Gulf of Mexico marine industry prepares for Ivan

HOUSTON – The U.S. Coast Guard has shut five ports in the Gulf of Mexico coast states of Alabama, Florida and Mississippi as Hurricane Ivan neared the area, according to a story from the Reuters news service this morning.

Meanwhile, boaters and fishermen are fleeing those areas expected to be hardest hit from the storm, among them New Orleans, where the mayor has declared a state of emergency, according to National Public Radio. Many boaters towed their boats behind their cars as they evacuated the area yesterday. Others are moving their boats as far north as possible via the water, traveling up the Alabama River, for example.

Boaters and marina operators need only look at the devastation caused by Ivan in Grenada, where news agencies are reporting hundreds of yachts – and the marinas in which they were berthed – are estimated to be damaged and looting prevails.

The port for Mobile, Ala., near where Ivan is expected to make landfall today or early tomorrow, and the ports of Panama City and Pensacola in Florida, along with the ports of Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi, are now closed, Reuters reported.

In addition, the Coast Guard said ships, barges and boats would need its permission to move along the southern end of the Mississippi River in Louisiana after noon CDT (1700 GMT) today. River traffic on the Mississippi will be restricted between miles 88 and 106. On Tuesday, ship pilots halted moving deep-draft vessels through the port of New Orleans, according to the Reuters story.

As of 7 a.m. this morning, Ivan was a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds near 140 miles per hour, moving north through the Gulf of Mexico; however, some news agencies were reporting expectations that the wind speed would actually increase before it hit land, causing the hurricane to be moved up to Category 5.

Ivan’s large size is expected to send high waves crashing into the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Tropical storm force winds extend out 260 miles from the center of the hurricane and some sources are estimating the total damage from the storm could exceed that produced by Frances and Charley earlier this season.

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