Last year, just days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the US Gulf Coast, American Crane & Transport dispatched Dan and Gini McKain to the region to survey the damage. A year later the McKains traveled back to the Gulf Coast to chronicle recovery efforts. Here's their exclusive report
At an event marking the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and a demonstration of a new floodgate system in New Orleans, Lt. General Carl A Strock, P.E., commander and Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, discusses the massive recovery effort that is still underway: “Without hesitation I would say that the heavy lift cranes used by our many civilian contractors have had a vital part in our recovery effort from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.”
At the London Street Canal, Boh Brothers Co., a major contractor in the rebuilding effort in New Orleans, used a Tadano hydraulic crane to assist in raising and lowering the 7.5 to 10 ton, 35.5 foot long by 11 foot wide, heavily reinforced gate sections.
Strock, a combat veteran and registered professional engineer, commended the work of scores of contractors who are still working to rebuild flood-ravished New Orleans.
“From the very beginning we have worked closely with a firm in New Orleans called Boh Brothers,” he says. “While the flooding waters were still flowing, the only way we could get these stopped was for them to bring in cranes to drive sheet pile against a highway bridge to isolate the (levee) breaches. We could not have done this without the cranes.”
The construction of the London Street Canal Project was one of three undertaken by private contractors with the Corps of Engineers. The other two were at the Orleans Street and 17th Street Canals.
They are all part of the work to upgrade the system to cope with a 100-year flood protection level, work that is projected to continue through the calendar year 2010.
To date the US Congress has appropriated more than $5 billion to complete this work under 59 separate USCOE contracts. By early September, some 26 contractors had been awarded jobs and 90% of the companies involved are firms headquartered in the Gulf Coast region.
Just a year after three major hurricanes, including Katrina, wreaked havoc and caused billions of dollars in damage along the Gulf Coast, there were more heavy lift cranes working on repairs to America's hurricane damaged infrastructure than on any other project.
Billions of dollars and hundreds of cranes have been committed to the work. Contractors assembled a contingent of rubber-tired and crawler cranes ranging from 8 to 350 tons capacity, to rebuild or repair roads, bridges, highways, levees and entire cities and towns.
From Florida to Texas, the American coast that fronts on the Gulf of Mexico, and most especially much of the highway and bridge infrastructure, suffered severe structural damage during both the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Rita had left a wide swath of destruction.
The majority of the bridge damage occurred along I-10 and U.S. Rt. 90, which lies south of Interstate 10 and just north of the gulf waters. For decades this road has been used by tourists as a scenic highway.
Hurricane Ivan severely damaged the I-10 bridges over Escambia Bay in September 2004. Replacing the storm-damaged I-10/Escambia Bay Bridge is a top priority for the Florida DOT, USDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. The immediate goal is to construct one bridge that will contain four lanes of traffic (two in each direction) by December 2006.
The existing bridges over Escambia Bay will be replaced with two new bridges. The proposed bridges will each consist of three 12 foot travel lanes and 10 foot inside and outside shoulders.
Tidewater Skanska and Flatiron Constructors are the general contractors on the $243 million job, where more than two dozen land and barge-mounted Manitowoc cranes are working, many of which are rented from Essex Crane Rental.
In Mississippi, the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge on the east, which was completely destroyed by Katrina, is being rebuilt as is the bridge between Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian on the west.
Both will require years of work and millions of dollars to rebuild or replace. Construction just started, almost a year after the bridges collapsed and fell into the Gulf.
In Louisiana the first phase contract has already been awarded for a new $800 million twin bridge structure across Lake Pontchartrain. Construction is now underway by Boh Brothers.
It is in the inundated city of New Orleans, however, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to make semi-permanent and expensive repairs to the storm-breached levees, and where dozens of cranes work eight hours a day, and often day and night.
The skyline in certain levee side areas resembles one full of dueling crane booms.
Boh Brothers has been completing several major contracts involving rehabilitation work, almost from the day Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Crescent City and inundated its vital infrastructure.
As soon as the skies cleared one of Boh Brothers' American 5300 crawler cranes was driving a sheet pile cutoff wall to stop the water flow through the breached levees.
Initial work included the use of several barge-mounted Manitowoc Series Three heavy lift marine cranes to clear sunken debris that blocked the mouth of the Mississippi River at the Southwest Pass.
This is the main shipping channel for ocean-going international ships. Since that time and at the present, Boh Brothers has been using a fleet of its own and rented cranes to drive piling and construct new flood protection structures at the 17th Street levee and other areas throughout the city.
Crane work includes pile driving, pouring concrete and lifting and positioning machinery (pumps and generators) and handling heavy components, including the vital floodwall storm gates.
Leading the way of this crane fleet has been a series of Manitowoc 4100 Ringer cranes. A number of American and P & H 300 ton capacity crawler cranes have also been used.
Last year, in an exclusive interview with American Cranes & Transport, Boh Brothers spokesman Fred Fuchs said his crews were working 24-7, even though 60% of their workforce had lost their homes and possessions in the storm.
Pickup truck sleeping accommodations were common in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
Today living, sleeping and working accommodations have improved considerably for the contractors' crews, although the work has not gotten any easier nor has the intense pressure to complete the projects quickly eased all that much.
Everyone is painfully aware that it would take only one single wayward hurricane to inflict wrack and ruin on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans area all over again.
The one positive fact is that the men, women and machines of the private contractors, including their contingent of heavy lift cranes, are ready to respond to any challenge thrust on them by Mother Nature.