Port of Wilmington sustained $50 million in Florence damage

Date: Monday, October 8, 2018
Source: Pilot Online

Warehouse walls sheared away. Containers tossed about. Roof sections torn from buildings.

Hurricane Florence ripped through the Port of Wilmington, ultimately causing an estimated $50 million in damage, Executive Director Paul Cozza said.

But the damage could have been more extensive had Florence's winds not suddenly diminished from 130 mph to 90 mph as it approached the coast, he said, and the port welcomed its first ship six days after Florence made landfall and was nearly fully operational by Sept. 24 -- train service from CSX still hadn't resumed as of Wednesday.

 

"It could have been a lot worse," Cozza said Tuesday. "We were very fortunate compared to what could have happened."

He said the port's cranes and berths suffered no damage and that assessment teams, including from the ports, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Weather Service and port pilots worked quickly to get the facility at the end of Shipyard Boulevard operational again.

"This was all part of that team effort," Cozza said. "It was really something."

But the storm did cause significant damage, primarily to warehouses dating to World War II that likely will have to be replaced and make up the lion's share of the estimated damage.

Most of the damage repairs will be covered by insurance, said ports spokeswoman Bethany Welch. The port will apply for assistance from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to recover costs not covered by insurance, she said.

The port has since cleaned up 160 containers that were blown over and damaged when Florence made landfall. Some had entire sides ripped away and others were crumpled and twisted after falling from their stacks. Just two of those containers were full, Cozza said.

Each empty container weighs 7,000 pounds, he said, making the storm's impact -- port officials said it caused more damage that any storm in at least the past 40 years -- impressive despite its weakened state when it hit the coast, Cozza said.

The storm "pushed them around like they were little toys," he said. "It looked like a war scene."

Cozza said reopening the port was deemed critical as roads into and out of Wilmington were closed by flooding in the storm's aftermath, including Interstate 40 and U.S. 421. Rail service to Wilmington also was cut by flooding, and CSX has yet to restore service to the port. Had other routes, including U.S. 17, become unavailable, the port may have become the only way to bring in necessary supplies, Cozza added.

"The real push was getting the waterways open for that initial safety cargo if we had needed to do it," he said.

While that need didn't materialize -- U.S. 17 remained open and I-40 reopened Sept. 24 -- the port still had commercial vessels waiting to bring imports and take exports.

 

"The business doesn't stop," Cozza added. "These ships are constantly moving."

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