just below Algiers Point on the west bank of the river, said the fleet recorded winds of 110 mph. as the storm passed.

“We were just at a Category 3,” Nation said.

Nation said Star Fleet filled up with 35 barges and a dozen or so vessels seeking safe harbor for the storm.

“We were at capacity because people were coming in to hunker down,” he said. “Everyone is safe and sound. We rode out the storm well.”

Nation said the company benefitted from a strong hurricane contingency plan, which includes a company video call ahead of any approaching storm and check lists.

“We fared well operationally, thanks to good planning,” he said.

While winds and waves kicked up during the storm, the Mississippi River, thanks to the angle of approach by Zeta, didn’t see the surge often experienced during hurricanes.

As of the 2 p.m. Marine Safety Information Bulletin from the Coast Guard, the LA 23 Belle Chasse Highway railroad bridge and the New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway bridge, both spanning the GIWW, were without power and unable to open for vessels. In addition, the Harvey Canal Sector Gate remained closed.