Baltimore port fares well during the storm

Cargo and equipment left mostly unharmed by flooding from Isabel

Isabel's Aftermath

September 20, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Hurricane Isabel deluged the port of Baltimore yesterday, but the state's center of marine commerce still had more luck than water.

Billions of dollars in cargo and equipment mostly escaped harm from floodwaters that lapped over the piers, more than eight feet above normal.

BalTerm, which handles most of the port's paper and forest products, reported that several rolls of paper were ruined, but the rising waters barely missed tons more.

The firm had more than 100,000 tons of inventory, including 60,000 tons of paper. Workers had built dams under the doors to the sheds, which were reinforced with trailers on the outside and heavy lift trucks on the inside.

"We were 3 inches away from total disaster," said Scott Menzies, a BalTerm managing partner.

Even though floodwaters receded some, the port of Baltimore remained closed yesterday for a second day to recover from Isabel. The Maryland Port Administration feared what high tide would bring at midday, and piles of garbage deposited on the piers by the storm had to be cleaned up, said Rebecca Barber, a port spokeswoman. Administration offices were closed because they are housed in the World Trade Center downtown, which also flooded.

Ship traffic was expected to return to normal today, while trains through Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station and planes from Baltimore-Washington International Airport were back on schedule by yesterday morning.

BWI said there were no problems with planes, which had largely left the airport for the storm, and Amtrak reported that downed trees had been cleared from rail lines.

While the public ports were closed, some private ports opened.

Large commercial ships were still prohibited from entering or leaving the Chesapeake Bay yesterday as the U.S. Coast Guard surveyed the channels. The guard expected to complete the surveys last night and open the channels. The port of Virginia, a 12-hour ship ride south in the mouth of the bay, planned to reopen last night.

John L. Coulter, president of Rukert Terminals Corp., a private terminal in Canton, said his piers were clear and ready for ships.

Piles of coal and salt were not harmed by the water.

"I've been here 18 years, and I've never seen the water come up over our piers," said Coulter, adding that the level had lowered by midday.

With the public Seagirt Marine Terminal closed, some truckers with domestic cargo were making do by loading their trailers directly onto trains.

James S. Regester waited in line to swap his empty trailer for one full of Unilever products at a CSX dock in Dundalk and return home to Carlisle, Pa. He had three more trips planned in two days to make up time lost to the storm.

"Everything is working out for those of us with domestic cargo that can go on a train," he said. "Those who need to put their cargo on a ship are out of luck."

Some operators said their terminals suffered minimal damage. Other operators could not be reached for comment.

A security guard at the Locust Point terminals said the electricity and telephones were out.

Paul Bernstein, the general manager for Amports, which has a 94-acre lot in Dundalk and is the port's largest automobile terminal operator, said 10 cars, out of hundreds on his lot, were damaged.

They were not totaled, although the rugs were wet and the cars could not be sold directly to dealers as new. When cars are fully submerged, they generally cannot be sold and are crushed, he said.

"We fared well," he said. "None were submerged."

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